WomenVenture's 2012 Fall Event features a local developer and a cosmetics industry leader who hails from Minnesota.
When Linda Donaldson isn't developing housing -- and she's helped get more than 5,000 units built in the past 30 years -- she's often helping other women build businesses.
As she co-founded a for-profit development company in the early 1980s, Donaldson also joined the board of an organization that would become WomenVenture, the nonprofit that supports women-owned business in the Twin Cities metro area with microloans, consulting and educational programs.
Donaldson also serves as vice president of Community Housing Development Corp., a Minneapolis nonprofit she's worked with for the past two decades.
More recently, she has traveled to Africa and, in September, to Nepal to support nonprofit organizations that work with women entrepreneurs in those countries.
In recognition of her contributions, Donaldson will serve as honorary chairwoman of WomenVenture's 2012 Fall Event. The honor seems fitting, given that Donaldson helped launch the event, the organization's annual fundraising luncheon, now in its 17th year. More than 1,000 people are expected to attend the gathering Oct. 12 at the Depot in Minneapolis. (See box for details.)
"It seems kind of full circle," Donaldson said of the WomenVenture honor. "WomenVenture has done such a terrific job in supporting people who want to improve their economic self-sufficiency. This ties in with my work in affordable housing. Stable housing and a good source of income go hand in hand."
Donaldson founded for-profit Brighton Development Corp. in 1981 with Peggy Lucas and Richard Brustad. Brighton's work has helped bring new life to Minneapolis' historic Mill District with a mix of high-end condos, affordable housing and offices in both converted warehouses and newly constructed buildings.
Her recent nonprofit projects include the Higher Ground homeless shelter, which the Community Housing Development Corp. developed with Catholic Charities near the Minneapolis Farmers Market. In August, the shelter won the American Institute of Architects Minnesota/McKnight Foundation Affordable Housing Design Award.
Donaldson joined the board of directors of the Women's Economic Development Corp. in 1982 and was part of the team that carried out the 1989 merger with another nonprofit, Chart, to create WomenVenture.
To raise the new organization's profile, Donaldson began work to create an annual gathering in 1992; what is now WomenVenture's Fall Event made its debut in 1995.
This year, the Fall Event's keynote speaker will be Thia Breen, president of North America for the Estée Lauder Companies. Breen launched what would become a three-decade-long career in the cosmetics industry working in her parents' drugstore in Benson, a town of 3,500 in west-central Minnesota.
"All those business tenets of being successful started in the drugstore," said Breen, who quickly outlined several of those in a recent telephone interview.
Hard work: "None of this happens without digging in and understanding what the key ingredients are in building your business and therefore your career. You're lucky if it doesn't come with a lot of sweat."
Know your goals: "And understand why you're achieving them or not measuring up to them."
Work with the best: "Have top talent, whether you're working with outside vendors or hiring for your own business."
If you need it, ask for it: "Women generally feel that their hard work will be recognized and they'll be promoted or get a raise accordingly. That's simply not true. Men are better at outlining what their expectations are in terms of salary or the next promotion. As a gender, it's not something we default to.''
The Fall Event occurs as WomenVenture brings a sharper focus to its mission, according to acting president Colleen Willhite. Adopted earlier this year, the vision narrows WomenVenture's role to working with women who are starting or expanding businesses. The organization has discontinued career development services, now widely available elsewhere.
The new direction emphasizes WomenVenture's role as a lender, Willhite said. In 2011, WomenVenture loaned $277,000 to 14 business development clients. Overall, the organization last year helped women start or expand 113 businesses, creating 74 jobs and an estimated $1.6 million in new income.