Be Yourself Boldly: Leadership (& Life) Inspo From Shanna Hocking


If there’s nothing else I know about Shanna Hocking, it’s that she is absolutely passionate about her career. Not just her job. Not just the place where she works. Not just her mission — but everything that encompasses who she is in her work and all that surrounds it.

Shanna is a friend of mine. She has a family — a husband (my friend Matt from college) and a child — and she appears from ALL angles to create, navigate and possess a fulfilling career in fundraising. As much as I’ve always been a patron of the arts, of nonprofits and not-for-profits, of the humanities, of medicine, of research and, of course, education, I’d never really understood the breadth and depth of what it means to work in gifts and fundraising, nor the power and compassion one must wield and manifest to do so successfully. Shanna, a leader in her field, helps me comprehend all of this.

Be Yourself Boldly — we're talking w/ Shanna Hocking re: inspiring personal & professional brand, gratitude at work, a fulfilling career & being a working mom.
Photo Credit: Celia Ragonese Photography, courtesy of Shanna Hocking

We have known each other since college, when Shanna (then Shanna Ackerman) knew exactly what she wanted to do: ensure that when someone has a dream or a goal or a mission — like she did when applying to higher ed — funds will be available so that they have a chance at accomplishing that.

Shanna and I reconnected when I moved back to the States in 2014 — I was making a career change and eyeing life on the East Coast — and she was more than willing to guide me. At the time she was Director of Major Gifts at The Wharton School and later Senior Director of Major and Planned Gifts. We started getting together regularly when she saw I worked here at TME (‘member that day Gwen and I showed up in the same slouchy Free People sweater?) and got in touch. We realized we work within a mile of each other — she’s now Associate Vice President, Individual Giving at CHOP (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia — it’s kind of a big deal)— and have remained committed to staying in touch more often since.

You may have seen Shanna and/or her illustrative brand online — either in Career Contessa, Thrive Global, Fast Company, Forbes, HuffPost, Motherly or Harvard Business Review. It’s rare that I open LinkedIn or Instagram or Facebook and do not get a glimpse of Shanna and what she’s doing. Not that I need to find her there. If I reach out, she ALWAYS responds. She’s one of those people (like Gwen or my Aunt Jill) who makes getting all the things done and keeping up with family, friends and coworkers look ridiculously easy — even though it’s not.

If you don’t know of Shanna, she is the bright-shining inspo and manifestor of Be Yourself Boldly, her professional (and quite frankly, personal) brand, and the mantra from which she shares reflections on leadership, fundraising and career development. Shanna is a leader to the hilt, and luckily, she nails the two qualities that apparently help women come across as effective — she’s both warm and confident. Her personal and published pieces focus not only on leadership and career, but also on being a working WOMAN, a mother, a partner and, in general, a human being who creates opportunity. You can read her public bio here.

Be Yourself Boldly — we're talking w/ Shanna Hocking re: inspiring personal & professional brand, gratitude at work, a fulfilling career & being a working mom.
Photo courtesy of Shanna Hocking

We’re so thrilled to introduce you to her (hopefully we’ll see more her in the future). Speaking for Team TME, we all feel exceptionally lucky to work for our Shana, and Shanna is also the type of boss many people would be overjoyed to have. Here she is.

How To Be A Boss — In Work & Life

1. How did you choose your tagline — Be Yourself Boldly? How did you build such a powerful brand and how has that influenced your career? Are there challenges to having such a strong digital presence?

The idea of Be Yourself Boldly came to me when I was in the process of embracing what it meant to be a working woman and mom—and encouraging other women to do the same. It’s a reminder to be your best, truest self because the world needs you. It’s also meant to inspire you to accomplish something you didn’t know was possible. It is part of my daily life as a leader and fundraiser, as well as a speaker and writer.

The challenges to having a strong digital presence is that there will always be people who think you are “too big” or “too much”. If you truly fulfill your potential to serve others, there will always be someone to criticize you. Keep serving. Do not let others distract you from your why.

Be Yourself Boldly — we're talking w/ Shanna Hocking re: her inspiring personal & professional brand, gratitude at work, a fulfilling career & being a working mom.

2. You’ve been in fundraising your entire career, and you felt compelled to do that when you were 18 — why?

I feel so fortunate to have found my career and my calling, at age 18. It was a perfect combination of my interests in repairing the world, serving others, writing, and speaking. Also, someone invested in me by providing me with a scholarship, and it was my privilege to pay that forward by helping others to establish student scholarships. I have continued to learn and grow in this profession, and now I lead and mentor others, so it still feels like the best possible career I could ever have.

3. One of your most shared professional wins (or inspiration) is what you call the “Atta Girl” folder? Can you tell us about that, and how it plays a role in your leadership style and brand?

When I was a development intern in college, one of my beloved mentors gave me an empty folder and said I should put all of my accolades, accomplishments and notes in it. She said that it would remind me of why I’m doing what I’m doing on the great days and be a resource when I felt like things were not going as I planned. It’s a reminder to cheer myself on and that other people are cheering me on too. It’s absolutely connected to my commitment to share my gratitude and appreciation with others.

I introduced the Atta Girl folder in my first meeting with all of my team members here at CHOP. (I also used it a little less formally at Wharton). I shared it in the context of something I call the About Me, a leader’s user manual of sorts. I walked them through who I am, how I work, how they can best work with me. I asked them to do one of those documents for me too, so I could understand how to best support them. I told them about my commitment to gratitude as one of my values, told them the story of my Atta Girl folder, and then gave each of them their own folder. 

Recognition is a daily practice, some days it comes in the form of a text message, or passing in the hallway or in a meeting, other days it’s a handwritten note. Formally, it also happens during the performance review process — but that’s really one of the expectations of recognition…it’s so formal; I prefer the more unexpected recognition — in the moment.

Be Yourself Boldly — we're talking w/ Shanna Hocking re: inspiring personal & professional brand, gratitude at work, a fulfilling career & being a working mom.
Photo Credit: Celia Ragonese Photography, courtesy of Shanna Hocking
Be Yourself Boldly — we're talking w/ Shanna Hocking re: inspiring personal & professional brand, gratitude at work, a fulfilling career & being a working mom.

4. Much of your leadership style appears to hinge on relationships — would you agree? How do think engaging with colleagues so purposefully has affected your career?

Yes, relationships have been essential to my career—and my happiness at work. Fundraising is about building meaningful relationships to connect someone’s passion with the organization’s mission and vision. For me personally, I have learned from the top people in my field and developed a network of industry leaders. Many of my jobs came from reaching out to express interest in a role, often as a cold call. I have also been introduced to amazing colleagues in the organizations in which I have worked, several of which have become lifelong friends.

5. If you had to point our readers to three of your blog posts that will most positively affect their careers, what would they be?

Ooh that’s a fun question!

6. Over the course of the ongoing “lean in”/ “can women really have it all?” conversation, Anne Marie Slaughter notably argued in The Atlantic that the answer is  “yes, sort of, AND only if you have a supportive, engaged husband”. Can you share some of your thoughts about being a dual-career couple, and if having a supportive husband has allowed you to have it all? Also — do you think men ever get asked that question (ha)? Do you think that will change?

Dual career couples require constant communication and commitment. It takes a village of support at work and at home. I am fortunate to have an incredibly supportive husband who believes in me and my career as much as his own. He is also the primary parent—and, yes, I do feel that has enabled me to have it all. I think the conversations about working parents have already started to change, and I’m hopeful to support the next generation in having the kind of work environment where employers say upfront that family comes first for women and men, and that means caring for your family, whether your children, your parents, or your community.

Every working parent knows that you are one unexpected early dismissal from everything falling apart. Tell yourself you’re doing the best you can every day. Celebrate all you achieve at work and at home. Even when it doesn’t feel like it, remember you are awesome.

7. How does fashion play a role for you in relation to your career?

One of the first careers I can remember dreaming of when I was a kid was being a fashion designer. Fashion has always been part of my life. In my career, fashion is important in setting the tone for who I am as a leader and a person. I tend to wear mostly structured dresses to work, and I love accessories like shoes that have personality, and jewelry. Most of my jewelry is from my mother and grandmothers, so it’s like these wonderful women are always with me cheering me on. My top three brands are M.M. LaFleur, L.K. Bennett, and Kate Spade

When I was younger, fashion didn’t always seem attainable. Two stories really illustrate how fashion manifested for me when I was younger…

In college, the “it” bag was the Kate Spade Sam. Everyone had it, I really wanted to have one. I couldn’t afford that kind of luxury at the time. It became, for me, the aspirational expression of being a fashionable woman who had made it in her career. I still have the first Kate Spade bag I bought as an adult. And I still love the brand.

One of the first grown-up bags I purchased for work was a COACH purse. It was a big investment for me. I loved it, I wore it with everything. It was my favorite shade of brown. One day I wore it to a work meeting, and one of the senior male leaders made an off-hand comment about how it wasn’t that expensive of a brand. I didn’t say anything; he was much more senior than I was. I was really offended. I think it changed the way I felt about the bag. I eventually gave it away, so someone else could enjoy it again.

Over time I have realized that fashion is more for me than anyone else. When I feel great, I am more confident. I have learned what works best for my frame and that high fashion is possible at all price points. I now have only one really great everyday bag that I wear with everything. I make a choice to spend a few extra minutes to be more polished at work, so I can show other working women that it’s possible for them, too. Every woman deserves to feel great.

8. Your schedule, from the outside, appears fairly packed. What’s a typical day like for you? Is there anything you would change about how you spend your time?

It is indeed packed! I wake up at 5:00, and I usually work out (Solidcore 2-3 times per week). Other days I’ll run. I intersperse that with my writing (that’s my time to write as well). We have family breakfast together everyday. I get dressed, and I usually take the train into work. Some days Matt takes me to work, when I’ve missed the train — usually after we take our son to school.

I never like to say I’m busy, though. Everyone is busy. A typical day at work for me involves meeting with my team members individually or collectively, interacting with donors in person or via email/phone, creating strategies and programs to move forward our fundraising efforts, meetings about upcoming activities or developing processes. I often reflect on the idea of “What is the best and highest use of your time?” Sometimes I have to remind myself to focus on what’s important, not just urgent.

I get home around 6:00. We have a helper at home who also does light meal prep, which makes it easier for us to have dinner together. I do outsource some tasks — I recognize this is a luxury, and we have chosen to invest in this, because it allows me to have dinner with my family and spend time with our son. Our son has soccer practice on some nights, I have events on some nights. We play a game as a family after dinner. We’re really into The Flash right now, so sometimes we’ll watch a show. After our son goes to bed, I usually do more writing, or stuff to support Be Yourself Boldly.

Be Yourself Boldly — we're talking w/ Shanna Hocking re: inspiring personal & professional brand, gratitude at work, a fulfilling career & being a working mom.
Photo Credit: Peaberry Photography, courtesy of Shanna Hocking

9. In what ways do you feel challenged in your field or work environment that might differ from a man/father in your position?

Fundraising can require a demanding schedule with nights and weekends, and frequent travel. There have been times earlier in my career when people have insinuated (and other times straight-out said) that I shouldn’t be doing that kind of work so I could be home with my family. I’m not sure those same comments would be said to a man/father.

10. If you could give one piece of advice to mothers who work, what would it be?

You can love your work and your family. It doesn’t have to be either/or. It also won’t be balanced. At times you’ll miss a deadline or a school program and you’ll always miss family when you’re away. You can still be amazing in your career.

11*. Tell us about your New Year’s party you have at the end of the fundraising year (June 30)?

At our office, we started a New Year’s Eve party on the last day of the fundraising year to recognize the year’s accomplishments. I pitched the idea at a senior leadership meeting, and my boss was very supportive and said we could try it.

My colleagues wholeheartedly adopted the idea and joined the committee. They chose festive snacks, searched the party store for New Year decorations (in June!), and emailed a sparkly invitation to the office. In addition to the party hats and photo booth initially envisioned, the committee hung signs in gold and black letters, created a wall for people to share resolutions, and fashioned a ball drop.

It’s made a positive and significant difference because it forces us to collectively stop and recognize the past year’s hard work, before we get right back to it again. It builds out our culture as we take the time to work together and enjoy each other as colleagues. And that brief celebration fuels us into the next chapter.

If you involve others, you can develop your idea even better than you imagined! This concept could be easily adapted for your company’s founder’s day or another special date.

All of this comes down to remembering that the biggest ideas didn’t all start out that way. Be in a workplace where you can celebrate wins. Find a boss who believes in you for the leader you are and colleagues who multiply the goodness around them. And when you have the little dream—share it in a big way. With confetti. It just may end up being one of your most significant contributions.

I hope you’ve found as much wisdom and inspiration in Shanna as I do. She sparks joy — we’re going to keep her around :-). Connect with Shanna on social and/or subscribe to her monthly newsletter here (scroll down), and find her blog here, and her published articles here. Please feel free to comment to continue the conversation — Shanna is an avid TME reader and hopefully she’ll join us in the future to talk more fashion in the workplace.


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Lex is our resident nerd, watchful editor & Chief Innovation Officer. Voted most likely to win BIG on Jeopardy!, she keeps us ahead of the curve, whether in mapping out strategy that has us dropping content at the moment you’re Googling for it, or branching us out into new channels/ media & letting us know what trends are giving. If you sit in on any meeting, you’ll often hear the phrase, “Ok, so Lex was right…” With her own personal style (boots, dresses, scarves), she doesn’t consider herself a fashionista, but she is keeping us #well #sustainable #empathetic #inclusive #current #DownToEarth & #OpenMinded; her wisdom ranges from yoga home practice & Feng Shui-ing an apartment, to living overseas & crushing analytics.

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  1. Thank you for this post! I’m inspired by Shanna and found so many insights that resonated with me, affirmed my work and inspired me to lean in even more to my goals. There is so much value in women sharing our journey. I can’t wait to check out more of her blog and publications.

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