I’ve been struggling with how to begin: how should I make this information public, and what is important to share. My hope is that through honesty and openness, your trust in me and my work with Cultivate will be strengthened. 

How it Began

I started Cultivate in 2016 after dreaming of doing so for several years. In fact, the idea came to me in 2010, while working in Kenya. However, 2010 did not just bring my vision for Cultivate – it was also the year I began to feel sick for no explainable reason. 

Then, in 2012, I was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor that caused a disease called acromegaly. Surgery and radiation couldn’t cure me, so I lived with the disease. In 2016, when I knew without a doubt it was time to take the risk of bringing the dream of Cultivate to life, I also knew my health and financial situation would greatly affect this work. Primarily, unless Cultivate could provide a high enough salary to purchase sufficient insurance for my very expensive condition, I would need to limit my salary to qualify for government assistance with health insurance. As a startup nonprofit, I knew receiving competitive salary was not a possibility through Cultivate. 

Amidst the Struggles

Despite taking a less than competitive salary to pursue my dreams in the early years of Cultivate, I was energized by this work I love. However, I also lived with the ongoing worry of living on a low income and my need for excellent health insurance coverage. Any emergency could greatly disrupt my delicate financial balance. Because I was not able to save money at all, this worried me constantly. Yet, I kept on going.

As we all know, though, low-grade stress eventually catches up. The worries of my financial needs were constantly on my mind. Cultivate continued to grow. We continued working with more global leaders and increasing our reach, but our small base of faithful donors remained the same. We were unable to make significant jumps in our income to allow us to pay our staff a fair, livable wage competitive with other similar nonprofit salaries. So often, this is the sacrifice nonprofit workers make – the love of the job supersedes our financial needs. I just wish it wasn’t the norm. 

Trying to Fix It

In the spring of 2022, I was contacted by a recruiter who was seeking to fill a local executive director role with another internationally-focused nonprofit. I was intrigued and decided to learn more. I was floored when I learned the starting salary – something more than I had hoped. It would alleviate many of my financial problems. As interviews progressed, the excitement for the potential of this new role began to grow. I also began the arduous processing of what that meant for Cultivate. Would I leave? Was I ready to leave? Would I be replaced?

By the summer of 2022, I was offered the position and I decided to accept. It felt like the right choice. With the blessing of Cultivate’s board, I would work part time for Cultivate, and  full time for the other organization. Once I began, a few things quickly became clear: running two organizations was nearly impossible, I missed my work with Cultivate deeply, and my heart was truly with Cultivate, not the other organization. 

My new job was also very difficult – the organization had its own troubles, the learning curve was high, and it was drastically different to run than Cultivate. I was determined to be successful in both, and would not back down from my commitment. After a few months, I was forced to leave the other organization based on claims I was not the right fit as their executive director. It was unexpected, painful, and such a disappointment to me. While I felt a lot of emotions at how I was treated, soon after, I saw the good that had come from it. I was able to go back full time to my true passion: Cultivate.

The Number One Fan of Cultivate

I learned that I was forcing myself to fit into this organization, when I didn’t. My head may have been in it, but my heart was not. You see, I am Cultivate’s biggest fan. I believe in our mission more than anyone else. It truly is my passion. I needed to step away to recognize it has been my place all along. However, I also recognize the background stress of finances these past years has been more draining than I want to admit. I also know I cannot continue  another 6 years with that kind of stress. 

In the fall of 2022 I approached a huge milestone in my life – I began remission. After a decade of fighting the tumor and disease, I am finally stable enough to forgo expensive medication and monitoring. I still have the tumor, and likely always will, but the disease has been stabilized and I no longer need medication to keep me healthy. This means that my need for high-end health insurance is also gone.

What’s Next?

Now, it’s January 2023, and where does that put me and Cultivate? I’ve returned full time to Cultivate. The board has given their blessing to increase my salary to allow me more financial stability and peace. I no longer have to worry about health insurance. However, this means we’re putting everything on the line. Increasing my salary means there will not be a safety net by the end of the year without an increase in our donations.

I will give my all to this work I love, and turn over every rock to find a way to make our new, larger budget sustainable into 2024 and beyond. I believe our mission is of great value to the world, and I need to find the people and organizations who agree with me. This means we need more donors and income. I’m trusting we have made the right decision, and that our risky investment will pay off. I hope you agree with me.

– Elaine
Founder of Cultivate and Chief Empowerment Officer

For More Info:

To read more about how the year panned out for Cultivate, visit our Annual Report: https://cultivatetraining.org/impact/