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Meet Kelley Likes from Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region

Kelley Likes is the Vice President of Philanthropy at the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region. Kelley is the youngest VP in the organization’s history and was recognized as a rising leader by the Colorado Springs Business Journal. 


In this episode of RKD Group: Chat, Kelley shares her interesting journey into the nonprofit space and her perspective on leadership and collaboration. 

Show chapters 

  • 0:55 Kelley’s career journey 
  • 4:07 How skills from other careers translate into her role today 
  • 8:54 Accomplishments from her career
  • 11:49 Navigating leadership as a young manager 
  • 13:20 Advice for female leaders 
  • 15:32 How she balances it all 
  • 22:56 Tools for success 

 Meet our guest 

Kelley Likes - 1200x627-1


Kate McKinley

Hello, and welcome back to RKD Group: Chat, the podcast dedicated to showcasing the stories of people working at and with nonprofit organizations.

In this episode, I had the opportunity to sit down with Kelley Likes.

Kelley is the Vice President of Philanthropy at the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region in Colorado.

As the youngest VP in the organization's history, Kelley has a unique perspective on leadership and advice for young female leaders.

Kelley has such a passion for why she works on animal welfare and a fun and refreshing approach to how she tackles her day to day. This conversation had me laughing at many points but also left me with so many takeaways about the importance of connection, collaboration and leading with kindness.

So without further ado, let's hear from Kelley.

Kelley Likes

As many of us, I think we fall into fundraising accidentally. Right?

And so, I actually kind of started my journey in college and was dabbling with many different things. Actually, I was started as a probation officer as one of my very first jobs, right, in college, which is totally not my personality. I was not good at it. I mean, I was like, please stop committing crimes. I mean, that was the extent of my abilities as a probation officer.

Initially intended to go to med school, intended to maybe do some laboratory research, and had a really great professor who was like, absolutely not, you cannot do that. You are far too social. You will be absolutely miserable. He's like, let's try fundraising.

And I was like, that sounds terrible. Is that, like, a bake sale? Like, ew. No.

I don't wanna do that.

But got in at a … actually, right across the street from school was a very large, nonprofit entity that provided services for communities all across Ohio―mental health services, things like that―and was able to get in as a grant writer, and had no idea what I was doing, but sort of figured it out on the cuff, and then moved to annual giving. So, I was overseeing all sorts of events. We had three or four at the time. Had a women's auxiliary club that I, you know, helped interface with them and was doing all the direct mail as well.

So, started my career there, built within that organization, moved into major gifts and planned giving. I was doing charitable gift annuities, which, whoo, that is always so much fun and so complex! It's so detail heavy.

But at the same time, when we were in Ohio, we were also fostering for a very large rescue. And at any given time, I had five to ten dogs in the house to foster. Yeah.

And, and now, it's worse. But, but, I was really falling in love with animal welfare. Saw a director of development position out in Colorado, had always wanted to move out west, and I said, “Why not? I’ll just apply.”

I applied, I remember, I applied on a Sunday night. I was sitting in my bedroom, just on the computer. It was, like, eleven o'clock at night. Submitted my application, and they called me the next day … because I thought they're never gonna call me.

I'm in Ohio, you know? I have this much animal welfare experience but ended up getting that role. And then here, we've been able to, sort of, merge departments and so moved up into a vice president position, which is the newer position. We didn't have one before.

So now I over see our development, communications and volunteer programs, which is so much fun, and such a great group of people and just very happy to have landed where I've landed.

Kate McKinley

Kelley has such an interesting journey into nonprofit. And when she shared her past experience as a parole officer and a med student, I was so curious to hear her also share how those roles and skills she learned translated into her nonprofit career today.

Kelley Likes

So, my undergrad is in psychology. Yeah, okay, I think has been really helpful for, like, managing people and trying to understand their point of view. Also with donors, trying to just put yourself in, in their shoes and what they're passionate about, that's been really helpful.

The probation officer was really helpful at learning that that is not me as a person, and I very much don't have the personality for those things. So that was really good learning. I did that for about a year, and it was quite eye opening. But I think just having these varied experiences―that really helps and helps me to grow as a human.

And now as, sort of, a leader of a very large department, just knowing who I am has been incredibly helpful. I also went back to school while I was working to get my MBA, which has been hugely helpful, just to know who I am as a leader, how to lead, what that looks like. And I was very, I'm very grateful that the program I was in is very much, sort of, a new way of managing folks and a new way of being a leader, and so very much focusing on, you know, kindness, compassion, coaching people, that kind of thing. So that has been incredibly helpful just for, for my journey and, you know, started managing people, I think, when I was twenty-five, which I had no business doing.

And now I feel like, feel like I sort of have a handle on it, but I'm still learning to this day, and I think we'll continue to do that. So I think any kind of experience you can get is, is hugely helpful in just understanding who you are, what your skills are. I have zero probation officer, direct, holding people very, very accountable kind of skill.

So, yeah, that was an adventure.

Had a chair thrown at me, and very much said, “You know what? I'm good. Yeah. This, this is not really where I'm supposed to be, and, and that’s okay.”

Kate McKinley

As you heard Kelley mentioned, she started her journey in animal welfare, fostering puppies, and really fell in love with the space through her work. And so I wanted to dig into this passion a little bit more.

Kelley Likes

Yeah. Yeah. So we, we are fosters, and that is my job outside of work is raising so many puppies. We typically have two litters at a time at my house. It's something we're really passionate about.

But I think here, just the people here are fantastic.

We've got great folks that really care about the animals. It's a very complex organization.

So I love it because I feel like I learn something new all the time, and I've been here for seven years. And I'm like, oh my gosh, I had no idea why we did that because it is so complex and it's so large. So I feel like here is a great place just to be with the folks who care so much about animals.

And, you know, my team, I'm so grateful for. They're incredible, brilliant human beings, and we laugh all the time. We have so much fun while we work. Jessica, who's one of our directors, she said, “I feel like the more fun we have, the better we do.” And it's true. I mean, we all really enjoy one another and support each other, and so the animals are a huge piece of, of why I'm here but also the people because the people are just phenomenal.

And, you know, you're not really supposed to say, “Oh, you know, I love these people,” but I do. They're, they're fantastic and just a joy to learn from and have conversations with. And then they let me take puppies home, which is beautiful.

We have a bonus. It is―and I, you know, this sounds like too many, and sometimes it feels like too many, but we do have nine dogs of our own. And we live in the middle of nowhere, and they have land, and they have all the things. But, you know, the raising of the puppies is so near and dear to our hearts. We love it―it's, it's really helpful for the fundraising team because we always have puppies we can take to donors, which is an added bonus for us.

But, you know, I, I think this organization is just phenomenal, and the people here are phenomenal. And they, yeah, again, they continue to let me take puppies home, which is great.

Just like having somebody in this house.

Kate McKinley

Okay. So, as I was preparing for this interview, I came across an article in the Colorado Springs Business Journal that recognized Kelley as a rising star in the area.

As the youngest vice president in the organization's history, Kelley and her team have led the Humane Society to fundraising levels, including a two-year, seven-million-dollar fundraising campaign to renovate their vet clinic.

Kelley Likes

You know, we've been able, with our major gift program, with all of the development programs that we've been able to develop here, build such long-lasting, great relationships that we've been able to do some really great projects that benefit the shelter hugely.

So, we recently completed a seven-million-dollar renovation and expansion of our vet clinic, which is so needed. You know, we're trying to provide more services to the community, which has been great. But we also had veterinarians in a super-tiny space on the floor on, you know, countertops trying to do surgery, and now we have this big, beautiful space.

And because we've got such great relationships with our donors, instead of a three-year campaign, it got to a two-year campaign, and we were able to complete that really quickly.

So, with the team, we were able to, to complete that, and get the vets in and get our team working in there, and it's beautiful. It's fantastic. It's spacious. They're not on top of each other. We can take care of emergencies. We've got some really great space for animals that are, you know, have parvo or maybe need an ICU, and what a difference!

And we also, you know, in the old clinic, we had the X-ray machine in the middle of the room, and everybody had to leave, and now it has its own room, which I think is such a great accomplishment too, just to be able to provide the space for our team and give the public some access to the care that they need. So that one's super memorable one.

I think, you know, just being able to grow some of the team into new positions where they're leaders.

When I started seven years ago, we had a much smaller team. So I think we maybe had eight folks on the team, and we've been able to combine a couple of teams, to create kind of one powerhouse that's been just phenomenal at working together. So now I think we have twenty-two people on the team. And with the growth, we were able to give, you know, move people up in their positions, teach people how to manage others. And so, I just think the growth of the team and being able to promote from within has been just such an accomplishment and so memorable here for us, which, you know, I, I think as, as a leader is so just fulfilling and rewarding to watch people grow within their own careers.

Kate McKinley

Alright. I wanted to pause here because, obviously, the clinic renovation is a major, major achievement.

But so much of what Kelley considers a success in her career is the ability to help and watch members of her team grow.

This theme of compassion and teamwork carried throughout our entire conversation but especially when she was talking about her leadership approach.

Kelley Likes

You know, I have relied pretty heavily on the folks that have come before me and very thankfully have had some really fantastic … the kindness, and the kindness and the compassion that they show towards their team. I mean, I think that has really shaped my own leadership, to say, I don't have to be the loudest voice in this room. I don't have to be the smartest person in this room because there are others in this room that can contribute and share, and I need to make space for them. And they―I'm, I'm thinking of our former CEO and our former vice president, who have both moved on from this organization. But what great mentorship, just being able to say, you know, you can be really direct while being respectful. And for me, I think that has been hugely helpful because I'm not, like, I'm in your face in a way that I'm loud but not in your face in a way that, like, I am the authority; I am in charge.

And, you know, learning from them that you don't have to be that way has been really helpful because I've gotten advice in the other direction―You need to be really assertive. You need to be really direct. You need to be, you know, loud―and it's just not where my personality can go. I think you get all sorts of feedback. Right?

Especially as a woman, you get all sorts of feedback, and some of it is really great. And some of it is feedback that you can file away under a headline of, “This is not useful. This is not helpful.”

And I've certainly gotten my share of that. And I would say, for me and for others, take the feedback from the people that you trust. Take the feedback from the people that have your best interest at heart, and don't let feedback from other folks, who maybe don't have that same lens, don't let that bring you down. I think you have to be true to yourself.

I think you have to lead in a way that makes sense for you while coaching and developing others to also be kind, compassionate and have, you know, hold true to their own values. You know? I, I, again, I can't be the person saying this is, this is final. This is the way it is.

You know, I'm, I'm much more collaborative and wanna have a conversation with my team about, “Hey, what do, what do you think?” Or “I'm struggling with this.” And, and just recognizing that I'm, as a leader, I'm, I'm an example and, you know … but I'm also a safe space.

So, yeah, I would say my advice is, just be, just be … considering the source for, sometimes, for that feedback, I think, especially as a female, because we all get some, some crappy feedback from people. Like, “You're not confident enough. You're not doing this, and you're not doing that.” And it's like, yeah.

But I'm being myself. And I think that's how, that's how you have to lead.

Kate McKinley

So at this point, it was very clear to me, and I'm sure to you, how passionate Kelley is about her job, her team, the animals they serve and their donors.

She truly lives and breathes the mission. And so I also wanted to spend some time exploring how she balances it all; how she balances this passion and this drive but also takes care of herself because I think that's something that many people in the nonprofit space struggle with at times.

Kelley Likes

You mentioned my husband. That man is a saint.

He's an attorney, but he works at home. So he is managing the puppies and the dogs in the household, which is absolutely beautiful.

And I am incredibly indebted to him because by the time I roll home, everything is clean. Everything is in good shape. No one is dead. It's beautiful.

You know, when I get home, I make sure that I take some time for myself because I think that's hugely important.

But he has managed everything to the point where I can sit down. I can take some time. I can go exercise.

I can do what I need to do.

But then usually, again, 9:00-11:00, I'm back on the computer.

And, and it works out well. I, I … my goal for this year is to take better care of myself, and I have a goal now. I am so not a morning person, but I'm trying to train myself to come in a little bit early, which may disrupt everybody. But come in a little early, and then, I found this really great place where I can swim. I was a swimmer in college and a swimmer in high school.

And so my husband’s like, I got this. You need to go take care of yourself, so you need to just go and take an hour and swim and come home. So that is the goal for this year is to do some of that, and maybe not every day, but definitely make a more concerted effort and understand that, you know, the team, the team's got, the team's got it, and I can delegate a little bit more, which is great. But I also want to maintain my fair share of the work, and be a team player and just work alongside them.

You know, I think when we're in event mode, we have such a great team, and it's all hands on deck. But I'm part of that, too. So, just making sure that they're getting what they need, I'm getting what I need, but also recognizing that, as a leader, I have to take really good care of myself to make sure that I show up in the right way, and not, you know, absolutely exhausted.

Like, the passion for the mission is, it's right there, and it's, yeah, it, for me, it's in my house.

And that's not to say I don't take care of the puppies too, but he does all the hard work. I do the playing and the socializing, which is important, but not, you know, poopy.

But, you know, I, I think it's with me all the time, and I love it so much. But then it's also like, you know what? You have to also take care of you and make sure you're getting what you need so that you can continue to do this stuff.

Kate McKinley

So as I mentioned at the start, Kelley was such a fun interview.

But she had so many insightful things to share with people in nonprofit and in animal welfare specifically that I wanna highlight.

Her generosity as a leader and her incredibly hard work ethic were so apparent throughout the entire interview.

And as we closed out our time together, Kelley and I chatted about a few challenges that she was facing in her role today.

Kelley Likes

Yeah. That's a, yeah. We … I think fundraising wise, we are very lucky. The space that we are in, we've got a great team. We've got some longevity on that team.

And so, I think we're in a really good place. I think what we're thinking about is this year, it's election year, and how do we combat that, and how do we not lose our message with all of the messaging of whatever this election is going to look like, and how do we cut through the noise of all of that and still remind people that, hey, we, we need your support?

We are very lucky to have a very dedicated donor base, so that's been really good, but I think the, the election stuff is definitely weighing our mind. And as the person who also has the communications team, I think they're also thinking through messaging, what that looks like, what social media looks like. Are people gonna be paying attention to what we're doing? Are they gonna be paying attention to something else? I think a challenge that we're sort of facing as a team is, we’ve got so many frontline fundraisers, and they’re amazing.

But how do we support them?

We got thirty-four thousand gifts last year, and we have one person processing gifts. And so, you know, we're trying to say, okay, we need another person, but we also recognize that we don't have enough people in animal care. We don't have enough people taking actual frontline care of the animals.

So how do we, how do we, maybe, create a position that allows them to also have positions in the budget? And so that's always on our mind. I'm very grateful to have a team that's constantly thinking about the rest of the staff within the shelter. We, during the summer, of course, like everybody, we have cats, cats, cats everywhere.

And oftentimes, we, we just don't have enough staff or volunteers to be able to clean the kennels. And so my team very kindly goes back and helps and, and cleans and assists our animal care team because we wanna make sure that they feel supported.

And one of our goals this year is to create more of a culture of philanthropy within the shelter. And I think, by us actually physically helping, that helps with that effort. But then also talking to all of our teams about everybody who walks in could potentially be a donor and what that looks like. So that's, that's one of the things we're definitely trying to build upon this year.

One other thing that we are trying to really hone in on is new monthly donors.

And for us, we, we tend to hover around the same number of donors every year, but, thankfully, our major donors tend to increase, and our direct mail donors are very steady, and they continue to give.

But for us as a shelter, our costs are increasing. We … from the time I've been here, I think, I started here, and it was a twelve-million-dollar budget. And now it's a twenty-one-million-dollar budget because we're doing a lot more veterinary care. We're doing long-term behavior care. We're doing all these things and investing in the animals to make sure they have a good outcome. But, of course, that costs money. And so, for us, our team is figuring out, how do we grow that donor base? How do we continue to support all of the mission work that we're doing here in a sustainable way?

And so, that is constantly on my mind is, how do we continue to grow with the needs of the shelter?

As I'm sure many other people in development communications are thinking.

Because as we know, animal populations are increasing. We're very lucky that ours has kind of stayed very stable, but we're recognizing that other places are really struggling with that. And the costs of, the cost of caring for animals is just going up and up and up.

Kate McKinley

Despite any challenges, Kelley and the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region are seeing phenomenal growth and are also constantly committed to trying new things and serving as a resource to others in the space, which I just feel is so important. As I wrap up this episode, I'll leave you with a few bright spots and a few final words of advice from Kelley.

Kelley Likes

I'll go back to the team. They all have such amazing strengths. They all have such different skill sets and work beautifully together to create some amazing programs.

And I think just relying on their strengths and their skills has been hugely helpful. I think we recognize in each other that we all have different things to bring to the table, and so, just capitalizing on those skills.

I will plug RKD too. You guys are incredibly helpful for us.

Even if it's just connecting us to other shelters to have conversations. That's incredibly helpful for us just to pick the brains of other people doing the same things in the space.

You know, Lisa has been such a great resource for us―sent us all the articles. I, I, I read it all, and it's fascinating just to know what's coming and understanding, sort of, the environment that we're in, and just having a partner that is able to give us, here's what we're seeing. Here's some new things you could try.

You know, we were heavily dependent on our direct mail. And so, you know, we've added newsletters. We've tweaked some things, and, and that's been really helpful.

But I think just being able to connect with others who are doing, maybe, things that aren't in RKD's scope. I'll just give you an example. You know, we've been talking to Pasadena, and they're doing a calling program where they have callers calling adopters and, you know, said you need to jump on this. It's incredible.

And we did, and it has been incredible for us. We already have almost four hundred new donors, which is definitely what we were looking to do this year. Our goal is a thousand new donors, and so we're well on our way.

So, I just think those connections are hugely important. We've got some great connections within the state of Colorado, too, just to bounce ideas off of one another. I think animal welfare is so great for having connections and being able to talk to others. And, you know, I think we're so far away in proximity. It's like, we're not competing against one another, so we're able to just share and make sure, you know, this person tried this, and it didn't work, but this person tried this, and it was amazing.

And so, essentially, stealing other people's ideas has, has been fantastic, I think, for our program and sharing ideas with others, too. We've had quite a few people come visit us from other shelters just to understand, sort of, our stewardship program because that's been hugely beneficial for us to be able to retain donors and keep our donors happy and keep them coming back to make donations. And so, just having the network of folks to be able to talk to and see what others are doing.

We're all here for the animals. And you know what? If somebody's doing some great things in California or doing great things in Detroit, we should all know about it.

I think if you can get out and you can talk to others within the space, just connect and, and make some relationships because they are long-lasting. They are great.

You know, when you see each other at a conference, it's, it's fantastic. And you're just able to get so much information and so much support from the folks that are doing the same thing. So, if you are able to, you know, hop on a call with somebody or actually go visit them in person, I think it is just hugely helpful, for your own learning, for your own growth, and just understanding the space a little bit more because it is really complex, and people are more than willing to help and assist.

Group Thinkers is a production of RKD Group. For more information, including how you can partner with growth for your fundraising and nonprofit marketing needs, visit

RKD Group

RKD Group is North America's leading fundraising and marketing services provider to hundreds of nonprofit organizations, including hospitals, social service, disease research, animal welfare, rescue missions, and faith-based charities. RKD Group’s omnichannel approach leverages technology, advanced data science and award-winning strategic and creative leadership to accelerate net revenue growth, build long-term donor relationships and drive online and offline engagements and donations. With a growing team of professionals, RKD Group creates breakthroughs never thought possible.



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