Sharlene Kipfer discusses role as WMEAC Director of Development

March 16, 2023

By: Lauren Formosa

To help us celebrate Women’s History Month, the West Michigan Environmental Action Council would like to highlight one of its recent additions to staff: Director of Development Sharlene Kipfer.

Sharlene, who also goes by Shar, started her role as WMEAC’s Director of Development in January 2023. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Kent State University in Ohio and a master’s degree in public affairs with a concentration in nonprofit management from Indiana University’s O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. As Director of Development, Shar focuses on WMEAC’s overall fundraising strategy and building relationships with current and potential donors in support of WMEAC’s mission. She is often joined at the WMEAC office by her dog Helix, who has become a beloved “co-woofer” and enjoys his unofficial role as office greeter.

Outside of the office, Shar enjoys gardening, plant-based cooking and baking, “instant classic” movies, and doing scent work training with Helix. As we begin to approach the warmer months, she is looking forward to spending time on the beaches at the lakeshore and exploring the local parks and forested areas. 

Q: Tell me a bit about what you did before joining the WMEAC staff.

I’ve been working in nonprofit fund development for just over a decade, and have worked for other environmental organizations, most recently in Indianapolis. I got my sea legs doing fundraising as a door-to-door canvasser in northeast Ohio working on “good neighbor” environmental justice campaigns, and that was about 20 years ago. And I grew up just a few miles from the shores of Lake Erie. I’ve always had an affinity for the Great Lakes.

Q: So being from out-of-state, what attracted you to this position? Was there anything about WMEAC specifically that made you want to join on as Director of Development?

I’ve been traveling to this area of Michigan almost every year for the past five years because I just enjoy the natural beauty of this region so much, and everything there is to do. Learning more about the area is how I came across WMEAC. I thought it was a really good resource for better understanding the environmental challenges and opportunities here in West Michigan. So that’s how I learned about WMEAC. Last summer I decided to start actively looking for work up here, and it just so happened that it worked out really well with the timing.

Q: How have you been adjusting to your new position? 

I’m loving it. I feel like it’s been a really natural and easy adjustment because I get to work alongside really fantastic people doing work that ultimately helps protect our environment and a place I love. My work and experience from the past decade has led me to this point, and that feels great.

Q: Is there anything in particular that you are really enjoying about working here?

Being given a chance to take what we have and build on it using my own skills and experience has been a process I’ve enjoyed. I report to Bill, our Executive Director, and he’s allowed me to be creative and to learn from other staff fully, and given me the autonomy to do what works for me but also what works for WMEAC as an organization. And I’ve really enjoyed learning even more about West Michigan from everybody that I work with and meet.

Q: Can you tell me about what you have learned in your time here as director of development from the other staff members?

Program-wise, I’ve learned that we do a lot of environmental education, both for adults in the community and for kids. I know we reached over 3,000 students last year through our watershed programming, for example. I’ve learned that we do advocacy, like we just had a couple of staff members go to D.C. for the Great Lakes Restoration Project so I know that we’re reaching out to lawmakers who influence what happens in West Michigan. One thing I think is really neat is that we provide assistance and work with other community groups that want to improve environmental and quality of life outcomes in their own communities.  I’ve also learned that other staff here lead by example and genuinely care about the health and wellbeing of our communities and our planet – I am in good company.

Q: Is there anything that you’ve found in this position or in your work in general that you’re passionate about and how has that translated so far into your work here at WMEAC?  

It’s hard to pick just one thing, but I’ve enjoyed getting to lead and build on our Give for the Earth campaign, which is WMEAC’s gift match campaign in April that celebrates Earth Day and Earth Month.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish at WMEAC?

I would like to grow the relationships we have with our donors and friends across West Michigan, and help build support for WMEAC’s mission by getting the word out about the good work that we’re doing. I think the more people get to know us, and know what we’re working on specifically, the more our work will be supported. I think it’s cool that I get to be a part of that. I’m just one of many people doing the work.