Tatijana (Marsee) Narwold, Executive Director, Crohn's & Colitis Foundation

Tatijana Narwold is a dedicated professional passionate about leveraging her skills in leadership and relationship-building. Currently leading the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation Indiana Chapter, she excels in fostering strong partnerships with healthcare professionals, donors, volunteer leaders, and businesses in impactful collaborations against Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. Prior to her current role, she was the Campaign Manager for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Man & Woman of the Year Campaign and Senior Community Development Manager for the American Cancer Society.

Recently, in an exclusive interview with CXO Outlook Magazine, Tatijana shared her professional trajectory, the secret sauce behind her success, personal role models, future plans, pearls of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.

Hi Tatijana. What motivated your philanthropy? Tell us more about your philanthropic commitment and the actions you support.

Philanthropy was instilled in me at a very young age. My mother was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when I was in elementary school. Soon after she won her battle, she decided to start a Relay for Life team with our school, and I became her co-captain. Since then, it was a family affair to give back to our community and lead in any way we could. By middle school, I was leading my own fundraising team and sitting on the county-wide committee organizing activities for the 24-hour event. Later into high school and college, I switched my focus to helping our Indiana Volunteer Firefighters Association as a Miss Flame and later consultant in support of my father as a volunteer fireman. And, to this day, I feel it is extremely important to use the skills I have learned to help others for the betterment of our community. I do so as a member of the Rotary Club of Indianapolis living by our motto “service above self,” a board of director of Summerfield HOA, and Success Circle member for Indianapolis Dress for Success.

What do you love the most about your current role?

In my current role, I have the privilege of engaging across a diverse range of skills. Leading a small yet dynamic chapter allows me to enhance our relationships with healthcare professionals dedicated to our patients and caregivers daily. It also empowers me to support volunteer leaders in surpassing their goals, enabling them to achieve unprecedented impacts. Additionally, I facilitate meaningful collaborations between businesses, donors, and our cause to combat Inflammatory Bowel Diseases effectively.

What do you wish the public knew about the philanthropy sector?

I often hear the phrase “you could make more money if you just didn’t have a heart.” While I chuckle and agree, I wish I could explain that using my professional expertise and skills to lead in the philanthropy sector really isn’t a choice for many. We do it not because of the paycheck or even the ability to support our organization’s mission, but because we wake up every day with the burning desire to make life better for someone else. The philanthropy sector is a calling.

How can nonprofit fundraisers help donors make more meaningful contributions to their organizations?

The measurement of a meaningful gift has to do with the goal of the donor. It is my job to ensure that their gift is used to its full potential while also helping them reach their goals. However, it is important that a donor is open to hearing the opportunities which can and should change over time. Restricted gifts are appreciated, but depending on the size, they can limit its potential for impact. For instance, if a donor gives $1,000 but restricts it to a program area that does not have other funding yet, that $1,000 could potentially be sitting there for years unused until it accumulates enough support in the same area to take action. However, if that same $1,000 is unrestricted it could be combined with other support to be the tipping point in which an idea gets off the ground or a medication makes it to patient, etc. What makes the difference is being willing to have the conversation with philanthropic leaders about how your donations could be used.

How can younger generations, such as millennials and gen Z, make decisions about how and where to make philanthropic contributions? 

First, it’s important to note that philanthropic contributions come in many different ways and philanthropies need them all. We need individuals who give monetary contributions AND nonmonetary such as time and expertise. I would encourage anyone to shop around and have meetings with any organizations that you feel a passion towards. Then have a conversation with a staff person about what you are looking for whether that is making financial contributions to help their mission and give you tax relief AND/OR you would like to donate your time by volunteering at an event or even flexing your leadership skills on a committee.

You were recently recognized as one of The Top 50 Women Leaders of Indianapolis of 2024. Our readers would love to know the secret sauce behind your success.

I have not always been in rooms that I have felt entirely welcomed in, but I have fully believed that despite my age, gender, or prior experience, God has put me there to teach others something or to learn something. Despite which of those it turns out to be, I always go with the intent to leave having made a positive impact on others whether that be that I am sharing something with them to help them in their challenges or whether I am thanking them for sharing something with me. I try to live by the saying from Maya Angelo, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Because of this, I have felt it imperative to hone in on two ingredients to “my sauce”- resiliency and leading by example. Just because I have been faced with a variety of challenges in my life personally or professionally, I will get up and do better tomorrow. And, I would never ask anyone to do something that I myself would not be willing to do.

Who has influenced you the most in life and why?

I have had many mentors throughout my lifetime that have shaped me into the leader I am today and continue to strive to be. To name them all would take much longer than anyone would like to read, so I shall do us all a service and limit myself to a “fabulous four.”

John Parrish-Sprowl, IUPUI Professor -He helped me believe that I could take my passion for helping first responders and autistic individuals to the next level. He coached me into teaming up with a doctoral student to run a research study and training here in Indiana. But, even more amazingly, helped me earn a scholarship to study it in Poland. That was the first time I had been in an airport since I was months old flying home from my birthplace in Germany.

Sheila Carlson, American Cancer Society colleague- She helped to show me that what I was doing was above average and that I deserved to fight to be recognized for that. More often than not, women struggle to toot their own horns to help advance them in their careers. Sheila is one of my biggest allies and gave me the confidence to start tooting my horn now. Even if I still struggle with that from time to time.

Alice McColgin, mentor- She gives me extraordinary advice on when and how I should take my goals and put them into action. She pushes me to think outside of the immediate and focus on the larger picture. And, she is never afraid to introduce me to others that she thinks can help me reach those goals.

Elaine Bedel, mentor- I first thought of Elaine as an inspiration for what she has accomplished “in the big city” from a small town like mine. Through the years, I’ve come to be in awe of her even more for not what she has accomplished, but how she has accomplished it. Even though she may be one of the most prestigious individuals in the room, she treats everyone with grace and respect. She is the ultimate reason I joined the Rotary Club of Indianapolis and why I fight so hard to bring the celebrations of women in our club to the forefront of as many conversations as I can.

What is your secret to striking a work-life balance?

The true secret is that this is something I continue to fail at but strive to be better at every day. I am a young mother of a toddler, a line wife to a hero of a husband, a dog mom, and a professional who is trying to do everything she can to help take her organization to the next level. What I have learned quickly is that I cannot give every aspect of my life 100% at all times, but I can give 100% effort to the different aspects at different times by being present. I do this with great flexibility from my colleagues, my friends, and my family. I know that there are things I am going to miss, but I try to focus less on what I’m missing and more on giving someone else the opportunity to have it. For instance, if I miss a swim lesson with my son that my husband takes him to, then I try to find comfort in the fact that the swim lesson maybe meant more to my son that his dad was there to support him and that I trusted my husband to take him there alone than me missing 1 of 10. And, if I let a colleague run a meeting without me to much needed and earned vacation time, then I’ve given them my confidence in them, the opportunity to strengthen their skills and relations, and I was able to spend the valuable time I needed being present with my family.

Where would you like to be in the next 5 years?

I would like to have grown our Indiana Chapter into a million-dollar one to help more Hoosier IBD patients than we’ve ever been able to before.

I’d like to be blessed with a sibling for my son.

I’d like to take that re-do honeymoon that the pandemic shortened for my husband and myself.

What advice would you give to others looking to do something similar?

Many times in my life I have been told I am “too much” or “a lot.” For many years, I let that eat away at my confidence and I didn’t take opportunities on that I would have liked to because I thought I wouldn’t fit. While I do think it’s important to read the room and adapt to your surroundings, it is also important to not make yourself smaller to fit someone else’s idea of what is right. In the words of L.R. Knost, “Don’t make yourself small. Not for anyone. If someone tells you you’re too much…too loud, too sensitive, too fierce, too caring, too intellectual, too optimistic, too realistic, too logical, too emotional… just smile and move on, my friend. Clearly, they aren’t enough for you.”

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