‘It’s Been a Really Great Year of Growth’: A Conversation with Stronger Nonprofits Initiative Participant Consuelo Lockhart, Founder of the Latinas Welding Guild

‘It’s Been a Really Great Year of Growth’: A Conversation with Stronger Nonprofits Initiative Participant Consuelo Lockhart, Founder of the Latinas Welding Guild

From a young age, Consuelo Lockhart has used art as a way to communicate. The Guatemalan-born artist always had a dream of starting an art business tied to her roots and supporting women. After completing a job training program in welding and fabricating as the only woman in her class, Consuelo’s vision solidified, and in 2017 she became the founder and Executive Director of the Latinas Welding Guild.   

In a Nutshell

What: A Q&A with Latinas Welding Guild Founder & Executive Director Consuelo Lockhart, a member of the Stronger Nonprofits Initiative’s Indianapolis cohort, about her experience in the program.  
Location: Indianapolis, IN 
Sectors: Arts and Culture & Workforce Development 

The goal of the Latinas Welding Guild is to empower women personally, creatively, and economically through welding. The nonprofit provides courses, public workshops, and events to support Latinas and non-Latina women to gain access to welding skills and certification preparation in what is a heavily male-occupied field, while also offering job placement support. Over the past five years, the Indianapolis-based organization has steadily evolved with goals to further expand and engage more Latinas.

Consuelo is also participating in the JPMorgan Chase-funded Stronger Nonprofits Initiative (SNI), a 14-month program that aims to support nonprofits led by people of color navigating systemic barriers to accessing capital and real estate opportunities. The program does this by acknowledging disparities in lending, providing training in fiscal management and individualized financial management coaching to increase capacity, and building connections to networks of funders and peer organizations.   

Since its launch in 2017, SNI has supported nonprofits in Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Indianapolis. Last month, SNI’s reach expanded again with the launch of the first-ever cohort in Kansas City, MO, made possible in partnership with BDO FMA LLC and through generous support from JPMorgan Chase and the Kansas City Health Forward Foundation.   

As the Kansas City cohort kicks off, we sat down with Consuelo to discuss the origins of the Latinas Welding Guild and what participating in the SNI Indianapolis cohort has meant for her and the organization she leads.   

IFF: How did the Latinas Welding Guild start?  

Lockhart: I always had this dream of starting up some sort of art business with Guatemala, where I could support my biological family and show other women in the country that there are career options out there. Welding fit that idea more than I could have ever imagined. Going through school as the only woman in the classroom was frustrating, but I was up for the challenge and wasn’t going to let people discourage me from continuing my education. As I completed the program, I saw all these opportunities, and I kept asking why aren’t there more women? Based on my experience in the classroom, I knew why there weren’t more women in the sector, so I kept going back to the question of how do I help support women, especially women in Guatemala and Latinas, getting into the industry who don’t feel like they have that support? That’s where the idea formed.  

Fast forward to 2016, when I moved to Indianapolis and got a job running RUCKUS Makerspace, a co-working space where I was able to engage with a lot of other creatives and entrepreneurs. The space shared tools and equipment and included a metal shop and a wood shop. In that space I thought, “If I don’t do it now, if I don’t try to pilot something, I’m never going to do it.” In October 2017 I launched Latinas Welding Guild. I wanted the organization to feel like an inclusive welding organization where even if you’re not Latina you could still join, but the focus should be on Latinas and other marginalized women because, unfortunately, I think as Latinas we never get anything to call our own or we feel guilty for having something special for us.  

IFF: What are some of the specific barriers that nonprofit leaders of color face in leading a nonprofit? 

Lockhart: For me it was really hard to find unbiased and good advice. I still don’t have a mentor, and for a while I was looking, but at this point it feels like most of the people that I talk to either have no knowledge of welding or they might have a bias because we’re a group of Latinas who are welding. We’re literally a unicorn group. I didn’t want to be tokenized or exploited by other groups. So, I kept asking a lot of questions and then I would filter through the information I was getting. I think a huge barrier we face is that depending on the advice you get, it might cost a lot.  

IFF: What role does SNI play in addressing these barriers?  

Lockhart: Honestly, I couldn’t believe how perfect the timing of joining SNI was for us. I don’t have a business background. I don’t have a finance background. I don’t have a real estate or nonprofit background. I really started from scratch and so I’ve had to fumble through a lot of it on my own. Understanding how to fundraise, understanding how to put together a budget, understanding lengthy and complicated grant application processes – all of these things accumulate and are overwhelming if you’re getting thrown into it with zero experience.  

Walking step by step through many of these details as part of SNI was what helped us prepare for our first large grant, which allowed us to make our first ever full-time hire and provided me with a salary for the first time. Every single topic we were talking about from the moment we started was exactly what we were currently facing or just about to start doing, which was helpful for us.  

IFF: What have you found to be the most valuable part of the SNI curriculum? 

Lockhart: The financial management workshops and discussion have been the biggest support that we’ve needed. The support of our two finance mentors has been really helpful. We’ve been able to walk through our budget and utilize a template they provided for our current budget. And even though we might not necessarily be quite ready for some of the things that we talked about in the workshops with our mentors, it’s good to at least try to get familiar with it sooner rather than later, because now we’re having these larger and more serious conversations.  

And I feel like our board is coming together a little bit more now, too. A lot of our board members don’t have nonprofit experience, or they’ve never sat on a board or committee before. The fact that we’re able to give those women and folks the opportunity to join their first board and show them some of the ins and outs, and have them be more involved, is super important. By participating in SNI, they’re talking and asking more questions about our finances. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, minorities are never at those tables during those discussions. I think for the few of us who were able to go through SNI and share our knowledge and experience it has been very enlightening, especially for the board members who might not feel quite comfortable asking some of the questions or don’t even know what to ask.  

IFF: Have there been other components of the SNI program that have been particularly helpful for you? 

Lockhart: I enjoyed the fact that we’re going through the program with other nonprofits who may have different experiences, but are all minority run.

Being in a virtual room with other groups that are facing similar barriers, being able to openly talk about these differences and similarities has been really great

Being in a virtual room with other groups that are facing similar barriers, being able to openly talk about these differences and similarities has been really great because I think, unfortunately, we’re not really ever encouraged to do that because it usually looks like we’re complaining, or we get backlash for it.  

I think it was also really helpful to have the ability to have a similar kind of platform with funders where we could ask questions about what to prepare for a potential ask. What are good practices to keep in mind when you’re exploring grants? And even specific questions to the groups that were at the table.  

IFF: What does the future hold for Latinas Welding Guild? What are you most excited about and what would help you be able to continue accelerating change?  

Lockhart: We’re coming into our fifth year this October, and we’re really accelerating. The board has evolved, the organization has evolved, programming has also continued to evolve, so it’s been a really great year of growth. We would love to have our own space. Right now, we’re leasing, but our dream is to have a multifunctional space, so we’re continuously trying to plan as best as we can for that. But we’re most excited about feeling like we’re becoming more financially stable. Obviously, it’s going to be an ongoing process, but that’s what we’re really looking forward to. I think understanding how to become financially healthy as a group is definitely a learning process.  

To get there, it would be great to be able to apply for other grants or have corporate sponsorships or donations come through from organizations that understand why we’re doing this. I think just even being able to get introductions to more foundations or private donors who want to support these kinds of initiatives would be a huge help for us. Also, having funding that won’t restrict what we’re doing or not doing is very important. 

Click here to learn more about the Stronger Nonprofits Initiative. 

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