Profile in Philanthropy: Nneka McPhee, Power of Extended Philanthropy (PEP)
Meet Nneka McPhee, Power of Extended Philanthropy (PEP) Member and Chief of Staff & Strategic Initiatives at Americans for Ben-Gurion University
Nneka McPhee of Denver is also a member of Sisterhood of Philanthropist Impacting Needs (SPIN), a giving circle housed at The Women’s Foundation of Colorado. Learn more about her quiet passion for interior design, her deep commitment to philanthropy, and the joy that sisterhood brings to her.
Tell us something not many people know about you?
Many people don’t know that I have a bit of an obsession with interior design. I may look normal but I’m quietly redecorating every space I’m in! I spend quite a bit of time on it too. I usually have several competing DIY projects, with mixed results. I subscribe to all the magazines and “study” the latest trends and aesthetics to try in my house or with friends and family.
If you had a personal philanthropic mission statement or slogan, what would it say?
I would have to go with Maya Angelou’s quote, “I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.” It speaks very poignantly to my own journey in philanthropy and all I’ve gained in the process.
At what point in your life did your personal philanthropy become important to you?
I worked in philanthropy long before I saw myself as a philanthropist and certainly before it meant anything personal to me. It wasn’t until I attended a conference focused on philanthropy in communities in color, and the rich history that surrounded it, that I began to understand philanthropy in a different way. It really wasn’t about giving away millions of dollars or even being a millionaire myself. It was about caring deeply for people and showing up for them when they couldn’t necessarily show up for themselves. Philanthropy became more accessible and more palatable for me in that moment.
What about WFCO’s mission, “catalyzing community to advance and accelerate economic opportunities for women,” resonates with you?
Catalyzing community is such a powerful phrase because it suggests what’s possible when we have a shared goal we can rally around. With women as that goal, it’s no zero-sum game. Everyone benefits when women are individually and collectively empowered.
Who is a woman mentor on your journey you would like to shout out? Why?
I worked for a woman name Linda very early in my career at Wells Fargo Bank. She was several “levels” above me on the corporate ladder, but that didn’t stop her from taking time to invest in my professional development. And she didn’t do it in a benign or passive type of way. She held me accountable, called BS, and gave me valuable constructive feedback that made me want to take more pride in my work and the career decisions I was making. She saw something in me before I saw it in myself. She was brilliant in that way.
If you had to teach a class, what would it be?
I would teach a critical thinking class. I still remember the seminal teachings from one I took in 7th grade, and in the days of social media, I think it’s a lost skill that we should focus more time on.
What is the most pivotal moment in your career?
As I was growing in my career, I began to set specific goals for myself in terms of compensation, position, responsibilities, etc. Some were short term, others long term. At one point, I remember setting this big audacious goal that I wanted to achieve by the time I was 35. It was more aspirational than practical at the time. When 35 came and went, I didn’t hit the goal, but I was even more hungry and motivated to keep trying. By the time I was 37, I crushed that initial goal in ways I never imagined possible. It made me realize that I already possessed everything I needed to be whoever and whatever I wanted to be. I just needed to harness my power.
Where do you find the most joy in your life?
I find immense joy in sisterhood. I am privileged to be surrounded by amazing girlfriends who give me space to be my true authentic self. They challenge me, but they support me and push me to be my best. There’s no pretense in our relationships, which means we can just truly enjoy each other’s individuality. We have so much fun together!
What would you tell your 15-year-old self?
I would tell my 15-year-old self that my mistakes don’t define me. I spent so many years repenting and reliving the past, and all it did was make me fearful of the future. Now that I understand that failure isn’t about falling down but staying down, I’ve become better at using my mistakes to fuel my growth.
What is your favorite place or activity to do in Colorado?
I was born and raised in Colorado, so I have several, but Estes Park is at the top of my list. It’s not too far, its quaint, beautiful, and unassuming. And they have an amazing taffy shop in the town center.
What movie scene lives in your head rent free?
It’s a little cliché but it has to be the scene in Jerry McGuire where Jerry shows up at the sisters’ house at the end of the movie to reclaim his love interest. He goes on some big rant about all the epiphanies he’s had, and she stops him and says, “you had me at hello.” It gets me every time.
Should pineapple exist on pizza? What is your favorite pizza topping?
To each their own, but I don’t eat pineapple on pizza. I do love a good margherita pizza with basil, tomato, and mozzarella.
What is the most binge-worthy show? No judgement 😊
I don’t watch TV, but my one of my guilty pleasures is reading the public comments under the ShadeRoom’s posts on Instagram. They’re hilarious, raw, sometimes cringy, but they definitely keep me in touch with the culture.