Title and organization: Employee benefits consultant, Cottingham & Butler.
Number of years with organization: Three.
Education and career background: Bachelor of arts degree in business, marketing and public relations, Loras College, 2019; hired full-time at Cottingham & Butler after completing second summer sales internship. Now an employee benefit consultant focused on non-medical benefit solutions for employer groups across the country of various sizes and industries.
Community outreach and volunteering:
- Foundation for Dubuque Public Schools Board, vice president and president elect.
- United Way of Dubuque Tri-States, board member and marketing committee chair.
- Over the Edge, Cottingham & Butler team lead.
- Cottingham & Butler Better Initiative, co-founder and executive committee member.
- Cottingham & Butler annual holiday drive, Barriers Project.
- Young Professionals of Dubuque, mentorship program.
- Women’s Leadership Network, member.
- Association of Fundraising Professionals, chapter member and National Philanthropy Day committee member.
- T.T.T. Chapter GX, member
- Cottingham & Butler Corporate Employee Activities Committee, vice president.
- Dubuque Community School District mentor program, volunteer mentor and Cottingham & Butler team coordinator.
- Irish Hooley, Steeple Square monthly guest bartending, Dubuque County Fair, volunteer.
Number of years volunteering: Approximately five to seven years.
Family: Mother Sue Hafkemeyer, father Mark Czeshinski, brother Nicholas Bishop, boyfriend Cormac Siegert, golden retriever Rory Siegert.
How did you get involved with your organization and within the community? Getting involved in my community stems from my parents. My mom has been a strong female leader my entire life, both in her career and her community involvement. She is the one who set the original example that being successful meant giving 110% to your team, your organization and your community. That greatness comes from positively impacting others through hard work, leadership and service.
The next pivotal moment for me came during high school basketball. My head coach, Justin Smith, was big on family and teamwork. He instilled this idea of how important it was to “become a part of something bigger than yourself” early. And ever since, I have lived that mantra in every opportunity I am faced with.
With that strong sense of community in Dubuque, choosing Loras College was a no-brainer. While at Loras, I continued volunteer coaching for Smith at Dubuque Hempstead High School, volunteered on the women’s basketball staff at Loras with Coach Heinzen and was involved in various leadership and community service initiatives.
Entering my sophomore year in college, I was hired at the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque as the YAPPERS (Youth Area Philanthropy) coordinator. This role had me leading a group of 40 high school students of all ages in their journey of learning more about what it meant to be philanthropic — the giving of your time, talent and treasure. It was here that I had my first true exposure to formalized grant making, fundraising and leading a group of individuals in their journey to make a difference in our community.
While maintaining heavy involvement with the foundation, I also was working many hours as a summer intern followed by part-time employment during the school year at Cottingham & Butler. I completed my second summer internship at Cottingham & Butler in August 2018 and was offered a full-time gig that spring. I was hired as an employee benefit consultant in June and now focus on non-medical (life, disability and worksite) benefit solutions for employer groups across the country of various sizes and industries.
Shortly after starting full-time, my boss recognized my passion for nonprofit work and my knack for fundraising, and she quickly involved me in our annual holiday drive. With my involvement with the Foundation for Dubuque Public Schools and the generosity of our Cottingham & Butler family, we were able to add a new initiative to support, the Barriers Project. For three years, we have raised money and collected items to break down barriers that keep kids from being successful in school, alongside our effort to support Opening Doors and Toys for Tots.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, I had the opportunity to take on two new initiatives within our company. I was asked to start/lead our various Practice Employee Activities Committees for more than 1,000 teammates at a time when employee connectivity, engagement and retention was more important than ever. We also started what is now called the C&B Better Initiative. This is an organization within Cottingham & Butler focused on bringing our team together (125-plus individuals), pooling our resources and donating a substantial gift quarterly ($12,000) to local nonprofits that are serving the most vulnerable populations in unique ways.
As a member of the United Way Marketing Committee, I volunteered to be one of the first Dubuquers to go “over the edge.” After a successful first year, I began involving my teammates, and three short years later, we went from one C&B-er raising $1,200 to 25 C&B-ers raising more than $40,000 in 2022.
What challenges have you faced in your role? The main challenges I have faced in my role revolve around my passion and drive to give 110% in everything I do, and that quickly has become a double-edged sword. Sometimes I find myself running too thin, needing to stop, refocus and lock-in on what is in front of me in the moment. I have realized if I do not have a full bucket to put my best self into what’s ahead, then the outcome will be less than extraordinary.
What is the most fulfilling part of what you do? The most fulfilling part of the work I do, both within the walls of Cottingham & Butler and throughout our community, is knowing what I do and how hard I work matters and has the power to change the lives of others. I have the opportunity to see firsthand the lives I impact and the changes within the organizations I help serve every day.
What do you believe makes an effective leader? I believe effective leaders are overcome with a passion and an energy to move their teams forward. They are motivated to help their people achieve their version of greatness. They inspire a work ethic that is unmatched, and they care about developing and maintaining a strong personal connection with each of their teammates.
Why is community outreach important to you? Community outreach is important to me because it has allowed me to step outside my comfort zone, meet new people from all walks of life and connect on a deeper level to make a difference in those around me in a way I never could have imagined. Community outreach is important because it allows us to become a part of something bigger than ourselves. It allows us to gain new perspective on life.
When not busy in your various roles, what activities do you enjoy? I love to travel to new places, try new foods and spend time with family, friends and our golden retriever pup, Rory.
What was your reaction to receiving your Salute to Women award? I was a little shocked but incredibly humbled to hear that I was chosen to be this year’s Woman to Watch. I was excited about the opportunity to share my story, highlight and show gratitude to all of those who have aided in my achievements so far, and share my vision for the future to inspire others.
If you could offer one piece of advice to other women, what would it be? Figure out what is important to you, what moves you and what makes you want to get up in the morning. Then, chase it with everything you have until it is your reality. But do not get caught up in doing it alone. Find people that share your vision, who want you to be successful, who want to be successful, too, and have them join you in the journey. Everyone wants to achieve their version of greatness, and often, if we help others achieve theirs, ours will shortly follow.