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Hidden Gems: Meet Melanie Ulle of Philanthropy Expert

Today we’d like to introduce you to Melanie Ulle.

Hi Melanie, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
I grew up in Washington Park when it was a much different neighborhood than it is today. Advocacy and political activism were important to me even as a child, and I went door-to-door campaigning starting at age 8. Most of my career was spent in politics and has shifted into nonprofit fundraising. I still love the thrill of politics and the adrenaline, but the highs are too high, and the lows are too low.

Nonprofit fundraising is more consistent and fulfilling, but I feel lucky that the firm I started over ten years ago does both. My firm, Philanthropy Expert, is a consulting firm with over 29 clients and a team of 10. We raise money, we advise on the distribution of money, and we help boards and Executive Directors work together more seamlessly. I have been fortunate in this career to work with many of our community’s most talented nonprofit and civic leaders and our generous Denver philanthropists. My firm supports fundraising efforts of over $50 million a year.

Though my career has been predominantly focused on nonprofits and initiatives, there have been two periods that held other incredible experiences. In 2006, my husband and I were selected as the sole cast members for a travel documentary series on the Travel Channel called 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. We traveled around the world and had an absolute blast, and we can now watch our trip whenever we want!

The other exciting experience was starting a women’s coworking space in northeast Denver. That was a crazy and exhilarating experience when women needed more options to feel safe and supported in their personal and professional lives.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Entrepreneurialism is never a smooth road. I feel lucky to work with an exceptional team and business partner, Erin Flores, who is my rock and saving grace. I reflect on the early days of the company when I was launching Philanthropy Expert while working a full-time job at a university with a baby and a toddler, and I can’t believe the financial and emotional pressure I experienced during that period.

Later, I started a coworking space for women with my friend Ginna Santy, and I ran both businesses simultaneously. It was exhausting and thrilling but not sustainable. I tend to take on too much, and I need to have people around me, like my husband and my business partner, tell me to slow down.

But, with all challenges, you can persevere with a strong support system. I have an incredible spouse and two daughters who always cheer me on, along with my colleagues who know when the load is too heavy and are there to help.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know?
Philanthropy Expert is the trusted partner of organizations looking to increase the flow of dollars in both directions. And they do it from the frontline to the boardroom to the dance floor – with compassion and charm. Just like the ancient Romans. Minus the constant public bathing.

We help imagine, implement, and execute philanthropic and fundraising programs for nonprofits and foundations.
Improving our clients’ fundraising and philanthropic outcomes means working with boards, leadership teams, development, and program officers to plan better, work smarter, and increase the flow of dollars.

We work in partnership with the organizations we serve to assess their current programs, create roadmaps to maximize profit and impact and execute those plans hand-in-hand. Our company has worked worldwide, raising important dollars for organizations that make the world a better place. We work hard and play hard and don’t take ourselves too seriously.

What was your favorite childhood memory?
I am an only child, so I grew up doing adult things. My childhood was spent in museums, concert halls, at lectures, traveling domestically and abroad, and experiencing the art and culture of the world and of my own city.

A memory that stands out is the Red Grooms exhibition at the Denver Art Museum and walking through his “subway,” and thinking, ‘dang, now this is art!’ I ended up working at the DAM years later, and I am very grateful to my parents for inspiring me to love arts and culture and to invest in my community.

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