Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Elizabeth Neufeld of Strat Labs Is Helping To Change Our World

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Empowered and valued teachers would be more motivated, enthusiastic, and dedicated to their profession. This enthusiasm would naturally extend to their students, fostering a love for learning and igniting a lifelong thirst for knowledge. In turn, a well-educated and engaged population would drive economic growth, promote social cohesion, and contribute to a more inclusive and equitable society.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth Neufeld, Founder and CEO of Strat Labs.

Elizabeth Neufeld has over 23 years of working in the purpose-driven sector, supporting leaders from large and small organizations representing various global, social, and environmental causes. Combining her experience in nonprofit fundraising, marketing, and corporate social responsibility, she founded Strat Labs in 2018, a social impact marketing, communications, and philanthropy agency. Strat Labs empowers purpose-driven brands to refine their story, amplify their voice, and build their community through strategic marketing and communications.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My journey towards this career path began when I co-founded a nonprofit organization called Caring About Kids Everywhere (CAKE) at the age of 10. While we didn’t accomplish much, other than come up with a great acronym (my intro into branding), that early experience ignited my passion for being part of a community of problem-solvers and doers. I knew from then on that I wanted to make a positive impact. During my childhood, I went on to have 1,000 other ideas for nonprofits which would solve social issues — none of which were launched.

During my college years, I started off pursuing journalism, driven by my love for storytelling. But I quickly found myself studying documentary film–rather than traditional journalism. With documentaries, I could tell such engaging and deep stories. I was hooked on storytelling using this medium. But becoming Michael Moore or Steve James is no easy feat. Through a series of fortunate events, I ended up working at United Way of Los Angeles and exploring the world of nonprofit marketing, communications, and fundraising, where I could combine my storytelling skills with my desire to contribute to social change.

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of working in a variety of fields, including education, nonprofits, real estate, documentary film, sports, healthcare, and more. Throughout these experiences, my passion for storytelling and creating connections has remained constant.

In 2017, I decided to take the leap and founded Strat Labs with a vision to bring marketing, communications, and fundraising together for both nonprofits and companies. I curated a team of experts who share my passion for storytelling and philanthropy, and together, we’ve had the opportunity to work with incredible brands while continually refining our processes.

It’s been an exciting journey, and I’m proud to say that we’ve worked with some of the most prominent companies and nonprofits, including Vans, The North Face, Timberland, Denver Public Schools, Downtown Denver Partnership, University of Colorado, Colorado Gives Day, Girl Scouts, and others.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

One of my most interesting and transformative experiences since I began leading Strat Labs took place during the challenging period of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the world grappled with uncertainty, our team had to adapt quickly to the new reality of remote work and find innovative ways to continue our mission of creating social impact.

When the pandemic hit, we knew we had to pivot our approach to continue supporting our clients, many of whom were nonprofits facing unprecedented challenges. We started hosting virtual lab sessions, providing a space for organizations to come together, share insights, and collaborate on solutions despite the physical distance.

During this time, another pivotal moment occurred with the tragic murder of George Floyd, which sparked global protests and a renewed focus on racial injustice. As a company that advocates for social impact, we felt a responsibility to address the pressing issues of racism and inequality.

The virtual lab sessions, which initially served as a means of continuing our work amidst the pandemic, quickly evolved into platforms for facilitating essential discussions about the intersection of social impact and racism. These discussions were both enlightening and transformative, bringing together people from various backgrounds and organizations to share their experiences, insights, and ideas.

We were amazed by the power of these conversations and the impact they had on fostering understanding, empathy, and collective determination to drive positive change. It was evident that there was a strong hunger for these discussions, and it gave our team a renewed sense of purpose in our work.

As we navigated through this challenging period, we saw our company expand not just in terms of business growth but also in terms of the depth and impact of our work. Our virtual lab sessions became more than just events; they became catalysts for social change.

The experiences during COVID-19 and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement reshaped our approach to social impact, highlighting the urgency of addressing racism and injustice. It brought a new level of authenticity and commitment to our work, and we became more determined than ever to empower purpose-driven brands and organizations in the fight for equality and social justice.

Looking back, it was a challenging yet transformational time for our company. We not only adapted to the unique circumstances brought on by the pandemic but also embraced our responsibility to advocate for social change during a critical moment in history. These experiences reinforced our belief in the power of storytelling and strategic communications to create lasting impact, and they continue to inspire and guide us in our mission to drive positive change in the world.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I remember one particular funny mistake from when my team and I were working with my husband’s social impact company, Agile Orthopedics, on their marketing and communications. I used to always tease him that he was a very difficult client.

So one time, during a virtual team call, I was screen sharing as we discussed various aspects of the project with my husband, who was also on the call. At one point, my husband had a slightly edgy tone in his voice while discussing a particular piece we were working on. Not wanting to disrupt the flow of the meeting or engage in a potentially contentious discussion in front of the team, I decided to send him a quick text message on the side to ease the situation.

In the message, I told him to “take it down a notch” followed by a kissing emoji and an “I love you.” My intention was to humorously defuse any tension and offer some affectionate support. However, there was one crucial oversight — I completely forgot that I was screen sharing, and my team could see everything on my screen, including my private message.

As soon as I hit send, I realized my blunder.

Ultimately, this lighthearted mistake taught me the value of being able to laugh at myself and not taking everything too seriously.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

At Strat Labs, we are deeply committed to making a significant social impact through our work in marketing, communications, and fundraising for both nonprofits and purpose-driven companies. Our mission is to empower these organizations to refine their stories, amplify their voices, and build thriving communities.

One of the key ways we achieve this is by leveraging the power of storytelling. We understand that compelling narratives have the potential to create meaningful connections and inspire action. Through strategic storytelling, we help our clients communicate their mission, values, and impact in a way that resonates with their target audience, donors, and supporters.

By working with a diverse range of clients, including nonprofits, companies, and social enterprises, we have had the privilege of being involved in various projects that have a positive social impact. From education and healthcare to environmental conservation and social justice initiatives, we have collaborated with organizations across different sectors, all driven by a common goal — to create positive change in the world.

As an organization, Strat Labs is also actively involved in community initiatives. We participate in events like Denver Startup Week and engage with organizations such as the Association of Nonprofit Consultants and Elevate Denver as pro bono consultants. These involvements allow us to stay connected to the broader social impact community and continually refine our strategies to drive positive change.

Our team is also passionate about making a difference, and this commitment is reflected not only in our work, but also in our personal lives and culture. Each year, Strat Labs team members are asked to choose a local nonprofit that Strat Labs will donate to on Colorado Gives Day. As the Founder, I am also involved in volunteering with a variety of causes and consistently promote volunteerism to the team.

Through our work and the partnerships we build with our clients, we are actively contributing to creating a world where purpose-driven brands and nonprofits can thrive. We envision a future where consumers actively seek out and support businesses that prioritize social impact, making a positive difference in society.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

While I can’t pinpoint one specific individual impacted by our cause at Strat Labs, the organizations we help have collectively made a lasting impact on numerous lives and communities. Our commitment to empowering purpose-driven brands and nonprofits through strategic marketing and communications has contributed to a ripple effect of positive change.

We have partnered with nonprofits focused on education, providing access to quality learning resources for underserved communities. By refining their stories and amplifying their voices, these organizations have been able to attract more support and funding, expanding their reach and making a difference in the lives of countless students.

In the healthcare sector, we have worked with organizations committed to improving healthcare access and addressing public health issues. Through strategic marketing and communications, these organizations have successfully raised awareness about critical health concerns, mobilizing communities and policymakers to take action.

In the realm of social justice, our work with organizations advocating for equality and human rights has been instrumental in raising awareness about important issues. By crafting compelling narratives and engaging with the public, these organizations have inspired individuals to stand up for justice, leading to policy changes and social progress.

While we may not have a singular individual to highlight, the cumulative efforts of the organizations we help have touched the lives of many. The impact goes beyond numbers and statistics; it is about the human stories, the communities strengthened, and the lives transformed.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

As we work towards addressing the root of the social and environmental challenges that our partner organizations at Strat Labs are dedicated to solving, there are three crucial ways in which the community, society, and policymakers can contribute to our collective efforts:

  1. Raise Awareness and Support:. By actively engaging with and sharing the stories and initiatives of these nonprofits and purpose-driven brands, community members can amplify their impact. Through social media, word-of-mouth, and participation in events, individuals can help spread the message, attract more support, and mobilize others to join the cause.
  2. Foster Collaboration and Partnerships: Strategic partnerships can lead to innovative solutions and increased efficiency in addressing complex social and environmental issues.
  3. Advocate for Policy Changes: Policy support can range from incentivizing sustainable practices to creating funding opportunities for projects aimed at improving communities and the environment.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

My vision for leadership is not confined to my own success; it’s about creating a positive impact within the industry and inspiring other leaders to adapt to the changing needs of the next generation of team members. I firmly believe that a new management style, one that empowers individuals and embraces collaboration, is crucial for building a thriving and purpose-driven workplace.

At Strat Labs, we employ the “Empowered Team” approach, where team members are not seen as employees but as valuable members of the Strat Labs family. This mindset fosters a sense of ownership and pride in their work, which translates to exceptional dedication to our clients and their causes.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why.

Five things I wish someone had told me when I first started, each closely tied to my experiences and philosophy:

• Leadership is hard and not linear: Leadership is not a straightforward path. It’s filled with ups and downs, and success isn’t always immediate. There were moments when I faced obstacles that made me question my abilities. I learned that true leadership involves resilience and adaptability. Embracing the challenges and learning from failures was essential for our growth as an agency.

• You have to get comfortable with the uncomfortable: It’s essential to stay true to your vision, even when faced with criticism or doubt from others. By staying true to our mission and proving ourselves through successful projects, we have gained an immense amount of credibility and trust.

• You don’t need the answer to everything: Instead, surround yourself with people around you who know the answer. I built a team with diverse expertise, from marketing and communications to finance and operations. This collective knowledge has been invaluable in overcoming challenges and finding innovative solutions.

• Embrace continuous learning and growth: To stay ahead in the rapidly changing market, I continuously invest in learning for both myself and our team. This commitment to growth has allowed us to remain innovative and adaptable in our approach. We can always be learning.

• Celebrate successes and appreciate the journey: In the pursuit of goals and impact, it’s easy to overlook the progress made along the way. We make it a point to celebrate every milestone, whether it’s securing a new client or successfully executing a campaign. Acknowledging these achievements fosters a positive and motivated work environment.

Through these experiences and lessons, I’ve become a more resilient, adaptive, and purpose-driven leader, committed to making a positive impact through our work.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Our education system is the bedrock of any thriving society, and its reform is crucial for fostering equitable opportunities and nurturing the potential of every student. Teachers play an instrumental role in shaping young minds, inspiring curiosity, and imparting knowledge that will mold future leaders, innovators, and changemakers.

To bring this movement to life, several key components would be essential:

  • Elevating the Status of Teachers: Creating awareness about the vital role of teachers in society and challenging the prevailing narrative that education is undervalued. The movement would seek to elevate the status of teachers as esteemed professionals who deserve the highest level of respect and recognition
  • Significant Increase in Teacher Salaries: Proposing substantial salary increases for teachers, ensuring they are paid not just fairly but abundantly for their dedication and hard work. They should be paid equally to doctors, lawyers, and other trained professionals. They hold the key for the future. Adequate compensation would attract top talent to the profession and retain experienced educators who are essential for nurturing long-term relationships with students.
  • Investing in Teacher Training and Support: Allocating resources to continuous professional development for teachers, empowering them with the latest teaching techniques and tools.
  • Empowered and valued teachers would be more motivated, enthusiastic, and dedicated to their profession. This enthusiasm would naturally extend to their students, fostering a love for learning and igniting a lifelong thirst for knowledge. In turn, a well-educated and engaged population would drive economic growth, promote social cohesion, and contribute to a more inclusive and equitable society.

Spend a day as a teacher in a classroom and you won’t disagree.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my favorite life lesson quotes is: “Be the change you wish to see in the world” by Mahatma Gandhi.

I know it is a bit generic. But…

Gandhi’s quote serves as a constant reminder that each of us has the power to make a difference in the world. By taking action aligned with our values and passions, we can be the catalysts for positive transformation. In my journey with Strat Labs, I have experienced the truth in this quote — that the impact we create begins with the actions we choose to take. By striving to be the change I wish to see, I hope to inspire a ripple effect that encourages others to embrace purpose-driven initiatives and collectively work towards a brighter future for all.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard.

Yvon Chouinard is not only an iconic figure in the outdoor industry but also a pioneer in promoting corporate social responsibility and sustainability. Patagonia has been a leader in using business as a force for good, integrating sustainability into its core values and operations.

I would be eager to hear about his experiences, challenges, and insights in building and sustaining a company that remains committed to social and environmental responsibility while thriving in a competitive market. Especially in a world full of greenwashing and greenhushing. His perspectives on storytelling and leveraging business for positive change could offer valuable lessons and inspiration for our work at Strat Labs.

I know that connecting with leaders like Yvon Chouinard can inspire us to continue pushing boundaries, creating innovative solutions, and driving positive change in the world.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I am most active professionally on LinkedIn

As for Strat Labs, you can keep up with our projects, impact stories, and updates through the following channels:

Strat Labs Social Media Handles:

Instagram: @thestratlabs

Website: www.s/strat-labs/

Monthly Lab Report:

By following these social media accounts, visiting our website, and signing up for our Lab Report, you can gain insights into the exciting projects we’re working on, our collaborations with purpose-driven brands and nonprofits, and our continuous efforts to drive positive change through strategic marketing and communications.

Thank you for your interest in our work, and we look forward to connecting with you online!

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Elizabeth Neufeld of Strat Labs Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.