We were lucky to catch up with Ashley Sharp recently and have shared our conversation below.
Ashley, looking forward to hearing all of your stories today. Alright, let’s take a stroll on memory lane, back to when you were an apprentice or intern. What’s a memorable story from that time that you can share with us?
My only internship experience actually led into my first job, and it was incredibly surreal! Through my master’s program, we were introduced to a variety of nonprofit arts institutions, and given the task to make connections and secure our own internship for the spring semester. Well, even though I was a dancer, with an undergraduate degree in performance, I ended up at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Mind you, I knew nothing about classical music! So here I am, 20 years old, meeting Joshua Bell, Yo-Yo Ma, and Chris Botti- literally the greatest classical musicians of our time, and I have no idea who they are. In between stuffing envelopes and making spreadsheets I got to watch Steve Martin rehearse, Patti LuPone bring the house down, and even helped orchestra members flip pages during performances. It was truly a most memorable internship!
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is Ashley Sharp, and I’m a lifelong nonprofit addict. My entire career has been spent strengthening nonprofit organizations locally, from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Nasher Sculpture Center to the International Rescue Committee and now Dwell with Dignity. I started my career as a dancer and performer, training with the Radio City Rockettes and choreographing for Dallas Summer Musicals, while simultaneously getting my Master of Public Administration degree. For over a decade I worked full time during the day as a nonprofit leader, and rehearsed and performed every single evening- it was invigorating, but also exhausting! Now my energy is completely focused on Dwell with Dignity, the most amazing nonprofit that transforms lives of families escaping poverty and trauma through inspirational design. We install complete home interiors that provide families a foundation for success- since I’ve been at the helm, 100% of our families have stayed living independently, employed, and thriving! What makes Dwell with Dignity so unique is that it is truly the only organization I know of that allows our supporters to be incredibly hands on- our volunteers make custom art and furniture for each install, get to physically put the piece in its new house, and even welcome home the family and see their hard work making a difference in someone’s life immediately.
Do you have any insights you can share related to maintaining high team morale?
As a nonprofit millennial leader, I am most proud of and adamant about my desire to hire people who are smarter and more gifted than me in their area of expertise. For example, we recently hired a Director of Community Engagement, who has spent years building relationships with nonprofits in the community. She’s been instrumental in forming our community partnerships by sharing our story with her network. I don’t want to be able to do everyone’s job better than them! I want to understand their job to offer guidance and support, but they should be the expert, not me. Why would you want a company full of people who are all good at the same thing? You want your organization to be led by the best and brightest in their fields.
Can you tell us about a time you’ve had to pivot?
Ah, the most used word of 2020- pivot! Seriously, everyone had to show so much resiliency and innovative thinking these past few years to stay afloat, Dwell with Dignity included. As the pandemic began, there were so many unknowns, especially for our organization, who relies on the physical presence of team members and volunteers to create art, update furniture, and physically install these pieces into someone’s home. We are not a remote business, and yet we couldn’t go into families homes at this time, putting us at a true crossroads. How can we continue to bring transformational design to those who need it most, but do it safely?
Then, it hit me- we had been contacted by multiple nonprofit organizations in prior years, asking for our help with their facilities to bring our design talents to their clients through updated counseling and therapy rooms, classrooms, even transitional shelters. And suddenly, many of these spaces were empty as we sheltered at home, This gave my team the opportunity to safely enter a space, while creating beautiful and functional rooms that would help thousands of people in the coming months. Now, community partner projects are a cornerstone of our work, allowing us to grow from serving 180 individuals a year to over 3,700!