Thompson Cole
President and CEO

Great nonprofit leaders are people who break through walls. You start with a great idea; then you have the passion to take that idea and create something out of it.

I think what I bring to VPP is a deep understanding of how community works across different sectors and how institutions and people connect. I’ve always been concerned about the most vulnerable people in our community.

If my parents were sitting here today, they would tell you that I always asked “why.” I always wanted an answer that made sense. They pushed me to reach beyond what I could see.

You only do your best work when it’s challenging.

I started my career in local government as an executive assistant in Washington, D.C. By the time I finished, I had risen to become first-ever female city administrator and also the youngest.

I’m a problem solver at heart. I like complexity and I like getting my hands dirty. I always want to be in a place where I’m solving problems to make people’s lives better.

One summer during college, I got an internship on Capitol Hill. The administrator didn’t like interns, so he just gave me magazines to read. A Congressman came in one day and asked if I was having a good time. I told him no; I wanted to learn more. By the end of that summer, I was running hearings for him.

In my old job, I was known as the one who takes on the hardest tasks. “You don’t have to do that,” my bosses would say. But that’s just who I am; it’s who I was raised to be.

By the time I came to VPP, I had worked in local government, federal government, and business. I realized eventually that the problems we face are problems the government couldn’t solve alone. We need to have government, business, and nonprofits working together.

Part of what we do here at VPP is take a close look at your team. Who are the strong players and who do you need on the field? We help organizations find the right people.

I grew up in the 1950s and I got a sense of social justice early on because I lived in a very segregated community. I never could understand that. I fundamentally believe that you should always be able to chase after and achieve what you want.

I’m the oldest of six siblings and my family is a huge part of my life. When I’m not here, I’m spending time with my family.

I have a great team around me; you have to when you’re doing something that matters this much.

People come to their most vulnerable moments in this kind of work. If you can’t deal with that, you can’t be successful.

We’re right there in the trenches with our organizations. There are strong, accomplished people in those rooms and we’re taking them out of their comfort zones to get them to the next level. But we’re with them every step of the way.

When I get frustrated, I remember something my friend told me. He said, “Carol, you are working in the messy middle, and you don’t walk away from it, you step into it. So keep stepping through it.” That’s when I take a walk around the block, come back in, and keep going.

When I left college, I said I’m going back home to Washington. I’m going to make a difference in my community and help shape better futures for kids. I think I’ve achieved that.