LIFE IN THE KEY OF B

Life in the Key of B

The Many Talents of Productivity Guru Katie Belanger
By Meg Rothstein

Katie Belanger’s fingers soar over the flute keys. She knows the notes by heart. She vividly remembers every chord of her song, “Purpose.” She first learned it at a young age in a band practice room in Wauwatosa.

The meaning behind the title resonated later in her life, and still does today.

“Years ago, I took a training program where I really dug into the question, What is my purpose? What brings me joy? The facilitators took me through an exercise in thinking about three very distinct points in life when I felt really happy,” Belanger says. Memories of participation as a leader in her school and community’s music programs echoed in refrain. Bringing people together to play—whether it was in marching band, her flute and piccolo section or a small group playing before a children’s theater performance—brought young Katie authentic purpose.

To this day, the founder of Katie B. Strategies says, “My purpose continues to be bringing groups of people together and helping them work better together. That is where I find the most joy. That is where I find the most fulfillment. And it can look really different from day to day.”

Belanger’s service and leadership journey covers a diverse landscape. A change agent with activist roots, Belanger worked on numerous congressional and gubernatorial campaigns, led Fair Wisconsin in working toward statewide anti-discrimination measures and performed committed strategic planning with Roots Ethiopia, a nonprofit with a mission to support job creation and education in Ethiopian communities. She’s supported and led myriad nonprofits, for profits, boards and staff teams.

These experiences allow her to offer a rich menu of services through her business, Katie B. Strategies, including strategic planning, technology integration and team strengthening to help unify organizations. She also conducts training in diversity, advocacy, campaigns and organizing, among other areas.

A productivity guru who walks the walk, Belanger has earned the reputation of being unstoppable. Evidence? She runs her business in addition to serving full time as chief operations officer for Freedom for All Americans—the leading bipartisan campaign to secure full nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people nationwide.

As COO, Belanger oversees the organization’s strategic planning and internal operations. She also directs LGBT University—Freedom for All Americans’ groundbreaking and rigorous leadership training program built to develop the next wave of leaders in the Equality Movement.

“Katie squeezes more productivity out of one LGBT-U weekend than some of us see in a month at our day jobs,” remarks alum Hannah Willard, public policy director for Equality Florida.

Belanger’s been with LGBT University from the beginning. “One of the reasons I got involved in Freedom for All Americans was because they were building [LGBTU]. It was one of the only times I’ve seen an organization say, from the start, that one of their top priorities was to build a strong team of people who are doing this work.” The team asked Belanger how to make it happen. “I got to help create the program where we’re working with amazing advocates from all over the country. We’re bringing in LGBTQ folks and allies, more people of color, genderqueer and gender non-conforming and trans folks and people from all political persuasions— people who can all agree that LGBT nondiscrimination is really important and who want to figure out how we can be leaders in our own communities in order to get the job done.” Belanger’s eyes dance as she describes the work.

Belanger loves the symphonic aspect of team building. She’s innately curious about each individual in a team—what they think, how they communicate, what they assume or don’t assume about themselves and each other— as well as how they ultimately work together.

“I firmly believe people have the answers to these questions within them,” she says. “It’s really about asking the right questions and creating a space for that. It’s not telling someone what their purpose is—or what their team’s purpose is—but it’s creating the path and the process for people to get from point A to point B.”

Belanger is also organized. “Katie has the unique ability to transform chaos into order,” says Teresa Vilmain, one of the nation’s top political organizers and a consultant based in Verona. “She’s able to do this almost instinctively and in such a supportive fashion that it promotes a sense of unity towards achieving common goals. She brings leadership to the table. And she brings it with empathy, direction and with no apologies.”

Belanger’s mentor and friend, Vilmain first met Belanger 15 years ago on Tammy Baldwin’s campaign. “I’ve witnessed the impact Katie’s made. Whether it was her dedication to Tammy Baldwin’s campaigns, her managerial direction at Fair Wisconsin or her planning expertise for Roots Ethiopia—everything she immerses herself in shines with the magic that is Katie Belanger.”

It comes from what remains essential to Belanger: Bringing groups of people together. “I make sure that I’m living my purpose in whatever work I’m doing,” Belanger says. “My work is a huge piece of who I am. It’s about living out my values. It’s about helping to create a world I want to live in.”
Don’t miss Katie Belanger’s lessons on “Making Productivity Productive” at BRAVA’s THRIVE Career Workshop Feb. 22.

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