Itzel Lopez is living proof that it doesn’t matter where you start in a career, it’s what you do from there that counts. Joining the AIM Institute in 2014 in an entry-level role, she’s enjoyed nearly one promotion a year since. Today, the 2013 40 Under 40 honoree heads the nonprofit’s fundraising efforts as vice president of advancement and community relations, a role she was promoted into last year.
“In my role as the lead fundraiser, my work is to cultivate relationships with local funders to secure sponsorship and membership support for our organization,” she said. “Basically, I’m responsible for all the revenue and maintaining the revenue at our organization. I’m also responsible for the majority of the revenue outside of federal grants.”
Lopez, who was born and raised in Mexico until the age of 12, said she developed her sales chops by watching her family while growing up.
“My parents were entrepreneurs, and so I think I have an entrepreneurial spirit just by nature,” she said. “I grew up in an environment where entrepreneurship was very instilled in our childhood because my entire family, both on my mom and my dad’s side back in Mexico, they all were business owners.
“So, I was always surrounded by business and when I was young, I saw my dad making deals. I know for sure that impacted my life and inspired me. Donations are not sales, so in general I think it’s not a sales process, it’s more of a relationship process. And I think people trust me and trust our organization to be good stewards of their financial support.
When you have a good mission and when you have a good person representing that, those go hand in hand.”
Even if she doesn’t see soliciting donors as the same thing as sales, Lopez admitted there is competition for donor dollars, given the number of worthy causes that exist in the community. She said getting AIM’s share of philanthropic funding takes consistent, powerful messaging.
“In Omaha alone, we have over 2,000 tech jobs that go unfilled every year,” she said.
“When someone joins the tech workforce, for every one software developer there are five new jobs added in our community. So, this shortage will just continue to increase even though technology careers are stable, rewarding career opportunities.
“Despite this shortage, our existing tech workforce is currently very white and male-dominated. There is not enough access to quality technology education for people of color and females, honestly. Females only make up about 20% of the tech workforce and only 10% of that are females of color.”
On this latter point, Lopez is particularly well-versed, relating her own journey from undocumented immigrant to an American success story. She said using that experience to illustrate how others can be helped by AIM’s mission is a story worth telling.
“When we arrived, we lived in a basement that was overpriced, over $900 rent and that was like, 20 plus years ago, in not the best living condition,” she said. “So, I understand what the journey is of someone who has lived in poverty, who has seen their parents work two jobs and still not make a living.
“AIM’s mission is to provide access to free technology education that would not otherwise be available for this population. Once people get into this field, it’s really a good job opportunity because it’s stable, and it’s in high demand in our community. As a person of color who was once undocumented, I see how an organization like AIM can literally impact someone’s life and end the cycle of poverty.”
Going the Extra Mile
Marcos Mora, executive director for Cinco de Mayo Omaha, has known Lopez for nearly 20 years. He said her unique combination of determination and personability are what makes her effective in her role.
“I think the magic thing about her is that people like her. She’s just one of those likable persons,” he said. “She carries herself well, she’s professional. She’s very likable and that makes it easy when you’re networking. People just gravitate towards her because she is such a great person.
“The other thing is she’s just driven. She’s a hard worker and has really strong work values and ethics. You don’t always see people who want to go the extra mile, but she’ll give you 110%. Not many people want to do that these days but she does.”
During her rapid rise through the AIM organization, Lopez has had a chance to collaborate on some noteworthy projects. She points to the group’s coding academy for high schoolers as a point of particular pride.
“Two years ago, we launched a code academy partnership with Omaha South High School.
Since then, we have graduated over 20 students and have assisted them into getting into higher education and their first job in tech,” she said. “It’s a real passion program for me, as a graduate from South High who wasn’t exposed to this and also knowing that South High has the largest diverse population in the whole district. It’s a great feeling to see how your work to end poverty in those families is actually happening.”