40 Under 40 Class of 2008

Heidi Thomson

Age 31: Director of Development and Public Relations, Girls Inc.

Heidi Thomson has a real passion for spurring social change, promoting human rights, ending violence against women, and raising funds for all of the above.

These are weighty tasks, to say the least, but Thomson has already proven that she has the chops. Since joining Girls Inc., a nonprofit organization in Holyoke that works with young women, especially in underserved areas, Thomson has opened Holyoke’s first girls-only teen center, executed the launch of a $1 million HIV and substance-abuse-prevention project, spearheaded a mentorship program, and increased individual giving to Girls Inc. by 500% in one year.

She’s also held five different positions within the organization since 2005, each change representing a promotion. And as far as Thomson is concerned, she’s right on track.

“I love what I do because I’m a people person, and that’s the backbone of this work,” she said, noting that one of the most rewarding aspects of her job is working with the girls — like Solimar Fraticelli, pictured below.

“The girls we serve are very involved in the fundraising, and they never were before,” she said, noting that a project that has had particular impact is a series of facility visits dubbed Strong, Smart, and Bold Tours, for which girls are trained, by Thomson, in public speaking and social skills. Thomson said more than 200 people have taken these tours, designed to inform the community about what’s happening at Girls Inc.

But in addition to philanthropic work, she’s also passionate about moving her entire industry forward. As a board member with Women in Philanthropy of Western Mass., Thomson helps identify professional-development opportunities for women in the field, and also stays abreast of trends within the sector. This is important not only because it helps her do her job more effectively, but it also prepares her for the future, for which she has some very specific ambitions.

“My long-term goal is to work for an organization focused on international human rights,” she said, such as Amnesty International, Oxfam, or Unicef. “To be an executive director would be a career high. But I’m most passionate about ending violence and affecting social change; those are the goals that got me this far.”

Jaclyn Stevenson