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La Toya Stevens

Marketing and Communications Director, Heart of Missouri United Way

Job description

My role is to advance equity, increase brand awareness, and raise funds through strategic communications and marketing. This includes but is not limited to training internal and external stakeholders to advance equity, making inclusive design decisions that uplift marginalized communities by countering stereotypical imagery, and contributing to the organization’s event planning and resource development efforts. 

Professional background

Fun fact: I am self-taught. Although I have a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice and a Bachelor of Science in paralegal studies, my current career in communications is the result of following my passion for creativity, design, and communication. Simply put — I learned by doing. 


Palm Bay, Florida.

Years lived in Columbia

10 years.

Quote you live by

“Take care of yourself. Maintain your peace. Protect your energy.” — Me.

Favorite volunteer/community activity

It’s always a great feeling when I get the opportunity to help small businesses and nonprofits in the startup phase develop their marketing and communications strategy.

Favorite recent project

I absolutely love history! Recently, I had the opportunity to share the history of Black people in Columbia in the Bicentennial Issue of COMO Magazine, and United Way Worldwide published my blog post on the history of Juneteenth.

A Columbia businessperson you admire and why

There are very few women in marketing to look up to. For me, that person is [COMO publisher] Erica Pefferman. I first met Erica when she served as a volunteer on the United Way Board of Directors and we worked together on the marketing committee. Erica has shown me what a woman can do and how a woman can lead in this field. My hope is that I can be an inspiration to women who look like me and want a career in this field as well.

Why you are passionate about your job

At Heart of Missouri United Way, I view my role as one of an educator. It is my job to take what we do and make it consumable. However, it’s more than just what we do — it’s why. Why do we fight to improve lives? Why do we fight to advance equity? Why do we fundraise? Why do we need the help of people in our community? Why United Way? Sure, being able to answer those questions helps us as an organization, but it also helps our community.

Why you are passionate about your company

United Way has a long history of fighting for members of our community who typically don’t have a voice.  Success isn’t linear, and as an organization, we recognize that success looks different for everyone. We fight to ensure everyone in our community has access to the support needed to thrive. United Way advances meaningful change with support from our people in the community.

If you weren’t doing this for a living, you would

In an alternate universe where I sought fame over service to my community, I would be a singer whose voice was familiar around the world!  All jokes aside, I would earn my law degree and advance equity through legal consulting.

What people should know about your profession

Marketing and communications is so much more than graphic design, social media, and press releases. To be effective in my role, I have to be a good listener. I have to understand people’s hesitations and fears, perceptions, and opinions — and I have to communicate through the dissonance to resolution.

The next challenge facing your industry

The nonprofit industry relies on the generosity of individual donors, and we’re charged with solving society’s most challenging problems. As an industry, we need to move away from a model that reinforces the mindset of transactional and colonial philanthropy, where the rich and privileged simply donate money for poor people. We need to shift to a model of philanthropy that no longer focuses on what’s wrong with people, but instead recognizes that the root of a person’s experience lies in what happened to them. This will require a shift in how we as an industry communicate to our donors about what we do and why we do it. When our work is seen not as saving people from themselves, but providing the tools and supports needed to navigate systems and remove systemic barriers to success, we will see an increase in fundraising. More importantly, we will begin to see systemic changes that will improve our community. It will take time, but it is doable. 

Your next professional goal

I have a couple. First, completing the United Way Worldwide Fellowship Program. Next, I’m really excited for the opportunity offered by the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis to share my knowledge through the workshop “Advocacy & Allyship: Establishing a Racial Equity Framework that Goes Beyond HR” on November 4, 2021. 

Biggest lesson learned in business

Most mistakes in business can be repaired and damage can be minimized if you’re willing to acknowledge you made a mistake and take responsibility. It’s also the fastest way to restore trust when you fail to live up to your brand standard (personal or professional).

How you want to impact the Columbia community

As cliché as this may sound, I really just want to leave Columbia better than it was when I got here. 

Greatest strength

My ability to establish rapport with people.

Greatest weakness

Sometimes, I find myself giving more of myself than I have to give. Real talk — I have to be better at setting boundaries and saying no. I’ve made a lot of progress though, and I want to celebrate that.

What you do for fun

If you know me, you know it’s travel. It has become such a big part of my self-care routine. It’s fun to see new places and spend time in solitude or with family and friends.


I’m a single mother of four amazing sons: David, 21; Marcus, 16; Matthew, 15; and Nathaniel, 12.

Favorite place in Columbia

Hands down, my bedroom. It is my sanctuary from the chaos of life.

Accomplishment you are most proud of

In addition to my four sons, I am also proud of choosing myself and going to counseling to get the tools I need to manage anxiety and depression so I can live with good mental health. 

Most people don’t know that

I’m terrified of drive-thru car washes. 

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