Christie Eckler was encouraged by other leaders in her career. Now she’s sharing what she’s learned.

dfwnewsa | January 18, 2024 | 0 | Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

Christie Eckler was encouraged by other leaders in her career. Now she’s sharing what she’s learned.

Christie Eckler of CME Consulting helps others find leadership skills to grow their businesses and nonprofit organizations. (Courtesy photo | Christie Eckler)
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Christie Eckler’s career reads like a well-planned road map.It wasn’t always that way, though.

The resume looks good: She leads her own company, CME Consulting LLC,  and has been an assistant professor at The University of Texas at Arlington’s School of Social Work. She has worked at a variety of nonprofits, including Catholic Charities Fort Worth, SafeHaven of Tarrant County and Samaritan House, and has guided institutions such as the Botanical Research Institute of Texas and the Fort Worth Botanic Garden through restructuring.

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Eckler, now 48, readily recalls a key event that changed her life and  led to her current career. 

She was cleaning offices at night at Camp Fire First Texas to help make ends meet. As a single mother, she brought her kids to work and put them in an empty office while she went about her duties. 

One executive, Sue Matkin, head of the Work/Family Division, was always there late at night, working in her office. Eventually, she let Eckler’s daughter play in her office. 

“She would let Chelsea make a fort in her office,” Eckler said. 

The two women got to know each other, and Matkin asked Eckler what she wanted to do. 

“No one had ever asked me that before,” Eckler said. 

Gradually, Matkin convinced Eckler to go back to college and get a degree.

“She had noticed that I had some natural management abilities, but I didn’t really know what to do with them,” Eckler said. 

Eckler went to Tarrant Community College, where she  wasn’t always the traditional student.

“Sometimes, I’d bring these two little people to class with me when I didn’t have a babysitter, but the professors were great,” she said.

After two years, she transferred to The University of Texas at Arlington, expecting to go into the nursing program. She was encouraged to sign up for a social work class, and she “fell in love.” 

“I could help people and not have to deal with bodily fluids,” she said. “I could really make an impact.” 

She enjoyed it so much that she breezed through the classes. After that, she began working for local nonprofits. Eckler got a reputation as, had fate would have it, “a cleaner.” 

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“I come in, help figure out a program, get some infrastructure in place, then – because I get bored fairly easily – I’ll get it going and I/m off to the next thing,” she said. “Everybody kind of knew that about me.” 

What Eckler hadn’t noticed, but others had, was that she was also pretty good at fundraising. 

“Mary Lee Hafley at SafeHaven sort of planted that seed in my mind, so I began to take notice of it, too,” she said.

But it was not always smooth sailing. It was while Eckler was working as a program manager at Catholic Charities in 2011 that she knew something was wrong. 

“I was always active, working two jobs, maybe three, but I was actually on vacation when it happened,” she said. 

She had trouble forming words and difficulty getting around. Her family thought it was a stroke, and she returned home to find out what was happening. 

It wasn’t a stroke. It was multiple sclerosis, a chronic disease of the central nervous system that affects people in different ways. 

It hit Eckler hard and, after falling down a stairway, she ended up in a wheelchair. But she kept working at Catholic Charities. 

“They were the most amazing employer, because my brain was still good. My body just wasn’t what it was,” she said. “I was just one of those people that was like, ‘I was not going to become an invalid.’ I had just gotten my degrees. I was ready to get going.” 

She was still expected to deliver results at a high level, and that proved important. 

“That’s really what I needed,” she said.

After nine months, she was out of the wheelchair. Multiple sclerosis symptoms still come and go, she said, but she works hard to deal with the disease, which affects about 1 million people in the U.S., according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.  

“It’s probably good that it hit me hard at the beginning, because I respect it,” she said. “I have to make sure and watch what is going on with myself.”

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Following her diagnosis, she began working with the local Multiple Sclerosis Society, becoming executive director in 2021. 

“It was with the help of a local chapter of the MS Society that I was able to come to terms with my new reality and accept my new trajectory while also building my professional career in nonprofits,” she said.

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She then was hired as director of development at Samaritan House, a nonprofit providing housing for people with special needs. That’s where she put her fundraising skills to us.

“I didn’t really know what director of development meant,” she said.

What she was good at was going in front of a group and explaining what they needed money for and what that money was going to do. 

“It seems simple, but not everyone does it well,” she said. 

It worked out well this time, though, as Samaritan House raised a lot of money for the organization and, along the way, Eckler received leadership training. 

“I had that raw ability. I could get people to follow me, but sometimes I came across as aggressive, not assertive,” she said. 

Norbert White, the CEO of Samaritan House, began investing in  leadership training for executives at the organization.  

Eckler worked with a coach from Apex Catalyst Group, Sandi Mitchell, whom she is still using to keep herself on track.  

Now she has ventured out on her own with CME Consulting. Her motto for the firm is: “I help those who help others.”

Among the projects she is working on is The Brilliance Ball, an inaugural fundraising event for Resources Inspiring Success and Empowering, a nonprofit organization that provides resources for young adults transitioning from foster care. 

RISE is led by Renika Atkins, who was in one of Eckler’s classes at UTA. 

Atkins said Eckler has been helpful, offering advice as she grows her nonprofit.

“If you know what you want to do, she can help you find that path you need to be on,” she said. “She’s been enormously helpful, not just in getting this event going but also for getting me in touch with the right people and organizations.” 

Eckler has also been teaching small businesses and entrepreneurs about leadership. Much of that training focuses on communication. 

“Communication is vital to gain trust, align efforts for goals and inspire positive change,” she said. “When I think about some of the leaders I have worked for, I would follow them through fire because of the way they were able to communicate.” 

Christie Eckler 

Birthplace:  Born in Newport News, Virginia; she moved to Fort Worth when she was 6 months old.  

Education: Bachelor of social work from The University of Texas at Arlington School of Social Work; master of science in social work from UTA’s School of Social Work; and international certification as a Certified Fundraising Executive.

Family: Married to Lee Eckler. They have two adult daughters, Chelsea Eckler, 29, and Kayla Eckler, 27, and a granddaughter, Olivia, 22 months.

Work experience: CME Consulting LLC, founder and principal strategist; UT Arlington, School of Social Work, assistant professor; National Multiple Sclerosis Society, executive director, south central market; Botanical Research Institute of Texas & Fort Worth Botanic Garden, vice president for advancement; UT Arlington, College of Science, director of development; Samaritan House, vice president of development; Catholic Charities Fort Worth, program manager; SafeHaven of Tarrant County, director of housing; Tarrant County Homeless Coalition, program coordinator; Day Resource Center for the Homeless, case manager. 

Board service: Preserve International and Yellow Rose Gala Foundation. Previously at Friends of the Fort Worth Nature Center, Camp Fire First Texas and Tarrant County Homeless Coalition. 

First job: McDonald’s, at 16

Advice for someone learning to be a leader: Lead from where you are, regardless of your title. Once in a leadership role, lead by example, not by telling someone how to be a leader. Leadership shows up in the little moments, and those little moments build the foundation for the big stuff. I often think of walking the walk, and that translates to leading by example. Always remember regardless of your role or how long you have been at it that you are always learning, so embrace feedback, even poorly delivered feedback, because there is always some truth and something to take away from feedback that helps you improve your leadership abilities. As a leader, it is your responsibility to create a collaborative environment where feedback is embraced and differing ideas are celebrated. 

Best advice you received that you took to heart as a leader:  “‘Get comfortable with being uncomfortable, coupled with never stop learning. If you’re comfortable, you are not learning and growing, and being a leader is always about learning and growing.’ From Sue Matkin, when she was head of the Work/Family Division of Camp Fire First Texas in the late ’90s. Her words stayed with me and I heard the same thing from others, but she said it first.” 

Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at bob.francis@fortworthreport.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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