Fine Arts Led Heisserer to Social Services


Thirteen years ago, Kassie Heisserer nearly turned down her initial interview with the nonprofit agency she now runs.

Heisserer graduated in 2003 from Bemidji State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Creative and Professional Writing. As she looked toward her future at that time, she figured she’d need some type of traditional employment to support her writing passions, yet she wasn’t initially enthusiastic about this current opportunity, part-time administrative work with a growing nonprofit.

“But I started and realized that I also have a passion for the social work side of things as well, I ended up loving it.”

Bridges of Hope, a nonprofit based in Brainerd, MN assists families in crisis by connecting them with local resources that can help. The organization serves approximately 1,500 or more households a year, bridging the gap between those who need assistance and the agencies than can provide it.

Heisserer thrived in her initial administrative-support role and quickly rose through the ranks as she took on additional roles.

“I really had an amazing opportunity to grow along with my organization,” she said. “By the end of my first year, I was seeing things that were becoming emergency needs, so I just had a conversation with my supervisor, ‘Can I work more? I see things, other things, that I can take on.’”

Heisserer started as an administrative assistant, then became the office manager. Later, she became the nonprofit’s associate director and then its development director. In 2016, she was named the executive director.

“Within that, I’ve done basically everything, aside from providing the direct services with the clients here,” she said.

Her skills include grant-writing, fundraising, donor relations, bookkeeping, budgeting, program development, and program evaluation.

Heisserer said her experiences and education at Bemidji State have been integral to her success at Bridges at Hope, particularly when communicating with clients, donors, funders, and the public.

“For sure, a whole lot of running a nonprofit has to do with communication,” she said. “We are communicating all the time.”

Heisserer, who has returned to her hometown of Pillager, MN attended Bemidji State on a full tuition scholarship intending to pursue a teaching career. During her final year, however, as she routinely found herself more drawn to writing courses she changed her major.

“Don’t be afraid to change your mind,” she said, encouraging incoming and current BSU students to follow their hearts and passions. “I think a lot of people focus on the (financial) security of a certain field. …. But I think you can do things that you truly love.”