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50 for 50: History of the Governors

By Opportunity International

Opportunity International’s Board of Governors is a dynamic community of people who care deeply about a world in which all people can achieve a life free from poverty, with dignity and purpose.

As we celebrate Opportunity’s 50th anniversary, we are looking back at the history of the Governors—and the incredible people who have led and shaped this community over the years.

1987 - Gathering the Governors

In 1987, one of Opportunity’s seminal founders, the late Dave Hardin, gathered a group of fellow donors to champion and support Opportunity’s work around the world. This group of advocates was known as the Board of Governors, and over the last 35 years, it has served as a catalyst for so many of Opportunity’s initiatives.

Late 1980s - Building a Community

In their earliest years, Governors worked tirelessly to increase awareness about microfinance—educating others about this innovative tool to fight poverty. They expanded Opportunity’s presence in the United States and invited new donors to support the mission, building our community and helping us expand programs worldwide.

Early 1990s - Traveling to the Field

In the 1990s, Governors began traveling on Insight Trips across the globe, opening their eyes to the daily realities of our clients, engaging new supporters in Opportunity’s work, and better understanding our impact.

1994 - Dan Dyer serves as Chair of the Governors

Dan and his wife Polly were among the earliest leaders of Opportunity’s community of dedicated, like-minded supporters. He hosted many Insight Trips and international visitors, while always encouraging a focus on Christ’s call to serve those in need. Many of Opportunity’s current supporters can trace their relationship with our organization back to Dan’s passion and vision.

2000 - Don Palmer serves as Chair of the Governors

Before chairing the Board of Governors, Don also served on Opportunity’s Board of Directors. As an entrepreneur with several businesses himself, he resonated deeply with the mission of financial empowerment. Don hosted events and Insight Trips over the years, and recruited many friends to partner with Opportunity.

2001 - Polly McCrea serves as Chair of the Governors

For over two decades, Polly’s incredible heart has helped her lead with compassion and recruit countless new Governors. Now, her daughter Cassie serves as Governors Co-Chair, providing a true testament to Polly’s strength as a leader and example, both in her family and throughout the Opportunity community.

Early 2000s - Expanding our Impact

As the Governors community continued to grow, so too did their position at Opportunity International. In the early 2000s, Opportunity staff worked closely with the Governors and their networks to bolster and construct thoughtful communities of supporters throughout the United States, particularly in the Midwest. As a result, Opportunity built larger communities of individuals dedicated to the vision of global financial inclusion and transformation.

The Governors also formed committees and working groups to further extend our reach to college campuses, churches, and networks of young professionals. Volunteer-led teams were at the helm, developing strategies, materials, and events to further engage their personal networks with Opportunity International.

2003 - Wendy Cox joins the Opportunity staff to lead the Governors program

When Wendy was the VP of Donor Engagement at Opportunity, she became the first staff member dedicated to the Board of Governors, leading countless Insight Trips and engaging donors across the U.S. With a heart for clients and donors, Wendy made our community stronger and helped the Governors grow into an even more thriving and dynamic network.

2004 - Betsy Flint serves as Chair of the Governors

As Chair, Betsy was key to growing the Board of Governors on the west coast, while also energizing the group nationwide. She also led the group during the “Lending Hope to Africa” campaign during the height of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Mid 2000s - Lending Hope to Africa

As the HIV/AIDS crisis ravaged countries across Africa, Opportunity Governors rallied together to address this pressing and immediate need. Together, they raised support to launch 10,000 Trust Groups in Africa.

2006 - Em Griffin serves as Chair of the Governors

For almost 40 years, Em has given his time, talent, and treasure to Opportunity International. He served on the Board of Directors for almost 27 years, starting in the early 1980s, and in 1997, he stepped up to serve as the Interim President of Opportunity International. Em has been a member of the Governors since the program began, and he has remained dedicated to engaging its members with Opportunity’s work and mission. 

2007 - Mary Lynn Staley serves as Chair of the Governors

Mary Lynn is a generous leader, often serving as both team player and coach. Throughout her time as Chair, her love for the clients and Opportunity’s mission energized those around her. Her leadership is a testament to her calling, and her continued involvement in the organization strengthens and sustains our work.

2013 - Karen Robinson Cope serves as Chair of the Governors

Karen led the Governors through a phase of transformational communication shifts. As the Governors moved towards sharing Opportunity’s mission with friends and family online, Karen’s leadership allowed us to develop online fundraisers, grow our social media presence, and design new ways to be voices for the poor.

2014 - Natalie Hornsby serves as Chair of the Governors

Along with Karen Robinson Cope, Natalie embraced the profound optimism and hope of Opportunity’s mission. Her leadership encouraged and enabled this community to expand its capacity for personal engagement across new digital platforms. 

2017 - Carol Pelino serves as Chair of the Governors

Carol Pelino first served as an Opportunity volunteer before becoming a member of the Governors community. Eventually, she became Co-Chair of the Governors, and she now serves on the Board of Directors. With a heart for advocacy, Carol was instrumental in sharing Opportunity’s work with her friends and network.

2018 - Cassie Burns serves as Chair of the Governors

Currently Co-Chair of the Board of Governors, Cassie has brought great rigor and discernment to the role. Her dedication has encouraged our community’s deep support for our clients throughout a difficult season, and her optimism will continue to guide our vision of the future.

2020 - Kerri McAfoos serves as Chair of the Governors

After advocating for Opportunity in her own community for many years, Kerri became Co-Chair of the Board of Governors last year. She was convinced of Opportunity’s transformational power after an Insight Trip to Rwanda, and she has been a fierce supporter of our mission ever since, championing Opportunity’s mission throughout the Governors community.

2021 - Decades of Transformation

Today, there are over 600 Governor families who have donated more than $324 million to support Opportunity International’s programs. Since their inception, the Governors have been an integral part of Opportunity International’s history and service to over 19 million individuals worldwide, driving innovation, building relationships, and transforming lives.

As the founder of the Governors, Dave Hardin, shared: “It is a remarkable thing to change lives—to give people confidence in themselves and resources to feed their families. It is something that I've committed the bulk of my time to with great enthusiasm...It's just so good to be able to say at the end of a fixed period of time that something has happened because you were in there trying—that you made a difference. And Opportunity, unlike any other charity—unlike any other not for profit that I know—creates that chance.

I can go to sleep thinking joyfully about the number of jobs that have been created because of something I might have encouraged or done by giving or by raising some money. And I think about the number of people's lives that are being affected by that money. It is a thrilling idea. And I hope that you all will continue to participate in the same way. Opportunity is a grand place, and I have enjoyed being part of it as much as anything in my life.

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