Mary Sellers says she didn’t set out to become a leader. The 47-year-old president of United Way of Central Iowa instead focuses her efforts on doing things that are meaningful to her, which gives her greater satisfaction.

“It’s more about facilitating,” Sellers said. “It’s seeing a need and then removing barriers to allow those needs to be met. I derive a great sense of satisfaction from achieving shared goals and accomplishing things that are much greater than myself.”

Sellers grew up in Michigan but spent most of her formative years in Florida. The youngest of six children, she traces her desire to be involved and successful back to her mother.

“She was a great influence on me and was always involved in all aspects of the community,” Sellers said. “Whether it was being on a board of directors at the hospital or volunteering to work extra shifts, her engagement ... knew no bounds.”

Sellers worked for the Orlando Science Center for six years in various marketing roles. Although she had experience in both marketing and museum management, she decided to focus on the latter when she accepted a position with the Science Center of Iowa in 1999. That job brought her to Iowa, and she worked at the Science Center for nearly a decade, serving as executive director and president and CEO. 

During her tenure, Sellers helped the nonprofit raise $62 million in less than a year to build a 110,000-square-foot downtown facility, which opened in May 2005. Sellers called the project one of the most professionally rewarding experiences of her career.

In 2008, Sellers returned to Florida to care for her parents. She spent two years as CEO of South Florida Science Museum in West Palm Beach before moving to South Carolina to become president and CEO at Children’s Museum of the Upstate in Greenville.

Community leaders in Greater Des Moines hadn’t forgotten about Sellers, though, and in 2012, they approached her about returning for the top job at United Way of Central Iowa in 2012. 

“I wanted to come back to Des Moines if the opportunity and the timing were right,” Sellers said. “I’ve always been in roles that were central to the community and were forwarding that community, so this role (at United Way) was a sweet spot for me.”

Personally, Sellers has always enjoyed traveling, something she said gives her a greater appreciation for the diversity of both people and places. Professionally, her experiences have taught her how important her core values are to her.

“Honesty, integrity, respect and keeping your word are all central to me,” Sellers said. “When I was younger, discerning the right thing to do may not have been as clear, but now those values are what steer me.”

Three areas of influence

As president of United Way of Central Iowa, Sellers leads the organization’s efforts to improve the education, income and health of Central Iowans.

As executive director of the Science Center of Iowa for nearly 10 years, she helped the organization transition from a 20,000-square-foot building in Greenwood Park to a new 110,000-square-foot building downtown. More than $62 million was needed to construct the new building, and under Sellers’ leadership, all long-term debt was paid down within three years.

Sellers is on Gov. Terry Branstad’s Iowa Telecommunications and Technology Commission and the Greater Des Moines Partnership board of directors and Capital Crossroads.