digitalNow Rising Leaders

digitalNow Conference / digitalNow Rising Leaders

Meet the 2022 digitalNow Rising Leaders

The digitalNow Rising Leaders program, formerly Leaders of Distinction, is designed to introduce up-and-coming association leaders to the digitalNow community by awarding them a complimentary digitalNow registration, and honoring their status as a leader to know within the association industry with recognition during the digitalNow Download party on Night 2 of the conference!

Interested in nominating yourself or someone else for digitalNow 2023? Return to this page in 2023 for the application!

Bailey Kasten

Chief Data Officer

Design-Build Institute of America

Bailey's Bio

Bailey Kasten, CAE, ICE-CPP serves as the Chief Data Officer for the Design-Build Institute of America where she is responsible for leading initiatives in all things data, membership, and diversity as well as for generally finding ‘a-ha’ moments for the organization and its components lurking in the data. Bailey has over 18 years of experience in association management and serves in volunteer roles for both ASAE on the CAE Exam Committee and VSAE on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force, two of her favorite communities. Bailey is also active in her local Northern Virginia community as a leader for her daughter’s Girl Scouts Brownie troop and taking on a new role this fall as Committee Chair for her son’s Cub Scouts pack. Needless to say, tips for camping with kids are always welcome! Between kids’ sporting events, birthday parties, and other family fun, you can sometimes find Bailey helping with the family chocolate shop, Artisan Confections.

Nikki Palluzzi

Director, Member Services & Experience

National Association of Personal Financial Advisors

Nikki's Bio

Nikki Palluzzi, CAE, is an association professional who currently serves as the Director of Member Services & Experience for the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA). Since 2015, she has led all member recruitment and engagement efforts, managed NAPFA’s volunteer program, and has overseen important organizational areas including the DEI and Women’s Initiatives. In the seven years since she has joined the association’s staff, membership has grown by 74%.

Prior to her time at NAPFA, Nikki served as an operations manager at SmithBucklin for ten years, working with several technology user groups which included associations representing Avaya, Oracle, and McKesson users.

Nikki lives in Chicago with her husband Jon and three children Theo, Ellie, and Alex. In her spare time, she’s an avid reader, runner, and volunteers with Forum, the Board of Elections, her local elementary school’s parent board, and coaches youth soccer and basketball.

Rhea Steele

Chief of Staff and VP of Strategy & Governance

School Nutrition Association

Reah's Bio

Rhea M. Steele, FASAE, CAE, ODCP is the Chief of Staff at the School Nutrition Association. She finds the nexus between strategy and operations – helping organizations create the vision they need for tomorrow while implementing the steps that will get them there today. She brings a natural inclination to help staff connect their work with the organizational mission and impact. Her 15+ years in association management have resulted in deep expertise in governance, strategic planning, digital strategy, organizational development, culture change, facilitation, and operational excellence. She helps organizations form dynamic, transparent, high-performing, and inclusive cultures. She graduated from the University of Colorado with a bachelor’s in Fine Arts and Anthropology and a master’s in Museum and Field Studies. She has presented and written about strategic visioning, governance, ethics, innovation, culture, process improvement, and the future of work.

Emily Stephens

Chief of Staff

AMPED Association Management

Emily's Bio

Emily Stephen’s entire career has been in association management at AMPED, an Association Management Company (AMC), holding a variety of staff roles with trade and professional associations. She has found her niche in managing the business and helping AMPED grow. As Director of Administration, Emily helped lead the charge in opening an office in both Alexandria, VA and Sacramento, CA as well as acquiring another AMC, it’s client and employees in Colorado. Today, Emily’s role as Chief of Staff matches the needs/culture of new and existing association clients with the skills/personalities of current and potential employees by leading business development efforts and human resources. She keeps a foot in the door on the association management side as Membership Director for a trade association that meets twice per year. She loves continually learning about association management best practices by managing all incoming client transitions at AMPED.

Emily earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin. She is active with AMPED’s membership in the AMC Institute and speaks regularly on membership, technology and HR topics. Outside of work, she keeps busy traveling with her husband, Austin, and 18-month-old, Caroline.

Heidi Weber

Executive Director

Alpha Omega Dental Society

Heidi's Bio

Heidi Weber, MBA, CAE, is a seasoned association management strategist, growth catalyst, and change agent with a history of leading trade associations through various transformation initiatives of varying sizes and scopes.  Heidi is a time-tested visionary who effectively bridges the gap between strategy and execution.  She understands the nuances of organizational transformation and the intricate role of business modeling within the broader organizational development framework.  With a value-added mindset and always with an eye to the future, Heidi continually excels as a growth driver, value creator, trusted advisor, and business partner to all Board members. 

After every top-to-bottom assessment of an organization and its needs, she designs integrated, actionable operational strategies that shape a high-performing culture.  Her highest priorities are nurturing and retaining top talent, expanding organizational reach and footprint, educating and retaining members, and strengthening overall financial posture.  For over eleven years, Heidi served as Executive Director with Alpha Omega International Dental Society, a leading international dental organization comprising more than 100 alumni and student chapters in ten countries.  For that role, she managed and successfully stabilized operations, leading a suite of mission-critical initiatives to strengthen the organization’s financial position, expand its reach and impact, stem the loss of members, enhance the membership’s unique value proposition, and establish an ROI-driven business model to keep costs at a minimum. 

Heidi holds a Master of Business Administration from Webster University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania.  She is a Certified Association Executive with a seasoned history of committed volunteer work inside and outside the association community as a board member of Shepherd’s Table and the Association of Women Technology Champions.  

Heidi is an American Society of Association Executives member and acts as Executive Management Council Immediate Past Chair.  She served on the ASAE Technology Council and has been a discussion leader for the ASAE CAE Online Courses.  She is a Tennessee Society of Association Executives member and regularly attends other state association meetings. 

2021 Leaders of Distinction

  • Erica Holland
  • Jackie Osafo Price
  • Jodi Talia
  • Kara Brockman
  • Michael Jacobson
  • MJ Jones
  • Robb Lee
  • Scharan Johnson
  • Tia Perry

2020 Leaders of Distinction

  • Mitch Dvorak
  • Phyllis Scott
  • Donté Shannon
  • Johnnie White
  • Denise Froemming
  • Trevor Knoblich
  • Amy Lestition-Burke
  • LaShawn Sidbury
  • Geoffrey Brown
  • Garth Jordan
  • Sharon Newport

2019 Leaders of Distinction

  • Joy Alafia
  • RIta Chen Fujisawa
  • Me’Shell Drigo Sheffield
  • Stephanie Morris
  • Holly Rice
  • Lindsay Holzer
  • Michelle Mills Clement
  • Irving Washington
  • Lakisha Ann Woods
  • Dominic Barrera
  • Darilyn V. Moyer
  • David Jackson

2018 Leaders of Distinction

  • Salma Hedrick
  • Stephen Peeler
  • Matthew Helms
  • Joyce Gilbert
  • Andrea Holovach
  • Stefanie Reeves
  • Jennifer Lipsey
  • John Mudd

What is it?

The digitalNow Leaders of Distinction program is designed to introduce up-and-coming association leaders to the digitalNow community by awarding them a complimentary digitalNow registration, and facilitating their integration into the community through mentoring and networking support during the event.

Who is eligible?

Any association CEO who has been appointed from 2016- 2021 is eligible to be nominated for this award.

What is the nomination process?

Nominees can be an emerging leader or CEO who has been appointed in the last 5 years, or an association executive who has a demonstrated career progression forward to the executive leadership role. Only members of the digitalNow Advisory Group are eligible to submit nominations. All nominations must be submitted by October 8, 2021. Candidates will be selected and announced by October 25, 2021.

What are the selection criteria?

In addition to meeting the eligibility requirement of being a newly appointed association CEO (within the past five years), each nomination must be accompanied by a statement about why the candidate is a good fit for the digitalNow community.

Program Terms and Conditions

Leaders of Distinction will be awarded a complimentary digitalNow registration for the 2021 conference and honored during the Leaders of Distinction breakfast, but awardees are responsible for their own travel and lodging expenses. Leaders of Distinction agree to participate in sharing their digitalNow experience through social media posts, interviews and press interviews as determined by digitalNow staff.


Cimatri is the proud presenter of the 2021 class of digitalNow’s Leaders of Distinction.