Groundbreaking scout leader takes inspiration from others

  Diane Nelson  Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois  Chief executive officer

Diane Nelson

To hear Diane T. Nelson tell it, SHE is the person who is influenced and inspired every day. By thousands of people.

To start with, there are the almost 11,000 Girl Scouts who are enrolled in the Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois (GSEIWI), the organization Ms. Nelson leads as chief executive officer. There are the 60 staff members who work in the five offices throughout the region. And, the more than 3,000 volunteers who are an integral part of the success of the program.

“The Girl Scout mission is to build girls of courage, confidence and character to make the world a better place,” the Delmar, Iowa, native (and former Girl Scout) says. “I really think that’s what I do on a daily basis.”

“I am a big fan of them trying things, and when they fail, it’s almost like a reward because they can learn a new skill set, try something new, start to build their confidence.”

Ms. Nelson, 60, has been a ground-breaker in her professional life.

Her entrance to Scouting leadership came not through the Girl Scouts, but the Boy Scouts. She was the first female recruiter for the Illowa Council, Boy Scouts of America. She also was the first woman to join the Moline Kiwanis Club and its first female president. The job with Boy Scouts took her and her husband, Doug, to Rochester, New York, where their son, Logan, now 26, was born, and then to Philadelphia, where daughter Lea, now 23, was born.

Returning to the Quad Cities to lead the Girl Scouts of the Mississippi Valley, she was instrumental in the merger of four councils into the Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois, and was named CEO of the much larger organization, which has offices in Bettendorf, Dubuque, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo and Burlington.

“My favorite saying is to surround yourself with people better than you, and then get out of the way,” she said. “That’s what my goal is in life. You want them to grow.”

Tracy Schwind, a GSEIWI board member, in nominating Ms. Nelson as one of the Women of Influence, noted that “whether it is high-fiving a Brownie and congratulating her on an achievement, celebrating the success of a volunteer, or leading the board through a difficult discussion, Diane is impressive. …She uses her strong leadership skills to guide her management team to create a cohesive organization with a strong focus and understanding of the goal while still recognizing the varying needs in the communities served.”

Ms. Nelson is a big supporter of the non-profit community and her fellow CEOs in the Quad Cities, many of whom get together monthly to discuss common issues.

“We have amazing non-profit CEOs in the Quad-City area and they are doing unbelievable work,” she said. “I was always taught that you should do everything you can to support other people.”

While the non-profits may draw from the same pool to attract volunteers or raise money, Ms. Nelson doesn’t view it as a competition. “I look at it as the stronger the non-profits are, you start working together, you build a team, and you make major impacts on people’s lives.”

The influence of her parents on her, the youngest of six children – “they challenged you, they supported you, they encouraged you” – is a parallel to how Ms. Nelson treats those around her. And she does it with a smile and a dose of humor that she finds indispensable to her life.

“Humor is so important,” she said. “It keeps people motivated and puts them in a comfortable setting. When our girls come in, they’ll tell me a story; they wait for me to laugh.”

Her staff honored her good humor with a patch featuring a computer-generated image of Ms. Nelson cheering with a pompom in one hand and an oversized foam finger in the other, wearing the trademark green blazer. The title on the patch? “Girl Scouts’ biggest fan!”

When she’s not on the road or in the community tending to Girl Scout business, you can find the Bettendorf woman walking or playing pickleball, or perhaps golf, which is a new passion. A member of the John Deere Classic board, she looks forward to greeting the JDC volunteers in July.

“Everyone needs to volunteer for something,” she said. “Just volunteer to support our community at different levels.”


This profile was originally published in the QCBJ’s 2024 Women of Influence publication. The QCBJ is excited to introduce this new awards program to the Quad Cities. Our inaugural class of Women of Influence are an inspiring group of trailblazers, role models and leaders in their workplaces and in their communities. They have overcome adversity, taken chances and committed themselves to making the Quad Cities community a better place for all of us to live, work and play.  

The QCBJ will present the 2024 Women of Influence awards on Thursday, May 23, from 5:30-8 p.m., at the Quad Cities Waterfront Convention Center in Bettendorf. Tickets are still available to the event, which includes networking, dinner and remarks from the winners, by visiting


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