By Michele Graham
“I’ve always been a storyteller in each of my careers.” And so begins the story of Nancy Armstrong, changemaker of today and former actress and publicist. As Nancy frames it, “I used my art as a vehicle to move people through storytelling. I helped companies tell their stories, and now I’m telling the stories of trailblazing women. I made the decision to leave acting because I wanted to be out in the world – I thought I could make a greater impact in the corporate world than I was making in Hollywood.” Through her work with MAKERS, the feminist media brand she founded, the non-profit Children of Fallen Patriots, and other philanthropies, Nancy is making a world of change.
At MAKERS, Nancy is “telling the stories of trailblazing women to inspire and ignite the changemakers of tomorrow. I grew up in the 70’s. I didn’t have career role models. It was a different time for women, and a male dominated world. Women put up with a lot.”
This experience growing up set Nancy on her course to where she is today. She travelled to LA where she was an actress, enrolled in Boston University to get her masters in communications, and then headed to New York City where she joined Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide. Along this journey, Nancy married digital media executive Tim Armstrong, one of the first one hundred employees at Google.
Making the lives of military children better
In 2010, Nancy and Tim were at the annual Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference where they met General David Petraeus. Shortly after, Nancy was planning Tim’s surprise 40th birthday party and, rather than gifts, she wanted people to contribute to an organization that was meaningful, so she reached out to the General for ideas. Both Tim and Nancy’s parents were in the military, and both families deeply care about those who serve. Petraeus responded from Afghanistan and directed Nancy to his wife Holly, who told Nancy about Children of Fallen Patriots. The organization, which provides college scholarships and educational counseling to military children who have lost a parent in the line of duty, “hit all three pillars that we care about: children, education, and the military,” says Nancy.
About 5 years ago, Nancy became a board member. “The last thing you want to do is leave these kids high and dry,” notes Nancy. “It is our duty to give these kids the best opportunity for success. When a parent dies in active duty, the financial situation can become dire. The first thing to go is a college education. This is an amazing way to hold up our end of the deal.”
For Nancy, Children of Fallen Patriots also represents a women’s issue. “Military families are really proud and don’t ask for help. 96 percent of the surviving spouses are women. 56 percent of surviving spouses earn less than $50,000 a year and have two children. We let them know help is available. It’s not just writing a tuition check. It’s helping kids through the entire process.”
Three years ago, the Armstrongs extended their commitment and created the Armstrong Angel Foundation to fund grants related to children, education, and the military. “We feel an extraordinary sense of gratitude to those who serve.”
Children of Fallen Patriots just celebrated its 10th annual Greenwich Gala at the Riverside Yacht Club. On May 22, 2019 the organization will launch its first New York City-based gala. “Eight years after reaching out to General Petraeus, we’ve come full circle. Tim and I are co-chairing the event together with Holly and David, and [Greenwich neighbors] Rob and Ellen Sweeney.”
Making women’s voices heard
It was also around 2010 that Nancy was at a cocktail party to raise awareness for a feminist project headed by Gloria Steinem that was struggling. “I understood that it was so important. If we don’t understand how we got to this moment, we won’t know how to move forward.”
Nancy’s energy went to into action. She envisioned a new feminist media brand, a brand focused on, as MAKERS so aptly proclaims, newsmakers, historymakers, and troublemakers. Simultaneously, Tim was looking for women’s content for AOL and instantly saw the potential for these remarkable stories.
The company launched in 2012. It was a quiet period in the women’s movement and not everyone in the corporate world shared Nancy and Tim’s enthusiasm. When Tim presented the concept to AOL, executives rolled their eyes. Eventually, though, everyone got on board. By then, Nancy and Tim saw their concept as something much bigger—they saw the making of a global brand.
Initially named the Women’s 2.0 Media Project, the company was rebranded to MAKERS with a mission to tell the stories of trailblazing women through original videos and interviews. Trailblazers like Serena Williams and Margaret Hamilton, NASA’s first software engineer; Oprah Winfrey and Gwynne Shotwell, president and COO of SpaceX; Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. The list of women runs deep, wide, and impressive.
Today, MAKERS is a widely recognized women’s leadership and media platform. It has the largest collection of women’s stories under one umbrella. In addition to short form content, the company also produces long form biographies and documentaries—projects that have generated widespread attention, including an Emmy nomination for the brand’s second documentary series.
The brand also expanded to live events. Now in its seventh year, The MAKERS Conference brings together 500 changemakers from public and private sectors. The 2019 conference—to be held in February in Southern California – brings women leaders together for a three-day summit to set the agenda for advancing women in the workplace. It’s a shared purpose that focuses on big issues to disrupt how companies think about female leadership.
Making the most of every day
Most would think that between Children of Fallen Patriots, MAKERS, and raising three children, Nancy’s days would be filled. But she makes time for more. She recently joined the King School Board of Trustees, and is very involved with Greenwich Academy, Waterside School, and her and Tim’s college alma maters. The Armstrongs also serve on the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Foundation board of directors.
Nancy does more than tell the stories of those who make change, she is creating change every day.