Nathalie Rayes is the first to admit that the trajectory of her life and career hasn’t been a straight line. Since her immigration to the United States from a small town in Venezuela at the age of nine and the death of her father a year later, Rayes has found herself time and again at a crossroads. She reached another one in early 2020. The country’s political future was on the line, and Rayes knew that she needed to increase her stake in the fight.
“I decided to change career paths, moving from the private sector into the nonprofit world,” Rayes explains. Specifically, she joined the Latino Victory Project, an organization dedicated to mobilizing Latino voters and increasing Latino representation at all levels of government. “As president and CEO, I get to leverage my position to ensure that we are uplifting Latina and Latino leaders throughout the country.”
As of April 2021, just shy of a year into the role, Rayes has already accomplished tremendous things. She brings a wealth of leadership and political experience to the organization, which she has helped to steer through the COVID-19 pandemic. Most essential to her success, however, is her strong belief in the organization’s mission—a belief that drives her to keep pushing for change across the country.
Although she didn’t come on board as an employee until 2020, Rayes has deep ties to Latino Victory. “I was at the forefront of helping to create Latino Victory in the first place,” the CEO explains. “I continued to support the organization from the outside after its inception, and then I joined the board three years ago.”
As Rayes tells it, Latino Victory took off in the aftermath of former President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign. Politically minded Latinos, including Rayes and Latino Victory Founders Eva Longoria and Henry R. Muñoz III, had raised tens of millions of dollars for the campaign, and they saw an opportunity to do even more.
With an extensive history of political leadership and board participation, Rayes felt right at home on the board of directors at Latino Victory. Yet, as the 2020 election cycle ramped up, she wanted to have a greater impact on the organization and its efforts to both drive Latino voter turnout and sway critical races. “I put my name in there so that I would be able to work more closely with an organization that I cared deeply about,” she says.
Since her appointment as president and CEO, Rayes has achieved a number of the goals that she had set for Latino Victory: the organization played a critical part in not only securing the victory of President Joe Biden through the Latino vote but also doubling the number of progressive Latinos in the US Senate from two to four.
Even the obstacles presented by COVID, which shook up the traditionally hands-on nature of electoral politics, couldn’t slow down Rayes or Latino Victory. “COVID has been challenging, no question about it,” Rayes admits. “But people still want to participate, so we turned that challenge into opportunities for our organization and for our community.”
For much of 2020, Rayes spearheaded efforts to organize phone banks and candidate fundraisers. As a self-proclaimed optimist, she has even discovered an advantage to the organization’s virtual operations: with zero travel time, she can attend events in multiple locations nationwide in a single day. That means more chances to influence more races.
From a leadership perspective, Rayes has encouraged her team to get creative during the pandemic. By encouraging outside-the-box thinking and trusting her team members to execute, she has created a welcoming environment devoid of micromanagement. “We’ve hired the best and the brightest in all different fields, and we let those folks shine,” she emphasizes.
“As president and CEO, I get to leverage my position to ensure that we are uplifting Latina and Latino leaders throughout the country.”
As much as she has accomplished inside and outside Latino Victory, Rayes isn’t resting on her laurels. “There’s still so much to do,” she stresses. “Latinos make up 18 percent of the country’s population, yet only 1 percent of its political power across all levels of government. That’s simply unacceptable.”
Rayes uses the power of Latino Victory to endorse Latino candidates in local, state, and federal races. But she also spends time recruiting qualified Latinos to run for office and then supporting them at every step of the way. “What this organization does—and I think it’s so powerful—is legitimize people’s candidacies. We believe in them, and we’re willing to bring in our resources and nationalize the race,” she says.
Rayes also makes a point of bringing her fellow Latinas to the table. Beyond convincing Latinas to run for office, she focuses on hiring women—as she has done throughout her career. She was once the only woman on Latino Victory’s five-member board, but the now twelve-member board has a female majority as a result of her decision to expand it.
The expanded board serves as a valuable resource to Rayes, who understands that no one can tackle a mission the magnitude of Latino Victory’s alone. Instead, she believes in coming together to advance a common agenda. “As a community, Latinos need to keep our eyes on the goal of achieving that representation,” she says.
For Rayes, that goal and her own future ambitions are one and the same. Fortunately, she’s at exactly the right organization to transform a dream into reality. “There is no other organization doing the political work that Latino Victory is doing,” she says. “I’m passionate about our mission, and I will continue working diligently to advance it.”