Alison Overseth

Chief Executive Officer, Partnership for After School Education (PASE)

How old is your organization? 26 years
What sector do you work in? Afterschool education
How long have you been working in this sector? 27 years
How long have you been with your current organization? 10 years

If you have worked with CRE in some capacity, what impact did it have?
CRE did our last Strategic Plan, and it was a great process and outcome! More recently, CRE has been a highly valued thought partner and colleague.

What has been the most significant development in your sector over the last 40 years?
Afterschool education has become a “field” within the nonprofit community in the past 40 years. Programs that had been operating in isolation now have the ability to connect to discuss best and promising practices; City government support for afterschool has expanded exponentially; and, there are now national and statewide afterschool networks, in addition to the PASE network in New York City. In professionalizing the field, we also now have a common language around quality youth development programs, decades of research on effective programs, as well as a wider group of partner organizations, including public schools, higher education institutions, philanthropy, and corporations.

What has been the greatest challenge during this same period?
Despite the expansion of government investment during this period, the afterschool education field remains deeply under-supported compared to the needs of children and families in New York City. Financial support rarely covers the needed provider overhead, lacks the funding to invest in the professionals in the field to expand their content knowledge and their leadership development, and there is underinvestment in strengthening the organizational systems that can assure sustained programs that all young people deserve.

What leadership qualities are necessary to succeed as a nonprofit executive today?
The nonprofit executive today is required to have skills in fiscal management, marketing, communications, program development and management, fundraising, Board management, and human resources. Leaders in this sector need to have: the vision for their organization and clarity on the problem they are trying to solve; the equity and inclusion perspectives that allow them to strengthen their team and build and utilize the diversity which will assure better decisions; be able to communicate effectively with their many constituents, in person, in writing and on social media; and consistently be clear on their “brand”. No one can do all of this, so leaders must be self-reflective, able to assess their own skills, recognize their deficits, and reach out to others with the expertise they do not possess in order to create a team that can cover all this.

What will nonprofits need to do to remain relevant and necessary to their clients over the next 40 years?
Nonprofits must have built-in, consistent opportunities to listen and learn from the constituents they serve. They should be “of” the community not just “for” the community. They must be prepared to really hear what they are told, as well as to question their own organization’s role in perpetuating the problem they may be trying to solve. Involving the communities who have the largest stake in the outcome of their mission is vital. Nonprofits need to be okay with putting themselves out of business either through success (mission met) or through changing relevance (problem exists, but we are not best equipped to solve it).

Please name three qualities that are inherent in being a strong leader.
Vision; Communicator (speaking, writing and LISTENING); Boldness and Empathy (yep, the ability to count to 3 and not 4 is probably a good quality too…oh well).

Based on your experience, please offer one piece of advice to a person hoping to break through as a leader in your sector.
Leadership is personal. Your leadership will not look like mine, it will not look like your most-admired person’s, it will not look like your past boss’. It is YOU. Bring YOU to it: find your voice, be clear on your values, create the culture that you believe is effective, and kind, and responsive, and inclusive. Trust in yourself…be authentically who you are. Advice number two: Make sure your network includes leaders in similar positions who can commiserate, advise and laugh with you, as well as friends who believe in you (regardless of how good or bad a day you’ve had).

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