Denice Williams

Deputy Commissioner, Planning Program Integration and Evaluation, New York City Department of Youth and Community Development

How old is your organization? 23 years old
What sector do you work in?  Government
How long have you been working in this sector? Since 2005
How long have you been with your current organization? Since 2005

If you have worked with CRE in some capacity, what impact did it have?
I began as an Aaron Diamond intern, the second one in an initiative developed by Fran to diversify the field of management consulting. I was later hired as the first consultant of color, joining a team of five. I grew up professionally at CRE and left in 2005, having risen to Deputy Director for Programs. We had grown to 40+. I managed the first federal grant CRE received focused on building the capacity of POC-led organizations focused on HIV prevention and AIDS services. I led a successful collaboration that included FPWA, Hispanic Federation, and Asian American Federation. Some of the folks on the CRE program team during this time have gone on to lead foundations, national TA organizations, or become leadership of admired groups liked Planned Parenthood. During my tenure with CRE, we catalyzed the formation or growth of organizations that have become NYC institutions like APICHA, El Puente, Iris House, Legal Outreach, Harlem RBI (now DREAM), or managed the critical transitions of others.

What has been the most significant development in your sector over the last 40 years?
David Ho’s research that led to the development of anti-retroviral, moving an AIDS diagnosis from an almost certain “death sentence” to a chronic illness.  The transition seriously impacted the urgency felt to launch organizations or rapidly expand and certainly pushed the illness out of the public consciousness.

What has been the greatest challenge during this same period?
The growing management sophistication needed to oversee a nonprofit organization, including expectations for data analytics, contract management, and financial systems.  The “price” to enter the sector is so high that it is not feasible for a person with a passion or a great idea to just start an organization. Outside of the New York Foundation or New York Women’s Foundation, there aren’t start-up funds and the infrastructure needed for government funding is typically not found in an emerging organization.

How have your sector’s needs changed (or those of your clients) in the last 40 years?
Clients’ needs have always been comprehensive, the funding and service response siloed; both are recognizing the problem and being open to developing a more coordinated response.

What will nonprofits need to do to remain relevant and necessary to their clients over the next 40 years?
Work from a strength-based approach – understanding that everyone in their system – funders, board, staff, and clients – have contributions toward their organization’s success. They will need to use their data and other information to inform organizational strategy and progress; commit to continuous quality improvement (CQI) in all areas; and prioritize communication – grassroots and viral – to get clear messages out and to get feedback.

What was your breakthrough moment in becoming a leader?
When the DYCD Commissioner at the time, Jeanne Mullgrav, tapped me to take over the OST portfolio, the agency’s largest. While I didn’t come to DYCD with a background in youth development, which is why I didn’t bother to apply, she expressed wanting a strong leader – someone with a vision, the skills to implement, and the engagement strategies to bring all aspects of the system along. I began to see my assets differently. I never looked back.

Please name three qualities that are inherent in being a strong leader.
Integrity, courage, and curiosity. And a willingness to learn from all around you, which means hire people smarter than you or who know things you don’t.

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