How old is your organization? 35 years old
What sector do you work in? Social sector
How long have you been working in this sector? 20+ years
How long have you been with your current organization? One year
If you have worked with CRE in some capacity, what impact did it have?
CRE has been a thought partner and problem solver for me at multiple organizations. We have partnered on crisis management, sustainability planning, organizational restructuring, and strategic planning.
What has been the most significant development in your sector over the last 40 years?
The most significant developments in the social sector over the last 40 years include expanded opportunities for professional development of our workforce, the rise of data in determining philanthropy, and increased diversity among the leadership of many organizations.
What has been the greatest challenge during this same period?
The social sector still has a lot of work to do in supporting leaders of color. As one colleague put it, many of our organizations still look like “snow-capped mountains” – white at the top, with increasing diversity the further down you go in the organizational hierarchy. And, we can’t just have boards hiring people of color. We need boards and philanthropy to value the assets these professionals bring. We also need to work on ensuring a living New York City wage for people at all levels of our organizations. Because you shouldn’t dedicate your life to helping people and be penalized for it.
How has risk-management changed over this period?
I think the biggest change in risk-management for the social sector is that we actually engage in risk-management now. We don’t just hope the bills will be paid. We work to ensure that our organizations are fiscally healthy and positioned to deliver services even when times are tough.
What leadership qualities are necessary to succeed as a nonprofit executive today?
Today’s nonprofit executive needs to be a highly skilled generalist with her feet firmly planted in the community she hopes to serve. You need to be able to read a financial statement as well as you listen to a young person. You need to be able to talk straight with funders, while also talking straight with your staff. You need to be responsibly transparent – meaning no secrets, but share information responsibly. You need to respect the community you serve – and to remember that you are, in fact, there to serve, not to rescue.
How do you see shifting views on race, gender, sexuality, age, immigration status, educational achievement, wealth, poverty, and health affecting your organization in the future?
As amazing as the social sector is, and I do love this sector, it is the epitome of a system that posits power and resources outside of the hands of impacted communities. We are not insulated from the cultural and political climate of our time – these conditions create the context in which we do our work. So, yes, we are all having to ask the tough questions about what it means to be an anti-racist organization, how do we redistribute power and money, who has access and why. We don’t just get to pull drowning babies out of the water anymore. We have to ask ourselves who’s throwing babies into the water in the first place.
Why did you want to become a CEO?
I became a CEO because I knew I could do a good job. I knew I understood the challenges facing people who look like me and that I was uniquely qualified to help uplift my community.
How do you hire?
I hire for skills first. I need to know that you have the actual skills to get the work done and to bring something of value to the table. Next, I hire for culture. Are you a builder or a taker? Are you passionate about the mission and why? If we find ourselves having to burn the midnight oil on a project, how are you showing up? Will you inspire your colleagues and our community? And, culture is slightly different from fit. I’m not looking for anyone to fit a mold. You need outliers if you’re going to be outstanding.
What were the biggest challenges you faced in your career?
The biggest challenge I’ve faced as a Black woman leader is being a Black woman leader. I think there have been instances when I’ve been invited to the table because people believed that my presence, and not my expertise, or my insight, or my experience, would signal something about them, or their organization. Even in a leadership role I still struggle to have my voice heard and my contributions fully acknowledged. Many leaders of color talk about having positions but not having power. So, I’m always working to make sure that the impact of what I have to offer is felt and recognized.
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