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Powering up nonprofits

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By Ret Boney

SEATTLE — After helping to make air travel safer in the wake of 9/11, Sara Hebert now wants to help nonprofits do their work better.

NPower, a national nonprofit that provides technology services to other nonprofits, hired Hebert as its executive director.

NPower was launched in 1999 in Seattle to provide tech consulting and training to local nonprofits with the goal of helping them address their business needs and do more with limited resources.

“We help nonprofits serve their communities better through technology,” says Hebert. “It may be something as simple as using basic technologies, or something transformative, to allow an organization to learn how to serve its customers differently so they can take those scarce dollars and serve more people.”

The nonprofit, which has about 100 employees, estimates it has helped more than 6,000 different nonprofits, provided more than 82,000 hours of consulting and over 67,000 hours of training.

In 2000, the group teamed up with Microsoft to expand the NPower network, which now includes 12 communities throughout the U.S. in addition to the national office, growth that was made possible by a $25 million grant in cash and software from Microsoft, which holds two seats on NPower’s board.

Sara Hebert

Born Fargo, N.D.

Education:  B.S., business and B.A., psychology, Mount St. Mary’s College, Los Angeles; MBA, Yale School of Management

Pet:  Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy, Nia

Hobbies:  Hiking, cooking, yoga, formerly competitive beach volleyball

Book recommendation:  “The Radical Leap: A Personal Lesson in Extreme Leadership” by Steve Farber

Inspiration: Daily gratitude journal on what she’s thankful for – “It’s a practice that keeps things in perspective for me.”

Microsoft recently committed to an additional $3 million cash grant to support continuing work.

“The board felt like Sara had the right combination of energy and skills to take the organization into its next phase,” says Jennifer Bright, interim executive director of NPower. “She has insight into the application of technology for the public good and the business savvy we need.”

Most recently, Hebert led the Transportation Security Administration’s “e-government” program, an effort to improve airport security through the automation and integration of daily transactions, and a sharing of information within agency.

The result is what Hebert calls “technology-enabled government,” which in this case involved construction of an integrated technology platform with eight applications critical to airport security that are now used at all U.S. international airports.

Now she is ready to return to her roots in the nonprofit sector, where she got her professional start as director of a Los Angeles program that connects first-generation college women to public leadership through mentoring and internship positions in the public sector.

“I’ve connected with several former students that have become real community leaders themselves,” she says.  “It’s fun to see the fruits of the program.”

Hebert’s interest in nonprofits, and a belief that nonprofits need business sense, led her to earn an MBA from Yale, with the goal of eventually using those skills for nonprofit work.

After graduate school, she learned about the high-tech world by working with a tech consulting firm during the dot-com boom.

“We saw the entire evolution of the dot-come piece,” says Hebert, “and the very dramatic end as well.”

The nonprofit world tugged at Hebert, and after working at the Transportation and Security Administration, she accepted the top post at NPower.

“You can plug in any computer, or load any software,” Hebert says.  “But if you haven’t solved the business problem, you haven’t done much.”

Hebert has been visiting all East Coast NPower offices before starting her new job in mid-August, and says she will work with the board on its goal of expanding the NPower network beyond its current 13 offices.

She also wants to foster a concept she calls “knowledge capitalization” within the organization, ensuring that work done in local offices allows NPower to bring additional value to future customers of all offices.

“Nonprofits play a critical role in our society in serving people in need,” says Hebert.  “Technology has the ability to help them perform those services better.”

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