RALEIGH, N.C. — Zulayka Santiago, executive director of El Pueblo, has resigned effective Sept. 9 after less than two years heading the statewide Latino advocacy group.
Santiago says she will continue to support El Pueblo and to work for Latino rights and social justice, and is leaving because she wants to devote more time to personal matters.
“This has been an incredible experience and an incredible learning opportunity, but I am choosing to use my skills and my talents in a different way within the social justice movement,” she says. “The position has been extremely demanding in terms of hours and constant, competing priorities.”
Peter Morris, chair of El Pueblo’s board of directors, says the board “couldn’t be more pleased with the direction Zulayka has helped take us in her two years of leadership.”
El Pueblo has created a succession plan and an internal management team consisting of three senior staff members who will guide the organization until a new executive director is on board.
The organization also will hire a consulting firm to help guide the board through the transition, help develop a job description, support a selection committee the board will name, and lay the groundwork for strategic planning, Santiago says.
Morris says Santiago, who joined El Pueblo in 2003 as director of youth programs, has led the organization through an important period of growth and change since the departure two years ago of Andrea Bazán-Manson, who stepped down after six years as the group’s first executive director to become president of the Triangle Community Foundation.
“El Pueblo has become the voice of Latinos in North Carolina and has built bridges successfully to government, to business, to philanthropy and to the media,” says Morris, who serves as medical and clinical services director for Wake County Human Services.
In a “listening tour” Santiago conducted after becoming executive director, Latinos throughout the state told her they wanted a “louder voice in setting agendas” and an “opportunity to meet government, philanthropists, media and businesses,” Morris says.
Based on that input, he says, the organization developed a Latino legislative agenda in collaboration with Latinos and Latino organizations throughout the state.
The organization also has developed a partnership with the state NAACP, with each group supporting the other’s legislative agenda, he says.
“That’s a historic continuation of the black-brown partnerships that are there at the ground level,” he says. “In communities across North Carolina, blacks and browns both face the same issues in terms of wages, job security, educational opportunities, affordable housing, access to health care.”
El Pueblo also has been working to generate more support from individuals, whose contributions account for only 1 percent of the organization’s annual budget of $1.3 million.
Dan Moore, a consultant to NC Gives, an initiative that aims to celebrate and inspire giving throughout the state and a member of the fundraising committee of El Pueblo’s board, says the committee has been “spending more time with people who have contributed in the past” and helping them “understand the importance of their contributions at this time, and the evolution of a community that’s very different than it was five and 10 years ago.”
Santiago has “done an outstanding job of building on the foundation that was there and positioned the organization better to move in to the future,” Moore says.
“The organization was in a wonderful position and she has built on that by augmenting relationships with, first of all, other parts of the Latino community around the state, and I think she has maintained and increased the visibility of a sane voice in a challenging time for an important community,” he says.
Morris says the job of running a nonprofit has become extremely demanding, and that boards, executive directors and funders need to change to increase their support for executive directors and ease the pressure on them.
At some nonprofits, he says, “exceptionally talented executive directors are finding they’re being pulled in all directions at all times, and it’s exhausting and it takes a toll on their personal lives and I think it takes a toll on their professional lives as well.”
Nonprofit boards, he says, should be more supportive of executive directors and should take on duties, responsibilities and tasks from them.
Executive directors should “empower” senior staff, and organizations should consider creating the position of deputy director, he says.
“It can be expensive to have a qualified deputy director,” he says. “Yet it’s clearly also expensive to lose your executive director on a regular and periodic basis and have to replace them.”
At El Pueblo, Santiago “took what was a hierarchical organization and empowered them to positions of senior leadership,” Morris says. “If we’re about the development of the Latino community and Latino leaders, we should be about the development of Latino leaders within our organization.”
And he says the philanthropic community should be investing more in the operations of nonprofits.
“If funders don’t start allowing more money to go into administrative support, and don’t realize that part of the sustainability of the efforts they’re funding is the leadership development they all should be funding, we’ll all be lost,” he says.