Consortium aims to boost nonprofit executives

Donna Newton
Donna Newton

Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — When Jeni Kirk was stressing recently while preparing for an accreditation review of Bell House, the nonprofit she serves as executive director, she turned for advice to Jodi Lorenzo-Schibley, who as executive director of Sanctuary House had gone through a similar accreditation review last year.

Kirk and Lorenzo-Schibley were among 12 executive directors selected a year ago for the inaugural class of an executive director academy sponsored by the Guilford
Nonprofit Consortium that aims to help them develop leadership and coaching skills and connect with their peers.

That network, says Kirk, “provides a tremendous level of support on an ongoing basis.”

Aiming to help executive directors bridge the gap created by the isolation they typically experience, occupying a kind of limbo between their staff and board, the Guilford Nonprofit Consortium was formed roughly five years ago to strengthen nonprofits’ professional capacity.

The Executive Director Academy, which kicks off its second class Sept. 14, builds on other efforts, including regular get-togethers the consortium holds that focus, respectively, on executive directors, financial issues and best practices.

And in January, the consortium in partnership with High Point University will launch a Nonprofit Management Institute.

Led by Pamela Palmer, an assistant professor in the undergraduate human relations program at the university and director of its undergraduate nonprofit leadership and
management program, the new institute will focus on how to run a nonprofit, says Donna Newton, executive director of the consortium.

Topics for the institute, which initially will enroll 12 executive directors invited to participate, will include the role of an executive director, strategic planning, fundraising, grant-writing, program evaluation, board development and volunteer management.

Classes will meet for a full day once a month from January through June, with the registration fee expected to total about $200 per student.

The Burlington-based Hayden Harman Foundation has given the consortium $5,000 to support the institute and help the consortium engage High Point nonprofits in
its programs.

On Sept. 17, the consortium hosted a reception for local nonprofits at High Point University to talk about the consortium and the new institute.

Partnering with the consortium on the executive director academy are the Center for Creative Leadership and Discovery Learning Inc.

 Newton says executive directors typically are isolated and “work in a silo,” often in small organizations with little opportunity “for interaction or feedback from other people or an environment where they can discuss their challenges in a safe way.”

Coaching is key to helping executive directors grow and be more effective, she says.

“Every day, we’re all teaching one another,” she says. “To build capacity in our organizations, each of us needs to know as much as we can about the organization overall and how we can support one another in fulfilling the mission of the organization.”

In addition to trying to help Kirk of Bell House prepare for its accreditation review, for example, Lorenzo-Schibley of Sanctuary House says the focus on coaching in the
executive-director academy made a big difference in her own work and life.

When she began the academy program, she says, she had just given birth to her second child and was looking for greater balance in her personal life and her professional work.

To help do that, she says, she was “committed to getting the best out of staff sooner in a more time-efficient way.”

The training she received through the academy to be a coach to her staff helped her help the staff “look inside themselves to find strategies for solving their own problems
and concerns,” she says.

Wendy Rivers, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Central Piedmont, says the academy, which included a workshop on finding the “ring in the rubble,”
helped her work with her board to “stay positive” in the face of the economic recession.

So the organization developed new fundraising ideas, including approaching new donors, and actually finished its fiscal year with a small surplus.

“I learned a lot about myself and why I make decisions I make as a leader, and choices I make, and how it affects the staff and board,” Rivers says.

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