, Salem, MA


March 17, 2014

Column: Good leadership doesn't just happen

One of every 408 Americans lives in Essex County, the place where America’s philanthropic life began. Global firsts abound here: from the machine that stitches shoes to the CT scanner that finds tumors. Here the Bill of Rights was first put on paper, the Navy and Coast Guard were founded, and fried clams were invented.

Those things make our region notable, but so does the level of charitable giving provided throughout the county. Over the past four centuries, the people of Essex County have created almost 2,500 local nonprofit organizations that serve our children, seniors and neighbors, and 20,000 of us currently serve on their boards.

These nonprofits represent the same diversity of life that now makes up the people of our county. In private schools and food pantries, ESL classes and summer enrichment programs, animal shelters and environmental conservation, the wonderful range of nonprofits — many operating with a small staff and volunteers — daily improve the quality of life for all of us.

But leadership for these organizations doesn’t just happen magically. It takes time. Nonprofits make up 16 percent of the county’s economy and affect every aspect of our lives, but many directors don’t always get the support and guidance they need to run their organizations as effectively as they could. In addition to doing the heroic work that first inspired their passion, these leaders are faced with big questions on a regular basis: how to raise funds, what makes a good board member, when is it time to grow, how to build a sustainable plan.

It’s not easy work. Nonprofit leaders must learn how to navigate capital campaigns while engaging the next generation of volunteers. They need wisdom in recruiting the right people to their boards, while also maintaining financial accountability. They need mentors with rich experience, while also becoming mentors themselves to their own staffs.

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