“Nobody teaches this stuff!” That’s what one of our past LEAP participants said as others around her nodded in agreement. This was someone who had come up through the ranks to earn a well-deserved Executive Director role. But after accepting the position, she discovered that there were major issues with the budget, and a number of grants were close to deadline. In addition, there were personnel issues that needed to be handled with care. She thought she knew the organization inside & out, but quickly discovered that she was not familiar with the many intricacies of running a nonprofit. Being at the top had turned out to be a lonely place. Then someone suggested The Leadership Enrichment for Advancing Professionals (LEAP) program.
The LEAP Program has just begun its fifth session. Over the previous four years, more than 40 nonprofit leaders from across Connecticut have graduated the LEAP program, coming away with working knowledge in the areas of Leadership, Strategy, Fundraising, Board Engagement, Financial Management, Communications, and Human Resource Management. The LEAP program consists of seven four-hour sessions that offer interactive presentations, group discussions, research and case study analysis, simulations, and action-planning activities. The final session, called “Immersion,” challenges participants to work in teams on a case study and present solutions using everything they’ve learned throughout the program. This usually culminates in lively presentations and some healthy competition.
Guy Rovezzi, President and CEO of Northwest Connecticut Community Foundation, has supported the LEAP program from its inception five years ago. “One of the aspects of this program that I think is extremely effective is this multi-layered approach that builds each educational session after the prior one,” he said. “It keeps the same group together throughout the program so they can develop a sense of trust and an ability to communicate with each other that is comfortable. Many have kept in touch to form a supportive network of peers following completion of the LEAP program.”
Guy saw a longer-term benefit as well. “If a community foundation can assist in helping these individuals achieve the kinds of skills taught during LEAP, they will become more marketable in their own careers, and their organizations will benefit from having leaders who are more competent in what they do. It’s something we’re very proud of.”
The recent study Stanford Survey on Leadership and Management in the Nonprofit Sector, found that “more than 80 percent of nonprofit organizations struggle with at least one of the seven fundamental elements of nonprofit leadership and management, thus hampering their overall performance and their ability to achieve their goals.” This information affirms something that Danosky & Associates already knew: nonprofit leaders need a resource to learn critical leadership and management skills from the ground up while having access to a cohort of peer support.
“Over the years, we recognized there were common professional development needs that weren’t being met – particularly among those who are new to leadership roles,” said Sharon Danosky. “So we developed a program that offers an opportunity for up-and-coming leaders to learn alongside peers who have the same challenges. It’s a safe place where they soon realize that other people are struggling with similar issues – and that they can speak openly. We hear back from graduates of the program all the time about the difference it has made in their organizations and their careers.”
A follow up meeting with last year’s graduates found them making use of the skills they learned during the LEAP program. One LEAP alumni outlined how she had a much better understanding of the roles and responsibilities of her board following the program. As a result, she was able to better engage the board and develop a more productive working relationship to move the organization forward.
Another recent graduate of the program felt confident that he would be a better fundraiser as a result of attending LEAP. “I’ve had some success in running my own business, but this is my first experience as an executive director of a nonprofit,” said John Simoncelli, Executive Director of Litchfield-based Greenwoods Counseling Referrals. “The LEAP program offered great insight on a number of crucial aspects of running a successful nonprofit organization, delivered in seven sessions that followed one after the other. One of the more valuable take-aways for me was an analytical approach to fundraising. Sharon Danosky presented this in a way that clearly demonstrated proven ways to analyze your donor database to better engage donors and consistently increase annual donations.”
This year’s LEAP participants – fondly referred to as LEAPER’s – are from Canaan, Torrington, Woodbury, Sharon, Kent, and Falls Village and they run libraries, child care and family services, social service and health organizations, and cultural arts efforts.
A survey completed by participants to measure what they want to take away from this year’s LEAP program included developing a positive culture, learning expectations of the board, improving on management skills & leadership, increasing knowledge around fundraising, and how better to communicate the mission.
As we guide more nonprofit executives through our fifth year of LEAP, we will deliver on those expectations and more – building a pool of talented and well-trained executive directors who are on the front-lines of making people’s lives better.
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