Investing in Leaders

Effectively supporting nonprofits means more than supporting their programs; these programs are only as good as the people who manage them. Since 2014, the Community Foundation of Utah, in partnership with American Express, has run Invest in Success, an intensive and immersive program allowing nonprofit executives to build skills in board governance, organizational finance, strategic management, change leadership, and more to take their organization to a new level. 

Abi Taylor was the Deputy Executive Director of Moab’s Seekhaven Family Crisis & Resource Center when she participated in Invest in Success in 2019. During her participation in the program, Abi felt she developed herself and enjoyed collaborating with other nonprofit executives, particularly those in rural communities. However, the real impact came weeks after the program concluded. 

Seekhaven, whose mission is to empower individuals and families to survive domestic violence and sexual assault and to thrive in a strengthened community, experienced major changes soon after the program concluded. First, the Executive Director decided to step down for family reasons, leaving Abi with the opportunity to step up and become Executive Director. Although the task felt daunting, Abi said, “My experience in the Invest in Success cohort made me feel more confident and willing to accept the position.” One activity from the program that guided her decision was evaluating organizational and personal values. “We compared our personal values with values of the organization. In my case, they were similar, which helped me know it was a good fit to step up.”

While the transition to Executive Director was challenging, Abi felt she had the right skills (and colleagues) to rely on. Two of these critical skills came directly from her time in Invest in Success: 

  • Setting work-life boundaries. Abi admitted she struggled in the past with feeling guilty for not answering texts or emails at night or over the weekend. “Now,” she chuckled, “I hear Tony’s (an Invest in Success instructor) voice saying ‘Nope. You need your weekends to yourself,’” and that reminder helps her take time to take care herself.
  • Board management. While Abi was quick to show support and appreciation for her board, many big decisions remained. Is it a working or governing board? What does onboarding look like? How do we develop roles? During the program, Abi listened to colleagues share challenges and ideas that she applied directly at Seekhaven.

Next came the challenge that no Executive Director anticipated: the COVID-19 pandemic. Seekhaven’s model, which relied on in-person meetings and operating an emergency shelter, was upended. Abi and her team worked quickly to adapt their model. “There were lots of barriers, lots of hiccups, but we were proactive in accessing resources as soon as we were able to,” she said. Advocacy and case work was moved to telework. Many programs transitioned to virtual. Closing the shelter was not an option, so staff and partners stepped up, adding distance between clients, increasing cleanings, and working with local hotels to lower room costs and move clients to a safe place offsite. With these changes, Seekhaven could continue serving Moab’s most vulnerable. 

Her advice to potential Invest in Success participants: “Let your guard down,” she said. “Be open to hearing what you can let go, change, or incorporate. It is so easy to get used to the way things are and get stuck. Be open to innovation and listen to suggestions by different organizations; it will make you better.” She laughed. “All ideas are on the table unless they’re illegal or dangerous.” 

Giving Tips:

Investing in emerging leaders can lead to an exponential impact for the populations they serve. When donating to causes you care about, include flexibility in the grant or provide funds to support the dedicated staff members who work directly with the clients.

Create your own story