Loudoun Nonprofit Leaders Get Rare Opportunity: Professional Development

Professional development isn’t something to which charity leaders typically have access. But a group of local organizations are teaming up to try to change that and deliver training to Loudoun’s nonprofit administrators.

The Community Foundation of Loudoun and Northern Fauquier Counties is working with Leigh Shields & Associates to provide a year-long training program. The Social Impact Institute’s Leadership Development Program recently launched its third session and has enrolled six nonprofit administrators.

The session, which runs from June this year to June 2018, includes classes and group discussions where nonprofit leaders can learn from one another, as well as interactive activities and individual coaching. “We talk about what goals you have for the organization. Then we figure out in coaching sessions how to step in to unknown territory and experiment,” said Leigh Shields, principal of Leigh Shields & Associates.

Shields was inspired to create the training program after working for Xerox for 35 years. “I was fortunate to have them invest a lot in me so I could learn to be a good leader. That made a big difference in terms of how I approach what I do,” he said. “Nonprofits don’t usually get that opportunity.”

That was the realization Amy Owen had just before hearing about the program Shields had developed. A few years ago, Owen, the executive director of Community Foundation for Loudoun and Northern Fauquier Counties, was visiting with a bank executive who was talking about advice she’d received from her executive coach. “I thought, well, I’m never going to have an executive coach,” Owen said.

Ironically, Shields had just created a beta program in partnership with the Community Foundation for Alexandria for training up nonprofit leaders. “I loved the idea,” Owen said. “Recognizing that these nonprofits otherwise would never have an opportunity to have this interaction with an executive coach professional, and they deserve it.”

The Loudoun-based Community Foundation officially formed a partnership with Shields and, three years ago, enrolled their first group of Loudoun nonprofit executives. To help offset the program’s costs for this year’s students, the foundation is providing a $12,000 grant. That brings the cost to $750 per person; $650 for organizations that have had staff participate in past Shields’ programs.

And it’s worth the investment, Shields said. “Research shows that the most leveraged investment an organization can make is in their leadership. Because a leader touches so many people in so many ways, and if they’re not up to the challenge, it really disables the direct-program investments that leaders generally think is the best place to spend.”

Jennifer Montgomery, executive director of the county’s largest nonprofit organization, Loudoun Hunger Relief, enrolled the first year the training was offered in Loudoun. She said the men and women leading charities “wear several hats.” In many cases, they’re tasked with managing a team, overseeing a budget, promoting the organization, and fundraising.

“Most the leaders in this community are leading big organizations without a lot of help, because the infrastructure is just not there—where if you were leading a $3 million company, you’d have an HR department,” she said. “To be able to fine-tune our skills with a cohort of peers was really great.”


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