Winning Was Just Part of the Reward

Tuesday, September 17, 2013
by Cecilia Clarke, President and CEO, Brooklyn Community Foundation; Founder and former Executive Director, Sadie Nash Leadership Project
Three years ago, the Sadie Nash Leadership Project earned one of the greatest honors in our history, the Gold Prize for Overall Management Excellence from what are now called The New York Community Trust-New York Magazine Nonprofit Excellence Awards. But the journey that brought us to that point also brought us far more than the award itself. The months-long application process was challenging, but also deeply rewarding. We emerged with a better understanding of our mission to strengthen, empower and equip young women as agents for change in their lives and in the world. And it gave us increased confidence in our abilities: documenting our management practices and work in detail helped us realize just how much our small staff of only five people had accomplished.
The Nonprofit Excellence Awards application proceeds in three stages: a highly detailed application to reach the semifinals; a second application to reach the finals; and finally, a site visit by the selection committee. Preparing for the award required a high level of participation and collaboration, and involved all of our staff, regardless of their experience or area of expertise.  It was this intense collaboration that helped us form a consensus about what our management values really were and whether they held up in practice. It quickly became clear to us which of our practices had helped us most to be successful, and a theme emerged of our unswerving dedication to “walking the talk” — to letting our mission drive our management values and practices.
Among these practices:  We include young women on our staff and board, creating a pipeline of young women leaders; we continually remain inclusive, diverse and responsive to the community we serve; we monitor and evaluate our programs regularly, and base our strategic planning on the data thus collected; and we stick to our message, focusing on positive stories about young women that emphasize strength and leadership.
The process also afforded us an opportunity to identify and address our weaknesses, which mainly pertained to our use of technology and communications.
Three years after we won the Gold Prize, we are still reaping the benefits. We greatly increased our name recognition, particularly among other nonprofits. We refreshed and revitalized our Board’s passion and commitment to our mission. We strengthened our relationship with donors and validated what they had done for Sadie Nash.  And — last, but not least — the award serves as a symbol to remind everyone that it is our excellence in management that has made it possible to change so many young women’s lives.
This post first appeared on the Official Blog of the Nonprofit Excellence Awards on August 27, 2013 and is reprinted with permission.
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