Challenges in leading non-profits part of ASU Women’s Business Leadership Conference

by George Jared ([email protected]) 303 views 

During her formative years in Jonesboro, Barbara Jimenez developed a love of music. By the time she was 15, she was making money playing music and it led to a 40-year career traveling the globe.

She once performed for the tenor Luciano Pavarotti. She returned home and is now the executive director of the Delta Symphony Orchestra, a non-profit organization. She spoke at the Arkansas State University Women’s Business Leadership Conference in Jonesboro.

“I’ve always been into music. … I wanted to create a better presence of musicians here and ones that come here,” she said.

Lisa Melton, special projects manager for the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, Gina Gomez, the executive director of El Centro Hispano in Jonesboro, Nanette Heard, executive director of the United Way of Northeast Arkansas, and Denise Snider, executive director of City Youth Ministries in Jonesboro, also spoke on the panel.

Non-profits are not built to make money, but should be financially solvent each year, Melton said. Such organizations are typically led by people who have a passion in a certain area, and it’s a key trait, she said. Loyalty and accountability among the leadership and staff are essential to a non-profit’s development, she said.

When Gomez began her career in the non-profit world, she lacked one key skill, she said. Fundraising is the lifeblood of non-profits, and Gomez said she didn’t know how to ask people for money. She does now, she said. There is a fine balancing act between the improvement of services and the money raising component when it comes to time allocation, she said.

“A non-profit is a business and you have to run it as a business,” she said.

Snider, a former school teacher, said top skills for a non-profit leader is one she used in her classrooms. Rules and a chain of command are valuable, and can help the organization achieve its objectives, she said. Three qualities – fierceness, fearlessness and faithfulness – go a long way, she said.

Former life experiences also are good tools, Heard said. Before she became the United Way executive director, she was an accountant and had experience in marketing. The skills made a significant impact during the almost eight years she’s led the organization, she said.

Telling a good story or finding someone who can tell a great story about your mission is critical, Jimenez and Melton said. Donors and those being served need to understand and feel the passion behind the non-profit and its objectives, Jimenez said. Thinking outside the box and finding qualities in other people, some that they aren’t even aware of, are part of the job, too, she said.

In addition to fundraising, there are other challenges most non-profits universally face, Gomez said. Pay is low, and most people working there do it as part of a greater cause. But there comes a moment when many decide to move onto a higher paying career, and turnover is a constant problem.

Snider agreed. One of the best pieces of advice she received when starting with Youth Ministries was from the board of directors. She was told to find and hire her own team of people. Everyone has to be on board with the goals and objectives, and has to understand the sacrifices that have to be made, she said.

Having the ability to say “no” is another skill a leader must possess, Gomez said. Her non-profit deals with a lot of immigration issues, and there are many in the community who don’t agree, politically on the issue. There are times when you have to agree to disagree, she said. Despite all the pitfalls and perils, Gomez said she’s wanted to go to work at her non-profit every single day since she started.

“I have a passion for what I do,” she said.