Written by Bonfils-Stanton Foundation Staff
On October 4, The Barton Institute of the University of Denver, in partnership with Bonfils-Stanton Foundation, the Colorado Association of Funders, and the Quarterly Forum, hosted a convening of nonprofit and philanthropy leaders and practitioners at the University of Denver who sought ways to expand their leadership and push the limits of traditional philanthropy.
A highlight of the day was a keynote by Earl Lewis, President and CEO of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. ‘We should always be about the future,’ said Lewis. ‘The key to leadership is knowing what investments to make. Democracy is always an act of making.’ Lewis, a noted historian and academic prior to assuming the leadership of Mellon, recently published a widely-praised blog post following the events in Charlottesville.
The day featured break-out sessions on impact investing, collective giving, social impact bonds, and cross-sector leadership, all connected by exploring how to provide the leadership across the blurring lines of the public, private and nonprofit sectors to build a stronger Colorado.
The event also featured as one of the sessions a conversation moderated by Bonfils-Stanton Foundation President Gary Steuer featuring three Livingston Fellows – where they shared their personal stories on leadership and some valuable lessons they’ve learned along the way.
Class of 2010 Livingston Fellow, Sonya Ulibarri, President and CEO of Girls Inc. shared her main goals of the Fellowship – and how she hoped to gain confidence in her voice and to get validation that she was a strong leader. Sonya’s most significant activity or learning came from participating in the Women of Color Policy Institute at New York University. The year-long program was part of the experience – and it led her to Puerto Rico. She shared that Girls Inc. is an extension of the community and their work on diversity and inclusivity has made them more bold and better advocates.
One mistake Sonya has learned along the way? Don’t over-invest in special events. Use them strategically – they can be costly financially (in terms of expense to the organization, donor burnout, and in staff capacity).
Lance Cheslock, Class of 2007 Livingston Fellow, shared how he went above and beyond his role as Executive Director of La Puente Home, Inc. in Alamosa. He shared that he felt that he lacked knowing the true issues the people they serve deal with – and so he made it his Livingston Fellowship mission to find out. He toured the US and visited several homeless shelters as he posed as a homeless guest. What he learned provided him with tremendous insight into the issues his guests struggle with as well as ways to make La Puente Home better.
Lance’s most valuable takeaway from his journey as a Livingston Fellow? How to listen. He learned that by listening he does a better job of upholding dignity and withholding judgment. He now applies this with his staff and their guests. What did he learn the hard way? How to keep politics out of the organization’s mission.
Garrett Ammon, Class of 2011 Livingston Fellow, Artistic Director of Wonderbound, shared that he ‘got the mother of all fellowships!’ that year. As he explained, he meant that he had been working on developing a grant relationship with Bonfils-Stanton Foundation before being named a Fellow. Early on, the Foundation asked him ‘What do you want to do with your organization? What vision do you have for it and for yourself as a leader?’ The outcome meant he was able to look at himself as a leader and look more closely at his organization as a whole. This resulted in the complete transformation of what had been Ballet Nouveau into what is now Wonderbound.
Garrett’s most significant learning from his time as a Livingston Fellow was time spent with an organizational psychologist who helped him see that his priority is to make art and that leadership will follow. His one mistake? Not recognizing soon enough that with big change comes a vacuum of expectations. ‘Keep your team aware of organizational and personal expectations or things can get out of hand easily,’ explained Garrett to the attendees.
For the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation and our guests, the highlight of the event was the culminating Celebration of Leadership plenary session. ‘As most of you know, the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation has a long-standing commitment to nonprofit leadership in our community,’ said Gary Steuer, President and CEO of Bonfils-Stanton Foundation. ‘In 2005, the Foundation created the Livingston Fellowship Program, named in honor of the late Johnston R. Livingston, long-time Trustee and former Chairman Emeritus of the Foundation. Since then, the Fellowship has provided an extraordinary leadership development opportunity to 65 nonprofit leaders in our state, the vast majority of whom remain in Colorado and continue to contribute to improving the lives of people in our community.’
Steuer then announced the five leaders selected to be the 2018 Class of Livingston Fellows: ‘We believe our investment in these high-potential leaders is building a network of change agents – people finding fresh solutions through leadership, imagination, and innovation. Individually, they are bringing excellence to their pursuits, and collectively, their impact is being felt in communities throughout our state.’
The crowd at the Bold Philanthropy event applauded as Gary announced the following leaders as the 13th class of Livingston Fellows:
- Harry Budisidharta, Chief Executive Officer, Asian Pacific Development Center
- Ara Cruz, Executive Director, Café Cultura
- Yoal Kidane Ghebremeskel, Co-Founder & Executive Director, Street Fraternity
- Deidre Johnson, CEO & Executive Director, Center for African American Health
- Isabel McDevitt, Executive Director, Bridge House
‘It goes without saying that we live in extraordinarily challenging times,’ said Steuer. ‘Our nonprofit sector – human services, education, health and wellness, arts and culture – plays an increasingly important role in ensuring that our communities and people thrive and live with dignity, opportunity, health, hope, joy and inspiration. The capacity of our nonprofit organizations to deliver on their promise is not just dependent on funding – equally or even more important is leadership.’
Gary concluded his remarks with a quote by John Quincy Adams, one of our nation’s greatest diplomats and the sixth President of the United States, who said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” This exemplifies all Livingston Fellows, who are not only great leaders themselves but are inspiring others to dream and achieve – the truest measure of leadership.