Empowering Nonprofits to Make an Impact in Fairfield County

Dec 02, 2016

Our Center for Nonprofit Excellence is dedicated to making an impact in Fairfield County by helping our nonprofits to strengthen infrastructure, build capacity and develop human resources. This conversation with Rev. Cass Shaw, originally published on the Hearst CT News Blog, offers a firsthand look at the importance of devoting philanthropic dollars to this type of support.

Reverend Cass ShawWhen Reverend Cass Shaw became President & CEO of the Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport (CCGB), she knew she would be taking on a challenge.

In a city where poverty and trauma touch many lives, CCGB brings together a wide network of community partners to feed the hungry, support youth in crisis, guide former offenders and more. To be effective, Shaw recognized that she would need to develop new skills as a nonprofit leader.

But she also knew that she didn’t need to do it on her own. She had a strong resource to turn to for support: Fairfield County’s Community Foundation’s Center for Nonprofit Excellence.

“It’s basically my go-to place,” says Shaw. “I know that I am a better leader, making smarter decisions and moving this organization forward because of resources I’m receiving through the Center for Nonprofit Excellence.”

From volunteer spirit, to effective community leadership

When Shaw came on board with the Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport in 2013, one of her immediate – and biggest – challenges was empowering its board and staff to build the organization into a dynamic community force. After several years in transition, her team was merely maintaining the status quo.

Shaw saw that begin to shift after several members of CCGB’s Board of Directors attended a workshop on board member governance hosted by the Center for Nonprofit Excellence.

“I have seen a big impact on the board and what they bring to the table,” says Shaw. “We went from a group of people who had wonderful volunteer spirit but were frustrated, stuck in a ‘rubber-stamping’ mode, to a more active, engaged board that knows how to lead.”

For staff members, and those who work on a volunteer basis, Shaw recognized a need to provide more encouragement and support. The Essential Skills for Staff workshops, offered locally and at low cost through the Center for Nonprofit Excellence, have helped to fill the gap.

“These trainings are a morale booster,” says Shaw. “They are good for the staff members’ own careers, and for the agency. It’s a win-win, all around.”

And for Shaw herself, the Center for Nonprofit Excellence’s Executive Leadership Program was a game changer in identifying how her strengths as a pastor could be reshaped to effectively lead a nonprofit organization.

“I appreciate the combination of one-on-one coaching to discuss my specific situation, and being part of a peer group that helps to develop relationships,” says Shaw.

Creating a culture of collaboration across Fairfield County

Shaw believes the power of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence is twofold; it provides resources, and fosters relationships. It’s a combination that can be vitally important for nonprofits that are working with limited resources to make an impact where it’s needed most.

“The resources can be applied immediately, on the ground,” says Shaw. “And the relationships are here, in this county.”

By creating an environment that encourages leaders to share best practices and brainstorm creative solution, Shaw believes the Center for Nonprofit Excellence is also creating a culture of collaboration that can make Fairfield County’s nonprofits more effective as a whole.

“The competition for dollars can be fierce, and the desire to succeed is in all of us,” says Shaw. “Collaboration is critical. The Center for Nonprofit Excellence pulls us all together, and reminds us all how much we need each other.”

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Together we thrive.