Investing in Stronger Nonprofits Creates Stronger Communities

Oct 28, 2019

by Juanita T. James, President & CEO
Fairfield County’s Community Foundation
As published on 10/27/2019 in Hearst Connecticut Media Group’s daily newspapers

Charles (Charlie) MacCormack, President Emeritus and former CEO of Save the Children and a new board member of Fairfield County’s Community Foundation (FCCF), knows how crucial a strong nonprofit sector is to a vibrant society. And he knows the key to helping nonprofits maximize their impact is supporting their organizations in developing sustained leadership.

“In my years with Save the Children, we granted hundreds of millions of dollars,” Charlie recalls. “If we didn’t build leadership and capacity in a grantee organization, we found the funding didn’t have the same impact and often the program would fade away.”

Supporting the professional and personal growth of people is a lesson those who work in the private sector have appreciated — and invested in — for years. Similar investments by nonprofits focused on strengthening their leaders and staff have, unfortunately, often been met with resistance and viewed as “optional” or “excessive overhead.”

Those of us who have worked in both the private and nonprofit sectors know that there is no better investment any organization can make than an investment in its people.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, FCCF’s Center for Nonprofit Excellence (CNE) is a dedicated capacity-building and professional development resource for our region’s nonprofit sector. Each year, through free and low-cost educational workshops, webinars, expert coaching and professional development resources, fundraising support and networking opportunities, FCCF’s Center for Nonprofit Excellence supports hundreds of local nonprofit organizations.

The CNE helps their leaders, staff, board members and volunteers increase their knowledge, improve their effectiveness, cultivate collaboration, and deliver greater impact to the people and communities we collectively serve in Fairfield County and beyond. Fairfield County’s Giving Day, which has raised more than $7.6 million for more than 1,100 local nonprofits since 2014, is enabled by FCCF through the CNE.

The Community Foundation’s vision has been clear since Charlie’s late wife Susan M. Ross, my predecessor as FCCF’s president & CEO, helped launch the Center for Nonprofit Excellence in 2009 to foster a community of effective and sustainable nonprofits that improve the quality of life for all residents in Fairfield County.

Upon Susan’s retirement in 2011, colleagues established The Susan M. Ross Fund for Great Leadership to expand the CNE’s programming. Today, the fund helps underwrite the costs of the CNE’s Executive Leadership Program (ELP), a professional coaching and peer learning model that fosters strategic thinking, develops leadership competencies, and builds confidence and collective strength. It provides a collaborative space for nonprofit executives to share insights and address challenges. Nearly 30 nonprofit leaders have participated in the program since its inception in 2014 with costs subsidized by FCCF and generous donors.

“To me, the Center for Nonprofit Excellence is one of the most impactful aspects of FCCF’s very important work,” said Dan Levinson, whose generosity helped FCCF establish the Executive Leadership Program and who continues to support its growth. “It is the place where local nonprofit leaders can turn and learn, in an environment of trust and respect. I could not be happier with the impact the CNE is having or to be considered a part of this spectacular work and the great people doing it.”

The Community Foundation will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence in November 2019 by bringing together key stakeholders who continue to contribute to its enduring impact — community leaders, government officials, individual and corporate benefactors, volunteers and, of course, the nonprofit organizations, leaders and staff who work every day to create a region in which every individual has the opportunity to thrive.

As part of the celebration, which will be held at The Westport Library, the Community Foundation will announce the first inductees into the new FCCF Center for Nonprofit Excellence Hall of Fame, which will honor the achievements of nonprofit organizations, leaders and benefactors who have been supported by or contributed to the vital community impact championed by the CNE since 2009.

Together, by empowering nonprofit organizations to invest in the growth of their leaders, staff, boards and volunteers, we can make faster progress to meet our region’s most pressing challenges. Learn more and support the Center for Nonprofit Excellence at

Juanita T. James is president and CEO of Fairfield County’s Community Foundation.