Supporting Nonprofits from Idea to Inception: a CNE Success Story

Apr 19, 2016

Originally appeared on CT Post Blog

Executive Interview with Catalina Horak, Founder of Neighbors Link Stamford

Neighbors Link Stamford founder Catalina Horak. Submitted photo courtesy of Fairfield County’s Community Foundation.

In 2009, when Catalina Horak came up with the idea of founding a Stamford-based nonprofit to help immigrants integrate into the community, the first thing she did was turn to Fairfield County’s Community Foundation’s Center for Nonprofit Excellence (CNE).

There, staff members sat down with Horak to evaluate the regional need, and a basic plan for operations. It was the first step of a multi-year partnership that launched Neighbors Link Stamford.

From ensuring the concept was viable to orienting a new Board of Directors and training staff, the Center for Nonprofit Excellence’s expertise was key to establishing the new organization. Five years later, Neighbors Link Stamford has grown exponentially – and its partnership with the CNE is still thriving.

We went from a $250,000 budget in our first year, to what is now a $1 million budget,” says Horak.

“We went from idea stage, to startup, to growth curve – and CNE programs have been relevant to us at all these different growth stages. The Center for Nonprofit has done a really good job of making sure they have programs that address the needs of everybody.”

The Fairfield Triangle: Technical Knowledge, Practical Application and Local Expertise Help Immigrants Integrate into the Community

For Horak, the Center for Nonprofit Excellence’s workshops, trainings and peer learning groups are more than just an academic exercise. The reason they’re so impactful, she says, is due to a strong foundational triangle of expert knowledge that’s presented in the context of practical applications and in-depth knowledge of Fairfield County.

“You get to meet people, you get to hear from the experts, and then you go back to the office and you can apply these things,” says Horak. “You have the tools to bring new ideas to the organization, and also have the theory behind the tool.”

While other online resources and webinars have sometimes proven too academic, or geared to different cultural environments and job economies, Horak trusts that CNE offerings will be engaging, energizing and relevant.

“We have a common language; we’re working with the same people,” she says. “That element of practicality makes a difference.”

Accessibility of trainings is also key. As a locally-based resource offering free or low-cost services, the Center for Nonprofit Excellence serves as an affordable and convenient resource for Fairfield County nonprofits to invest in their human infrastructure and build capacity – work that Horak says would otherwise be difficult to accomplish.

“We as the nonprofit sector have this constant pressure from the outside world to minimize administration expenses and maximize program investment,” she says. “The Center for Nonprofit Excellence recognizes that you have to invest in this part of your organization if you want to have good programs, good results and a sustainable organization.”

On CNE Offerings That Have Proven Key to Neighbors Link Stamford’s Success:

  • Harvard Business School Community Partners Effective Nonprofit Series: “This series was tremendously helpful during the formative stages of our organization.”
  • Results-Based Accountability Training: “This has encouraged people to be more creative, and to own the process. It’s not one person being the data person and generating reports, but everybody taking ownership. Continuing workshops in the series means we keep learning about it, and I think that’s really important.”
  • Board Chair Roundtables: “The structure helps to get buy-in from board members, and helps them to understand their responsibilities to tell the organization’s story and raise funds. It also offers a stimulating intellectual environment and networking opportunities. Several times, our Board Chair has met people to partner with to develop new programs.”
  • Essential Skills Program Pilot, launching now: “This is a new side of the CNE that I’m really excited about. We’re always watching every penny, and a lot of times we forget about the management side. The staff is really empowered by knowing that this support is here, and thankful that we as an agency recognize the need for this training.”
  • Executive Leadership Program: “The Executive Leadership Program is my ‘why space.’ It’s a chance to remove myself from day-to-day operations and think about the big picture. When you have so much going on, you don’t always force yourself to do that. Having the support to do so has been beneficial to me.”


As a trusted nonprofit partner and thought leader, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation brings together community organizers, business experts and philanthropists to solve our region’s challenges. Our goal is to create a vital and inclusive community, where every individual has the opportunity to thrive. Learn about available resources and how you can support the work being done through the Community Foundation by visiting the Center for Nonprofit Excellence on the web.

Together we thrive.