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Nonprofits

How Corporate Leadership Strategies Are Transforming DFW’s Nonprofit World

Legacy leaders are stepping away from longtime roles, and new CEOs are bringing corporate strategies to DFW's nonprofit world.
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Miki Woodard
Prior to TWF, Miki Woodard worked with Bad Robot Productions, the company behind Alias and Lost. Sean Berry

The effects of the Great Resignation have been two-fold for North Texas nonprofits; longtime leaders are stepping away, and new corporate leaders are stepping up in search of personal fulfillment post-pandemic. “I just started wondering,’ Why am I going back to the office?’” says Luis Gonzalez, who took the helm of Society of St. Vincent de Paul of North Texas this past January. “It was more of a question of ‘Toward what end? Why go back? Is it all just about computer gear? Or is there something we need to be doing that’s more holistic and an opportunity to give back?’”

Gonzalez left a three-decade career in tech and data center management—all but seven years of which he spent in management roles at Allstate Insurance—for leadership in the nonprofit sector. He succeeds Michael Pazzaglini, who led the nonprofit as executive director then CEO. 

For new nonprofit leaders such as Gonzalez, the way forward begins with sustaining the path and progress laid down by those before them. Pazzaglini navigated Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s pharmacy program, which provides prescriptions to the uninsured, through a 73 percent prescription increase during the pandemic. He also formed the organization’s mini-loan program, which aims to help underserved communities avoid the traps of predatory lending. “Those are things that I see as absolutely necessary to continue to move forward, then grow and expand upon,” Gonzalez says. 

Similarly, John Siburt, who was promoted to CEO of Dallas-based CitySquare in 2020, after 28-year veteran CEO Larry James retired, hopes to focus on maintenance and improvement rather than rapid growth. “Larry was a great entrepreneur and founder to really build us to where we are today. My skills are more for managing the complexities of something as large as we are now,” Siburt says. 

Siburt, a preacher turned nonprofit leader—like James— joined CitySquare in 2012 as vice president of programs. Now, he oversees the organization and its operating budget of more than $22 million. His strengths, he says, lie in helping the nonprofit navigate new dynamics that come with its size. “I’m more willing to have conflict, to manage conflict, to work through processes and systems,” he says. “We’ve gotten to the stage where we need some of that.” 

Taking Cues from Corporate

Some business leaders entering the nonprofit space are making similar moves, taking strategies from corporate America and applying them in their new organizations. “We are running a business. I look at it as a business,” says Mimi Sterling, who took the helm of The Family Place after Paige Flink, a trailblazer in fighting family and relationship violence for 30 years, retired in late 2021. “The only differences in my mind are our tax status and the fact that we have to raise money.”

Sterling joined The Family Place after stints with luxury fashion brands Hermes and Assouline and seven years in leadership roles at Neiman Marcus. Most recently, she served as vice president of ESG and belonging. During her tenure, she managed Neimans’ corporate social responsibility partnerships nationally and shaped the company’s three-year ESG strategies and belonging policies. “I had a very broad understanding of different types of employees and their hopes and expectations of an employer,” she says. 

Our generation is influencing what corporate citizenshıp means.

In her role at The Family Place, Sterling manages five generations of employees who range in age from their early 20s to their 70s. Ensuring they are well compensated and cared for has been a big focus since taking the helm. Soon after she joined, the organization conducted a compensation study, adjusting pay for a significant number of positions after seeing the results. Next year, it will do a similar analysis of benefits. “In my mind, our benefits—within reason and within budget—shouldn’t be inferior to corporate benefits,” Sterling says. 

Michelynn “Miki” Woodard, who moved into the top post at Texas Women’s Foundation in February, adds that the nonprofit’s approach to benefits packages parallels business more today than it did in the past. “More similar to corporations than I’ve seen before, we’re thinking about benefits packages in a whole different way,” she says. “It’s not just salary anymore but how are we really creative about what people need to feel like they have some sort of agency, and balance, and support in the areas of their life that are a priority?”

An emphasis on employee and leadership development is another aspect Gonzalez says he plans to bring over from his corporate roles to his new post. “My corporate experience has been very helpful in being able to bring some of that model into the space here, doing some goal-setting with folks and some weekly accountability—some of that structure that they didn’t necessarily have or wasn’t there before,” he says.

Relationship Building With Donors

It’s not just overseeing employees that requires deft handling. Continuing relationships with longtime donors and developing ties with new ones is key for nonprofit leaders, too. “I think the new generation of leaders brings great talent, great vision, and a great understanding of what needs to happen, but we just need some time to build the network and the coalition of the willing that their predecessors would have had,” Siburt says. 

Having worked in leadership roles at CitySquare for years, building donor relationships along the way, Siburt enters the CEO role with practice and connections that former corporate leaders may not have. But demographic shifts make now an excellent time for them to build funding bridges. “One of the natural places of synergy for this new generation of nonprofit leaders is that our generation is emerging as leaders within corporations, too,” he says. “Our generation is influencing what corporate citizenship means within corporations … This new generation of nonprofit leaders is going to find allies and partners within corporations because they’re our age, and they share our values.”

Sterling, Gonzalez, and Woodard have made the rounds with their predecessors to meet donors, hoping to maintain those strong connections. “Paige personally shepherded me through that process,” Sterling says. Some are also drawing on outside networks to build bridges. “What I’m finding is so many of [the people in my church] are in the nonprofit space in some form or fashion,” Gonzalez says. “It becomes an easier opportunity just to connect and reach out.”

The challenge, several leaders note, is not a lack of available funds. In fact, Woodard says one of her toughest challenges is ensuring the best impact with “the embarrassment of riches” that the North Texas community brings to the table. Siburt adds that corporations are more willing than ever to give to community-oriented causes. “Corporations understand that nonprofits are doing the work of economic development, not charity, and that we have shared interest in the future prosperity of this community,” he says. 

It’s ensuring impact while working around stipulations that proves tricky. During the pandemic, trust-based philanthropy—a phenomenon in which donors offer open-ended funding, trusting the nonprofit to use dollars where they are most needed—became prevalent. Now, grants with earmarks are returning as the norm, making marketing, strategy, and trust imperative to new leaders hoping to attract new funds. 

Woodard says drawing on her experience and pitching investors as a leader in a corporate setting could act as a strength in creating essential donor connections. “I can really think about how we approach funders in a way that speaks to them. How do we think about their priorities and ours?” she says. During her nearly 30-year career, she has led philanthropic giving for Kanye West and The Dr. Phil Foundation and corporate giving for JCPenney. She moved to Dallas to succeed Roslyn Dawson Thompson, who led Texas Women’s Foundation for a decade, and be closer to her aging mother.

We are running a business. I look at it as a business.

Gonzalez is taking a similar approach, using data metrics to prove impact and speak the language of cost-savings to corporate philanthropic decision makers. For example, Society of St. Vincent de Paul of North Texas is working with Baylor Scott & White to financially analyze the cost impact of the organization’s pharmacy services. “The data right now looks to be demonstrating that us giving free medications to individuals means those individuals are not going to the ER up to seven times a year for their primary medications,” Gonzalez says. Demonstrating impact to BSW’s bottom line, he hopes will make an impact. 

Fortunately, philanthropic giving is more ingrained in North Texas than it is in other urban areas, according to Woodard. “People here are very generous,” she says. “They give; they participate; they’re on multiple boards; and they want to be seen and be known for what they support. That’s incredible and it’s rare.” 

Crucial Collaboration

An area for improvement, Gonzalez notes, is finding ways for nonprofits to be more collaborative—working together to reach a shared end goal rather than vying in isolation for funding and reputability. “When we stop trying to compete with each other and look at how we can work together to serve the greater good, I think that’ll be a key milestone of success for us as a Dallas nonprofit community,” he says.

Collaboration is also a key piece in the new era of corporate citizenship that Siburt mentioned: as companies look for ways to align their investments and policies with employee values, they are now turning to nonprofits for solutions to societal issues. This is putting nonprofits in a position to advocate for policy, a place of power they had not occupied to the same degree previously. “Whereas in the past we might build one housing development, now we want to advocate for citywide housing policy,” Siburt says of how he hopes to shift CitySquare’s approach to combatting homelessness. 

Woodard too, is placing policy-shaping high on her list of organizational goals. “A real broad area of opportunity for us is advocacy,” she says. “Thinking about how we take the research that we’re so well known for and turning that into policy to connect with lawmakers across the state.” In particular, she hopes TWF can impact issues around women’s health, childcare, and housing. 

For Gonzalez, the push for policy will follow program growth and tracking key performance indicators. He hopes to attack poverty at the root. “If we can start to push for more regulation around title and payday loans at some of these predatory lenders, that is a systemic cause of poverty,” he says. 

Finally, collaboration with the corporations flocking to the region is part of what Woodard feels will be key to broadening impact. “How, as a community that does this so well, are we thinking about bringing people into the North Texas giving culture?” she asks. New nonprofit CEOs, she adds, will push each other to learn and to continue to bring young and diverse leaders to the forefront. “This has to be the beginning of a movement,” she says. “Not a moment.”

Soul-searching execs are leaving their jobs to spend more time giving back.

The same influences that have inspired corporate executives to take nonprofit CEO positions have caused C-Suiters across DFW to make serving on boards a key part of their post-retirement plans. Among those planning to actively serve are Anne Chow, former CEO of AT&T Business, and Shar Dubey, former CEO of Match Group. “People think of retirement, and they hear ‘tire,’ and they think it’s tired—that you don’t have the energy to keep doing things,” says Tracey Doi, former vice president and CFO at Toyota Motor North America, who stepped down Aug. 1.

“It’s just looking at the portfolio that you have and figuring out what you are most passionate about.” Doi plans to continue giving her time to Orchid Giving Circle, a Texas Women’s Foundation fund dedicated to supporting Asian American women, and 50/50 Women on Boards, an initiative aimed at reaching gender equity among corporate directors. “What I love about Dallas is that the business community overlaps so much with the philanthropic circles,” Doi says.

To see all the winners of D CEO’s Nonprofit and Corporate Citizenship Awards, click here.

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Kelsey Vanderschoot

Kelsey Vanderschoot

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Kelsey J. Vanderschoot came to Dallas by way of Napa, Los Angeles, and Madrid, Spain. A former teacher, she joined…

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