Alumni Spotlight: Max Finberg, Growing Hope Globally
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Growing Hope Globally is an Illinois-based nonprofit focused on ensuring that families and communities around the world have enough to eat. Formerly known as Foods Resource Bank, the nonprofit helps use proceeds from produce sold in the U.S. to fund agricultural development initiatives overseas. The Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership spoke with alumnus Max Finberg, Growing Hope Globally’s President and CEO, about his experiences working in the nonprofit sector and his time in CPNL’s Nonprofit Management Executive Certificate Program.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership (CPNL): Why did you want to work in the nonprofit sector?
Max Finberg: I have been motivated by my desire to help hungry people from way back. Starting from school and in college, my desire to find a way to make a difference in the fight against hunger led me to a number of different nonprofits over my career, first as a way of getting experience and learning early on, and later contributing as one of the leaders.
CPNL: What is the most fulfilling part of your current role?
Max Finberg: Our organization is so fortunate to have dedicated and committed volunteers who have been with us for many years. Many nonprofits will have volunteers who come and go – one of our strengths is folks who have been with us for more than 10 years, volunteering their time and talents to help hungry people. It’s been a wonderful joy for me to connect with, understand and meet many of those folks over the last couple of months.
CPNL: What in particular made you want to work on the issue of hunger and at Growing Hope Globally?
Max Finberg: I like to eat and I want everybody to be able to eat. So, motivated by my faith and recognition that the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures talk a great deal about caring for those who are poor and hungry and oppressed – that was and is the foundation for me to want to do something about hunger. I was fortunate to be able to work with a Member of Congress, former Representative Tony Hall, who also cared about hunger as one of his top priorities and I was able to learn from him and with him about hunger both in the United States as well as around the world. Growing Hope Globally works with farmers and their communities in the U.S. to help farmers and their communities overseas. It really is a grassroots effort of folks from rural and urban America coming together to make sure that farmers overseas have the training and the tools necessary to feed their own families. It’s great to take an example, constituency, idea, and translate that overseas. I am excited that we have those committed volunteers who are farmers themselves, who are connected to agriculture, who want to make sure that farmers, not as competitors, but as brothers and sisters and fellow human beings have enough to provide for themselves. It’s an exciting new chapter in a long book about my interest in making sure that hungry people are fed.
CPNL: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Max Finberg: One of my first jobs was with the Congressional Hunger Center and the founder was Congressman Tony Hall, who I mentioned earlier, had an idea to create a domestic Peace Corps focused on hunger. He wrote that idea down on a napkin and told me to make it happen. I am very proud that 25 years later that program to fight hunger by developing leaders is still going and has trained more than 500 leaders in the fight against hunger. I look back on that as a very proud achievement. It’s exciting to reflect on that because of all of the lives changed and transformed in an effort to make sure we are doing all we can to ensure our neighbours down the road, and around the world, have enough to eat.
CPNL: What was your biggest takeaway from the Nonprofit Management Executive Certificate program?
Max Finberg: It was a wonderful opportunity for me, who was heading a nonprofit at that point, to take a step back from the day-to-day issues and pressures and reflect on some of the skills that I needed and hoped to develop in the program, on the trends, and some of the perspectives I didn’t have. I greatly appreciated the ability to come together with other colleagues in the nonprofit world who brought a different perspective than I did. I gained a bunch and still look back on it 11 years later and I am grateful for it.
CPNL: How did the certificate program challenge you?
Max Finberg: The challenge of taking time away from the daily pressures in my job at the time was a big one. The good thing is that the value, especially at the end of seeing how it benefited my work day-to-day, meant that the challenge was overcome. It was a few years after graduate school and undergrad, so to be back in a learning environment like that was a positive thing as well as a challenge.
CPNL: How has the Certificate Program helped you in your career?
Max Finberg: When I was applying for a job in President Obama’s administration, I sent in my resume, my cover letter, and activated my relationships to see if I could get an interview. I finally got an interview and the one thing the person interviewing me highlighted from my resume was the Certificate Program. He said, “Oh, I see you’re still learning and developing your skills.” That was what helped me get the next job, even though it was in government and not in the nonprofit sector. It was a clear indication to the interviewer that I valued learning and had an interest in continuing to develop as a person and a leader.
CPNL: What advice would you give to other professionals who are considering participating in the Certificate Program?
Max Finberg: There’s a lot of attention focused on networking, social or otherwise. Having forged several deep relationships, it’s clear to me that that continues to pay dividends personally and professionally. I would definitely suggest to folks that beyond getting a business card, another follower, or like, that they would approach a program like this as a way of developing a friendship that could lead to far more.