Growing Networks and Diversity: CPNL and Crimsonbridge Foundation Partnership

Posted in News Story

The Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership and the Crimsonbridge Foundation have partnered since 2016 to provide scholarships to nonprofit leaders in the D.C. area, making it possible for them to attend the Nonprofit Management Executive Certificate Program at Georgetown University. Over the first three years of the partnership, the scholarships significantly increased the diversity of the Certificate Program and strengthened the capacity of nonprofits serving our local community. To learn more, please click here.

Another goal of the scholarships was to broaden networks and reach leaders in communities of color in and beyond where the Center and the Crimsonbridge Foundation were active. In Fall 2018, the Center brought together alumni who had received scholarships from the Crimsonbridge Leadership Fund to brainstorm outreach strategies. According to Associate Director, Luisa Boyarski, “our alumni noted that a leadership program at Georgetown University was not necessarily on the radar of nonprofit leaders working at the community level. They suggested that alumni could use their own personal networks and relationships to help expand the reach of our scholarship outreach.”

“We piloted this new outreach strategy for our Spring 2019 Program and found it to be very successful. More than 15 new potential scholarship recipients were identified and contacted by alumni,” says Boyarski. Maralee Gutierrez, a 2016 scholarship recipient recommended the program to Lynn Thomas, who received a scholarship to attend in Spring 2019.

Tapping into Alumni Networks

For more than 17 years, Maralee Gutierrez worked in the nonprofit sector on youth development, recruitment, and mentoring. Some of her previous positions include Director of Next Generation Initiatives, Government Relations Specialist in Cameroon, UN liaison in New York City, and working to help combat human trafficking. Currently, she is working for her own nonprofit, Comunidad, in Fairfax, VA, which focuses on empowerment and building a platform for locally rooted community leaders to engage in community transformation.

“For several years, I have been looking for a professional development opportunity. I did not have the time or the bandwidth to complete a Master’s or Ph.D. program, but I wanted something at my level of experience that would go deeper into some of the key issues that are found in the nonprofit sector,” Maralee said. She was researching online when she discovered the Certificate Program and the scholarship and immediately applied for both.

Maralee described her time in the certificate program as a rich experience. “I enjoyed the diversity of the program, not only ethnically and racially, but the diversity of perspectives in the nonprofit sector,” Maralee stated. “Having the opportunity to engage with others and delve into issues that have defined us as who we are and built us and put us on our path is very encouraging.” She stated it was a key benefit to be able to learn and hear the stories of people who work in similar career fields.

Maralee participated in the 2018 brainstorming meeting and immediately began looking for other likely candidates in her personal network. “I believe we all have the capacity and ability to be a part of helping our communities thrive. The better I am, the better we all are,” Maralee stated. “Our humanity is so tied within each other and towards each other, that we all need to be better for one another.”

What compelled her to help identify candidates for the Crimsonbridge scholarship was the need for more minority representation and providing opportunities to hear stories from people of diverse backgrounds. “It’s obvious that we need more people of color engaging in these conversations. When we neglect or do not provide opportunities to hear the stories of people of color, we do not have the whole narrative. We only have a partial story,” Maralee said. She wants to see more strong leaders that are from minority communities that are engaging and thriving in their work.

Maralee recommended the Certificate Program and scholarship opportunity to Lynn Thomas. They had met several times while working on youth programs in Northern Virginia. “It was obvious to me that she was a strong leader. She was driven and succeeded at making a difference, and I knew she needed to be a part of this program,” Maralee said.

Student Experience in the Certificate Program

Lynn Thomas is currently the Executive Director of Community Lodgings, a nonprofit in Alexandria, VA, dedicated to helping homeless and under-resourced families by providing a variety of affordable and transitional housing options, youth education programs, and community outreach. With over 29 years of experience in the areas of grant administration and supportive housing management, Lynn works diligently in her community to provide opportunities for housing and social services.

“I grew up in the inner city of D.C. and was raised by a single mom. We depended on programs just like the programs that Community Lodgings provides just to get through,” Lynn said. “I feel like I can relate to a lot of the families here, especially the kids. It is important to have someone to be able to look up to, in addition to your mom, to guide you through this thing called life.”

Lynn met Maralee about three years ago, because they work at very similar organizations that provide after-school programs for children in Northern Virginia. Maralee sent Lynn an email describing the fantastic experience she had in the Certificate Program, however, when they discussed Lynn’s interest, there was a barrier.

“I told her that despite my interest in the program, my organization has limited resources due to being such a small nonprofit, and cannot afford the tuition,” Lynn stated. “However, Maralee told me about the scholarships opportunities the program offered. Later, I was able to talk with Luisa and did more research about scholarships and the program, and I definitely wanted to apply.”

Lynn was later accepted as both a participant in the Certificate Program and a Crimsonbridge Leadership Fund Scholarship recipient in Spring 2019. She was able to take away essential new knowledge and skills from the program.

“I worked hard in various leadership positions. However, 15 years ago I was put into the executive director position with no real formal training. I also felt like there were some things that I was missing,” Lynn said. The program filled the missing piece.

“One of my biggest takeaways from the program is that it has allowed me to have a clearer vision of the organization’s goal. I also gained confidence to hone my management skills. Most importantly, the networking encouraged me to collaborate more with others and build a coalition.”

The Crimsonbridge Leadership Fund Scholarship was a significant deciding factor for Lynn’s application. In previous years, she recalled reading about the Certificate Program but knew it was out of reach in terms of finances for her. However, when she learned about the scholarship opportunity, she felt as if the scholarships were designed for individuals just like herself who worked in the nonprofit sector.

“I am an aunt raising a nephew, so all my time and energy is dedicated to helping him become a strong independent young man. Just being able to apply to a program where they understand that it is not easy being an adult learner and continue to run a non-profit is gratifying,” Lynn said.

Now that Lynn has completed the Certificate Program, she has already begun to share her experiences and reached out to some individuals who showed interest in the program. She also continues to express her gratitude to Maralee for encouraging her to apply.

“I am very grateful to Maralee for sharing this resource, something she didn’t have to do. I am confident that the knowledge we both gained from the program will make a difference in the lives of those we touch, and while we are competitors, there is no competition.”

Importance of Ongoing Investment

The Crimsonbridge Foundation is helping create opportunities for nonprofit leaders who wish to develop their skills and improve their organizations and communities.

As both Maralee and Lynn mentioned, the scholarship has helped fund their development as leaders and encouraged both to search within their networks for more likely candidates to thrive from the program’s benefits.

“Alumni are leaders with strong community ties and valuable networks.” said Crimsonbridge Foundation Executive Director Danielle M. Reyes.  “We are grateful that they are leveraging their own experiences and networks to support the larger community of nonprofits and leaders.”