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Nonprofit leaders speak at Sloan

Michael Brown, president and co-founder of City Year, a national youth service corps, was on campus recently to share his insight on nonprofit leadership with students at MIT's Sloan School of Management.

"Never compromise on your fundamental vision, but be ready to compromise on everything else," said Brown, president and co-founder of the national youth service corps. Brown said he was offered government funds to start City Year if it limited corps members to at-risk youths. "We turned it down," Brown said. "That wasn't our vision. We wanted young people from all backgrounds."

Today, City Year is a robust private-public partnership with more than 1,000 corps members working in multiple community service programs.

Brown was just one of several CEOs who participated in the workshop on "Leadership in the Nonprofit Sector," one of a dozen leadership workshops offered during the Sloan Innovation Period (SIP) in March. SIP is a one-week period at the semester midpoint when regular classes are suspended, and MIT Sloan students enroll in seminars taught by faculty and industry leaders. The nonprofit session was led by Jeff Shames, former CEO of Massachusetts Financial Services.

Among the speakers was Bill Shore, founder of Share Our Strength--best known for its "Taste of the Nation" fund-raiser (10,000 chefs and restaurants hold banquets in 70 cities to raise money for anti-hunger programs). "Everybody tries to squeeze a nonprofit's margin," he said. "We need to be an efficient service provider, but also get the word out that a nonprofit's total return on investment is how you improve quality of life for people in need."

Other nonprofits adopt business-like strategies to measure success. At the 112-year-old Boys & Girls Club of Boston, CEO Linda Whitlock outlined how the agency changed from a loose affiliation of sites and programs to an integrated network. The result: 12,000 young people are club members, up from 5,000 seven years ago.

"SIP is designed to allow students to learn about leadership by seeing a broad range of role models, building skills and reflecting on their own leadership styles," said Deborah Ancona, the Seley Distinguished Professor of Management and faculty director of the new MIT Leadership Center. "In this session, we looked at several models of leadership in nonprofit organizations. These speakers are exemplars of great leadership. They show how profit and justice can come together."

SIP sessions are part of a cluster of leadership programs developed and offered by the MIT Leadership Center. The center develops cutting-edge theory, tools and action-oriented curricula to develop leaders at all levels of all types of organizations from tiny nonprofits to huge multinationals.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 6, 2005 (download PDF).

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