Note from a Departing Chair
Tuesday, January 23, 2018
A reflection by John Brothers, former Alliance Board Chair and exiting Board member
John Brother’s leadership, passion for capacity building and community building, and his appreciation of research-to-practice helped the Alliance grow and thrive. As he exits the Board, we thank John for his years of commitment and are honored to share his parting reflection.
I was introduced to the Alliance for Nonprofit Management through David Maurrasse, whom I met through a nonprofit management institute at Columbia University in 2005. My consulting practice was just a couple years old and I was looking for networks to connect with nationally. He was leaving his role as the Chair of the Alliance and emphatically told me that I needed to attend the next national conference, which was in Chicago that year. Having been born in Chicago I thought I could swing by the conference but spend most of my time with family. I barely saw my family in that trip as I emphatically joined over 750 capacity builders in the Windy City around a conference theme of “Building Capacity for Impact in The Communities We Serve” (I still have my conference program!). I remember watching one of my nonprofit idols, Robert Egger, keynote and felt I had found kindred spirits in my new friend, the “Alliance”.
Capacity building has always had a meaningful part of my life. While starting my career as a community organizer, I came to the position early that my part in creating positive social change was to help strengthen organizations that were committed to that cause. I noticed early on that in my community, my neighbors were poorer and poorer and yet there were more and more organizations dedicated to our self-sufficiency. The issue was not that we needed more organizations, the issue was that we needed stronger organizations. The Alliance I met in Chicago started a relationship that exists to this day, beginning with attending the conferences to joining and leading an affinity group, to serving on the membership committee and then to joining and then chairing the board for nearly five years where I finally finished my board service in December.
The Alliance was such a helpful friend as I grew my consulting practice and as the Alliance moved to a research-to-practice model, my career seemed to move in parallel, myself becoming a “pracademic”, both consulting, teaching and writing on the sector. As all of those areas grew to serving throughout the globe along with a growing family, my wife and I would joke that the Alliance became our third child as our basement was filled with Alliance conference materials and our firm staff often became defacto Alliance staff. As I worked for more work-life balance, I merged my business and began a role leading a corporate philanthropy. As I have transitioned into my new life in Baltimore, coincidentally my board service with the Alliance has also coming to a close. It has been an amazing ride and I am proud of the work during my time as Chair and am excited about the energy and possibilities the leadership we have now is employing. It is a tough eco-system for national intermediaries and it will continue to be tough and now more than ever we will need our leadership and members to hit the pavement hard for our survival and success.
My story to others will be that the Alliance emboldens me with the perspective that organizational health is as, if not more important as the sectors current program focus and this world view shapes my approach to philanthropy. The philanthropy that my colleagues and I are now developing is innovative because capacity building is the beginning, middle and end of our conversations and interactions with our community partners. Moving forward, I am excited to be leading efforts locally to internationally that use capacity building and a view of organizational health to create meaningful community change, including finalizing legislation in Baltimore that embeds meaningful capacity building funding into city-wide youth funding in perpetuity while also finishing work in the UK where we have measured the health of hundreds of organizations over several years to show the impact of specific capacity building injections but more importantly how the state of organizational health in the UK will change the way government in Northern Ireland and Scotland contract and partner with local nonprofits. Using capacity building as a policy change lever will systemically re-shift millions of dollars and lead to stronger nonprofits, communities and civil society and is an avenue I hope more of our work moves into in the coming years.
I hope that I was able to give back to our capacity building network a tenth of what I was able to gain from the network of committed and talented folks making ripples in their own communities. I thank you all for allowing me to be a part of the Alliance family and I look forward to continuing as a member for many years to come.