An Interview With Jennifer Simmons, Executive Director of Center for Excellence in Nonprofits

Jennifer SimmonsQ: What is CEN (Center for Excellence in Nonprofits) about and what do you all do?
JS: At CEN, we believe that the most effective way to increase the capacity of the nonprofit sector is to strengthen and sustain the staff and board leaders of nonprofit organizations. To do this, we have a unique approach to leadership development which focuses on building long term relationships and providing high touch programs (such as our Leaders Institute, Board Consulting Engagements, Executive Director Roundtables and Nonprofit Leadership Certificate Program).

Q: What do you love most about CEN and the work that you all do?
JS: What I love most is seeing the transformation in the leaders we work with every day. The role of Executive Director/CEO can be an extremely stressful and lonely job. Running a nonprofit organization is really hard – you are continually under resourced, under staffed and there is little to no money available for continuing education, yet you are tasked with figuring out how to provide society’s most needed services.

I originally came to CEN when I was in my first role as Executive Director, at the time leading Habitat for Humanity Silicon Valley. I was struggling and didn’t know if I could continue – I was on my way to burnout and probably a nervous breakdown. Right around this time, I was approached to participate in CEN’s Leaders Institute… it changed my life!

The program taught me how to sustain myself and ultimately how to sustain my staff and organization. I developed a strong peer network that gave me confidence and showed me that I was not alone. My cohorts were dealing with similar issues and together we could help coach each other through these difficulties. Leaders Institute also offered a valuable curriculum that helped me make the strategic decisions necessary to be an effective leader and to strengthen the impact of my organization for years to come.

Since joining CEN I have had the great pleasure of facilitating three new classes of Leaders Institute and each time I’m amazed at the transformation of the participants. I am inspired everyday by their work and love having the opportunity to impact their growth and be a part of this journey.

Q: How has CEN made an impact and what do you wish yet to see?
JS: CEN works with hundreds of leaders each year, positively impacting thousands of individuals and families that rely on the services of local nonprofits to survive. We work with these leaders to build and strengthen the infrastructure of their nonprofit, cultivate the talent in their organizations... and ultimately become more strategic and impactful. Unfortunately we are only scratching the surface. As we look to the future we want to do more to develop the nonprofit talent pool and are expanding our programming to better address the needs of these emerging nonprofit leaders!

Q: What is it you like to say to potential Donors and Volunteers? Why is CEN so special?
JS: When you support CEN, you are directly supporting the development of a nonprofit leader in our community. As each leader progresses through our programs, they acquire the skills needed to effectively manage and cultivate the talent in their organizations, increasing the impact of your initial support. An effective team is then able to be more strategic and impactful, often growing the capacity of their organization in the process.

Ultimately, this means that those most in need are better served, and illustrates the deep community impact of your support. An investment in CEN is truly a leveraged investment in our community! For more information, please visit www.cen.org.

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