Marsellus Executive Development Program Helps Nonprofit Leaders

Having spent 20 years working in corporate communications, Pam Brunet was well-qualified to take on the position of Executive Director of Leadership Greater Syracuse in 2012. But because she was still new to nonprofit leadership, Brunet recognized the need to brush up on skills necessary to excel in this career transition and, ultimately, to better serve the constituents of Leadership Greater Syracuse.

“I knew I was in a different world,” said Brunet. “While many of my skills from the corporate sector can be applied, it’s definitely different working in the nonprofit sector.”

Brunet was one of 10 graduates of the first Marsellus Executive Development Program class, an initiative of the Central New York Community Foundation. During the six-month training program, Brunet and her nonprofit executive classmates shared best practices, refreshed their skills, and developed their personal leadership styles with the support of executive coaches from The Leading Element.

The Community Foundation collaborated with executive development coaches, Katie Doucette and Susan Burgess, to facilitate the program, allowing the issues discussed in the sessions to remain confidential from Community Foundation staff. The program includes a one-on-one coaching session, information sessions led by experts and peer discussion time during which the group can share best practices and discuss issues confidentially.

“It is a safe and encouraging environment in which to learn and grow as a leader,” said Burgess. “We do our best to include some humor and fun even while we are working to increase our leadership capacity.”

“The facilitators were strong listeners,” said Michael Collins, Executive Director of the Northeast Community Center. “The topics they presented on were those they heard us say we wanted to learn more about. We got the information that we were hungry for.”

The experience helped Collins, who was also new to his leadership post, during a time of incredible growth for the Northeast Community Center. From last fall to this spring, the Center experienced a 300 percent growth in participation in its senior programming.

“To be going through these changes at the same time that I’m brand new and I’ve got this built in support group and some coaching to guide me through it—it was absolutely huge,” he said.

“The group sees that they are not alone and that other executive directors are actually dealing with similar challenges – whatever the challenge or issue may be,” said Burgess. “This provides a more balanced prospective about their individual situations. They come away with a refreshed view of themselves and their organizations.”

Conversations with peers and experts about best practices confirmed for Brunet that her organization was doing many things correctly. “However, it created conversation around the table that we could be doing many things differently,” she said.

This opportunity for executive development is just one of the ways the Community Foundation supports the capacity-building of regional nonprofits.

“We are really blessed in that we have some discretionary grant dollars available that allows us to lead initiatives like this,” said John Eberle, Vice President of Grants & Community Initiatives at the Community Foundation. John D. Marsellus approached the Community Foundation about starting a sabbatical program in his father’s memory, which resulted in the John F. Marsellus Sabbatical. After the recent economic downturn, executive directors expressed that they didn’t feel comfortable leaving their positions for a long-term sabbatical.

John D. Marsellus approached the Community Foundation once again to provide a renewed resource for executives. The resulting Marsellus Executive Development program supports nonprofit directors while being less of a time commitment. “John D. Marsellus is very passionate about serving the community and making sure that leaders have everything they need to do a good job,” said Eberle.


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