“The program took her out of her bubble, to a more strategic place.”

American Express Leadership Academy

American Express selected C-CAP to take part in its Leadership Academy. As one of about a dozen nonprofits from around the U.S. invited to attend, it was a great honor for C-CAP. AmEx’s partner in running the academy, the Center for Creative Leadership, provided the leadership training and curriculum.

As part of C-CAP’s organizational goal of building a cohesive, agile team across the country, three staff members were chosen by CCL to participate:  Keri Fisher, Lisa Fontanesi, and Jill Smith. They came to New York from May 6–10 for an intensive, week-long program to connect and learn about ways to help strengthen and deepen programmatic connections and strategies, as well as further develop their own individual skills.

Lisa, the Los Angeles program director for C-CAP, said that AmEx rolled out the red carpet for the participants, not only in accommodations, but in the quality of the study materials and pre-work tools provided, delving into their individual skills, management styles, and problem-solving abilities. The group pairings, she said, also brought perspectives and approaches that differed from their own.

Jill Smith and the Yellow Team

Lisa expressed that the conference fostered honest communication and helped her to get a better understanding of her strengths and weaknesses. She was pleased to learn that something that she thought was a weakness — asking too many questions — was actually indicative of one of her strengths; having the courage to ask questions in the first place. Lisa remarked that some of us have a tendency to underestimate our abilities, especially women. We often find we are too quick to harp on ourselves for characteristics we incorrectly perceive to be shortcomings.

Keri, C-CAP’s Philadelphia and national program director, said she wasn’t sure what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised to meet like-minded individuals excited to be working in the non-profit world. “It was a change to think about ourselves,” said Keri, “as most of the time, we in non-profits, are thinking about our causes and constituencies.” She also noted that the very act of the participating organizations letting their staff members go for a week — encouraging them to disconnect and skip email, all for the sake of building a better organization — was inspiring.

C-CAP was the only organization focusing on culinary education; other participants were from food pantries, and tech, political, LGBTQ, and physical disabilities advocacy organizations, among others. They were divided into three groups, so individuals from the same organizations were not together and could speak openly about their personal issues. Many non-profits face similar concerns, but their approaches and solutions vary.

Since the program was organized so that no two colleagues would be put into the same group, participants could speak openly and honestly about their organizations. This also helped foster dynamic conversation and include experiences from all different organizations. Moreover, Lisa mentioned that this was an excellent way to meet and network with people from an array of professional backgrounds.

One lesson Keri learned was the importance of providing positive feedback. So often, one tends to offer suggestions for improvement, but forgets to mention positive performance. She said it was nice to be noticed and that she will even implement this lesson at home with her three children. Lisa said the program took her out of her bubble, to a more strategic place.

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