Watch Us LEAD the Way!

By United Way of King County, on April 16, 2023 | In Events, News, Racial Equity

This blog post was submitted by Michael Brown, a senior software engineer at Microsoft and recent graduate of Project LEAD (Leadership Effectiveness and Diversity), a United Way of King County nonprofit board training program for skilled, passionate and equity centered BIPOC individuals.

I learned about United Way’s Project LEAD a week before the application deadline. It looked like an amazing opportunity to learn and grow as an aspiring nonprofit leader. So, I promptly filled out the application and crossed my fingers. When I was contacted to schedule a final interview about my application, I was excited. And when I was told I was accepted into the program, I was over the moon with joy.

Little did I know that was just the first step into an amazing journey.

Proud family and friends of Project LEAD graduates

I normally do not wake up early on Saturdays. But I had no problem getting up and being downtown because I was excited to learn more and dive deeper into what’s possible in nonprofit leadership. The energy in the room was palpable every Saturday morning and Wednesday evening.

The Project LEAD program asks that we take an active part in our learning. The discussions were deep and we as a class let ourselves become very vulnerable in a way that was beyond refreshing. We all committed to making a safe space for each other and I feel a strong bond with my classmates because of that.

From left: Esther Yang-Duquez, United Way community and volunteer engagement manager; Camille Baker, Project LEAD Class of 2023 Speaker; and Gordon McHenry, Jr. United Way president and CEO

The instructors for each session were passionate about changing the status quo of fundraising and nonprofit governance and bringing a fresh approach to executing and refining a nonprofit mission. But they also armed us with tools to understand how nonprofits currently operate.

As Paola Maranan [former executive director of Children’s Alliance] told us, we needed to “Learn the game to play the game. Play the game to change the game. Just make sure in the process, the game doesn’t change you.”

Lilliane Ballesteros, executive director, Latino Community Fund, the keynote speaker

Teaching us how things are while giving us inspiration on how things could be was a common theme throughout the sessions. Ruel Olanday [former United Way of King County associate director of education strategies, youth and community implementation] gave us a practical demonstration of the rules of running a nonprofit: there are no rules.

To demonstrate this, he gave us exercises with more and more restrictive timelines until we were down to an absurd three minutes for the last one. And then he pointed out “I’m surprised no one pushed back; remember there are no rules.”

Kristen Carden, Nordstrom senior vice president of human resources: United Way thanks Nordstrom for its generous support of Project LEAD.

I feel grateful to have been a part of this amazing journey, especially with my fellow classmates. We were all there because we want to make a difference in the world. Project LEAD gave us powerful tools to go about making that change. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us. I know that whatever organizations we join, will be all the better because of our experience.

United Way thanks Nordstrom for its generous support of Project LEAD.


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