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White House Forum on Nonprofit Leadership

November 21, 2011

Last week, American Express co-convened the first-ever White House Forum on Nonprofit Leadership as well as our first American Express Leadership Academy in Washington, DC. So, it was a busy week for us in what we're referring to as "Nonprofit Leadership Month" here.

The White House Forum on Nonprofit Leadership was co-convened with the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation as well as a consortium of partner organizations including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Aspen Institute, Center for Creative Leadership, Commongood Careers, Independent Sector and Public Allies.

Attending the day-long meeting, which took place at the American Red Cross National Headquarters, were over 200 thought leaders in the nonprofit, corporate and government sectors in a discussion of the critical role that nonprofit organizations play in society and the need to develop strong leaders within the sector.

The forum was hosted by Joshua DuBois, Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and Jonathan Greenblatt, Director of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation. It featured keynote speeches by American Express CEO Ken Chenault, Melody Barnes (Director of Domestic Policy Council, The White House) and Valerie Jarrett (Senior Advisor to the President, The White House) as well as Dr. William Spriggs (Assistant Secretary at the Department of Labor).

Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the American Red Cross, greeted participants in the morning and spoke about leading from both the heart and the head.

Melody Barnes spoke about nonprofit organizations being a "critical element for economic growth" and William Spriggs talked about the need to add human capital to our economic discussion about the country's infrastructure. Cheryl Dorsey, president of the nonprofit organization, Echoing Green, suggested that we need to start recognizing the nonprofit sector's contributions to wealth creation if the sector is ever to be taken as seriously as the private, for-profit sector.

American Express executive vice president Tom Schick told the assembled nonprofit leaders that they were in the best position to encourage foundations and corporations to invest in leadership development. He told them that they should be "audacious" about making their case and that it's up to them to make leadership training a critical priority in the nonprofit sector.

Ken Chenault delivered the keynote address on Authentic Leadership. Here is a sample of the tweets (#nplead) that quoted portions of Ken's speech:

  • "The role of a leader is to define reality and give hope."
  • "The role of a leader is not just to get people to do things but to do things they think are impossible."
  • "Leadership is about consistency of words and actions."
  • "True leaders are made or lost during times of crisis."
  • "Even natural leaders need practice. If you don't study and practice leadership, you won't be able to sustain those gifts."
  • "It's a privilege to be a leader – if you don't exercise the responsibilities of leadership, you don't deserve to be one."

Valerie Jarrett closed out the day with a call to action to continue the work begun during the forum. In her remarks about leadership, she suggested that it's not enough to have an expertise as a leader of people. "If you can't motivate people to work toward a common goal, you're just an expert, not a leader."

The American Express Leadership Academy, which also took place last week, was co-convened with our partner organizations, the Corporation for National and Community Service and the Center for Creative Leadership. 48 high potential leaders from the education and veteran's affairs sectors engaged in a week-long training program that was highlighted by presentations by American Express board members Charlene Barshefsky and Ted Leonsis as well as Arne Christenson, American Express senior vice president for Federal Government Affairs.

I'll relay their thoughts in my blog posting next week.

If you have any comments or questions, let me know by clicking here. Have a Happy Thanksgiving.


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