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VOL. 132 | NO. 54 | Thursday, March 16, 2017

Dean Brings Business Focus to Nonprofit Alliance as Interim CEO

By Don Wade

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In 1995 when Nancy McGee became executive director of what is now known as the Alliance for Nonprofit Excellence, it was just a small grant-writing center. It grew into a holistic nonprofit support organization that offers management services to more than 200 members.

Kevin Dean has taken over as interim executive director of the Alliance for Nonprofit Excellence. He doesn’t face a rebuilding, but has ideas on how the organization should move forward. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Last year, an Alliance study found there are now more than 2,200 nonprofits in the Memphis metro area, not counting churches. But in 1995, the only thing McGee knew was that the nonprofit sector was growing and without much direction.

“Nobody had any definite numbers,” said McGee, who has retired as CEO, but remains as CEO emeritus through April. “But they were popping up left and right and they were competitive in fundraising. There was really nobody doing capacity-building at that time.”

Today, the Alliance provides educational opportunities and support to local nonprofit organizations in areas of financial sustainability, human capital, impact and advocacy. McGee led a statewide study of the economic impact of nonprofits across Tennessee showing that nonprofits are the sixth largest industry in the state and generate more than 10 percent of the gross state product. Under McGee’s leadership, the Alliance brought more than $265 million in national grant funding to Memphis nonprofits.

McGee also led the establishment of the Nonprofit Advisory Council in 2016, a group of nonprofit leaders that provides counsel to Mayor Jim Strickland and his cabinet on issues that affect the community, including health and human services, housing, youth development, community development and crime prevention. She will continue to work with that group going forward.

Succeeding McGee – at least in the short-term, but perhaps permanently – is Kevin Dean, former executive director of Literacy Mid-South. Dean has joined the Alliance as interim CEO and is working on a six-month contract. During his five years as executive director of Literacy Mid-South, Dean brought attention to the organization by streamlining operations, developing programing and aggressively fundraising – ultimately tripling the organization’s liquid assets.

In recent months, Dean has served local nonprofits as a consultant through his own consulting firm. He and the board of directors will evaluate the Alliance’s progress toward goals laid out in its three-year strategic plan from 2015.

“At this point, nothing’s sacred,” Dean said. “We’re going to look at everything.”

That includes the nonprofit’s name.

“It’s a long name,” Dean said. “People just call it the Alliance. The Alliance for Nonprofit Excellence doesn’t exactly roll off your tongue.”

Dean wants to focus on three key areas during this evaluation period:

First, developing nonprofit leadership by giving the boots-on-the-ground members of organizations an upward path.

“Research shows that if nonprofits don’t develop staff, they lose them,” he said. “There’s a lot of turnover.”

Second, there will be a thorough examination of programming.

“Funders are cracking down on impact,” Dean said. “If you can’t prove it, it doesn’t exist.”

Dean, 37, and who says he stepped down from Literacy Mid-South because he believed it was time for someone else to lead the organization, also wants to enhance management practices. He says this is something that nonprofits sometimes let slide, albeit with the best of intentions.

“Compassion is important,” he said, “but business acumen is just as important.”

What this means going forward is that the Alliance will have to follow what like organizations nationally have started doing: making tough choices about the nonprofits in which to invest time and resources.

“We can’t save everybody,” Dean said. “You can’t change an organization if they’re not willing to evaluate themselves. There’s a fear in the nonprofit community that talking about areas of improvement will lead to a loss of funding. We have to get rid of that stigma.”

McGee says Dean is a good fit for taking on this role, adding, “He’s got a very good working knowledge of the sector.”

Dean hopes he has an opportunity to consider the CEO position on a full-time basis, but also said the consulting role suits him: “I’d love to be a troubleshooter full-time.”

And this case, if you will, is not nearly as daunting as what he walked into at Literacy Mid-South when the organization was at risk for closing its doors.

“This is a lot less stressful,” he said. “This isn’t about turning something around, but moving forward into the future.”

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