CEO Seminar Offers Nonprofit Leaders Key Training

Alumni; Community Engagement; Faculty

Michael Meehan wanted to take the nonprofit he directs to a new level of success, but his training in clinical psychology hadn’t prepared him for that management challenge.

The Brown School did.

Meehan is the executive director of Good Shepherd Children & Family Services, an agency of Catholic Charities of St. Louis. He was one of 14 participants in the recently completed CEO Seminar: Building a High-Performance Fundraising Culture, offered by the Brown School’s Professional Development office.

“It was a great experience,” Meehan said of the course. “I’m certainly more confident now, and I have a clearer vision of where I need to be. I’m in a place to be strategic and carving out a route to get there.”

Meehan said the seminar catered to the variety of experience among the participants in the class. “The course was really great in meeting each of us where we are,” he said.

The year-long program aims to develop the quality of management in the human services sector. Barry Rosenberg, professor of practice at the Brown School, taught the course with Amy Rome, a St. Louis-based consultant who brought real-world development experience to the class. Rome is a Brown alumna and former adjunct professor who is founder and CEO of the Rome Group.

The class offered a fresh perspective on fundraising, focused on ways to build a “culture of philanthropy,” Rosenberg said, as well as honing key development skills.

Many in the nonprofit sphere have negative attitudes toward fundraising, he said. “We encourage them to recast their mental model, to give a positive approach to raising money. What fundraising is really about is empowering donors to do good things, to give them the opportunity to make social change.”

He added that getting peer executives together to learn from each other was a key feature of the course.

“CEOs live in a very lonely world, so the ability to talk with each other and gain support was one of the central aspects,” he said.

Janet Gillow, the Brown School’s Professional Development programs manager, said executive education has been an important part of Impact 2020, the School’s long-term strategic plan. She said the enthusiastic end-of-course evaluations for the first CEO Seminar were “a nice vote of confidence right out of the gate.” The School quickly filled the cohort for the second CEO Seminar, which began in January.

The United Way of Greater St. Louis provided scholarships to the first CEO Seminar for leaders of its member organizations.

“Skill development opportunities at the CEO level are vital as our nonprofit leaders navigate an ever-changing landscape,” said Julie Simon, United Way’s community investment manager. “We saw an exceptional opportunity to partner with the Brown School to support these leaders’ continued learning.”

For Meehan, the class was an eye-opening look at fundraising—and his responsibility for it.

“The whole notion that the chief fundraiser ought to be the CEO—as opposed to the development director and the board—had not been part of my experience,” he said. “One of the takeaways is that I really need to think about my role differently.”

“The change we need starts with me.”