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YNPN RVA Spotlight: Great Nonprofit Bosses part 1

It’s the time of year for giving thanks – and we want to say a big “thank you” to all of the fantastic leaders in our local nonprofit sector!  This week’s “Spotlight” is from the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network RVA (YNPN RVA).  Over the past several weeks, YNPN RVA sent out a call to young nonprofit professionals all over Greater Richmond to nominate their boss to be recognized as a part of the “Great Nonprofit Bosses” Initiative.  In total, 37 bosses were nominated by 57 different young nonprofit professionals;  from that group, a YNPN RVA panel selected the top 9 outstanding and compelling nominations.  You can get even more insight from our local great nonprofit bosses on November 30th at the YNPN RVA celebration at Postbellum – register here.

Jessica Lacks, Program Manager – CHIP of Greater Richmond, Family Lifeline      

jlacksQ. What’s one quality you have that makes you a great boss?

 I am my team members’ greatest advocate by always creating a safe, validating space to share their feelings and ideas, and being committed to providing an avenue for that feedback.

Q. What do you look for in a person in a leadership position?

I look for individuals committed to the organization and its mission, who are thoughtful, culturally competent, able to self-reflect in their role, contribute to positive team dynamics, and hold themselves to a high standard within their own professional development goals.

 Here’s what Jessica’s colleagues had to say about her:

The CHIP employees at Family Lifeline wanted to nominate our Program Manager, Jessica Lacks, for the YNPN RVA Great Boss Award. There are 16 CHIP team members, including parent educators, community health nurses and social workers, and one afternoon we sat down to discuss why Ms. Lacks is so deserving of this award. As we took turns telling our personal and professional experiences with Ms. Lacks, common themes were emerging; supportive, passionate, efficient and trustworthy. We all felt that we are treated as individuals and accepted for who we are.

 Like most non-profit work, our jobs are hard. We work with families and communities that are disenfranchised, traumatized and trying to do the best that they can. Most of us work in the helping profession because we care about social injustice and want to empower the vulnerable and oppressed. While this is the core of our belief, some days it feels like we never make a difference and change is not happening. It is on these days that Ms. Lacks feels like a rare gift in management; she listens, validates and encourages. She encourages self-reflection and doesn’t flinch if we push back against it.

Ms. Lacks gives her attention to detail, which is shown when she creates a tool to help a worker become more organized. She is also highly skilled in managing conflict and handling difficult situations with patience and understanding. She is often juggling competing requests from senior management and staff members, but is able to do it with skilled interpersonal skills.  In addition to her role as program manager, Ms. Lacks believes in home visiting services and works tirelessly as an advocate on behalf of Family Lifeline. She does this by sitting on the Home Visiting Consortium committees, offering support and feedback. She also speaks to the General Assembly about the success rate of home visiting and advocating for funding.  These are only a few examples of why we value and appreciate the hard work Ms. Lacks does for her staff and the organization. We are good because she makes us good. We are strong because she makes us strong.


Honesty Liller, Chief Executive Officer, The McShin Foundation 


Q. What’s one quality you have that makes you a great boss?

The ability to lead by example not by demand.

Q. What do you look for in a person in a leadership position?

I personally think a leader should have a heart, be open-minded, a good listener, and be willing to show her community how to change through her passion in life/job position.

Here’s what Honesty’s colleagues had to say about her:

My experience working at McShin has been amazing, and much of that is thanks to Honesty Liller. Because of the nature of our work, we are often faced with the negative consequences of addiction, which can take an emotional toll. Honesty has the ability to remind us of the hope and the positivity that recovery brings to individuals and families, which counteracts the disappointment and frustration.

 She is a living embodiment of the hope and positivity that can lead to a beautiful life in recovery. Honesty has created a work environment where the seriousness of the disease we fight against is balanced with laughter, joy and an understanding of self-care. She is a role model for the participants and a reminder of what they can achieve if they chase recovery. For the staff, she is a confidant, a listener, a teacher, a mentor and a friend. Her confidence in herself and her ability to lead such a successful non-profit makes everyone feel comfortable and motivated.

 In addition to her role as CEO, Honesty is a loving wife and amazing mother to her two children. Honesty is a face and voice of recovery that people struggling can relate to and she uses her family, career, health and happiness to show that recovery can offer unimaginable gifts.


Sara Conlon, Executive Director, OAR of Richmond      

sconlonQ. What’s one quality you have that makes you a great boss?

My ability to listen to staff.  It’s easy to get carried away with talking and giving advice, but listening is key.  I find that when I just sit and listen, my staff often come up with their own excellent answers.  I believe in empowering others!

Q. What do you look for in a person in a leadership position?

 I look for someone that leads by example.  Someone that is trustworthy. I also appreciate a leader with confidence and humility.  

Here’s what Sara’s colleagues had to say about her:

Sara is a very caring boss who not only understands but she is also willing to go the extra mile that it takes to get you to the point of where everyone should be. She has a passion for the work that she does here and is a very strong leader.

Sara is an absolute dream of an executive director.  Not only does she work to ensure everyone feels that they have value and a voice here at OAR, she opens the door for all of our staff and clients to access greater opportunities to grow in our professional and personal lives, ensuring that we work hard to accomplish our goals, but also make time for ourselves outside of the office.  She brings years of experience in her field, and has built an amazing team here at OAR that works seamlessly to help those reentering the Richmond community.  I have never felt better leadership and support from another director, and it’s truly a joy to work with and for her.

 I believe Sara Conlon is a great boss because she runs our organization in a way that allows for input from all angles.  A great boss is able to take constructive criticism and change accordingly.  I also feel that a great boss is able to create an energy for their staff to feel comfortable in approaching them about anything that they may need or want to discuss.  OAR of Richmond has a great environment not only for staff but for participants of our program and I believe Sara Conlon has made it her mission to make that so.




Lee Householder, CEO, project:HOMES 


Q. What’s one quality you have that makes you a great boss?


 Q. What do you look for in a person in a leadership position?

 Adaptability, Flexibility, Vision, Creativity, Self-awareness, and desire to learn and grown.

 Here’s what Lee’s colleagues had to say about him:

 Since 2008, Lee has been the CEO at project:HOMES. In that time, our agency has seen tremendous growth both in geographical size and community impact. Just last year project:HOMES improved the lives of over 2,000 individuals, all of which would not have been possible without Lee as our leader. Our staff thrives in an environment driven by rolling up our sleeves and getting the job done. Lee fosters this approach by focusing his energy on strategic goals, and avoiding the always dreaded micro-management. This philosophy and Lee’s leadership style allows us to achieve a maximum impact in our community. He celebrates in our successes, motivates us to seek out training opportunities, and gives grounded advice.  The culture at project:HOMES is a unique one. Lee encourages us to be ourselves, and we have developed a staff of characters. Offices have streamers hanging from the ceilings, pictures of our successes line the hallways, and he recently instituted a “wall of wins” to post accomplishments team members are particularly proud of. There are currently letters of thanks from our clients, awards, and newspaper clippings hanging on the wall. As an agency, we play about as hard as we work. In the past year we have gone on a group trip to Monticello, attended our annual group Flying Squirrels game, and had numerous luncheons, parking lot tail gates, and breakfasts for staff member’s weddings, baby showers, and achievements.

What sets Lee a part from the rest is his encouragement of innovation and creative thinking. Lee’s open door policy welcomes staff to stop by and share alternative approaches or new programs. This past summer some of the younger staff members created the Keep it Cool RVA! Initiative. This initiative provided window air conditioning units to low-income families without A/C. Upon pitching the idea to Lee, his response was simply: “I love it! Run with it.” Over $6,000 earned and 30 new AC units installed in its first few months of life; we can’t wait to develop what was a small idea into a successful program.  project:HOMES would not be the successful non-profit it is today without Lee. He recognizes talent, sees opportunity, and encourages innovation.


View all of the great nonprofit bosses who were nominated here.

Stay tuned for more features of great nonprofit bosses next week and also RSVP to join YNPN RVA in a celebration on November 30th at Postbellum from 5:30pm- 7:30pm.  For event registration (it’s open and free to all), click here


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