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The Year of the Growth Mindset: 4 Impact Headlines from 2021

The words "2021 Year in Review" in white font on an orange circle pictured next to a woman at a computer
Emily Benham

The past year was both painful and extraordinary. While we witnessed workforce challenges, decision fatigue and organizations working to address diversity, equity and inclusion, we also saw nonprofits respond with speed, greater mission focus and grace. It’s no question that 2021 was another challenging year for nonprofits and communities, but it also brought growth, new learnings, innovation and progress.

As your partner in developing and connecting nonprofit leaders to strengthen organizations and communities, the Nonprofit Leadership Center (NLC) is proud to share four results from 2021 that directly reflect our shared success.

Four Reasons to Celebrate from 2021

1. More nonprofits are creating learning cultures.

According to the Association for Talent Development, a culture of learning is one in which employees continuously seek, share and apply new knowledge and skills to improve individual and organizational performance. The importance and pursuit of learning are organizational values and permeate all aspects of organizational life. But research has shown that just 1 in 10 companies have an authentic learning culture (Corporate Executive Board).

At the Nonprofit Leadership Center, we believe learning happens continuously and in many ways, from training classes and events to small-group learning circles, one-on-one coaching and professional mentorship. In 2021, the number of nonprofit organizations participating with NLC in three or more different learning experiences increased 10% from 2020 and is up 43% since 2019. The number of unique organizations committed to learning is also up 10% from the previous year.

This means that nonprofit leaders are moving beyond attending single training events or webinars when budgets allow to investing in lifelong learning cultures where teams and organizations adopt a growth mindset to thrive.

2. Leaders are craving longer-term, more transformational learning experiences.

In 2021, we saw nonprofit leaders gravitate toward multiple-session series and learning experiences with more peer and trainer interaction over longer periods. While single training attendance was still up from pre-pandemic norms, nonprofit leaders increased their engagement in NLC programs like the Certificate in Grant Writing and Certificate in Volunteer Management. Knowledge gained and shared fosters leadership and fuels change. Nonprofit leaders are craving more human connection and smaller-group settings to interact, exchange ideas and grow.

3. We’re advancing racial equity on nonprofit boards.

National research shows that 1 in 4 nonprofits lack representation from professionals of color on their boards (BoardSource). In July 2021, we launched our inaugural Advancing Racial Equity on Nonprofit Boards Fellowship. This transformative experience brought outstanding professionals of color together to learn how to serve as effective nonprofit board members. It also equipped local nonprofit organizations to be genuinely ready to welcome these new members onto their boards.

Twenty-two fellows graduated from the program. At the time of their graduation, eight fellows had already been invited to apply for and join a board or committee, and 12 were in active conversations with at least one nonprofit of their choice, with a visible path toward future board/committee service.

This transformational program will help create more diverse, equitable and inclusive nonprofit organizations and was made possible thanks to the vision and generous support of Allegany Franciscan Ministries, Bank of America, Citi, Community Foundation Tampa Bay, Duke Energy Corporation, Florida Blue, Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, United Way Suncoast, and Vistra.

4. We expanded our team to better support yours.

As a nonprofit that exists to support other nonprofits, the Nonprofit Leadership Center expanded our team and strategic focus areas to bring you even better programming and connections. We welcomed two new staff membersTess Plotkin and Meriel Martínez, and three new board members. Three staff members also received advanced certificates to expand our learning opportunities for nonprofit leaders, including a Certificate in Nonprofit Board Governance, Certified Facilitator of the Conflict Dynamics Profile (CDP) and Certified Facilitator for the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI). 

Lead for Impact in the Year Ahead

Move your nonprofit and community forward with courage and conviction in the year ahead by joining the Nonprofit Leadership Center for an upcoming professional training workshop, virtual course, certificate program or customized training for your organization.

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Emily Benham


Emily H. Benham has more than 30 years of experience in the nonprofit field. She served for 9 years as the CEO of the Nonprofit Leadership Center from 2014-2023, Emily was the Interim President for Bayfront HERO (Health, Education and Research Organization), a health legacy foundation formed in 2013 with the net proceeds of the sale of Bayfront Medical Center to a for profit entity. Prior to the sale, she was a member of Bayfront Medical Center’s senior leadership team, and directed its philanthropic arm (Bayfront Health Foundation) for more than 20 years, raising millions of dollars for capital improvements for the hospital.

On June 30, 2023 Emily retired as CEO of the Nonprofit Leadership Center to launch a new private consulting practice.

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