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Called to Action: What’s Next?

Emily Benham

Last week’s Nonprofit Leadership Conference theme — Called to Action — is something I’ve been thinking about a lot.

During the past few challenging years, nonprofit professionals have doubled down — on their curiosity to seek solutions to the unknown, on their resolve to raise their voices and speak to issues of injustice and inequity, and on their belief that something better is always possible for communities in need. The passion, dedication, purpose, and tenacity of nonprofit professionals and organizations have been essential in driving positive change.

So, what now? What’s next? What calls us to continue our critical work at a time when there are so many forces that seek to divide and distract us?

For me, there is one thing that clearly unites us in the nonprofit sector: we were all called to this work. Whether as staff members, volunteers, board members or funders, we share a common belief in a better world. That doesn’t mean the work is easy (it never has been) or that we’re not stretched too thin or burned out.

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So how do we keep going? While the answer to this question is unique to each of us, I’d like to share two personal reflections.

First, while the past few years have challenged and forever changed us, I hope they have also reminded us to become more human-focused again. As Nataly Kogan shared in her keynote address, we can only unleash our awesomeness by honoring our humanness.

Having worked in the nonprofit sector for more than 40 years, it has never been more important to care deeply about and for the people who advance our work. If we are not all together at the finish line, then we have not won the race.

Second, we’ve learned to live and take action in the grey. Using Emily Dickenson’s words, “To dwell in possibility.” Personally, I’ve become more agile, rethinking things I once thought were certain or absolute. I’ve grown in my humility and ability to admit I don’t have all the answers. Today, I’m sustained by the confidence that the answers exist in others.

Borrowing a quote from past Leadership Conference keynote speaker Jon Acuff, nonprofit sector leaders have once again rushed into the fires of life and fully embraced the impossible. To keep going forward, we must all continue to do so while tending to the fire burning within us that brought us to this work, to begin with.

What is the fire burning within you that keeps calling you to action?

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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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