1. Harshey-Meade, Gingy MSN, RN, CAE, NEA-BC

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In 2000, I was sitting in my office thinking about the future. I was at that time the Vice President of Patient Care Services in a healthcare system. I had been in my position for more than 2 years, and to be quite frank, I was looking for my next challenge. I thought that I would stay in the healthcare field and would look to move up or into a bigger role. A friend of mine called and said, "Have you thought of nonprofit management? Have you thought of heading a nursing association?" I had flirted with the idea years back and then forgotten about it. She went on to tell me about a position in Ohio that was opening up.

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That night, I opened my Nursing Management magazine, and there was the ad for the Ohio position. I was not sure I was ready to make such a big departure from my current position and move to Ohio. Every time I drove through Columbus, Ohio, it poured-not just rained but poured. It was intriguing, and on the surface, I was qualified. I was living in Kansas, and it would mean another big move for my family. So, I did what I always did: I talked to my husband and kicked the can down the road. I mean I applied and figured I would never hear from Ohio. This is how I became the Chief Executive Officer of the Ohio Nurses Association, which was the beginning of 20 years of nonprofit leadership.


I found that the more I thought about the job, the more I wanted it. It was my chance to do something significant for my profession, the nursing profession. A chance was staring me in the face. After all, leadership is leadership[horizontal ellipsis]right. The reality was very different than my thoughts. Good leadership is good leadership. Nonprofit leadership just has a few additional pieces-like not having one boss, but at least one full board of bosses (Grimm, 2018). In Ohio, that translated into 15 board members who make up the body that hires and fires. The board members are elected and change every 2-8 years.


In April of 2000, I became the new Chief Executive Officer and started learning my new role in life. Columbus did not let me down. As we moved into our new home, it poured; by the time everything was in, the carpeting had gone from beige to mud brown, but I digress[horizontal ellipsis]. Being orientated and in charge of the total operation in a new city without knowing anyone is a challenge. To complicate things, the accounting was modified cash, so I had trouble getting a handle on the true economics of the association. The problem is that you do not know what you do not know. You do not know who to ask and, quite frankly, what to ask. I spent hour after hour reading, digging, and trying very hard not to make too many changes too fast. A normal day back then was 12-15 hours. The ability to listen became one of my best attributes. I had lunch with the association leadership staff and listened. I mean really listened-listened to the stories of the glory days, the grievances, and hopes and wishes. I then put out some trial balloons and watched how they were received. Some were embraced, and more were stomped on. In those days, I had to keep reminding myself it is not about me, it's about what's going to make the organization better. Passion for the mission is the guide. None of the ideas had to be mine. This can be a little hard on the ego, but what is best can and does come from anywhere.


The Board of Directors had charged me with the duty of coming up with a revitalizing plan for the association. This required that I thought strategically but implemented tactically. Developing (Moran, 2018) "small bite-sized morsels to move the organization forward." I was doing this with the team I had inherited. We held meetings to come up with the plan, and I spent most of my time working to motivate the team to step out of their self-imposed box(es). The plan came together, and the Board accepted it in total, even though they (the Board) had roles in the plan to make it successful.


Looking back on the plan, it wasn't great, it wasn't unique, it wasn't even exciting, but it was a plan that united everyone. It was based on sound judgment, and it established me as the leader of the paid staff and the person the Board of Directors and staff were willing to follow. In the years since, I have led many, many teams that have developed strategic plans. They all have one thing in common: They are based on sound judgment, a passion for moving the mission forward within the financial ability of the organization, and the ideas come from everywhere and everyone.


As my career advanced, I was offered many great, great opportunities (Guerrero, 2020). One thing I have learned is to take the opportunities. I was minding my own business in Ohio when the opportunity to lead the Indiana State Nurses Association was offered. So, for 2 years I led both organizations, and at the same time, I was elected Treasurer of the American Nurses Association. I earlier talked about the pouring rain, and boy, was it raining! None of this would have happened if I wasn't open to new adventures and had not developed a broad network of colleagues. Leadership is a vehicle to a very exciting life.




Grimm G. (2018). Nonprofit leadership development: The importance of leadership in nonprofit organizations.[Context Link]


Guerrero D. (2020). Qualities of great leaders.[Context Link]


Moran W. J. (2018). 12 Attributes of great nonprofit leaders.[Context Link]