When Terrence Riley attended the Aim High summer enrichment program as a middle-school student from San Francisco, California, he likely never thought he’d be a vice president with the organization one day.
After working for several for-profit organizations in Los Angeles after college, Riley joined Aim High in 2010 as a program and admissions coordinator. He rose through the ranks, becoming director of programs in 2018.
Soon after that, a member of Aim High’s Young Leaders Board told him about the Executive Leadership Program at The Allstate Foundation Nonprofit Leadership Center.* He entered the program in October 2019.
About the Executive Leadership Program
Launched in 2014, the Executive Leadership Program is administered in partnership with the Northwestern University’s Kellogg School Center for Nonprofit Management. The program is designed to prepare nonprofit leaders through academic instruction, coaching and peer interaction to further transform their organizations, communities and the nonprofit sector.
Among the nearly 200 nonprofit leaders who have participated in the program, the majority of them report they have taken on more job responsibilities since completing it and that they and their organizations have become more efficient or effective in the way they operate.**
For Riley, that’s proved true. For example, he credits the session on emotional intelligence with helping him better understand his team members, allowing him to be a more effective leader. He also learned how to run more efficient meetings, both skills that were critical for leading in a virtual environment during the pandemic.
Program led to changes in his organization
But for Riley the session on diversity, equity and inclusion—especially in light of the murder of George Floyd—has had the greatest impact, not only on his work, but also on the culture of the organization and its programming.
“At Aim High, a majority of the students we serve are children of color from low-income communities, so being a diverse inclusive and equitable organization is important to us,” Riley said. “Through the program, I learned how to incorporate DEI principles more deliberately and explicitly inside our organization. I even came away with a framework for how to do that from a session on leading equitable institutions.”
Guided by that framework, Riley and the staff began looking at the organization’s policies, procedures and programming using an equity lens to determine how they could improve. For example, the nonprofit started adding salary ranges in their job descriptions to increase transparency and changed the language in them to be more inclusive.
Professional development also has become more of a focus at Aim High. “Every summer we require both our student and lead teachers to take two weeks of training before our program starts,” Riley said. “Now, we’re requiring our full-time staff to commit to extensive professional development each year as well, which includes training on subjects related to diversity, inclusion and equity.”
In addition, Riley and his team initiated regular staff brown bag lunches to encourage discussion about racism, especially how it relates to their work. “We’d never talked that openly about this subject before, and these brown bag lunches gave us the platform to do it,” Riley said. “They also ensure consistency among the staff in how we think and talk about race and racism as an organization.”
Riley’s team also instituted an anti-racism book club for staff to expose them to the current thinking among experts on the topic of racism. In fact a book club became part of the curriculum for all 1,600 students this summer, giving them a platform to talk about what they learned from the books and to share their own personal experiences. “It’s always been important to ensure that every student feels seen and heard,” said Riley. “The book club gives us another opportunity to do that.”
Program propels Riley to promotion
It’s clear that Riley came away from the Executive Leadership Program with a lot of actionable knowledge. It also gave him the opportunity to meet colleagues in the nonprofit sector from all over the country, which is not something nonprofit leaders often get to do. Those bonds remain strong to this day. “We text each other regularly with updates, words of encouragement and to share resources or get opinions on something we’re dealing with in our jobs. They are a terrific resource for me.”
Riley was recognized for his leadership and positive impact on the organization with a promotion to vice president of programs not long after finishing the Executive Leadership Program. “I have no doubt it propelled me to my promotion,” Riley said. “What I learned there made me a more confident leader, which, in turn, made our executive director and our board more confident in me. Plus, it’s helped make the whole organization more effective, as well.”
So it’s not surprising that Riley has been spreading the word about the Executive Leadership Program to friends, colleagues and fellow nonprofit leaders. “I gained so much from my experience—as did my organization. It’s also impacted the services we provide our students,” Riley said. “I want to share that with as many people as I can,” he said.
The Allstate Foundation is accepting applications for the Executive Leadership Program Class of 2022 through Aug. 20, 2021.
* In addition to the Executive Leadership Program, The Allstate Foundation Nonprofit Leadership Center offers an online curriculum, also through the Kellogg School Center for Nonprofit Management called Nonprofit Management Essentials, which launched in 2018. It’s available year-round and at no cost to nonprofit professionals across the nation.
** 2020 study of Executive Leadership Program alumni from 2015 to 2019, completed by an independent third-party evaluation service.