7 Nonprofit New CEO and Executive Leadership Questions with Shanna Warren

Shanna Warren and her family.

Name: Shanna Warren

Number of years as a CEO or Executive Director: 20 years, The Boys & Girls Club of Burbank and Greater East Valley

Current Title: Chief Executive Officer

Shanna has been the Boys & Girls Club of Burbank and Greater East Valley CEO since 2001. She started out as the director of that first after school site. Her years at the Boys & Girls Club of Burbank and Greater East Valley have helped bring the organization to new heights and have positively improved the lives of countless youth. She has been recognized on both a local and national level for her achievements.

1. What advice would you give to professionals who have taken on a CEO or executive role for the first time?

Hide lots of candy in your top drawer, you are going to need it! Seriously though, being a first-time CEO or executive is stressful. I needed that chocolate to get through the day and to take a one-minute break to take a deep breath and remind myself that I can do this and I am in this position for a reason. Have faith, work hard, forgive yourself and eat a Snickers!

2. What is your best advice to navigate the first 90 days?

Do not try to make any big changes, do not be that person. It is important to come in and gain trust. You can achieve this by listening more than talking and by watching. Observe, ask questions, and listen. You can quietly be making plans for how you are going to “change the world” but keep it to yourself at least in the beginning.

3. What is your best advice on how to work with the board?

Always show gratitude. Understand you are not their equal. They are volunteers. You are paid and they are donating their time. Remember this and always acknowledge and thank them. They will work harder and do more for your organization if they are appreciated. Also, understand (if you are a CEO) that the board only has one employee which is you. Everyone else works for you.

4. What is your best advice on leading a team?

This is something I am always trying to improve on. As leaders, we tend to have trouble delegating and trusting that anyone can do as good as we do. We have to understand that part of our job as the leader is to be a coach and mentor. We owe it to our team to empower them and set them up for success. I have learned that recognition is key to this as is again the recurring theme of listen more than you speak.

5. What is your best fundraising advice?

Find someone else to do it for me because I am no good at it. That is partially a joke, but you would be surprised how many nonprofit CEO’s do not like raising money. We like talking about our organizations and can do this until we are blue in the face but when it comes to the ask, we fear rejection. Most of us are Type A personalities to begin with so fear of rejection is crushing. Of course, a big part of our job is fundraising, so I have learned to make this a team effort as much as possible. Involve your board members, involve the kids or your clients, include key staff and if you are fortunate enough to be able to afford development staff, rely on them as well. Stick to what you are good at and rely on your team to help you make the ask.

6. Share your greatest failure as a CEO and executive and the lesson learned. We often learn the most from our failures.

I have so many failures so not sure where to begin but I do believe the quote by Robert F Kennedy, Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly. I have learned so much from my failures and would not be the leader I am without having lived through these experiences. I think one of my greatest failures is not going with my gut more. I used to always go by my guy and as our organization grew larger and we could afford to hire more “experts” I started to listen to them more even though my gut was saying something different and 9 times out of 10 my gut was right. I think it is important we always listen to that inner voice.

7. Recommended reading. What book helped you on your journey?

I am not a big leadership book person. I tend to read more for relaxation and for escape. That being said I have read dozens of leadership books over the years, and many have been helpful but the book I most often think of and refer to believe it or now is All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Admitting to this may get me removed from your series but I do think reminders such as live a balanced life, share everything, play fair and always hold hands and stick together are important messages for leaders in the nonprofit world.

I hope this helps. Let me know. Sharing is caring.

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Thank you to those nonprofit CEO and Executive Directors who’ve generously done the 7 questions!

I hope reading 7 Questions with Shanna Warren helps you in your nonprofit journey.

Your mission matters,

Sabrina Walker Hernandez,

President & CEO

Supporting World Hope

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