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Q&A With LHC President & CEO Stacie Hunt

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Stacie Hunt has served as president and CEO of Leadership Howard County (LHC) since 2002. An advocate of developing community leadership, Hunt leads an organization dedicated to providing powerful connections and making a positive impact.

A self-proclaimed “Florida girl” from Clearwater, Hunt graduated from Auburn University with a Bachelor of Science in Marketing and Business Administration. Early in her career, she worked for United Way of Central Maryland, in the community partnership office of Howard County and in the headquarters in Baltimore; she handled fundraising, organization marketing and community building activities.

Previously, she worked with another Howard County business, Meeting Planners Inc., providing meeting planning and logistical activities for a variety of clients. She also was once employed by a biomedical consulting firm that handled conferences and meetings for the National Institutes of Health and for health-related businesses.

Her volunteer activities have included stints as PTA councilmember at Jeffers Hill Elementary School; volunteer at Sarah’s House, in Fort Meade; meal delivery for Meals on Wheels of Anne Arundel County; promotions work and teacher riding aid at the Therapeutic and Recreational Riding Center, in Glenwood; and as a member of the United Way Partnership Office of Howard County marketing committee and a board member of the Bright Minds Foundation of the Howard County Public Schools’ Educational Foundation. She also served on the Boy Scouts Good Scout committee and was involved in The Columbia Foundation Strategic Initiative Committee.

Today, she is past chair of the Howard County Library Board of Trustees, is a founding partner of the Board Connection, sits on the Association of Leadership Programs board of directors, chairs the University of Baltimore’s Certified Public Manager Program Advisory Board and also belongs to numerous groups that serve the community.

And, by the way, she is a LHC graduate, class of 2002, as well as the longest-serving leadership executive in the state.

How has the program evolved in three decades?

This program year, through June 30, has been our 30th anniversary year, during which we’ve been working to promote awareness of our graduates’ impact on Howard County. We also kicked off a $1 million endowment campaign to ensure that we have the funds to provide financial assistance to those who need it and to keep tuition rates affordable. To date, we’re at almost 96% of meeting our goal.

In 1996 we started a program for high school students called Leadership U. It was designed to be a condensed version of the Premier program, designed to engage high school students in community service. We also started a program for young professionals in 2008 called Leadership Essentials that’s now run in collaboration with Loyola University Maryland.

We’ve also continued to refine the Premier program, in response to feedback from the classes. The session days are planned by volunteer committees, and each class now works in teams on a Community Impact Project. Projects are solicited from nonprofits and community organizations who may need help with a specific need, such as refining their mission or improving their board engagement. It’s a great way for nonprofits to receive professional expertise, and for the class participants to get to know how nonprofits work.

How do you acquire funding?

Our funding comes from these major sources: Tuition, which is 50% of our budget. Our second biggest source is from sponsorships, which includes tickets to our annual Big Event and other forms of recognition. Our alumni also pay annual dues, which helps with program costs and other financial responsibilities. From our endowment, we only use 5% a year to provide financial aid and help with the operational cost of our programming; that allows the principal to be sustained. Here, it’s all about sustainability. We’re very fiscally conservative.

How much support do you get from volunteers?

The in-kind number of hours spent here by professionals and government leaders is astronomical: it’s totaled more than 75,000 hours over the years. We have about 350 people who volunteer in a calendar year. From the boards to the committees to the speakers, I think people feel that what we do matters. It’s amazing how many people come back and lend us their time.

What does it cost for tuition, and how do you set that price?

For the upcoming program year, tuition is $5,200 for Premier and $875 for Leadership U. That cost depends on market conditions, and our finance committee oversees that part of our program every year.

What can participants expect after they graduate from the program?

One of the great values of going through the program is developing long-term relationships, both professional and personal. Some of our members have developed not only significant professional connections, but long-lasting friendships as well. They look to each other to fill boards and volunteer positions, because they know there is a common experience of wanting to give back to the community, and they’ve developed an informed perspective on the county and its needs.

We also offer events with speakers, in-depth learning experiences, three or four social activities and a community service project every year. For instance, in June, we’re working with Rebuilding Together, and that type of effort typically requires the time and contributions of 30 to 50 grads and family members.

What programs would you like to initiate for LHC?

The timing of this question is very appropriate, and the answer is, “Stay tuned.” We started our current strategic plan about five years ago, and we’re getting ready to start another one to help plan our course for the next five years. There will be updates, but they’re being fine-tuned at the moment. Come back at this time next year, and we’ll have more information.

Our goal is to strengthen our value to the community. We have to ensure that whatever tasks we choose are right for us to be taking on.

How much time do you spend working with other nonprofits?

We continually work with a great many nonprofits in Howard County. They help us develop our programming, which is a great way to educate each class in their mission and outreach. In return, we often help them find leaders and board members, and also promote many of their events and requests. There is a great synergy, and we work hard to know what the nonprofit needs of the community are and how we can best help fulfill them. Plus, everyone on our staff (of three full-timers and three part-timers) is involved in the community; everyone has to walk the talk somehow.

How does LHC’s alumni organization operate?

Our steering committee that is chaired by Sandy Spring Bank’s Karen Trendler. It’s a collection of 15 graduates who do all of the alumni programming and work within the ideas of the steering committee.

What do you consider your greatest challenges in your position?

As a nonprofit, there is always the challenge of making sure that we are fiscally sustainable; managing data, which is important to all of our worlds; and the last piece is making sure that we have time to connect all of the organizations that want to be connected.

We feel that, the more that connect with LHC, the better off the community is. To do that successfully takes a great deal of time.

What can we expect to see from LHC in the future?

Some of what you’ll see has to do with the strategic plan, but we’re also trying to work more with other Leadership organizations in our region, like Baltimore City and County, and Greater Washington and Montgomery. That presents better networking opportunities which can ultimately help to make the Howard County community better, with more business connections and ability to support the nonprofits.