Paths taken

by Sally Migliore

It is almost eight years ago to the week that Jennifer Tolle Whiteside and I were in serious conversations about the possibility of my becoming the Director of Community Leadership.  I must tell you that the title in and of itself was just about all I needed to accept this position. This blog is a reflection on my work in North Carolina and my career here.

A pivotal part of my past will help explain. I came to NC as a VISTA volunteer (Volunteers In Service to America) to spend a year working on adult literacy in Robeson and Scotland counties. I had never been to the south except for Miami, FL, and I really didn’t count that as a real southern experience, would you?

I was young, idealistic, ready to roll up my sleeves and had no idea that hush puppies were something you ate, not a type of shoes -- or that a toboggan was a winter cap and not something you used to go sledding.

I had no idea about a lot of other things that formed the path that I chose -- or perhaps that the path chose me.

The impact that year had on me was profound. The opportunities afforded me by people in the community were priceless. Like our affiliate board members and fundholders here, the community welcomed me into their homes, helped me learn new skills, discover my values and appreciate the pride people had in their rural community. I learned a great deal from community leaders.

Fast forward and here I am many years later, and I can say the same things about my 7 ½ years at the Foundation. I have had the privilege to practice new skills, reaffirm my values and be inspired by the love people have for their rural communities. The Affiliate Blueprint for Success is the body of work that has resulted from the work of many hands (my colleagues, the affiliates and our amazing Regional Directors). The Blueprint has provided a roadmap for our affiliate network as they build strong boards, inspire philanthropy and serve as effective grantmakers and catalysts for community needs.

As I prepare to retire from the Foundation, I’d like to share these reflections:

  • We are partners with the affiliates, and being partners means listening to each other and recognizing diverse points of view. Working in and with community is a process and the process in and of itself is an outcome.
  • The underlying premise of the Blueprint is that it can help fuel the passion affiliates already have for their communities. Affirming and facilitating board members’ leadership is at the core of our relationship with them. I believe strongly that if people are engaged and feel that they have direction and focus, amazing things can happen.
  • Another major component of the Blueprint was to provide an overarching, common framework while honoring the diversity of the dozens of counties in our footprint. We have a network of over 50 affiliates, reflecting the unique cultures and assets of their communities. 
  • Continued conversations with the affiliates about what impact means to them is paramount. When we embarked on the Blueprint, we said that because of our statewide network, we had the ability to have greater collective impact, that rural communities would be stronger together.
  • Importance of sustainability. NCCF inspires people to make lasting and meaningful contributions to their communities. We are an engine for building permanent charitable assets and we need to ensure that it remains strong for the future.
  • Honoring the same values that are the underpinning of NCCF since its founding -- honor the process, listen to the affiliates, and provide options so that NCCF resources can be used to achieve the greatest impact.

There is one quote that I want to share that was said by an affiliate board member about why he served on the board and is a donor. It has stuck with me because it says so much about our mission and why I have been so honored to be the Director of Community Leadership:

“The NCCF gives us an opportunity to leave a legacy. We’re painting a portrait of what can be, and it’s connected to what we love.”