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News & Press: ABAG's "Adventures in Philanthropy" Blog

Adventures in Philanthropy: "Words of Advice for Successor From Leaders Also Departing Stage"

Monday, October 29, 2012   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Betsy Nelson
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October 25, 2012
By Betsy Nelson
Special to the Daily Record

Organizations have their own life cycles. And the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers is passing through to another stage, with the board of directors appointing Celeste Amato as ABAG’s new president, beginning her tenure on Dec. 3.

What began last April with the announcement of my pending retirement is moving forward at jet speed.

ABAG is fortunate that Celeste will bring a wealth of experience to this position. Of course, I have been thinking about what advice I want to give to her, so I reached out to a few others who are also making transitions to see what insights they would offer their successors, too.

Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc. recently announced its selection of Mitchell Posner as its new leader to follow long-serving CEO Ken Gelula.

Engage the board

So I asked Ken about words for his successor. He said: "Make engagement of the board your priority. Actively engage the board members in problem-solving. Don’t be afraid to admit you’re wrong. Hire carefully. Keep your passion for the organization’s mission and its values at the forefront of your work.”

Ken has been relentless in pursuing CHAI’s mission to develop and support thriving, stable communities in neighborhoods with a substantial Jewish population.

Ken also said: "My departure from CHAI is a decision about what would be best for the organization as well as for me. I have been at CHAI for over 29 years and feel great about our accomplishments. Now it is time to turn the mantle of leadership over to someone who will bring a fresh perspective to the organization and the communities we serve.”

When asked about what is next for him, he said: "I don’t think about this decision as the end of my working career. I am looking forward to new opportunities around my interests in the future of the city and its neighborhoods. As I speak with people, I find it is a challenge to communicate that I don’t plan to retire, but only to retire from my long tenure with CHAI” at the end of December.

I also sought out advice from another long-timer, Frank Miller who is a 40-year veteran at the Red Cross and is retiring at the end of October. Here is what he plans to pass along:

Learn the organization

"Dive deep into the organization before you make any changes. Talk informally and individually with front-line staff, volunteers and board members about what works and what needs attention.”

Frank served as executive director in Central Maryland for 22 years and two years ago became the regional executive director for Southern and Central Maryland, Frederick, Washington County and Western Potomac (Garrett and Allegany counties).

What is on my list of recommendations for Celeste? To enjoy the privilege of working with committed, informed individuals/organizations that are working diligently to make our community better. To appreciate the hard-working staff that will make her look really good to the outside world. To remember that being a leader often means pushing from behind. And to dream big and stay the course.

Betsy Nelson, president of the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, writes every other week for The Daily Record. She can be reached at 410-727-1205 or

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