Lead for a Larger Goal

When all local nonprofits are successful, the community is the winner.

by Matt George, Children’s Home Association of Illinois
Matt George
Matt George leads one of Peoria’s oldest and largest social service organizations—but he knows his work doesn’t stop there.

The marketers have my name. As a CEO, I receive numerous emails and direct mail each month with tips and suggestions on how to lead more effectively. And while there is value in understanding your management style, how to work effectively with a board and engaging your employees, I think one of the most important aspects to leadership is simple: always put your community first. What does this look like?

Building a Stronger Framework
I’m at the helm of one of the oldest and largest locally-based social service organizations in the Tri-County area, but I recognize that my responsibilities reach far beyond my own programs and campus. My team and I work diligently to provide counseling, education and support to more than 1,700 children and families each month. We coordinate group homes, foster care and adoption, crisis intervention, mental health assessments, homeless services, in-home counseling and family preservation—all under the Children’s Home umbrella. But it doesn’t stop there.

My philosophy has always been that for our community to become stronger, we need all social service agencies to be healthy. That’s why I choose to sit on a variety of outside boards and committees, including Align Peoria, CEO Council and the Community & Residential Services Authority, to name a few. These collaborative forums often result in new ideas and increased efficiencies—or serve as a springboard for broader social and systems change. 

I also emcee or advise on events for Crime Stoppers, Neighborhood House, CASA, ART Inc. and the Hult Center for Healthy Living. There are so many ways our nonprofits can support each other. Earlier this year, I judged an art show sponsored by PAME (Performing Arts Master Classes and Events) which benefited OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois. In the same regard, the landscaping at the Children’s Home Youth Farm location benefited when Dream Center Peoria sent a group of volunteers to spruce it up. And when Children’s Home brings a prominent sports figure like Mike Ditka or Ozzie Smith to town, these stars often sign photos and memorabilia for other charities to offer for their next raffle or event. It's a win-win for everyone.

This intermingling of support amongst organizations weaves a stronger framework overall. These agencies, just like Children’s Home, all provide social service support to those most in need. And the more support that is offered, the better our communities can become.

Community-Oriented Leadership
I’m fortunate enough to have a board that agrees with my philosophy that there is positivity in always helping other agencies. They allow me to take “leadership” from just a title or position to action and example—and this trickles down to our staff. We encourage our team to join boards, committees and service clubs that are community-oriented. It is a piece of our culture that I hope evolves into an expectation. We are in the business of helping people, and many of us live it and breath it even outside of work. It is an extension of what we do and who we are.

As we cycle through economic changes, it may be tempting to put on blinders and focus solely on your organization’s next urgent need, program or fundraiser. But my advice is simple: don’t. It is a sad truth that broken families, abuse, poverty, homelessness, addiction and mental health issues will always tug at our community well-being. But if we all grab the rope together, we have a much better shot at pulling back. Just like John F. Kennedy's phrase, “a rising tide lifts all boats,” when all local nonprofits are successful, the community is the winner. PM