Emerge equips the nonprofit sector’s rising stars, especially members of historically underrepresented groups, with the managerial and people-leadership know-how to take on executive-level responsibilities and lead tomorrow’s sector.

Like its predecessor, the High Potential Diverse Leaders (HPDL) program, Emerge is the next step of GCN’s longstanding commitment to equity in professional development and sector leadership.

Program Overview

Providing the same immersive regimen that made HPDL a powerful career catalyst – in areas like change management, equity and inclusion, and emotional intelligence – Emerge adds instruction in organizational management fundamentals like board engagement, fundraising, and finance, all drawn from the coursework that’s made Nonprofit University (NU) a best-in-class training resource locally and nationwide. 

Emerge also builds on NU’s successful pivot to a virtual-only format; since March 2020, the NU team has facilitated more than 500 digital class hours, establishing NU as a national training leader ready to deliver this intensive program entirely online.

In addition, Emerge features an “elective” component: Each participant gets to join two additional NU classes, chosen by the participant to support their specific professional-development goals. And of course, Emerge will also preserve the relationship-building activities that have united HPDL alumni and plugged them into a network of established nonprofit pros.

With its scope, ambition, and provenance, Emerge continues to deepen our community’s efforts to lay the groundwork for individual and sector success.

Take your skills and your organization to the next level: Let us know your interest in being part of the Emerge cohort today.

Session Schedule

Emerge takes place live across eight online sessions: four large-group sessions, two small-group sessions facilitated by a leader in the sector, and two “electives” chosen by each participant to meet their individual goals for skill development.


Leadership is not a destination, but a journey – and it’s not an easy one. You will need to make tough ethical and moral decisions, motivate a diverse workforce, and champion a team of employees and volunteers. To chart your path, you will need to identify the kind of leader you want to be.

This session will give you the foundation to start that work with an overview of the program, including expectations and requirements; a look at key challenges and happenings in the nonprofit environment; a chance to meet your fellow participants; and a deep dive into what it means to be a leader. You’ll also preview the assessments and other tools that we’ll be using.

Successful leaders create a positive, productive environment that drives everyone to perform at their best, and work as a team, by embracing the diverse backgrounds, abilities, personalities, skills, and responsibility levels involved (including those up the chain of command).

What makes such a leader? Though every organization is different, research shows that effective leaders share a common factor: a high level of “emotional intelligence.” This session explains the emotional intelligence competency framework; how emotions influence thoughts, behaviors, goals, decision-making, and relationships; and techniques for increasing self-awareness and leadership effectiveness.

The goal of equity and inclusion is to create conditions that allow everyone to reach their full potential. Once you eliminate unfair practices and attitudes based on race, income, geography, age, gender, immigration status, and sexual orientation, organizational culture can be focused on fulfilling individual and collective potential, fostering innovative and sustainable approaches, expanding access to resources, and collaborating meaningfully in pursuit of mission.

Achieving this takes more than practices that promote equitable representation among your people; it takes leaders who can confront ingrained discrimination and privilege. This session shows you how to be that leader, and help foster an environment of belonging for all.

Effective organizational leaders must be able to talk about the impact of the work in a range of contexts: when creating partnerships, raising funds, reporting to donors and foundations, updating staff, or meeting with the board. 

This session provides an overview of outcome measures, dashboards, and communicating with stakeholders, including insights into demonstrating organizational impact and return on investment (ROI); collecting, tracking, and using data; and the connections between accurate performance measures and a vigorous fundraising program.

This session will also serve as a closing for the program, and a celebration of our journey. We will examine results from your 360-degree assessment, illuminating an array of perspectives on your leadership abilities, opportunities to leverage strengths, and areas to address. You will also set leadership goals and receive feedback and peer coaching for calibrating them.


Establishing an effective governance structure is critical for nonprofit success, and key to operationalizing the mission for optimal community impact. This session provides an in-depth orientation to core principles, best practices, and latest trends, with expert insights into board structure, recruitment, roles and responsibilities, engagement, and evaluation.

In addition to learning how you can increase board functionality, you will also get a broad overview of nonprofit organizations, including the reasons that the sector exists and what they mean for your approach to community engagement and customer service.

Resiliency – the ability to absorb a shock and come out better on the other side – is among the most important concepts for today’s nonprofits to understand and achieve. The goal is not simply survival, but endurance throughout changing circumstances: the ability to react quickly and effectively to shifts in leadership, community needs, funding dynamics, finance, politics, and more. 

For that, dependable change management practices and adaptive leadership skills are a must. In this small-group session, you will explore best practices and tools for instilling resilience in your organization’s operational culture.


As part of the Emerge experience, participants will select and enroll in two Nonprofit University classes in order to strengthen their organizational management abilities in domains such as fundraising and development, marketing and communications, and finance and accounting.

Beyond the two electives, Emerge participants receive a 50 percent discount on any additional Nonprofit University classes they want to attend over the duration of the program, as well as for one year following the end of the program.

The Virtual Learning Experience

GCN’s Nonprofit University, which has been fully virtual since March 2020, has established itself as a national model for virtual learning that’s engaging and rewarding. Emerge is no exception, with a dynamic, multi-modal approach that includes professionally facilitated training, structured reading assignments and independent work, peer-group discussions and projects, a customized 360-degree leadership assessment, and opportunities for mentoring and networking with guests from an alumni network of nearly 300 nonprofit professionals.


Everyone is welcome to apply to Emerge. However, like its predecessor, the High Potential Diverse Leaders program, Emerge is focused on recruiting members of historically marginalized groups, which are especially underrepresented among sector leadership, by addressing their unique interests, challenges, and opportunities. 

These groups may be identified through demographic characteristics such as race or ethnicity; ability; sex; gender, gender identity, or gender expression; sexual orientation; national origin; immigration status; and geography or residence (among others). High-priority groups include, but are not limited to, women/womxn, American Descendants of Slavery (ADOS), persons of Native or Indigenous ancestry, members of LGBTQIA+ communities, and nonprofit professionals living in or serving under-resourced geographic communities.

Nonprofit University’s policy on nondiscrimination is available here.

Formal eligibility criteria:

  1. Applicants should be employed by a recognized 501c3 corporation or be employed by an organization with a fiscal-agency or fiscal-sponsorship relationship with a recognized 501c3 corporation. Applicants from other types of organizations, or with other relationships to the nonprofit/social sector, will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
  2. This program is designed for emerging leaders in roles ranging from program coordinator or assistant to manager or director. Executive directors will not be admitted, but are encouraged to contact our Membership team for more information on development and networking opportunities for executive leaders.
  3. Participants must be on a leadership track aiming them toward greater responsibilities.
  4. Applicants must have been employed in the nonprofit sector for a minimum of two years.

Ready to Emerge? Complete an interest form to be notified when the next application period opens, or contact Nonprofit University at nu@gcn.org  to learn more about the program.

Let us know about your interest in future Emerge cohorts with this form:

Program Fee:

GCN members: $399
Nonmembers: $599

** Accepted applicants from organizations with an active NU+ThinkHR subscription will receive a 25% discount on the member registration fee.

Time Commitment:

The typical Emerge calendar runs three to six months. Sessions meet once or twice each month. 

Ready to Emerge? Complete an interest form or contact us at nu@gcn.org to learn more.

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