Michelle Nunn on the Power of Partnerships and the Struggle of Scale

Michelle Nunn has spent two and a half decades leading and growing volunteer service organizations, merging her Hands On Network with the Points of Light Foundation (established by Pres. George H. W. Bush) to create Points of Light and building it into the largest volunteer organization in the world, with some 250 affiliate organizations in 22 countries, and thousands of partnerships with nonprofits and businesses.

Last year, Nunn took a leave of absence from her position as CEO of Points of Light in order to declare her candidacy for the Senate seat formerly held by her father, Sam Nunn, for 24 years. She'll face the winner of the July 24 runoff election between Republicans David Perdue and Jack Kingston (R-GA, 1st District). 

Nunn recently spoke with GCN President and CEO Karen Beavor from the campaign trail in South Georgia. The full interview is available for GCN members in the latest issue of Georgia Nonprofit NOW. Here, we provide an excerpt as Nunn discusses the successes gained and struggles faced since merging Hands On Network with Points of Light in 2007.


KAREN BEAVOR: The Points of Light conference is here in Atlanta this year. As you reflect on your leadership there, what have you been most proud of, and what was your greatest struggle?

MICHELLE NUNN: I have had an extraordinary 25 years of building and growing the organization [Hands On Network] that eventually merged with Points of Light almost seven years ago. I am proud, first of all, of the start of work that I did: to take an idea and turn it into something meaningful for the Atlanta community, and to grow it across the state and across the nation. Over the last number of years, I am really proud of the work that we have done to take two very different organizations and to really create significant results and impact from a complicated merger, allowing us to mobilize 4 million volunteers last year. Ultimately, I am most proud of the opportunity to forge, together with lots of different kinds of people, over many years, a tangible difference in the lives of individuals, families, and communities across the country through voluntary work.

BEAVOR: What was a struggle for you in terms of growing and scaling?

NUNN: I think, when you ask any nonprofit executive that [question], it almost always turns to resources. But in addition to that, I think it’s also about caring for the human capital, the talent and leadership that is required to grow. A complicated organization that has high aspirations, that’s always trying to do more than what we did last year, must leverage far beyond what we actually should be able to get done. So I think the biggest challenge has been pairing the right people with the right job to do the kind of challenging work that is always before us. In the merger, for instance, [the challenge] was bringing together two very different cultures and building one team from that, which comes to share a set of values and a real focus on results.


GCN members may read the full interview, along with our feature article on strategic planning and much more, in the spring issue of Georgia Nonprofit NOW. If you're not a member, read more about membership benefits and join your statewide nonprofit association today!

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