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One CEO on How Women Are Breaking Barriers for Nonprofits

Photos: Courtesy of Meredith Co Photography

Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children, discusses her career in nonprofit work and gives advice to citizens looking to get involved.

What are the biggest differences between working in the for-profit sector and the nonprofit sector?

The biggest difference I have seen is that, for nonprofit organizations, the mission drives everything — both the bottom line and the people.

What can everyday citizens do to help support the nonprofit sector?

As there are so many fantastic causes, I think the first thing is to decide what you are passionate about. Start with finding the thing that you really want to dedicate time and money to. There are small and large ways that you can get involved, but the most important thing is picking that thing that you really care about and then looking at all the different ways to get involved.

Sixty-six percent of nonprofit staff are female, yet only 28 percent of these women have executive positions. How did this dichotomy affect you and your career path?

Across the board, women have faced barriers in rising to executive positions, but change is happening. In 2011, I became the first female CEO of Save the Children in the United States since our founding in 1932. Now, almost half of our senior management team is female. Since becoming part of this leadership, one of my top priorities has been to drive the change to support more women to take on top positions both in my own organization and in the nonprofit sector.

Why do you think the above contrast exists? 

This contrast is more pronounced within nonprofits because many of the staff are female, but it’s the same issues that we see across industries and across society with women not having equal opportunities at the highest level. Save the Children works in communities around the world, including in the United States, to ensure everyone is treated and valued equally. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s clear we’re making big strides.

What is the number one challenge you have seen nonprofits face?

One of the biggest challenges I’ve seen among nonprofits is learning how to work with the private sector. There are not enough donations in the world to solve the issues of hunger, preventable deaths of children or inadequate access to basic education. We need innovative solutions to tackle global problems, and we need the resources and expertise of for-profit partners to create the best solutions. For decades, Save the Children has been working with companies ranging from healthcare to hotels — these worldwide partners allow us to bring new tools to our challenges and ultimately help more children.

What are some of your best strategies for a nonprofit looking to scale up their impact?

Don’t go it alone. Even though Save the Children is large and works in almost 120 countries, we always work with partners to scale the programs and strategies that are proven to work. We partner with local NGOs, governments, corporations and the United Nations to help children and marginalized families. Without a strong network of partners, it would be impossible for Save the Children to reach more than 150 million people with our services each year.

 What is your inspiration in working in the nonprofit industry?

I’m traveling almost 200 days per year for Save the Children and am constantly inspired by our work on the ground and meeting the children we serve. Even here in the United States, children struggle to have a bright future.

I think now more than ever, getting engaged with something you care about is really important. We cannot depend on governments in many parts of the world. People doing this kind of work is going to be future.

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