The Center for Nonprofit Advancement has named YPT Executive Director Brigitte Winter as the winner of the 2022 Excellence in Chief Executive Leadership Award.
“Winning this award is very meaningful for me personally,” said Winter. “But it is also a public statement that how we do the work is as important as the work itself.”
The EXCEL Award is given to honor exceptional nonprofit chief executives. The competition recognizes achievement in the areas of innovation, motivation, community building, ethical integrity, and strategic leadership.
Winter said it is a dream to be able to share YPT’s story on a national platform. She is excited to reach more people and raise awareness of YPT’s mission, antiracism and anti-oppression work, values-driven operations, and unique collaborative leadership model.
“I have worked in nonprofit leadership for eighteen years, and in that time I have learned that you can’t effectively pursue a mission of social justice if you are not also deliberately structuring your operations to reflect that mission,” Winter said.
The EXCEL Award includes access to a $10,000 professional development account for Winter and $2,000 to support organizational professional development programs. Plans have already been put in place to use these funds for shared-learning experiences, ranging from management training to continued anti-oppressive education.
Being recognized in this way is an honor for Winter, but in no way means she will be slowing down her work. YPT has adopted the theme of “reconnecting” this year as in-person programs return for the first time since 2020. Winter said the professional development funds will aid the staff in this reconnection.
“More than half of us have been working together for fewer than six months, and many of us met in person for the first time this past summer,” said Winter. “The YPT staff is very focused on reconnecting with each other and with our community.”
Winter participated in a short interview with the Center for Nonprofit Advancement about her leadership experience, her advice to other nonprofit leaders, and what the EXCEL Award means to YPT:
Brigitte Winter has more than fifteen years of experience in nonprofit leadership, arts administration, financial management, fundraising, and strategic communications in the DC region. She is also a writer, a metalsmith, a photographer, and the Co-President of the Board of Directors for the Baltimore Abortion Fund, a non-profit organization that uses an intersectional reproductive justice lens to dismantle white supremacy and remove systemic barriers people face when accessing abortion care. The capacity of storytelling to connect, disrupt, inspire, and incite is central to Brigitte’s art and her activism.
Tell us about your leadership style and how this contributes to your organization’s success.
The capacity of storytelling to connect, inspire, and incite is central to my leadership, my art-making, and my activism. It also central to YPT’s mission to inspire young people to realize the power of their voices. Both within my organization and with external stakeholders, I use storytelling to build trust, forge connections, and generate excitement and support for YPT’s brilliant young playwrights.
As YPT’s Executive Director, I am responsible for operationalizing our mission by setting YPT’s overall strategic direction and making sure we have the resources to get there. I also know that as a white, queer, cisgender woman, it is my responsibility to understand what it means to hold all of my various identities and experiences while also holding significant positional power within my organization. My leadership style involves continual, deliberate work to use the power of my position to reduce the harm of racism and oppression in YPT’s structures, policies, and practices. I hold myself accountable to making decisions that align with YPT’s organizational values—Acknowledging Oppression and Reducing Its Harm, Anti-oppressive Communication, Responsive Flexibility, Respecting Autonomy, Commitment to Craft, Creative Collaboration, and Commitment to Health and Safety. That means much of my work involves recruiting and retaining amazing people, prioritizing their wellbeing in organizational decision-making, and resourcing their ideas as we collaboratively pursue YPT’s mission.
I credit leading from these values with many of YPT’s most significant recent successes, including our ability to safely weather the first three years of the global pandemic with a full team, an effective transition to hybrid operations, a great deal of responsive innovation around our programs and productions thanks to our collaborative leadership model and the brilliance of Artistic Director Farah Lawal Harris and Education Director Jared Shamberger, and three surplus budgets.
The COVID-19 pandemic began the year that YPT turned 25. As we enter our 2023 fiscal year, I have made the strategic decision to re-invest YPT’s recent surpluses into increasing salaries, growing our team, and ensuring that our operations are the right size to push YPT into its next 25 years.
What advice would you offer for other nonprofit leaders?
Rest and joy are radical. If everyone in your organization is continually going above and beyond to make your mission happen, stop applauding that. And don’t model that behavior yourself. It’s not a sustainable business practice. Slow down, do less, and right-size your organization by investing in people and infrastructure before you invest in program growth.
Committing to justice and real social change is not a short-term project, so you need to take care of yourself and avoid burn-out. Find joy in the work, and find joy outside the work. Prioritize your humanity the way you prioritize the humanity of others. Take that vacation and turn on your auto-responder. Invest in your personal growth—in people and personal projects that energize you—as much as your professional growth.
And remember that antiracism is a moral imperative, not a business goal. At the core of this work has to be a deep moral grounding in the importance of justice, of empathy, of fairness, of doing what is right even when stakeholders are confused and don’t applaud your efforts. Even when you lose money. Even when people who don’t want to do this work leave your staff and your board, and others question whether you are doing enough, fast enough. You need to hold that moral truth internally even when you are not getting external feedback that pushes you forward. Successful antiracism work will ultimately result in a better, stronger organization, but you need to be willing to slow down and worry less about your bottom line in the meantime.
What does this award mean for you and your organization?
I have worked at YPT for almost seventeen years, and I have been the Executive Director for a decade. Being considered for this award is very meaningful for me personally, as a recognition of the years I have invested in stewarding YPT’s mission, and my own leadership, into the best versions of themselves.
This award is also important recognition for YPT’s antiracism and anti-oppression work, our values-driven operations, and our unique collaborative leadership model. Considering me—and YPT—for this award is a public statement that how we do the work is as important as the work itself.
YPT is at an organizational inflection point as we’ve organically evolved and changed so much of what we do in response to the ongoing global pandemic. We are entering our 2023 fiscal year with our first planned million dollar budget and several new staff positions, and we are making space for strategic planning that responds to the new normal, pushes our most effective initiatives toward greater sustainability, increases salaries and benefits for staff, plans for the funding and infrastructure necessary to make all of these shifts, and reconnects YPT with our community after two years of pivoting and change.
What an incredible moment to highlight this organization, and to receive new professional development resources that will support YPT’s full team in continuing to respond and evolve into the best versions of ourselves.
Photo: YPT Executive Director Brigitte Winter