Featured Funders Stories

Return to Featured Stories
Wells Fargo
A History of Helping Nonprofit Leaders Succeed

For more than fifteen years, ESC’s Wells Fargo Executive Directors Leadership Institute (EDLI) has helped launch graduates of the program into a journey of learning and growth. The knowledge and confidence they have gained continue to be relevant and invaluable factors in supporting their organizations and the communities they serve.  

EDLI provides comprehensive, highly effective, long-term executive-level professional development, specifically designed for nonprofit leaders – at a highly affordable rate. Thanks to the Wells Fargo Foundation’s support since the program’s inception, the Institute’s fees have been significantly underwritten to foster professional development in the nonprofit sector.  

EDLI’s success comes in part because of its unique combination of executive coaching with peer networking and in-depth learning, which results in a powerful learning experience. This model was the basis for the first iteration of the program, the New Executive Directors Institute (NEDI), when longtime ESC Board Member and current Vice Chair Dave Zuercher first bridged the connection to Wells Fargo’s corporate responsibility branch, the Wells Fargo Foundation.  

“For decades Wells Fargo has been one of the largest supporters of non-profits in Southern California. One of our major concerns in the early 2000’s was that Executive Directors needed to become more effective in how they managed and grew their respective organizations. Recognizing ESC’s expertise in development, coaching, and consulting, Wells Fargo worked closely with ESC’s then CEO, Megan Cooper, to create the Executive Directors Leadership Institute in order to support Executive Directors in their worthwhile endeavors. We felt the combination of formal instruction and on-site one-on-one coaching was essential to effective management development for nonprofits. Wells Fargo has continued to support the Institute since 2004.”  

Dave Zuercher, ESC Board Member and current Vice Chair

Our partnership with Wells Fargo has been key in our support of Executive Directors across the Southern California region. Wells Fargo Social Impact and Sustainability’s Vice President Luis Gonzalez shares:  

Wells Fargo is honored to continue its relationship with ESC and support of the EDLI program. Programs such as EDLI play a critical role in supporting future leaders and enhancing the personal and professional development of program participants. Through the ongoing work and dedication of the ESC team participants of the EDLI program continue to making a difference in our communities and collectively contribute to the economic viability of region. 

Transforming Nonprofit Leadership  

Twenty years ago, Athena Castro came into her Executive Director role as a newcomer to the nonprofit world. Previously, she had been working within student programming at the Caltech Y, a hybrid nonprofit (affiliated with the California Institute of Technology) whose mission is to enrich student life and challenge students to grow into responsible citizens of the world. After hearing about her organization’s previous work with ESC, Athena joined NEDI and was paired with Ethel Taft, the ESC volunteer consultant who was assigned to coach her throughout the year-long experience.  

“The opportunity for coaching was huge because it gave me someone to connect with and to point me in the right direction. This guidance was tremendous. Thinking back, being new to the nonprofit world and not having the knowledge base was a frustrating experience because it really stretched my ability and capacity for learning everything that I did not know, even while having worked for the Caltech Y.”  

Through NEDI’s training sessions and personalized coaching, Athena recognized that board relationship-building and visionary planning were important tools in her repertoire. To this day, Athena explains that “there’s always a board development goal, a big picture element, that’s really helped me in maintaining a good level of engagement with my board.”  

Not only did NEDI gave her the foundational tools to lead her organization, it also opened up a new community of support and knowledge. “For the first time, I realized that there was a bigger nonprofit community and resources.” To continue joining the nonprofit community, Athena and her staff recently completed another ESC program, the Developing Development Program (DDP).  

In relation to the challenges brought by COVID-19, Athena reflects “Looking back on the last twenty years I’ve been Executive Director, there have been various challenges, including economic downturns. I think about these challenges as opportunities and ways to meet the need, because there’s always a need. Having a solid foundation helps you prepare for those unknown challenges and shift your approach. There are organizations like ESC that are set up to support us. I’ve learned that it’s okay to not know and ask for help, as well as be open to learn and receive feedback.”  

Kim Small, now Executive Director of Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) in Greater Los Angeles, is committed to providing entrepreneurship education programs to young people from low-income communities. Her journey to help empower those students started with the EDLI program. When Kim joined EDLI in 2017, she was new to the Regional Director role with overall limited experience in the sector. “It was an eye-opening experience for me that refined my skills and gave me new tools to utilize. The program gave me better footing with my confidence to do this work and to lead those working with me.” Kim continues to build upon the foundation she gained through her program experience, saying “I take with me from EDLI an extensive knowledge and experience of nonprofit work.”   

EDLI was also a catalyst for the structural reorganization of Kim’s regional office, which now serves as a pilot for NFTE’s other regional locations across the country. Prior to her participation in EDLI, Kim was co-directing the organization (this was NFTE’s structure nationwide), and as she began to gain more leadership skills through the program, she noted that this model of operation was not the most effective approach. This soon became evident to her board too, and she was promoted to Executive Director. Eventually, the national board came to the Greater Los Angeles office for guidance on how to make the shift nationwide. Kim was happy to take the lead: 

“I feel like they came to us because of my leadership and the success that we’ve had as a team. It’s nice to be on the ground level and setting the foundation for the leadership structure, but honestly, I owe that all to EDLI.”  

At InsideOUT Writers, Executive Director Jimmy Wu is on a mission to reduce the juvenile recidivism rate by using creative writing as a tool for personal transformation and empower currently and formerly incarcerated youth and young adults. A recent graduate of EDLI’s 2019 cohort, Jimmy has found that one the most useful tools he gained has been the ability to better connect with and understand individuals in his organization and community.  

“EDLI has given me an increased level of awareness when it comes to understanding the importance of emotional intelligence. In light of the Black Lives Matter movement, the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) movement, and persistent injustices across the nation, we need to appreciate people for who they are, their opinions, and their perspectives to move the community forward in a positive way. For me, a large part of that understanding came because of what I experienced through EDLI.”  

This newfound awareness has helped Jimmy, as a new Executive Director, to be more fully engaged in conversations, and to start thinking about long term, strategic planning. He elaborates that “in large part due to my time with EDLI, I was able to continue moving forward with my appointment as one of the Commissioners of the LA County Board of Supervisors, working towards alternatives to incarceration. Last year, I worked with individuals that were appointed by the Board of Supervisors to this workgroup to talk about and create an ‘alternatives to incarceration’ roadmap, with a care first and jail last approach.” 

Voices from the EDLI Community  

“I remember one of the first questions my consultant shared with me for my first board meeting as Executive Director: she asked, ‘What impression do you want to leave at that meeting of yourself as a leader?’ She was referencing everything in a very holistic way – where was I going to sit, who was going to speak first, how were we going to roll the agenda out? That question has influenced every single board meeting I’ve had since, and I’ve used that same language to help coach other staff members.”  

Michele Prince, Executive Director, OUR House Grief Support Center, 2012 EDLI Grad

“It was such a powerful program in terms of creating community and I feel the support of that community to this day in so many ways. There are so many times I get stuck on something and I think of connections I’ve made through EDLI and other ESC programs, and they’re the first people I call.” 

Amy Friedman, Executive Director, POPS the Club, 2015 EDLI Grad

“Whenever [ESC volunteer consultant] Al and I would meet, it was always that reassuring quality when he would say, ‘You have it! Keep going! Keep growing!’ That helped increase my confidence. I have applied what I learned at EDLI trainings to our board development and it has shifted it completely from where we were in 2017 to where we are now! We have a very strong, effective board now.”  

Richard Reyes, Executive Director, PLUS Me, 2017 EDLI Grad