After becoming CEO in 2014, Tara led USTA MAS through a significant transformation, uniting segmented district offices in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, and parts of West Virginia into a stronger centralized Section. From restructuring job positions to strengthening employee morale to building an innovative and energizing company culture, Tara has cultivated an organization that embraces individuality, puts people first and rewards staff for challenging themselves to be innovative and results driven. Today, USTA MAS engages with the community in more meaningful ways than ever before.
Tell us about your leadership style and how this contributes to your organization’s success.
My leadership style very much reflects and prioritizes a people-first mindset. My approach is rooted in empowering and supporting staff professionally and personally. I believe that when our staff feels fulfilled, it results in a cohesive and collaborative work environment that produces results.
To me, being people first means ensuring that we have a work environment that is stimulating and challenging, yet positive and rewarding. At USTA Mid-Atlantic, we recognize individuals for being innovative and results driven. Members of our team establish their performance goals aligned with our mission and are empowered to forge their own path to success. This fosters a sense of purpose and a much deeper understanding of how each individual ultimately contributes to the organization and the mission. Our culture embraces adaptability, flexibility and mentality to take risks and try new things so individuals flourish.
People first means that we embrace employees for the unique perspectives they bring and honor the whole person. As a leader, I make sure that we direct resources toward and prioritize professional development so that every employee can grow and continually evolve their skill set and career path. Moreover, I fully support opportunities that allow our people to grow as individuals, seek balance and have an active role within the community. From a volunteer time off policy, to a flexible work environment, to programs that help teach personal finance – I want to give all employees the opportunity to be their best selves while at work and at home.
As a nonprofit, we experience new challenges everyday. To be successful we must ensure that our team of people feel fully supported to take on the challenges, think creatively, and try new approaches to generate results. Our people are our most precious assets and putting them first is ultimately how we have success.
What advice would you offer for other nonprofit leaders?
Leadership can be isolating but know that you don’t have to go at it alone. Take advantage of the resources around you and within the wider nonprofit community to avoid the grips of isolation.
One of the most important resources a nonprofit leader can draw from to avoid isolation is their Board of Directors. I highly encourage other nonprofit leaders to get to know every member on their Board, and not just by memorizing their bios. Meet with each member individually and build the professional, but also personal rapport and connection. Really get to know them and understand their passion toward the mission. Even more so, allow each Board member to get to know you. Allow them to see you as a person and understand your values and what you stand for.
When you build relationships in this way, you create an environment that can be more effective for your board dynamics, inspire more engagement in the mission and ultimately, supports your ability to facilitate organizational success.
Another resource is your team. Be open, transparent, honest, and human with them. I say it is more than okay to show your human side and vulnerabilities, and let your team know that you may not have all the answers but that together anything can be accomplished. This humble approach helps create a camaraderie that helps you feel less isolated and motivates your team to work toward the mission.
Finally tap into the resource of the incredible nonprofit community. Having a network of nonprofit leaders outside of your organization to share ideas or ask questions is something I’ve found valuable and highly recommend to other nonprofit leaders. So much can be accomplished when the nonprofit community comes together to help one another as we all work for the common good.
What does this award mean for you and your organization?
The EXCEL Award is very special. It is a huge honor to be recognized for achievement in leadership, especially in our region where we are among so many bright and innovative nonprofit leaders, who inspire me. I am humbled to be part of this exceptional group.
The differentiator for the EXCEL Award is that you are not just getting a plaque or award crystal, you receive the gift of professional development for your staff. Anything that I can do to benefit my staff is highly important to me, because their success, development, and satisfaction is the ultimate achievement.
This award comes at a critical time, when the pandemic is challenging our organization in ways we never could have imagined. Now more than ever, we need to ensure that our organization can innovate to address the challenges. To do that, professional development is critical to learning new things that can help us face the challenges ahead with fresh thinking, energy and confidence. This award will allow us to continue our organizational emphasis on professional development while not compromising or straining our resources which have become much more limited in today’s climate.
I cannot thank the Center for Nonprofit Advancement enough for this recognition and consideration and for helping to elevate me and my staff through professional development.