What does being a finalist for this award mean for you and your organization?

Imagination Stage (IStage) was founded in 1979 under the name Bethesda Academy of Performing Arts with a handful of children in a single room. In the 42 years since, IStage has become a respected regional theatre arts center recognized for its high quality, innovative programming, and for providing a safe haven for children to embrace and explore their creativity. Throughout our history, we have touched the lives of more than 1.5 million young people and families throughout greater Washington, DC.

IStage has grown as an organization by continually assessing what programs are meeting the needs of our community and by adapting to ensure that we are aligning the resources and programs of our organization strategically and effectively. Fundamental to our ability to engage in this continual evolution is Board Leadership.

Today, IStage is working to emerge from the most restrictive phase of the pandemic, as our founder steps back from more than forty years at the helm of the organization. We are entering a new phase of leadership and leadership development.

This nomination is an important confirmation that we are building on a strong foundation of identifying and cultivating individuals with the commitment and skill set to help our organization chart the course of our mission-driven enterprise.

What have you learned through the application process for Board Leadership Award?

Throughout this application process, it has become abundantly clear that there are many generous and motivated people who care deeply about helping non-profits succeed and excel. It is exciting to see the Center highlight best practices and share lessons learned with the wider non-profit community. We have been struck by the importance of policies and procedures, and how every great idea can be made better by creating the processes for documentation, record keeping, and communication. The act of writing our application for the award also allowed our Board and Staff leadership to reflect on the initiatives that have made our journey through COVID a time for self-assessment and restructuring as well as a call to our stakeholders to put their energy and skills to work in service of all children.

What advice would you offer for other organizations/board members striving for excellence in board leadership?

Excellence in Board Management takes a great deal of time, planning, and attention to detail. Especially during challenging times – which are nearly constant for non-profit organizations – it can be very difficult to pull focus from the daily tasks and the crisis of the day. My advice is to resist the temptation to take short cuts or put off Board-related tasks. Identifying, cultivating, and retaining highly skilled Board Members are investments that will deliver tremendous dividends to your organization. I can personally attest that our Board Members have exponentially expanded the organizational capabilities of IStage in so many ways.

They offer best practices from their law firms, government agencies, or for-profit businesses. They advise our staff on strategic planning, website development, branding, fund-raising efforts, and legal issues. They introduce staff to their business associates, legislators, and other community leaders who may lead to new opportunities and contracts for the company. They do not hesitate to be ambassadors for Imagination Stage programs: first educating themselves about professional theatre, social justice, and education offerings, then talking about them to everyone who will listen. They show up for meetings, shows, student showcases, and galas. They contribute their own money and help obtain donations from corporate and foundation sources.

So much of what IStage has been able to accomplish over the last four-plus decades has been the direct result of the expertise, drive, and commitment of our Board Members. Especially in a region such as ours that is fortunate to be the home of so many talented and dedicated professionals across a wide array of fields, I strongly urge any non-profit leaders to do the hard work it takes to craft an extraordinary Board. Board development is one of the single most important priorities you can undertake for your organization.