Recognition for outstanding nonprofit leadership

The Excellence in Chief Executive Leadership (EXCEL) Award recognizes and spotlights outstanding chief executives among nonprofits in our region. The competition focuses on achievement in the areas of innovation, motivation, community building, ethical integrity and strategic leadership.

The Center has been awarding this honor since 2005, and the Bethesda-based accounting firm Gelman, Rosenberg & Freedman has sponsored the award since 2007. More than 40 executive directors have been recognized.

Congratulations to our 2019 winners



... and Honorable Mentions


Click on the photos above to learn their thoughts on leadership and what this award means to them.

Thank you to our 2019 presenting sponsor:

Thank you to our 2019 Selection Committee

Bethany Blakey, Fed2Fed Solutions
Jonathan Beek, Associate Attorney, Winston & Strawn LLP
Amma Felix, President, Collegiate Directions, Inc.
Ariel Goldin, Director of Client Relations, Goldin Group LLC
Bethany Henderson, Executive Director, DC SCORES
Sarah Degnan Kambou, CEO & President, International Center for Research on Women
Marla Lahat, Executive Director, Home Care Partners
Randy Marsh, Director of Operations, Horton’s Kids
Tony McCann, Judge/Civilian Board of Contract Appeals (Retired)
Danielle Schmutz, Director of Operations & Programs, Beacon House
Kari Szakal, Strategic Planning and Projects Administrator, USO
Jo-Ann Wallace, President & CEO, National Legal Aid & Defender Association
Patricia Wilcox, Vice President Commercial Banking, The PNC Financial Services Group
Layla Zaidane, Chief Operating Officer, Millennial Action Project

Participating Members
Ian Shuman, GRF CPAs & Advisors

Aziza Rush, Operations Coordinator, Center for Nonprofit Advancement
Sean Sweeney, Director of Education and Special Programs, Center for Nonprofit Advancement


About the EXCEL Award

At the Center, we believe the benefits of the EXCEL Award are well worth the time and effort of nomination, but don’t take our word for it. Hear what past participants have to say.

“[This award] affirms the work we have done throughout the organization at every level, from the Board to senior leadership to our staff. It also encourages us to continue to build on what we’ve done with our own employee engagement platform, our internal Connecting to Mission program and our commitment to professional development.” —Global Impact

“Hope for Henry is transforming from a high-performing local organization to one expanding to meet the needs of our country’s sickest kids. This transformation requires new skills. The opportunities afforded through the EXCEL award will give us the opportunity to elevate our skills and achieve our ambitious goals.” —HOPE for Henry Foundation

"Beyond the acknowledgement of the tremendous amount of hard work that we have done, [this award] also means a little relief. Certainly, finding funds for professional development is a tremendous task and usually the first thing that gets cut. Having some funds to train, study and prepare for the next phase will be unbelievably helpful." —Adventure Theater

The competition is open to any chief executive of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in the Greater Washington area with an annual budget of $10 million and under. The Washington metropolitan area is defined as:
  • District of Columbia
  • Maryland: Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, Frederick, Howard, Montgomery, St. Mary's and Prince George's counties.
  • Virginia
Board members, staff members, volunteers, clients and community members may nominate chief executives.

Up to three leaders are selected as EXCEL Award winners. Each winner receives a $5,000 fund to be used for the individual’s continued professional development. In addition, each recipient’s organization will receive a $2,000 fund to support the professional development of the organization’s staff.

Up to two honorable mentions will receive a $1,000 fund to be used for their continued professional development.

There is no fee to nominate or apply to the EXCEL Award.

The competition incorporates a three-part judging process that includes a part one written nomination and fact sheet, an invitation-only part two interview, and site visits for finalists. To learn more about the nomination process download the Nomination Packet.

Meet the winners of the past three years:

Bethany Rubin Henderson, Executive Director, DC SCORES
Sarah Degnan Kambou, President, International Center for Research on Women
Jo-Ann Wallace, President & CEO, National Legal Aid & Defender Association

Erin Carlson Mast, President Lincoln's Cottage
Natalia Marlow-Otero, DC SAFE
Herb Tillery, College Success Foundation

Christopher Fay of Homestretch
Scott Jackson of Global Impact
Laurie Strongin of HOPE for Henry

Michael Bobbitt of Adventure Theatre, MTC
Nicole Lamoureux of National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics
Kathy Sibert of Arlington Street People's Assistance Network (A-SPAN)

As a Center member, you can access successful and innovative practices in motivation, community building, ethical integrity, and strategic leadership perfected by EXCEL competition nominees in the Resource Center.
The selection committee is a group of local leaders in the nonprofit, foundation, corporate and government sectors. The committee’s purpose is to read, review and evaluate all applications for the award. Commitment includes in-person attendance at a minimum of three committee meetings, two site visits and the award ceremony. Participation on the selection committee provides an excellent opportunity to make new connections and see first hand exceptional practices in action. To learn more or express interest in joining the selection committee, contact Taylor Strange, COO.