Emily Gage

Executive Director
Phoenix Bikes

Emily successfully leads her nonprofit in strategic planning, ensuring effective administration, programs, fundraising, and community outreach. She has spent her entire career working in nonprofits and is passionate about seeing them succeed. Prior to joining Phoenix Bikes in 2018, Emily served in communication and development leadership roles at International Justice Mission, the largest anti-slavery nonprofit in the world. Prior to that, she worked for an international study abroad nonprofit that specialized in engaging students in issues of social justice.

Tell us about your leadership style and how this contributes to your organization’s success.

I’m grateful to have been mentored by a number of incredibly supportive leaders throughout my career and I think they passed on to me a coaching leadership style–one that’s collaborative, works to bring out the best in each person, and is equal parts “challenger” and “cheerleader.”

One way that coaching style gets expressed is by asking questions. It’s actually a bit of a running joke on our team that I ask tough questions. Earlier in my career, I mostly approached my supervisors looking for answers, but I had this amazing team leader, Melissa, who would often ask me questions in response: How do we know X is important? What do you recommend? What do you need from me? I found her questions empowering because she helped me make smart decisions and gain confidence in my own instincts. I hope that my questions at work do the same. I have a brilliant, hard-working team, so I definitely know I don’t have all the answers! But asking tough questions has helped us clarify our mission, launch new programs and pause others, and figure out what data we need to make smart decisions for future growth.

What advice would you offer for other nonprofit leaders?

Find at least one other nonprofit leader you can lean on when things get tough. Leading a nonprofit can be lonely work. When I first became an executive director, I felt the loss of no longer having peers and an immediate supervisor at my organization who could offer ideas and empathize with my struggles. I had to invest more intentionally in networking to compensate for that loss. I’ve benefited tremendously from participating in an executive director cohort, meeting other nonprofit leaders through the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and developing strong working relationships with my board chairs—and reaching out for one-on-one time with another leader when I feel stuck. Some of my best problem-solving has come during coffee shop chats when the person across the table normalizes the feelings I’m having, offers advice from their own experience, and reminds me of what’s important. There is so much power in cheering one another on as we collectively work to make the world a better place!

What does this award mean for you and your organization?

As an afterschool program, we love learning. In fact, it’s one of our five core organizational values. We especially love the kind of learning that gives back. In our foundational Earn-a-Bike program, youth learn bike mechanics and then practice their skills fixing up a bike to donate to a community member in need before they earn a bike to keep for themselves. And they often keep giving back–teaching other students what they’ve learned, offering free bike safety checks at community events, and volunteering to lead group rides with other students. This award represents a similar opportunity for our staff–a chance to invest in stretching our own minds so that we can give back and have an even greater impact on the youth we serve. With a tight budget, it can be tough to prioritize spending money on professional development. The chance to receive funding dedicated exclusively for staff learning represents a unique and wonderful opportunity for our small, but mighty team.