AIM Award Selection Committee on Advancement In Management

The Center is excited to announce it's 24th call for applications of the Advancement In Management (AIM) Award. This year's selection committee member, Susan Koehler, 2016 AIM Award recipient, Higher Achievement, and 2015 AIM Award recipient, Sitar Arts Center, sat down with us to discuss excellence in nonprofit organizational management. Here's what they had to say:

Center: Susan, you've served on the selection committee for 2 years. Why is recognizing outstanding organizational management important for the nonprofit sector? 

Susan: Nonprofit organizations work to solve society’s most intractable problems. Successfully addressing these problems demands organizational management that is not just competent but excellent. Yet “management” is frequently overlooked when we applaud effective nonprofits or conversely seek reasons for failing nonprofits. The Advancement in Management (AIM) award is important because it draws attention to management excellence in the nonprofit sector and identifies those practices and innovations that are propelling D.C., Maryland and Virginia nonprofits forward in their efforts to strengthen our community. The winning practices and innovations are then communicated to the entire nonprofit sector through workshops and webinars so everyone can learn from this year’s best nonprofit managers.

Center: Higher Achievement was the recipient of the 2016 AIM Award Competition. How did winning the Advancement In Management Award impact your management practices? 

Higher Achievement: Winning the AIM award helped build our confidence as a management team. External validation helped us execute our human capital strategies, dashboard reviews, and revenue projections with greater intentionality and consistency. When we encountered occasional resistance from staff, we were able to be firmer in our expectations.

Center: How does Sitar continue to evaluate management practices since winning the award in 2015? 

Sitar: We continue to uphold strong management practices and provides ongoing opportunities for the organization to grow and evolve in this area. For example, Sitar Arts Center has evolved in its staffing structure with the growth of both onsite and offsite programs since receiving the AIM Award in 2015. As a result, the Center has invested more heavily in areas of training around Culture and Values. This has provided the Center with an incredible opportunity to "look inward" while growing outward as we better define and express the needs of our human resources to be connected to the Center's mission more fully. A new pro bono partnership with Compass is also helping to assess the Center's HR needs across a year-round cycle.

Strategic Planning has also bolstered Sitar's identity in areas of management and leadership. As the Center grows and matures, Sitar is taking on greater leadership roles in the broader community. For example, Sitar Arts Center is now part of the Platform of Hope initiative, a Ward 1 network of nonprofits that are connected to and supporting families in areas of housing, education, and financial stability.

Center: What was the most notable best practice from last year's award process? 

Susan: The best practice of “ensuring organizational culture is aligned with mission” was my most notable best takeaway from the 2017 AIM Award Process. All organizations have a “culture” whether it is intentional or not. The 2017 AIM finalists pinpointed those cultural attributes that support the achievement of their missions, and then intentionally developed systems and practices that inculcated these within their organization. None of the organizations approached culture as a “one and done” presentation of values, but as ongoing actions that embedded “cultural training” into everyday actions. 

Center: How has winning the award strengthened your fundraising opportunities in the year since your win? How has it impacted your repuation in the sector and community you serve? 

Higher Achievement: The AIM award is a helpful stamp of approval, especially relevant for DC funders. We recently received a $930,000 investment from Venture Philanthropy Partners, and our management practices and use of data drove their interest in our organization. The AIM award help burnish Higher Achievement’s reputation among current and potential staff, board, and external partners.

Sitar: Our strong reputation in areas of leadership, management and service is earned each and every day. The AIM Award helped to both recognize the Center's exceptional management practice while "setting a high bar" for future staff and leadership. The AIM Award continues to provide valuable external and independent recognition and is often leveraged in areas of funding requests to demonstrate Sitar's capacity and strong commitment to being a valued nonprofit partner. Supporting the nonprofit field is also a deeply held responsibility and the Center's leadership regularly meet with other nonprofits to share ideas and experiences.

Center: What are you most excited about for this year's award? 

Susan: I am most excited about the entire selection process because I learn so much from engaging with my fellow selection committee members and reading the award applications. The applications represent the best in nonprofit management. The selection committee comprises a diverse group of past winners, experienced executive directors and nonprofit leaders, and expert nonprofit accountants, lawyers and consultants. Each brings a different perspective based upon their experience. The selection meetings are characterized by lively and informative discussions. 2017 was my first year on the committee, and I was impressed by how seriously all the members approach the selection responsibility. I am honored and proud to be among them. 

Center: The selection committee is passionate about nonprofit management but also seeks specific criteria from organizations applying. What advice do you have for applicants?

Susan: I advise organizations interested in applying to welcome this as a learning opportunity and the questions as “prompts” to assess their management practices. If you are not successful in `2018, apply again in 2019. Although the Part One application has just three questions, allow lots of time to compose your response. It’s unlikely you will be able to use much of your grant boilerplate in your answers because the award recognizes management, not program excellence. Also, try to attend one of the information sessions!


Start your AIM Award Application.

Learn more about the award and register for an information sesison.

Members: Browse organizational management resources from AIM Award recipients.