Nonprofit Leaders that Build Community through Storytelling

In April, Support Kansas City convened a panel of expert nonprofit reviewers to select the “Excellence in Nonprofit Leadership” award winners.  This is a key part of our annual celebration of nonprofit organizations that show leadership through governance, accountability and transparency.  Our event included a panel discussion on the topic of Building Community Through Storytelling: Nonprofits and the Evolving Media Landscape .  The award winners, Mattie Rhodes Center, HappyBottoms and the Kansas City Rose Society are not just nonprofit leaders, they are leaders that know how to build community through their storytelling efforts.

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The Mattie Rhodes Center is firmly rooted in the Kansas City community and has evolved along with the communities they serve.  Operating from 5 locations in the Greater Kansas City Area, they reach over 11,000 individuals each year through their behavioral health resources, youth development programming and cultural arts.  Their services continue to be grounded in systemic analysis that seeks solutions to address root causes.  They give voice to their over 120 year old pledge “to do all that we can do to help the needy and the suffering.”  As the only fully bilingual/bicultural, nationally accredited and state-certified behavioral health center in the Greater Kansas City Region, they’ve embraced the community’s needs for serving their mission in more than one language.

Internally they embrace good governance practices by speaking the languages of both accountability and transparency.  They report monthly to the board both financial and program outcomes against desired goals.  They regularly review their strategic plan to make sure that both the board and staff are implementing the strategic plan as directed.

1604-SKCAwards-0397HappyBottoms is the only diaper bank in Kansas City, and works with 35 social service agency partners at 47 locations to distribute over 1.6 million diapers per year to 7,800 babies.  Their story is one of intentional evolution, from board and volunteers with no paid leadership to the shared leadership of both board and paid staff.  In 2015, they achieved two long-term objectives.  They filled all Board seats adding 4 new directors at their annual meeting.  Their board is now comprised of 15 members representing our community from different backgrounds, ethnicities, skill sets and networks.   Their second long-term objective was achieved when the board voted to hire their first paid Executive Director to complete the transition from volunteer staff to paid staff leadership.

The 2016 Board is a governing board acting as a body to represent the community’s interest;  guide big decisions;  provide legal and financial oversight;  create the strategic plan; measure their efficiency and impact; and hire, support and guide their Executive Director. They believe their governance model will provide the necessary leadership to allow HappyBottoms to continue to grow to meet the significant diaper need in our community.

1604-SKCAwards-0361The vision of the Kansas City Rose Society is “a world class public rose garden where the community can enjoy and learn about roses.”    As stewards of the Kansas City Rose Garden, they preserve and promote this historic city treasure.  Their storytelling success is evident in their relationship with the Kansas City Parks & Rec Department, their members and the general public. They know their community partners value strong financial oversight and have seen that this helps forge trusting partnerships with foundations, charitable organizations and other private donors.

In 2000, they embarked on a strategic plan that would bring total restoration of the rose garden to its original 1931 design, to help make it the “most peopled park” in the greater Kansas City Park System.  Because of their strategic focus, they completed their restoration project with all goals accomplished at a cost in excess of $2,000,000 through the efforts of their all-volunteer organization.  The restoration project required partnering with hundreds of individuals, neighbors of the Loose Park area, associations, garden clubs and Rose Society members.  An amazing story to tell!

Congratulations to all of the Excellence in Nonprofit Leadership award winners!  They are exemplary nonprofit leaders who build our community through their storytelling.


For the benefit of the nonprofit sector everywhere, we wanted to provide resources for ways we can continue to operate and grow within this era. And once social distancing begins to fade, what lessons can we take from this to improve our operations permanently. Come back often for more updates.