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Bridging Leadership: From Corporate Strategy to Nonprofit Impact

Featuring: Fran Mallace, CEO of Make-A-Wish Arizona

March 30, 2024


In the world of leadership, transitioning from the corporate sector to the nonprofit realm is not just a change of scenery; it's a profound shift in purpose, strategy, and impact. Fran Mallace, CEO of Make-A-Wish Arizona, embodies this transition, bringing a wealth of experience from her corporate days at Cox Media to the heart-driven mission of Make-A-Wish. Her journey offers invaluable insights into adapting leadership skills across vastly different sectors. 

Corporate Roots: Building a Foundation for Leadership 

Mallace's career in corporate America was marked by strategic thinking, team motivation, and a knack for building meaningful relationships. At Cox Media, a diversified media company with a portfolio of online and offline advertising solutions, she wasn't just part of the media world; she was deeply involved in shaping marketing and sales strategies that drove success. Working in the for-profit sector still allowed Mallace to get involved in her passion for giving back. "Even being at Cox, I was so lucky to be on different boards and different nonprofits. It’s what really made me happy all the time and brought me the most joy - working on those boards," Mallace shares. 

Key Takeaway: Leadership in the corporate world lays a strong foundation for strategic thinking and relationship-building, skills that are invaluable in any sector. 

Transitioning to Nonprofit: A Shift in Focus 

The move to Make-A-Wish Arizona wasn't just a career change for Mallace; it was a fulfillment of a lifelong passion for community service. This transition required adapting her corporate strategies to fit the nonprofit model, focusing on fundraising, team building, and fulfilling the organization's mission. "When you’re in for-profit, you have budgets planned out. For a nonprofit, it’s 100% philanthropic so the only way we get money is to fundraise," Mallace underscoring the transition from a budget-assured corporate environment to a philanthropy-dependent model. This transition brought unexpected challenges, such as the need to establish clear career paths and growth opportunities within the organization. Mallace prioritized creating an environment where her team felt valued and saw potential for professional growth, ensuring they understood that they could achieve great things and advance their careers at Make-A-Wish. 

Key Takeaway: Transitioning to nonprofit leadership requires adapting corporate strategies to focus on philanthropy, community engagement, and mission-driven goals. 

Leadership Philosophy: People at the Core 

At the heart of Mallace's leadership philosophy is a focus on people. Whether in the corporate or nonprofit sector, creating an environment where individuals can thrive is paramount. "If you don’t focus on people and create an environment that allows people to bring out the best of themselves and each other, how can you accomplish the work you do?" Mallace posits. This philosophy has guided her in building a team at Make-A-Wish Arizona that is motivated, engaged, and deeply committed to the organization's mission. 

Key Takeaway: A people-focused leadership philosophy transcends sector boundaries, fostering an environment where teams can thrive and achieve their mission. 

Empowering Nonprofit Success: A Collaborative Approach 

Mallace's leadership style emphasizes collaboration, innovation, and a commitment to lifelong learning. By bringing a fresh perspective and an open mindset to Make-A-Wish Arizona, she has fostered a culture where ideas are valued, and innovation is encouraged. "Bringing a fresh perspective and open mindset fosters a collaborative culture that creates a safe space where all ideas are valued and heard," she notes. This approach has not only empowered her team but has also expanded the impact of Make-A-Wish Arizona. 

Key Takeaway: An empowered culture that values collaboration and innovation is key to driving success in the nonprofit sector.

Fran Mallace's journey from Cox Media to Make-A-Wish Arizona is a testament to the power of adaptable leadership. Her ability to bridge the gap between corporate strategy and nonprofit impact demonstrates that the core principles of effective leadership—strategic thinking, a focus on people, and a commitment to mission—remain constant across sectors. For leaders looking to make a similar transition, Mallace's story is a beacon, illuminating the path from corporate success to nonprofit fulfillment. 

Mallace's advice to those considering a shift to the nonprofit world is simple yet profound: "Go for it! Knowing that the mission positively impacts countless lives makes the work incredibly rewarding." Her journey underscores that with the right approach, leaders can not only navigate but thrive in the transition from corporate to nonprofit leadership, making a lasting impact on the communities they serve.

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