JACKSON — Nathan Woodliff-Stanley could probably have gone anywhere after college, but instead of heading to somewhere like Wall Street he opted to move to Mississippi.
No doubt those in the Jackson area are glad Woodliff-Stanley chose to come here.
Woodliff-Stanley, who holds a BA in philosophy from Swarthmore College and a master’s in divinity and public and private management with an emphasis on nonprofit management from Yale, founded the Mississippi Center for Nonprofits in 1992. The center is the only statewide association of nonprofit charitable organizations and the only nonprofit management center serving Mississippi.
Last year alone, the center provided management training, technical advice and assistance to approximately 3,000 nonprofit leaders from some 500 charitable agencies throughout the state. In addition the center led 96 workshops and seminars across Mississippi and fielded some 2,000 calls for assistance from grassroots organizations.
“Nathan has said the nonprofits in many ways are the soul of our society,” said Jo G. Prichard, director of development for the center and a longtime friend and colleague of Woodliff-Stanley. “In many ways I think Nathan is kind of the soul of the nonprofit community.”
In July, however, Woodliff-Stanley will step down as executive director of the center to pursue a career in the ordained ministry.
“When I started this work 10 years ago, I really thought that I would do this for three to five years, get the center up and going and then get a real job,” Woodliff-Stanley said. “I never anticipated that this would be my ‘real’ job. It has really become more than I expected. At one level I really hate to leave it.”
Career in ministry a longtime goal
But going into the ministry has been a goal of Woodliff-Stanley’s for some time. He will move with his family to Denver next month where he will complete his training for ordained ministry in the Unitarian Universalist Church.
“We’re not leaving to get away from Mississippi, that’s for sure,” Woodliff-Stanley said. “And I hope we’ll be back some day.”
Woodliff-Stanley may be leaving the state but he has no intention of leaving his work in the nonprofit sector behind. On the contrary, he plans to continue his work when he arrives in Denver. He does not plan to have a hand in the center’s future after his departure, though.
“There are places where the founder stays too long and I don’t want to do that,” Woodliff-Stanley explained. “If someone stays too long it becomes too much built around that one person. I think it’s very important to give the new director space.”
Woodliff-Stanley is confident that the center will continue to thrive even though he will not be there to see that happen firsthand.
“As long as people step forward and support the center at this transition time I think it will be successful,” Woodliff-Stanley said. “I certainly think it will continue. We’re well beyond the point that this is something that could not survive my departure.”
Woodliff-Stanley will be missed, friends and colleagues say
Former Mississippi Gov. William Winter, who has been chairman of the Mississippi Center for Nonprofits’ Advisory Board for the last 10 years, said the entire community would regret Woodliff-Stanley’s leaving.
“He has contributed such a knowledgeable point of view to the important role of nonprofits in our society,” Winter said. “The center is an invaluable organization to our state because it is the link that gives struggling nonprofits the financial and moral support they need to achieve the purposes for which they have been organized. Nonprofit activity is sometimes taken for granted but it’s a very important part of our civil society.”
George Penick, president of the Foundation for the MidSouth, said Woodliff-Stanley has built an institution that will do well for years to come, but added, “We sure are going to miss him.”
“He is extraordinary,” Penick said. “We look forward to working with him when he moves back.”
Ruth Hand Wilson, a member of the center’s advisory board, is also sad to see Woodliff-Stanley leave.
“I was very disappointed but I know one has to move on,” Wilson said. “Nathan came to do what he had to do and he did it well. I think Nathan is a leader of leaders of nonprofits, and he is a humble leader but a well prepared one. He never allowed himself to get in the way of his goals for the nonprofits. I think wherever Nathan goes he’s going to make a difference.”
Winter said it will be difficult to find a replacement for Woodliff-Stanley, but he is optimistic that one will be found.
“We are looking for someone with the dedication and the drive and the ability to administer and organize that we found in Nathan,” Winter said. “I think now with the track record that the center has established in its 10 years of existence that Woodliff-Stanley’s position will be a very attractive one that will bring to it someone of special ability.”
Before Woodliff-Stanley leaves, he will participate in the 2002 Mississippi Nonprofit Management Conference, which will be held June 26 and 27.
“I think it’s going to be one of the best conferences we’ve had,” Woodliff-Stanley said.
Woodliff-Stanley is married to the former Ruth Woodliff of Jackson, an Episcopal priest. The couple has two sons, George, 7, and John, 3.
Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at email@example.com or (601) 364-1042.