We sat down with NEO’s new COO, Erin Ballard for some questions.
Q: As you settle into your new role, what is your vision for NEO moving forward?
NEO fills this incredible space in the social justice movement. To me, our role is to create a space for funders to support innovation and amplify their impact while also delivering services that strengthen the nonprofit sector. We do that by providing very real capacity building and support to nonprofits so that they can focus on their mission. In the current political landscape, it is essential that our partners be able to respond quickly and effectively to the challenges and opportunities that come their way. My vision for NEO is an organization that has the necessary infrastructure and capacity to support the needs of the communities that we serve. In order to be an effective partner, we must be innovative and we must be problem solvers.
Q: Since you’re looking at NEO with fresh eyes, what do you see as our greatest strengths? What about potential challenges?
Over the past few months, I’ve only just begun to dive in and explore the richness of NEO’s strengths. We are lucky to have a community of wildly talented and committed people- both internally and externally. As an organization, we are able to leverage the expertise of our staff and our own internal structure to be an innovative, nimble and responsive to the needs of our partners.
Our greatest challenge- as with many nonprofits- are the limits of our own capacity. There is never a shortage of great ideas and new services that we would like to offer but we acknowledge that we can’t do everything at once. As a result, we are constantly evaluating and adjusting based on the greatest need (and impact) at the time.
What will be your first big project that you tackle at NEO?
We live in such a fast paced world and I think we all know that it’s impossible to focus on just one project at a time, particularly in a mission driven organization. We are always working to do more, build more, help more. The projects that I’m working on now are all about finding ways to strengthen NEO from the inside-out. I’m focused on creating even better internal systems so we can build on what we already do well and do it even better. In the coming years, there will be so much work that needs to be done and I want to make sure that we’re prepared to dive in wherever and whenever we can make the most impact.
Who has been the most influential role model/hero in your life thus far?
One of my most vivid school memories is a U.S. President report that I was assigned in the fifth grade. The focus of my research project was FDR and while I was- of course- amazed by everything that he accomplished, I was in complete awe of his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt. Reading about her life, leadership and accomplishments truly shaped the direction of my own life’s work and world perspective. One quote that really resonated with me was, “It is not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself.” This idea is one of the central reasons that I entered public service and why I feel so passionately about the work we’re doing at NEO.
Give us a peek into Erin outside of the office. What do you like to do when you aren’t at work?
Well, I’m in charge of planning and logistics on both ends! At home, my life revolves around my family, especially my amazing wife and son, Liz and Colin. Colin would be upset if I didn’t also mention our recently adopted puppy, Trek; he’s definitely become a big part of our family. When we’re not making each other laugh, I love to read and watch whatever obscure Netflix documentary my wife has found and forces on me…which I secretly love. I spent many years living in Colorado as a kid so I’m at my happiest among the trees and we try to spend as much time as possible outside playing.