Leadership Development

Leadership Development

grow and learn with fellow leaders

Executive Director Learning Circle

United Way of Rhode Island invites executive directors who lead nonprofit organizations with annual budgets under $1 million to apply for our Executive Director Learning Circle.

The Executive Director Learning Circle centers on real-time situations facing participants. Issues might include strategy, board engagement, fund development, or a pending operational challenge. Key to the success of this process is that each organization is of similar size and capacity. Learning happens not only through the facilitator, but also from one another.

Program Details and Application Process

Executive Director Leader Circle 2018 (2)


The Executive Director Learning Circle runs for 11 months, from January through November. Participants meet on the third Friday of each month from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m.
Each session includes competency topics, group discussions, and practical scenario sharing. Participants gain real-life experience and explore a variety of topics, including:
  • Strategy development and implementation
  • Board development and engagement
  • Staffing and priority alignment
  • Comprehensive fund development
  • Risk management and emergency preparedness

An in-person or virtual format will depend on public health and United Way guidelines.

Lead facilitator

Michael Fournier has provided volunteer consulting to grassroots nonprofits for almost a decade. His areas of expertise are capacity building and executive coaching. Before serving as a volunteer consultant, Michael spent 35 years with the YMCA. He held senior leadership roles in Manchester, New Hampshire and Providence, Rhode Island.

Commitment and finances

Participants commit to some minor preparation before sessions.
There is no cost to take part in this program. Upon completion, each graduate’s organization will receive a grant of $2,000. The grant will go toward an organizational goal identified at the outset of the program.

Application process

Applications for the 2023 cohort are due by Friday, Dec. 2. For more information, contact Roshni Darnal at roshni.darnal@unitedwayri.org.

Executive Director Leader Circle 2019 (2)

Feedback from recent participants

Kate Lentz, director, Rhode Island Center for the Book

"Most nonprofit workshops I have attended present static models of best practices that smaller organizations either have to scale down to meet their organizational needs or do not have the resources to fulfill. Executive Director Learning Circle meets you where you are. Each session was a helpful blend of real-life experience, concrete takeaways, and inspiration. The third Friday of every month became a sacred space where we could share frustrations and successes, find immediate solutions for our real-time problems and glean advice from successful leaders from across our state."


Kristen Williams, Ph.D., executive director, Riverzedge Arts

Executive directors working at small non-profits often wear many hats! Meeting monthly with Michael Fournier and the incredibly supportive group of peers assembled by United Way gave me the encouragement I needed to take on and resolve difficult issues in ways that best fit the mission of Riverzedge Arts. Each month, we discussed a different facet of non-profit leadership with an expert in the field, providing us opportunities not only to learn, but also to engage with the broader non-profit community. And since everyone in my cohort identified as female, I was extremely grateful that Michael not only made room for, but also encouraged, thoughtful discussions about the ways our roles as executive directors and our personal identities (gender, sex, dis/ability, race, etc.) intersected. At a time when equity and inclusivity are rightly being brought to the fore, Michael and United Way modeled those values in convening and supporting this group. 

Riverzedge Arts

The Executive Director Learning Circle is sponsored by BankNewport.

Deputy Director Learning Circle

Program details

The Deputy Director Learning Circle strengthens the competencies of nonprofit staff who aspire to become executive directors. Core areas include staff leadership, financial management, board development, strategic planning, and marketing and communications.

The no-cost program runs from September 2022 through June 2023. Participants meet on the second Friday of each month from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. at United Way. (Classes may be held virtually as needed.)

Lead facilitator

Michael Fournier has provided volunteer consulting to grassroots nonprofits for almost a decade. His areas of expertise are capacity building and executive coaching. Before serving as a volunteer consultant, Michael spent 35 years with the YMCA. He held senior leadership roles in Manchester, New Hampshire and Providence, Rhode Island.

Application process

Applications for the Deputy Director Learning Circle have closed. For more information, please contact Roshni Darnal, director of community investments at roshni.darnal@unitedwayri.org.

Nonprofit Innovation Lab


The Nonprofit Innovation Lab is a selective program from United Way and SEG that offers Rhode Island nonprofits the opportunity to transform innovative ideas into reality, enabling them to create even more social impact as they bring innovation and entrepreneurial thinking to their organizations. The program provides participating Fellows with the knowledge, resources, and networking opportunities that help bring transformative ideas to life.

A culminating, “Shark Tank-like” pitch event in November will award a total of $90,000 in funding, paired with other in-kind services, to support the three most compelling innovation projects.

Throughout the Nonprofit Innovation Lab, each participant is partnered with a custom team of coaches and provided access to hundreds of experts across the United Way and SEG communities. In November, the Fellows who offer the most compelling innovation plans will be invited to pitch for the prize funding.

Application process

Applications for the 2022 cohort of the Nonprofit Innovation Lab have closed. For more information, please contact Roshni Darnal, director of community investments, at roshni.darnal@unitedwayri.org.

Destenie Vital, Director, What Cheer Flower Farm 2021 First Place Winner

"What the Nonprofit Lab does is level the playing field, giving small nonprofits and BIPOC-led organizations, a chance to compete in a tough market in which organizations with the most resources and people power tend to dominate and acquire the most funding.

As a woman of color, operating in a space where merit was the foundation was highly affirming. My voice was respected, my voice was heard, and I was able to show up at every workshop as my authentic self. This speaks to the mission of SEG and the United Way of Rhode Island because it's the diversity, equity, inclusion, and access, we often hear about in theory... in practice.

If you are thinking about applying, do it!
Your organization will be better for it. You will be better for it."

Destenie Vital

Rethinking how one of R.I.’s largest nonprofits can grow

The Boston Globe

In October, [Idrees "Lanre"] Ajakaiye was appointed the new chief development officer at... United Way of Rhode Island where he'll be in charge of helping... United Way achieve its current strategic plan, which outlines the nonprofit's investment of $100 million over five years to help achieve racial equity.


THE PROVIDENCE CITY COUNCIL gave the second and final approval on Wednesday to a $10 million spending plan for racial reparations. / PBN FILE PHOTO/CHRIS BERGENHEIM

City Council gives final approval to $10M reparations budget

Providence Business News

A two-yearslong effort to bring racial reparations to Providence achieved a milestone Wednesday... The approved funding largely mirrors recommendations set forth by a city panel based on community input, but with one major change that shifts some money into a COVID-19 Equity Fund to be managed by United Way of Rhode Island.


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How you can save money amidst Rhode Island Energy rate hike


With rates rising starting Oct. 1, Rhode Islanders have many ways to save money and energy this fall... [For] anyone... need[ing]... financial assistance... United Way of Rhode Island’s 211 service may help... 'We’re here to help the community navigate resources,' said Courtney Smith, director of... 211... The service is available online at 211 United Way of Rhode Island or over the phone.


New Survey of R.I. Nonprofits Highlights Dire Need

As Rhode Islanders… prepare to participate in Giving Tuesday, the results of a new survey paint a stark picture of the challenges facing the state’s nonprofit sector. Local community-based organizations continue to provide services for communities still facing pandemic-level needs, while facing inflation-driven costs and inadequate staffing caused by the physical and emotional toll of the last two years.

United Way of Rhode Island Appoints Four to Its Board of Directors

Four community leaders have been appointed to the United Way of Rhode Island Board of Directors… Elected for three-year terms are David Bonenberger, president, Rhode Island Energy/PPL Corporation; Anthony Botelho, senior vice president, team leader, Washington Trust; Courtney Hawkins, health and human services industry executive, Salesforce; and Yahaira “Jay” Placencia, senior vice president, private client advisor, Bank of America.

I. Lanre Ajakaiye Joins United Way of R.I. as Chief Development Officer

Following a broad, competitive search for its chief development officer, United Way of Rhode Island has hired a community leader known to be an innovative changemaker. The organization has chosen Idrees “Lanre” Ajakaiye, who brings a deep, diverse range of experience to United Way’s work to transform the future by building racial equity and creating opportunities for all Rhode Islanders.


401Gives Open House

Join us for a 401Gives Open House on Thursday, Dec. 8 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Rhode Island College. Learn about Rhode Island's statewide day of giving and how your fabulous nonprofit can be a part of it.

Information sessions will be held at 4:45 p.m. and 5:45 p.m. Light refreshments will be provided.

This event is free and open to the public.


The State of the RI Nonprofit Sector

Join United Way of Rhode Island and Grantmakers Council of Rhode Island for a virtual conversation about The State of the RI Nonprofit Sector on Friday, Dec. 16 from 10 to 11:30 a.m.

Together, we'll explore the challenges facing Rhode Island nonprofits. We'll also discuss opportunities to build capacity and support nonprofit work in 2023.

This event is free and open to the public.