By Jennifer Rader, Contributing Writer
Kathy Bentz, the new executive director of Leadership Prince William (LPW), a private nonproﬁt organization in Manassas that prepares community leaders for leadership positions, calls her background “weird.”
Another word also comes to mind: Diverse. A former Prince William County employee and owner of Bentz Communications LLC in Nokesville, Bentz has experience in strategic, communications and business planning for companies, municipalities and the nonproﬁt sector. Notable clients have included the Prince William County Arts Council and the Nokesville-based Americans in Wartime Museum™.
Prince William Living discussed with Bentz how LPW inspires a movement of leaders.
PWL: What is Leadership Prince William about?
Bentz: Leadership Prince William’s mission is to [help]current or emerging leaders in the community take it to the next level.
We provide them with connections, skills and information that they can take back that will help them personally or with their business or organization.
It’s a very intensive, committed program. There are attendance requirements because this is a commitment you make, not just to yourself, but also to your whole class. Over 10 months they have an opening overnight retreat. Then there are nine full-day sessions.
There is a diﬀerent topic for each session, such as emergency responders, the education system or a day featuring the arts in the county. This is informational skills and networking.
We want to make an impact on the individuals going through the class, but, more importantly, an impact on the Prince William-Manassas community. After this class graduates, we’ll have almost 200 people that have been through the program that are out in the community. It’s amazing how they take it back into the community and serve.
PWL: What is your background? Have you always worked in the nonproﬁt sector?
Bentz: I’ve covered the gamut. I spent 12 years working for county government so I have a public service background. Then I had my own business for 13 years, but a lot of my business was with nonproﬁt organizations. I’ve kind of covered public sector, private sector and nonproﬁt. … We want people in Leadership Prince William representing all sectors of the community so it’s nice to have had a foot in each of those areas.
PWL: How did you overcome challenges in your business or an organization you’ve worked with to further its goals?
Bentz: With the business in particular it was a willingness to take risks. I left a perfectly good job with the county government. Then, growing the business over time, I had to be willing to step out and do things I hadn’t initially planned on doing for the business.
I had never thought I would ever do nonproﬁt management, but I think being willing to take risks no matter what I’ve done and adaptability to change are the two areas of importance. There is always change, and it’s rarely under your control.
PWL: What have you found has been the most eﬀective way to get an organization’s mission in front of the public?
Bentz: Relying on more than just me. There are always people who believe in what we do. It should never be just one person trying to convey the mission. It’s getting boots on the ground, an army of supporters and everybody getting the message out there.
With the museum, many of the volunteers were retired military and can talk in a very different way than I can.
I believe in the mission, but it’s not a personal experience for me. When you send out people that have that personal experience, it just changes the way people hear the message. Letting people that have a personal stake in the mission speak … is so much more eﬀective.
PWL: What advice would you have for those looking to start a nonproﬁt or looking to improve their current organization?
Bentz: In regard to this particular position [with LPW], I’m taking a step back. I’m looking at everything and will spend the next couple of months just talking to people—our current class, our alumni, our board, our sponsors. I’m going out and asking,
“What do you think is working well? What can we do better?” I can see some things, but it’s hearing from all the other stakeholders. I want to do a lot of listening.
Sometimes a change in your nonproﬁt gives you an opportunity to step back and ask, “How can we turn it into an opportunity for the future?” [Change] may or may not be in your control, but how you react to it is in your control. One of the beautiful things about the nonproﬁt world [is]everyone is so willing to share their knowledge, their expertise, their experience. So don’t try to do it on your own.
Also important is the long-term planning and dedication to those goals, because if you just look at where you are now, and what [you’re] going to do tomorrow, you are just going to be reactive all the time. … There’s nothing wrong with brainstorming new ideas, but you have to keep pulling back and look at the long-term goals. Ask yourself, over and over, “Is it one of our goals? Is it part of our mission?” Otherwise, you could blow in the wind and change direction every day.
PWL: What is your future vision for Leadership Prince William?
Bentz: First and foremost for me is keeping our signature class at a really high quality because that is the heart of our program. Beyond that I would love to see us look at some new programming.
I don’t know what that is yet; we are still trying to ﬁgure that out. It might be youth leadership programming [or]continuing education, but I think, ﬁrst and foremost, keep the current class at incredibly high quality and explore more ways that leaders give back to the community, maybe through community projects, but keep having a direct impact.
A nonproﬁt development director for more than 10 years, Jennifer Rader now works as a freelance writer while studying nutrition and wellness. She lives with her son and husband in Manassas and can be reached at email@example.com.