Corinne Hammons’ interest in the nonprofit sector began as early as high school. When she was a student at Bryn Mawr, a Baltimore-based college-preparatory schools for girls, she landed an internship at the Baltimore Development Corporation, where its mission to spur economic growth and create jobs in Baltimore, Maryland inspired her.
“I have a philosophy that you can learn a subject matter, but fundamentally, you need to have great leadership skills,” said Hammons, a former White House intern, who studied economics at Harvard and public policy at NYU.
Her passion for serving vulnerable populations would lead her to Safe Horizons, a leading victim assistance organization, where she served first as senior grants associate and later as vice president of financial operations.
Currently, Hammons is the Chief Executive Officer of Little Flower Children and Family Services of New York, one of the largest and most respected agencies providing critical programs and services to children, families and adults with developmental disabilities in New York City and across Long Island.
“I have a philosophy that you can learn a subject matter, but fundamentally, you need to have great leadership skills.”
Prior to joining Little Flower, Hammons was the executive vice president of the Community Development Corporation of Long Island, where she implemented several groundbreaking programs, such as a multi-faceted response to Superstorm Sandy. In 2014, she was a recipient of the Long Island Business News “40 Under 40” awards.
In this interview, Hammons discusses her experience as a first-time CEO, how she is utilizing her strong budgetary, leadership and management skills to help Little Flower achieve its goals, and her commitment to developing emerging leaders at the organization.
What do you enjoy about working at Little Flower?
I enjoy all aspects of my work at Little Flower, including our mission to help vulnerable people, our esteemed history and the responsibility of following in the footsteps of the great leaders before me, our excellent Board and staff and the daily intellectual challenges and complexity of leading a modern and innovative nonprofit – that is also a great old New York charity! I’ve wanted to be a nonprofit CEO for my whole career so I’m very proud to have this opportunity to lead and steward the work of such a special organization.
What are some of the challenges that you faced making the transition from operations/economic development to child welfare services—especially as a first-time CEO?
I considered and prepared for the challenges of transition very carefully, but I did not find it to be an abrupt or difficult change. After all, the issues facing regional nonprofits are more similar than different, and the best practices of outcome measurement, financial sustainability, and ethical decision-making are very transferrable. Though the methods were different, the mission was similar. Whether, I was working in housing or victim assistance or foster care, I’m helping the most vulnerable members of our society, especially our children and disabled. My work at my prior employers was an excellent training ground in these key areas. I feel lucky that a colleague from the child welfare field recommended me to DRG for the Little Flower post, because she saw these skills were transferrable – and that I would find a home in child welfare.
What was it like to report to a board for the first time?
For many years, I’ve staffed board committees and attended board meetings, but it was definitely a change to report directly to the board for the first time. It is one of my favorite parts of my job. The board trusts that my opinions and judgments are well considered, but are equally open to talking issues through when I’m not sure of a course of action. They have great passion for our mission and many of them have multi-generational commitment to our work. They give willingly of their time and talent, and I am very respectful of that. I’m always looking for ways to try to lighten their load and make their volunteer experience as positive as possible. Our board went through a leadership change just after I came on board so it was a time of transition for all of us. I have been extremely impressed at the way that the board planned for both.
How are you working with the board to clarify goals and engage in strategic planning?
Little Flower has undergone three strategic planning processes in the past 15 years, but none were fully implemented due to a variety of external factors. In partnership with a philanthropic consulting firm, we developed a three-year strategic plan, which was adopted by our board in June 2016. It was one of my major projects for my first year at Little Flower and focuses on five key areas, chief among them program innovation. We are hard at work implementing the plan now. The process is being led by two talented emerging leaders at Little Flower, which gives them a chance to take on an organization-wide leadership role for the first time.
Why did you think it was important to include Little Flower’s emerging talent in conversations about strategic planning?
There is an enormous number of talented individuals at Little Flower and I wanted to challenge them. I originally started an emerging leaders program [at my previous employer] to encourage young professionals to stay in the field. I have benefited throughout my career from terrific mentoring, particularly from experienced women, and because of that I wanted to start giving back. It’s my way of telling [Little Flower’s emerging leaders], “Go for it. I’ll be here to support you.”
How are you helping Little Flower to manage change and prepare for sustainable growth?
It is an honor to lead an institution that has been around so long. And our staff tenure mirrors that history – one employee just celebrated her 45th year here! However, I have been clear with the team since I came on board that change – which builds on and respects our history – is essential. True to form, the group has been fully on board with collectively charting our course for the future. With the board and employee team embracing change, that leaves my favorite part of all: strategy. Currently, I’m deeply involved in strategic conversations with stakeholders and partners throughout the region about the evolution of work in child welfare and services for the disabled. We must be ahead of the changes in the field, for the good of our organization and those we serve.