Tim Payne. (Submitted photo)

As it happened, the Leadership Howard County Board of Directors didn’t have to look far for a replacement after the retirement of its 20-year President and CEO Stacie Hunt: the choice was Columbia resident Tim Payne. The graduate of The George Washington University took the nonprofit’s reins in July 2022 after most recently leading Raise DC, a collective impact initiative aimed toward improving educational outcomes for the city’s youth, where he served as executive director.

Payne made his name, however, serving in the same capacity at For Love of Children, which provides out-of-classroom educational services to students experiencing vulnerability, also in the Nation’s Capital. He joined the organization in 2001, took over as executive director in 2006 and served in that role for 13 years ― during which time revenues grew to $1.5-$2 million while impacting the lives of nearly 600 students annually.

How does LHC generate its revenues?

Seventy percent of our revenues come from tuition, alumni dues, investment income and fees. That amount is supplemented with sponsorships, fundraising activities, and a few small general grants.

What’s the status of LHC’s balance sheet?

Strong. Between the LHC Fund for the Future scholarship endowment, the Richard Story Leadership U Fund scholarship endowment, and the LHC reserve fund, we maintain a healthy financial base to ensure financial barriers don’t prevent future participation in our programs, and that the organization is positioned for sustainability into the future. 

How much does the basic Leadership Premier program cost?

Tuition is $6,100 for a 10-month program that runs from September to June. Beginning with an overnight retreat in September, the program includes experiences that cross community sectors designed to demystify systems and enable participants to be more aware of opportunities (as well as vulnerabilities) that persist. This prepares leaders to offer their perspective for community impact.

How is the Leadership Premier program set up?

With 10 session days, so one a month. They’re designed around different parts of our community, such as public safety, health care, housing and land development, and business development. We also integrate lifelong learning and education, state and local government, and community social services. The program culminates with a day designed for our class members to prepare to take their place in the community.

How do you determine class sizes?

We’re always refining our class sizes so participants can make meaningful connections; that’s why LHC programs typically don’t exceed 50 participants. This year, we enrolled 41. Not all applicants are accepted their first time, but we aim to pull together the best composition of leaders each year.

While our programs have been smaller during the last few cycles of virtual and hybrid experiences, this year we’re back to 100 percent, in-person experiences. We are prepared to see the program grow in the next class.

How are classes balanced regarding diversity?

That’s still an area for growth. As a convener, having class members of various backgrounds is important because we want our programming to be as inclusive as possible. We recruit participants with occupations that are as diverse as their personal backgrounds. It shouldn’t be 30 bankers, 15 CPAs and five lawyers; we need the nonprofits, small business owners from growing sectors and Howard County born-and-raised participants, as well as those new to our community.

How are Leadership U and Leadership Essentials programs operated?

Leadership U is our program for rising high school juniors. It’s designed to empower them with leadership skills via student-driven projects that will have an impact and serve the community. Leadership Essentials is designed more for skill-building for participants who seek coaching and mentoring, while building community with like-minded individuals.

What are LHC’s levels of sponsorship?

Sponsorship opportunities start at $500 for the Friend level (or $350 for retired individuals and nonprofit employees) and can rise to $5,000, it reaches $20,000 for the Title sponsorship, which is presently held by M&T Bank. We still have some applications out and hope to have 30 sponsors when next year’s cycle begins in the fall.

How does your alumni network operate?

Much of our work is volunteer driven and our alumni are active in designing each year’s program experience. Those synergies create opportunities for both parties to connect, learn, influence and make an impact as a collective.

There are several committees where alumni actively serve that focus on designing our content, contacting potential sponsors and recruiting new participants.

What frustrates you the most about your job?

That there are no silver-bullet solutions to community issues and influencing change takes much more time than anyone would like. We must rely on the ability to balance thoughtfulness and persistence with our aspirations for solutions.

How did you handle a trying time in your career?

Systems change requires political will and community-led strategies, informed by the voice of lived experiences, but that doesn’t always sway those in power. That can be frustrating and happened often during my time in D.C. But in any trying time, we look for learning moments to address what is in our control, what we can do differently to influence change and to explore how to cede and seed power. That’s the best way to build stronger community systems and grow.

What’s your biggest surprise since you’ve taken over LHC?

That so many strong connections exist across our community. The county is home to more than 334,000 residents (according the U.S. Census) and so many strong bonds are in place that the moment for strengthening our community is here. We exist with the potential for meaningful impact and can serve as a model for other communities in our region, our state and our country. 

What are you proudest of?

Any opportunity to influence the lives of young people makes me proud. From my time with FLOC, coaching soccer here at SAC, supporting our students in Leadership U today, young people have unlimited potential and the ability to help them recognize that is always a win. 

What’s the ultimate goal of LHC?

To ensure that our people operate with curiosity and empathy, as well as listen to new perspectives that have the potential to shift perceptions and enable growth. That’s the transformative experience we work for as we seek common ground to achieve common good.