By Gerry Czarnecki
Nelson F. Hincapie joined the Voices For Children Foundation in 2009 as president and CEO. Originally from Bogota, Colombia, he began his career in Miami working with then-Mayor Alex Penelas to help establish universal pre-kindergarten. And while Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez served as county commissioner, Nelson worked on his staff as a community liaison.
What was the first volunteer effort you can remember doing?
My grandmother visited assisted-living facilities. I went with her to help, and I watched her passion for helping people who simply could not take care of themselves. It was an early experience in helping others to get through life’s pain.
What was the first nonprofit organization you joined? What was that experience like? Would you do it again?
The Miami Symphony, as a board member. I had just finished a political campaign, was there for about five to six months. They had a transition from the old maestro to the new maestro, who I admired. The board and staff where still loyal to the old maestro, and that transition was happening too slowly, but I really did not have a solution, so I was pretty silent. I guess I just stopped going to the meetings and eventually dropped off. As for doing it again, yes, I have done board membership again, but only where I had the passion for the mission and thought I could make a difference.
How did you get into the job you have now?
I was a staff member for a variety of political campaigns, but I got to a point where I simply did not want to stay in government, so I looked for options. I found an opening, applied and was hired at the Children’s Home Society as development director. Seemed a good fit as I knew how to ask for money, but now I had to learn how to cultivate relationships with passionate people about doing good in society.
That organization provides food and housing for kids awaiting assignment to foster homes. When there, I got to know the kids we were working with. I came to realize that we could actually transform their lives, but not in that environment. It was well-organized and clean, but it was sterile … really lacking the love that can make that difference. I have stayed close to some of the kids but, ultimately, I left because I needed to know I was going to transform lives.
That led you to the Voices For Children Foundation. Do you have a board that is an asset to you? Is it different today than when you began. How did that happen, and why?
I was fortunate enough to become the CEO, but the board was too involved in management. I have been blessed to transform the board by showing my passion for transforming the lives of kids. By being able to fund the guardian ad litem program, and to offer support and mentoring to the foster kids, we are transforming lives. And yes, my board is now a huge asset to me and the staff.
What gives you the passion to transform these lives?
That is easy: I do not just “feel their pain,” I have lived their pain. I grew up in Colombia with parents who separated, a mother who eventually abandoned me. I made all the mistakes that many of these kids make, as I filled my emptiness with bad choices and self-destructive behavior. But my life was saved by caring people who helped me to break the cycle, and helped me to become a man with passion to help others avoid the mistakes and pain I felt. And every day, I see our programs transform lives. ↵
Gerry Czarnecki is founder and chairman of the nonprofit National Leadership Institute (nationalleadershipinstitute.org), which helps boards of nonprofit organizations become strategic assets to the leadership team. His extensive background as a C-suite executive and CEO is coupled with current board leadership of corporate and nonprofit organizations. He also is chairman and CEO of the Deltennium Group. Contact him at 561.293.3726 or firstname.lastname@example.org.