Support Center Interview: Helene Blieberg
July 30, 2021
Could you share a brief history of your career?
With my recent appointment as Assistant Commissioner, Program Services, at the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, I can now say that my career spans all three sectors: public, private and nonprofit. Prior to joining DCLA, I ran my own consulting practice for 20+ years, specializing in executive leadership transition, nonprofit management, philanthropy and communications. I enjoyed a long career at CBS before that, serving as Vice President and Executive Director of the CBS Foundation and Vice President, Communications for CBS’ Radio Division. I was interested in broadcasting and communications early on and started out at a New York public relations agency, later taking my communications and marketing skills to Grossinger’s, the world-famous resort hotel in the Catskills!
What drew you into the Support Center community?
I was introduced to the Support Center at the beginning of my tenure at the CBS Foundation; the Support Center was a grantee. I completely embraced the MSO model as so important for the sector and began to be involved as a panelist, moderator, trainer and board member.
You have worked as both an Interim ED and Affiliate Consultant, how did one lead into the other?
I participated in one of the early IED trainings and have since worked with 13 nonprofits in that capacity over the years—including the Support Center! Don Crocker and the Support Center have been tremendously helpful to me in that work. Don and I started talking about other ways we could work together, and a new part of our working relationship was formed. I was very familiar with the Support Center’s affiliate consultant work and appreciate the resources, knowledge and support it offers affiliate consultants.
Out of the time you spent as an interim executive director and affiliate consultant, what were some of the most memorable client situations you experienced? What kept you in this work?
Helping organizations get to the next place in their journeys is something I particularly relish; I appreciate the special place they are in during times of transition. Being able to calm, focus and empower the staff and board to experiment and stretch themselves, as they must during transitions, is very meaningful. While there are commonalities about nonprofits and their structures, there are just as many differences. The combination of the two keeps the work fresh and nicely familiar.
There are so many memorable client experiences! Working with a very difficult board to conduct and conclude their search for a CEO is one. I can’t say too much about it, but hacked emails played a role! One that Keith and I worked on together included assigned seats in the opulent staff dining room of a client—we didn’t know that when we took any seats and upset a whole group of people at the beginning of our organizational assessment. And finding a creative way to educate a newly promoted Finance Director in how to prepare the organization’s multi-million-dollar budget resulted in opening “Cinema 89” (their street number) for multiple screenings of the myriad budget centers on the big screen so that we could go line by line by line by line…! No Academy Awards were bestowed!
Overall, I am inspired by the dedication of the staffs and boards of so many clients that worked to change their organization’s culture, move towards stability from a place of non-compliance, diversify their leadership teams when searching for a permanent ED, and, of course, pivot again and again during the long months of the pandemic. It’s a challenge to join an organization as a virtual interim ED, where the staff know each other and have worked together and you’re the new face on the computer screen. I often learn from my clients and that experience was no exception.
What are the ways in which you see your work at Support Center influencing or supporting your new position at the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs?
The Support Center has helped informed my thinking about the nonprofit sector in a deep way and has facilitated innumerable conversations and discussions with colleagues about a full range of topics. I take all of that with me to my new role, along with the awareness that those resources remain available to me. In turn, I hope the Support Center will consider me a resource, to share trends we see about arts and culture in New York generally and now, as we continue to emerge from the first year+ of the pandemic.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I’m very happy to remain a part of the Support Center as a Co-Chair of the Leadership Council and to work with Jack Bode and Diane Manning in that important work. I owe the Support Center so much, from my early days with Don and the board through to Keith and to the staff throughout. The sector is indeed lucky to have it in our orbit for many years to come. Thank you all.