A Big Blog on Equity and Leadership!

A Big Blog on Equity and Leadership!

“Not enough people are imagining utopian scenarios surrounding AI.” That statement from our President & CEO Heather Iliff would be the first of many big conversations that came from MANOAC23! This year, the theme of our annual conference was ‘Big Conversations on Equity and Leadership’, and the first virtual conference day did not disappoint! From lessons in targeted community engagement to generative AI grant writing, the abundance of dialogue among attendees and presenters made way for the birth of revolutionary ideas and new perspectives.

We started Tuesday’s sessions with a presentation on tax credits all nonprofits need to know from Frost Law, which provided attendees with very matter-of-fact information as it pertains to their tax status and annual compliance. Frost Law, who is a MANOAC23 sponsor, left the many nonprofits who attended their session with this wake-up call “If you don’t do annual compliance after three years, you will get your tax-exempt status revoked and there are no shortcuts to get it back.”

In addition to nonprofit compliance, MANOAC23 also came with a culture check! In the session, “ Lessons in Targeted Community Engagement & Social Marketing: The MLU HIV Self-Testing Story” Dr. Gabriela Lemus transported attendees to the reality of many Latinos in Maryland living with stigmas in their community that may deter them from getting the treatment they need. She let us in on a Spanish proverb,” La ropa sulcia se lava en casa” which directly translates to “The dirty clothes are washed at home”, but really means don’t air out your dirty laundry to others. This very mindset that breeds stigma around failing health in the Latino community, both physical and mental, is what MLU and other Latino-serving organizations are working to reverse.

Now, we wouldn’t be Maryland Nonprofits if we didn’t have an office culture check, so our Director of Strategic Engagement Wendy Wolff along with a panel of nonprofit leaders led the “Inspiration Moment: Workplace Cultures Where People Thrive” session and covered topics like psychological safety, reflective supervision and the importance of outside feedback. Mya Hodge, the executive director of 29th Street Community Center said,” Feedback is our litmus test for the culture of our organization.” Green flags filled the Zoom room as panelists shared the policies in their organization that mitigate burnout, and promote employee wellness.

When we rolled into the in-person conference day on Friday, October 6, the energy in the exhibitor hallway was high as we anticipated over 400 people! Our staff greeted attendees eager to receive their name tags and lanyards ( brought to you by Maryland Health Connection), and oriented exhibitors to set up for the day. To start, we offered Dopamine Yoga in the auditorium for attendees who wanted to recenter their energy before a long day of learning, and an information session for a new REACH Mentorship program for Maryland Nonprofits’ members. And almost in the blink of an eye, as 9:50 came around the hallways emptied!

Each session room was packed with nonprofit leaders eager to jump into a diverse agenda with topics that ranged from organizational culture change to human trafficking prevention and more. The best thing to see was the momentum never die! From the morning sessions to the final call, attendees were engaged in the presentations, asking questions and absorbing resources they could apply to advance their missions. During the coffee breaks provided by Advance and Redstart Creative, the exhibit hallway was a hub for nonprofit networking. We had quite a few nonprofits and businesses ready with information about all the services they offer that help organizations take care of their employees and sustainably serve their communities. Tax help, health insurance, financial advising, healing honey! If you can think of it, we had it at MANOAC23.

After a delicious Maritime meal, everyone made their way to the auditorium for the Plenary session. This conference was so special, not only because we sold out and had so many community leaders in-house, but it was also the Standards for Excellence’s 25th anniversary! President & CEO of Maryland Nonprofits, Heather Iliff was joined on stage by our founder and first Executive Director, Peter Burnes to award the organizations who earned Standards for Excellence Accreditation and the Seal of Excellence. There was an immense sense of pride in the room as these organizations received their awards and applause from their nonprofit peers.

Before introducing our keynote speaker, our Headlining Sponsor Goldin Group had one more generous act up their sleeve. With a drumroll from the audience, Ariel Goldin announced the winner of the golden ticket and a $150 Amazon gift card! We hope you enjoy that shopping spree! CJ Gross, Author of What’s Your Zipcode Story? Understanding and Overcoming Class Bias in the Workplace and MANOAC23’s Keynote speaker. He kept the crowd laughing with relatable anecdotes of times he experienced imposture syndrome when he first started working for a company that valued equity. In one story, he questioned himself about a coworker who he saw wearing flip flops and sandals, only to find out they were the CEO and the company had a ‘dress for your day’ policy as we like to call it at MANO. In another, CJ noticed a coworker sleeping in the office. In an attempt to save his colleague from getting fired, he woke him up with a warning to which the coworker responded, “ No no no I won’t get fired, this is a company that respects neurodiversity and the different ways people think and get work done.” It was something we can all relate to. How many times have we felt guilty taking a mental health day when we’re burned out in fear of not stopping the gears of our organization from running smoothly? He also spoke on the importance of mentorship, and said,” Mentorship is the path to equity… yes money is great please put some money in my pocket, but also give me the information, the knowledge to get to where I want to be”. It was a refreshing presentation that challenged the audience to assess their biases and think of where Justice Diversity Equity and Inclusion (JDEI) manifests in their organization’s strategic plan.

The theme of MANOAC23 was Big Conversations on Equity and Leadership, and in an afternoon session, presenter Danielle Marshall said, “ JDEI is not extra work, it should be weaved into the foundation of the work that your organization is already doing.” What a note to end on! We had the best time at our conference this year seeing old members, new members, potential members, and all the nonprofit leaders who serve Maryland’s communities. We hope to see you next year!


Born and raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Imany started her journey in Baltimore at Morgan State University where she earned a B.S. in Strategic Communications. Imany has worked for the Baltimore Curriculum Project as a Social Media and Marketing Specialist and has done some freelance social media work for small businesses. She enjoys traveling and writing and has had work published in the Baltimore Times.