Scholarship, Service, Leadership, and Character

Recently I had the opportunity to speak to the new National Honors Society Inductees at a local high school here in MetroWest.  I was inspired by each student’s dedication to themselves, their schoolwork, their community, their ambition to achieve more in the future, and the support that they have of their families and their educators.

Thinking about the event, I keep coming back to each of the NHS pillars: Scholarship, Service, Leadership, and Character. I quickly realized that while they are high-minded ideals and big bold important words, they are also ever-present in my life and so relevant each day. Let me explain.

I have worked in the nonprofit sector for almost my entire career. After college and a short stint at a media buying firm in New York City, I returned home to MetroWest (yes, I’m a lifelong MetroWest resident…and still here today!) to serve my community through nonprofit work. I started in fundraising and marketing at the Boys & Girls Clubs of MetroWest, continued raising funds for a local school for children with autism, and was offered the job of a lifetime 7 years ago at the Foundation for MetroWest, our region’s community foundation. Throughout my career and in my current role, I have committed myself to showing up every day with a willingness to serve my neighbors by helping to lift them out of poverty, ensure their children have access to enriching and engaging programs, and supporting the vibrant arts and culture sector in the region.

Service is a core tenet of nonprofit work…and while my career has been focused on serving others, it was my high school experience that really piqued my interest in serving those around me. I was fortunate to receive an incredible education at a local independent school here in MetroWest and my 4 years there were steeped in service. During my senior year, I participated in an extremely special program, the Foundation for MetroWest’s Youth in Philanthropy program. It was then that my understanding of truly how to serve others grew – it’s not about writing the biggest check or even choosing a career in nonprofit work. It was about understanding AND accepting my role as a member of a community to do my part to make it better – whatever that might look like for me – using my time, my talents and passions, my treasure. I’ve come full circle, now overseeing the Youth in Philanthropy program today at the Foundation, helping to ensure other young people in our region recognize their ability to make a difference and giving them the tools to do so. I will be forever grateful to the Foundation for MetroWest for igniting my passion for serving community so many years ago.

Leadership and character, while distinct ideas, also are present in my life and job every day. To work in nonprofits, and especially in philanthropy, you need to be trustworthy. This is a relationship business and it’s imperative that the community views me, my colleagues, and the Foundation as trusted resources and stewards of donations. This requires building genuine relationships and doing A LOT OF LISTENING.

In my personal life, I have also chosen to lead in my own community by serving on the Board of our town’s Education Foundation. With a child of my own, I feel it’s important for me to be engaged and take ownership of enhancing his educational experience through this opportunity. Towns are only a strong as those who volunteer to serve in roles, big or small.

Lastly, scholarship might seem least applicable to nonprofit service and my work at the Foundation. However, our role as a community foundation, and my role as a director of programs, is to educate our region on what is happening in the 33 cities and towns in MetroWest.  We do a significant amount of qualitative data research and, more and more, foundations are doing quantitative data analysis as well.  In 2019 we produced a dashboard of indicators called Impact MetroWest that is a data report card for our region. For me, this initiative really drives home for me the need to always be learning in this job. Our communities are ever changing and I’m always reading, listening, learning, and thinking about how we can be here now and in the future for everyone.

These pillars speak to me not only in my role at the Foundation for MetroWest, but talking to high school students about them also inspired in me hope for the future.  Perhaps some of the students I spoke to (or some of you reading this) will go on to a career in nonprofits, serve on a board, work for a socially responsible company, or volunteer time to help a neighbor.  Scholarship, Leadership, Service, and Character do not need to apply only to those in the National Honors Society, and I will continue to use them as tools to guide me in my career, my life, and my impact.  I hope you will too.

Caroline Murphy

Director of Programs

Foundation for MetroWest


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