This is part of a series of posts from colleagues and friends around the world reflecting on the life, work, and impact of late Center Director Lester M. Salamon. A collection of additional remembrances from colleagues, online tributes, and photos can be found here.
Thank you to Stephanie Geller for sharing these reflections.
We are also grateful to Nonprofit Quarterly for sharing this piece from Center colleague Megan Haddock reflecting on Dr. Salamon’s impact on the international understanding of the nonprofit sector: “Salamon Crafted Lenses to Better See Civil Society—Will We Wear Them?“
From Stephanie Geller, former Center colleague
I feel so honored to have been able to work with Lester for nearly 15 years. He was truly a visionary and his passion, determination, intelligence, and profound insightfulness played such a key role in supporting and growing the nonprofit sector.
Lester was incredibly unique. Most nonprofit advocates focus on the “micro” level—i.e., on helping individual organizations or organizations operating within specific fields of activity. Lester saw the bigger picture—the similarities between ostensibly different types of organizations like hospitals and museums, and the critical importance of having quantitative data to illustrate the value of nonprofits worldwide. His vision of an effort that would help nonprofits operating in diverse fields learn from one another led to the groundbreaking Nonprofit Listening Post Project, which brought cutting edge insights and promising practices to nonprofits across the country. And thanks to the notable Nonprofit Economic Data Project, there is now broader understanding of the enormous economic power of nonprofits and the on-going ability to analyze important sectoral changes overtime.
In addition to having the keen insights needed to recognize the value of these types of initiatives, Lester had the passion and tenacity needed to bring these projects to fruition. This involved convincing a range of funders about these issues’ importance, bringing together a diverse group of high-level professionals, and working internally at Hopkins to secure the resources and support needed to succeed. At many points, I remember feeling in awe at his ability to move what felt like mountains. Only a rare person with strong communication skills, a warm personality, acumen, and drive could not only envision such transformative projects but also successfully launch and run them.
I also greatly appreciated Lester’s belief in his staff and his interest in our personal growth. Over the years, he enabled me to take on more and more responsibilities, and his guidance and trust in me was instrumental in my professional development. He also valued us as people, making it a priority to have staff lunches and other get-togethers.
While my heart aches knowing that Lester is no longer here to share new brilliant insights and to push for another initiative that promises to add greatly to our understanding of the nonprofit sector, I feel somewhat comforted knowing that there are so many people like me who have been tremendously inspired by his life’s work. His advocacy and accomplishments not only have changed our understanding of the U.S. and international third sectors, but also have motivated the next wave of researchers and practitioners to keep improving data systems and pushing forward new solutions that better and more collectively address complex current challenges. His influence will keep challenging us to think out of the box and will fuel our commitment to the sector when we feel discouraged or hopeless.
Writing this tribute has been especially hard for me, since I feel like there are no adequate words that clearly convey Lester’s amazing strengths and transformative impact. I am hopeful my actions, achievements, and tenacity of spirit illustrate his impact on me, as I—and so many of us influenced by his character and lifelong work—continue advancing the Center’s vital goal of bringing collective action to solve our world’s complex challenges.
Stephanie L. Geller
Former Research Projects Manager, Johns Hopkins Nonprofit Economic Data Project and Nonprofit Listening Post Project
Founder and Director, Community Wealth Builders
Research Specialist, The Democracy Collaborative