At the end of February, Senior Counsel Aggie Sweeney is retiring, capping off a four-decade professional career devoted to advancing the nonprofit sector and strengthening communities throughout the Northwest.
Aggie joined Collins Group in 1999, became President and CEO in 2004, and led the firm as it joined forces with Campbell & Company in 2013. She transitioned to her current Senior Counsel role in 2017, spending more time working with clients, mentoring consultants, and serving as Chair of the Giving USA Foundation Board.
To mark this occasion and celebrate her legacy, we asked Aggie to reflect on her time with our firm and share her perspective on the Northwest nonprofit sector.
When you made the career transition to Collins Group, what were you hoping to achieve?
As I considered leaving my role as executive of a mid-size nonprofit, I was focused on building lasting community impact. I realized that while the work I did had great value for one nonprofit, I could have greater impact by consulting with many.
From a personal perspective, I saw an opportunity to build financial equity, not only for my retirement but to increase my ability to support the causes that matter most to me.
When you consider Collins Group and then Campbell & Company’s accomplishments, what are you most proud of?
Number one is our continued focus on adding the best value possible to our partner organizations, ultimately helping them advance their missions. Over the decades, our firm has consistently responded to the changing needs of nonprofits.
When we made the decision to have Collins Group join Campbell & Company, there were several goals that I hoped to achieve. I wanted to give Collins Group professionals access to a larger brain trust that would present new opportunities to explore how they wanted to serve as consultants.
I also wanted to ensure that we’d be able to bring more services to nonprofits in the Northwest. With the quality of our communications, strategic information services, and executive search service lines, we’ve been able to do just that.
You’ve been with the firm for 20 years and have lived and worked in the Northwest for even longer. How has the regional nonprofit landscape changed?
20 years ago, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was still operating out of Bill Senior’s basement with no paid staff. Today, it’s the largest foundation in the world with a huge campus in downtown Seattle and thousands of employees.
At that time, Seattle wanted to be perceived as a world-class city, and, today, we are. There have been huge changes in wealth accumulation and innovation that comes from the region, and these factors have helped to change the nonprofit landscape.
Major philanthropists are interested in transformative outcomes, willing to invest in nonprofits with start-up and innovative cultures, and increasingly wanting to support region-wide systems change, such as addressing the homeless and affordable housing crisis or addressing the root causes threatening the resident orca population.
Determining the right solutions and being able to operationalize strategies is frequently a harder problem than identifying the resources to pay for it.
Today, many leading nonprofits are much bigger than they used to be, and some of this is the result of advances in technology and communications. There has been a consolidation in nonprofits, similarly to the corporate sector, where there’s fewer headquarters and a greater breadth of services provided by each institution.
This has resulted in philanthropy feeling less grassroots yet having a broader impact.
What hasn’t changed?
For nonprofits, relationship development continues to be extremely important. Volunteers and donors make their most significant investments of time and financial resources when they understand how they can best advance an organization’s mission. I’ve been talking with my clients about this quite a bit over the past year.
We cannot look to the past for tomorrow’s solutions, and the best new approaches generally emerge from a team effort. Skills and experience from other sectors add the most value when coupled with a deep understanding of the nonprofit’s unique services, opportunities, and challenges.
How we solicit for a gift has changed in many ways, events have evolved, use of social media and online giving is increasing, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the power of building personal relationships and engaging enthusiastic volunteer leaders.
What are your hopes for the future of the Northwest nonprofit sector?
We’re in a period of increasing income inequality. In the nonprofit sector, we’re seeing a high concentration of influence from a limited number of philanthropists. It’s critical for nonprofit and civic leaders to partner in communicating the community’s priorities and engaging donors at all giving levels to address inequities and make promising solutions a reality.
As we look ahead, my hope is that advocacy efforts will thrive and passionate people will find the energy and the will to work for justice. By working together, we can save the planet and build communities we want to live in and sustain for generations to come.
Please join us in celebrating Aggie’s legacy and wishing her well as she embarks on this next chapter!