Eleonora Tornatore of CaringKind: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Lead A Nonprofit Organization
My view on leadership is making sure your vision and mission are very clear and concise. Also making sure the team around you is all working towards the same goal. The most important piece as to why I’ve been successful in non-profit is working with volunteers. I feel like volunteers are the change catalysts and they support you in such an inspiring way for change to occur. They can support your mission from a donor perspective or from a time perspective.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Eleonora Tornatore.
Eleonora Tornatore is a seasoned non-profit professional with extensive experience in gerontology and senior living. She is highly recognized for developing innovative Alzheimer’s and dementia programs and has an immense passion and dedication to caring with those living with the diseases. She is currently the CEO of CaringKind, New York’s leading expert in Alzheimer’s and dementia caregiving.
Thank you so much for doing this with us. Before we begin our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”?
I was born in Sicily, a little town outside of Catania, and came to the US when I was six years old. English is actually my second language. I started out in the field 25 years ago, at CaringKind actually, as post grad intern working in nursing homes. I helped develop training program for public health through a research grant through the department of public health, and that was the start of my career.
Can you tell us the story behind why you decided to start or join your non nonprofit?
At CaringKind, I decided to take on the role of CEO after Jed A. Levine retired. I wanted to continue the mission that CaringKind has been known for 35 years, that being our logo message of ‘‘to stand by you.’ We truly are dementia experts in New York City but also a support group for families.
Can you describe how you or your organization aims to make a significant social impact?
Unfortunately, since the 80’s, a lot of people still don’t talk about Alzheimer’s disease. There is still a stigma there even though it is not mental health, it is a brain disease. We still battle against people thinking it’s a psychological disorder. One of our biggest pillars is raising concern and awareness and helping people to get diagnosed early on. We are working against a stigma, so our jobs in this industry is to reduce that.
Without saying any names, can you share a story about an individual who was helped by your idea so far?
We service a diverse population at CaringKind, one population being the Chinese. We have an outreach coordinator who brought a certain story forward about her husband who was battling short term memory loss. As the head of the household in their marriage, this started to impact their family and also him at work. This individual (the wife) shared a testimony on CaringKind outside of the diagnosis that the doctor gave her, which was “come back and see me in 6 months” and we sort of became an olive branch for her to meet with other people like her. We helped her understand how to respond and react to him. The education and support groups were like a life jacket for her because she didn’t really understand. The way she was reacting and responding to him was the complete opposite until she got educated about the disease. All of our materials are translated into multiple languages including Chinese, Spanish, Cantonese, etc. This makes a tremendous difference.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
We know that President Biden mentioned in his speech that caregiving issues are like a tsunami waiting to happen. You may know someone in your family now, or if not, in the next 5–10 years, who will become a caregiver. So, lessening the burden of a caregiver and making sure they have the resources, education, and support they need to take care of that person. I would also say putting more resources in place for caregivers and allowing employers to continue to support people who are caring for a loved one, particularly with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s in that same bucket of dealing with a disabled child but unfortunately it is not seen in that same manner to stay home because mom needs you. Raising that concern and awareness in front a politician is helpful, we want them to know we are a resource and it’s important to talk about Alzheimer’s. We want to get to them before a crisis occurs. I would also say our Wanderer’s Safety Program. We have a low-tech bracelet in conjunction with the NYPD (and our staff person Elizabeth Santiago) in our office. When there is a silver alert, I can’t even tell you how many individuals she has helped find that have wondered from their home. When someone wanders away, it’s an activation through email that helps find people very efficiently and has a very good track record.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
My view on leadership is making sure your vision and mission are very clear and concise. Also making sure the team around you is all working towards the same goal. The most important piece as to why I’ve been successful in non-profit is working with volunteers. I feel like volunteers are the change catalysts and they support you in such an inspiring way for change to occur. They can support your mission from a donor perspective or from a time perspective. A study in Cleveland Clinic found that volunteering is incredibly healthy for you, helps to clean the brain when you do something for the greater good. There are so many health benefits, so if you can foster an environment for volunteers and help them develop your mission, it’s a win-win for everyone. The organization strives and we serve more people. Ultimately, you hope to reach the unserved, always.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 things a person should know before they decide to start a non profit”. Please share a story or example for each.
I think what happens is people don’t typically define their mission and their vision enough. One of the things I often find when friends of mine say they want to start a non-profit is “is there a way you can incorporate it with anyone who is already doing this work?” so you can get through the work faster. It’s not just the financial support, you really do need to build a very strong board and make sure that board has the same vision and mission. People don’t spend enough time of a strategic plan. Building a strong board, making sure your staff really support you vision and mission, making sure you have the financial support in place beyond 6 months, making sure you have a contingency plan beyond yourself (you don’t want to start a non-profit and not have a plan on who will take over incase you move or retire, and you don’t want to serve the community if those services aren’t going to be continuous), and making sure your wants and needs meet the wants and needs of the community, are my 5 things. It is very important you do a needs assessment for the community and yourself, because sometimes they aren’t aligned.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non profit? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Yes, Makenzie Scott! Trough Bridgespan, she has given out billions to non-profits.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson” Quote? How is that relevant to you in your life?
I use the word ‘onward’ often. Not just because of Covid, but in the non-profit world, nothing is easy, especially when raising money. As far as a quote I love “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality” — Warren Bennis
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your mission.
Eleonora Tornatore of CaringKind: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Lead A Nonprofit… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.