Meet our new CEO DePriest Waddy

He has a long history in the corporate and nonprofit realm. Get to know DePriest a little more in this Q&A.

CFNEG: What do you hope to accomplish through your new role as President and CEO of the Community Foundation?

DePriest: The common fiber in all we do is “Connecting people who care with causes that matter.” There is a spiritual element in our work that connects the Community Foundation to a higher power of service and obedience. As a praying man myself, we must scale beyond our traditional footprint and expand first in Forsyth and North Fulton but then weigh-in to national and international causes to help make the world a better place.

We have many philanthropists who are supporting local causes as well as addressing pressing needs of those in Ukraine and around the world. Our goal is to meet them where they are and help them to make informed decisions regarding their philanthropy. We know that the caring and generous support they provide will make an impact over many generations to come. And we take this work very seriously to ensure these investments have lasting impact.

CFNEG: What has been one of your most influential experiences in the nonprofit sector?

DePriest: Ushering in the Resiliency Movement at Families First to break down barriers in equity and inclusion was one of my most influential experiences. Fundamentally, we’ve always known poverty would be a significant part of the nonprofit wheelhouse, however through this resiliency work, we were able to deconstruct it in a way that made sense for those seeking help and for those in the community funding philanthropic change.

Dispelling the myth of “laziness” and those in poverty not wanting to thrive in life, we partnered with a social neuroscientist and data scientist to develop an evidence-informed tool that assesses three fundamental aspects of resiliency: optimism, access to basic needs, and connectivity to supportive individual and community networks. What we found was that a low score in any of these areas was a clarion call for help; either through mental health networks, coaching or linkages to coordinated supportive services through community nonprofits. The coordination was facilitated through trained social services navigators who worked with organizations to creatively find capacity when traditionally there was none. However, through systemized economies of scale and garnering attention from community leaders, we found that systems of care from the tops down changed because barriers were dissolved, making it easier to move families forward. Periodic check-ins through aftercare helped families to retain these gains over the long-term, thus reinforcing this strategy as a win-win for future generations.

CFNEG: Why are you passionate about the Community Foundation of Northeast Georgia?

DePriest: I feel we need to continue to scale these facilitated conversations to make informed decisions about our communities at large, based on good data of what is actually happening in families today. And I am excited to continue the great work of the Community Foundation in this space. I have seen transformational outcomes based on philanthropists and like-minded individuals coming together to solve a pressing need.

During COVID, I had the opportunity to work across the aisles with the Community Foundation and a host of others to make a way for providing housing, food, educational resources and jobs. I was impressed with how the Community Foundation galvanized leaders from every facet of the community, and I look forward to continuing this great work and helping philanthropists understand how we can maximize dollars spent with great up to date information.

CFNEG: You have been named one of Atlanta’s most powerful leaders for the past two years, what do you believe makes a great leader?

DePriest: Relevance, adaptability and servant leadership. I love connecting with young people because they are the pulse of any community. I make it a priority to call them back when they reach out to me and oftentimes, they just want to be heard. How can we put effective systems in place without our youth being a part of the conversation? If they don’t have buy-in, they’ll simply check out. So, I gauge my relevance on how effective my leadership engages them.

Adaptability is important to me because constantly throughout my nonprofit career I felt as if I was standing on one leg trying to balance my work, my personal life, and my own sense of self in addressing the complex work we do. What I found is that in order to be a successful leader, you must always feel comfortable standing on one leg; because the world is forever changing and will keep you off balance. So instead of dreading it, I have come to expect it; and in this new role at Community Foundation, I welcome it.

As far as servant leadership goes, I have never prided myself on being the smartest in the room or the organization, for that matter. What I am good at however, is finding the best talent from the most unfamiliar places; galvanizing great teams; and creating a passion for tackling some of the most complex issues in our world. Believe it or not, most of my time is spent encouraging my teammates to be the best they can be, taking calculated risks without feeling punishment if something new does not pan out, eliminating barriers using my C-Suite title when they’re exhausted, and helping them to be team-players and collaborative creative thinkers. When they “have-it” I allow them to manage my pair of hands to leverage the best outcomes possible.

Also, I spend a lot of time creating healthy work environments. COVID especially taught me that all family units do not operate the same, and some jobs require employees to get refreshed more frequently than others. So not only are pay and equity important; but also allowing frequent time off; extended holidays and “me-time” goes a long way to retaining good talent. In a nutshell , “Be Kind”. Trust your folks and it’ll come back to you 100-fold.

CFNEG: What advice would you give someone who is interested in working in nonprofit management?

DePriest: Nonprofits are businesses like companies; most nonprofits, in order to stay viable and relevant, must constantly reinvent themselves to be responsive to changing needs in our communities. As such, be prepared to be able to carve out a niche for your talent, assess what makes you unique, and promote your unique talents to address a community need. Be prepared to wear several hats; I actually find this to be exciting because every day is different. And, at the heart of the work, is caring for people. In doing so, assess how you can economically scale solutions in a way that donors can get excited about.

CFNEG: What is one unique skill that you have used more often than you thought you would?

DePriest: Negotiation. Whether with vendors or donors, even employees, this is preeminently a relationship business, and no one wins if everyone is not satisfied with the outcomes and how to get to a desired result along the way. Back when I started 30 years ago, there was a fear of collaborating with like-minded nonprofits or nonprofits with similar profiles because there was a constant paranoia of who would get the credit for an idea or, if funding were in play, which organization would get the bigger piece of the pie. COVID taught us all that we must invite others to the sandbox. There is so much need with limited resources that no one organization can win alone. Foundations and donors are excited about collaboration because there is strength in numbers.

CFNEG: What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment as a leader, husband, father, and grandfather?

DePriest: On a professional level, it warms my heart when some of my direct reports have come into their own and become powerful leaders themselves and continually seek guidance from me along the way. Mentoring is the best gift we can give and the most precious gift we can receive. And, as leaders, we should be willing to share our mistakes or lessons learned as well as our wins. On a personal level, my wife Carol and I have been married many decades and she’s still my best friend. We’ve seen so many of our young leaders that we’ve mentored soar to great heights. Our daughter and her husband are extremely successful, and they have built a tremendous legacy for our granddaughters. Raising her as a young father taught me to love more and judge less. Every generation is challenged differently by the world, and we become victims if we don’t understand the ebbs and flows of life.

CFNEG: If you were to create a personal mission statement, what would it be?

DePriest: I live life to the fullest through Christ; helping others succeed through lessons learned with no regrets.

CFNEG: What is your favorite hobby?

DePriest: I love to write fiction. My wife Carol and I are also foodies, and I balance it out with time at the gym every morning. We also travel frequently (not so much during COVID), but typically we take an international trip every other year.

CFNEG: What’s one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
DePriest: I love to collect antiques.