A critical quality that defines Ally Zahler’s leadership is her willingness to listen. Whether it’s the clients she serves, organizational partners, her board of directors, or her staff – Ally is always listening for the direst problems facing the people she serves and the best solutions. The innovative strategies she has implemented at The Reeb Center in the organization’s relatively short tenure have made it a standout among Central Ohio’s venerable non-profit peers. Ally has been keen on collecting client data with stories from the field to ensure she has a complete perspective and can make genuinely equitable and impactful decisions. The Reeb Center has navigated incredibly challenging times with the strength of Ally’s people-centered leadership style.
For Ally, leading with love and compassion is the most important. “I believe our people – whether our agency partners, our neighbors, or our staff – are our greatest asset. Small acts of kindness and compassion can make a huge impact,” she says. “Supporting staff is near and dear to my heart whether it is by helping obtain a driver’s license or navigating a personal issue. It is important for me to lead by supporting the leadership of others in service of a vision we have set collectively.”
Becoming A Great Leader
As a relatively young CEO, it took time for Ally to find her voice indeed. In the first few years on the job, she received much feedback.
“While I love listening, there also are times you must speak up for your vision – not to overpower anyone else’s voice, but so that my perspective can be understood too,” explains Ally. “Especially as a young woman, sometimes I don’t receive the same respect I show others in listening to understand their points of view. My advice is to always lead with love and don’t be afraid to have tough conversations when it is necessary. Organizations need everyone’s voice at the table and quieting your own voice isn’t serving anyone – in fact, it is hurting your organization if you’re not speaking up, especially when in a leadership role.”
Ally believes in constant growth as essential to being the best professional one can be. She offers professional development opportunities to staff and encourages them to bring opportunities to her if they are interested in something she has yet to plan. Ally always displays servant leadership qualities in how she truly encourages and supports her staff to become the best versions of themselves – even if that means changing roles or leaving her organization to pursue other passions. She gets the most effective, efficient, and happiest staff by ensuring her staff is as aligned with the work. Ally has also championed closing the pay disparities between non-profit and for-profit work. Although the nature of non-profit work means fewer resources for staffing, Ally has worked diligently to secure philanthropic resources to ensure her staff is paid a decent living wage and has some of the most highly qualified staff as a result.
This brilliant mindset of Ally’s has been built through numerous inspirations and role models over the years. “I have been very lucky to lead an organization that two trail blazing women founded. Jane Abell and Tanny Crane have been and continue to be my biggest supporters and advocates,” elucidates Ally. “I would not be where I am today without them. Both Jane and Tanny have spent countless hours making sure I am connected to and with the best resources available so I can continue to grow personally and professionally.”
The experienced CEO advises those currently in leadership to do the right thing even if it scares them. “There have been many times in my career I have not felt the most comfortable with a decision I felt was the best decision because I was worried about how others would react to it,” adds Ally. “As leaders, we make tough decisions for the good of all those we serve, especially staff or clients. Some of the hardest and most terrifying decisions have also been the ones I am proud of. It also gets easier the more you do it!”
Building A Brand
In today’s uncertain economic time, the need for social services is constantly rising for families navigating various challenges. The focus on service provider collaboration and data-driven programming has only deepened, and resources are still scarce. However, the infusion of resources through CARES and ARPA funding for non-profits is challenging to develop and sustain. The Reeb Center is uniquely positioned to respond to the increasing and diverse needs of families, as well as the focus on collaboration and data-driven programming, because of their model of co-location and profound collaboration between a dozen independent social service agencies. They can stretch one dollar of funding a long way at The Reeb Center and ensure there are no “leaks” from the human service ecosystem they have cultivated at the Center. Those in need can find it all under one roof at The Reeb Center, whether it’s shampoo, childcare, food, adult education, employment, mental health services, or so much more.
As an organization, The Reeb Center continues focusing on providing a hand up vs. a handout service approach- being flexible and versatile when meeting the short and long-term needs of the community. The center has been empowering individuals to make a change instead of handing out bus passes, working with a social worker to receive a bus pass, checking back in, and holding those accountable and focusing on outcomes, not outputs, with an improved data system. The Reeb Center’s goal is to be able to prove the one-stop-shop model of co-locating non-profits in one building is effective. The goal of Ally and her team is to move to preventative care/resources instead of emergency. “For example: Going to be homeless next month, not I am homeless now. A long-term goal is to replicate the model city wide in other underserved communities,” says Ally. “Our organization has incurred major growth, including an increase in number of staff from 1 in 2015 to 10 in 2022, as well as an increased budget by half a million. In the near future, we want to continue on our mission and offer the best services we can to help those who need it the most.”