When Dave Somers moved to Colorado for college in 1980, there was no such thing as a degree program in nonprofit management. Instead, Somers studied journalism and public relations during his time at Colorado State University in Fort Collins and was launched on a circuitous path toward leadership in the Colorado Springs nonprofit sector. After years working for organizations such as Junior Achievement USA and the U.S. Olympic Committee, Somers became executive director of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence in 2009. Now, after seven years of heading the organization, Somers has decided to leave CNE to pursue his next endeavor — whatever it might be. The 56-year-old California native spoke to the Business Journal this week about the evolution of his career, his feelings about Colorado Springs as a nonprofit hub and what he finds special about his adopted home in the Rockies.
How did you end up in Colorado Springs?
For those who believe California is a different country, I have dual citizenship. I was born and raised in Arcadia, with neighborhoods that still look and feel like ‘The Wonder Years.’ I spent the summer in Colorado after my college freshman year, living with my sister and her family while working for Loveland Parks and Recreation, and I decided to transfer to CSU in Fort Collins. I met my wife there, and we moved to Colorado Springs shortly after I graduated. Here is where we have worked and reared our two children, who are both mid-stream in their careers and back in graduate school.
Were you always interested in working in the nonprofit industry?
I don’t recall any college major in nonprofit management when I started in the 1970s, or I might have tried it. My training was in journalism and PR with a lot of business courses, so when I took my first job after college as an editorial assistant for a trade magazine, it didn’t occur to me that I was working for a nonprofit. In 1982 when the economy was really bad, I was just happy to find a job related to my major.
How has your career evolved to where you are today?
Through my years with Christian Booksellers Association, Junior Achievement USA, the U.S. Olympic Committee and self-employment, I learned both the program and development sides of nonprofits, and along the way I completed my MBA at Regis University. But my work was focused nationally and internationally. It really wasn’t until I came to the Center for Nonprofit Excellence that I focused my energy and skills on our local community, and here I have had the privilege of building relationships with so many talented, intelligent people who care deeply about our community, including an incredible team I get to work with every day at the center.
Where are you going from here — what are your long-term goals?
Recently I announced that I will be leaving the center, because I am ready for a new challenge, and I believe the center is in a good place for a transition to new leadership. I feel good about what I have accomplished in bringing the organization to where it is today, serving as a lead organization of a large, diverse nonprofit sector. I am eager to take my skills with community building and program development to another organization here in this region. My wife and I have grown to love Colorado Springs, and I look forward to a new adventure right here.
What do you like and find unique about Colorado Springs?
Colorado Springs is special because it has been built largely through philanthropy. Of course, that couldn’t happen without a vibrant private sector, and we are blessed to have so many community leaders who understand that a great community is a blend of private, government and nonprofit interests. And our community has done an amazing job of setting aside open space to protect the natural beauty of the region. It is so easy to maintain an active lifestyle here.
What advice would you give to people thinking about starting a nonprofit?
A nonprofit is a tax status; it still needs to operate like a business, which means it must fill a need in the community with opportunities for revenue to keep it sustainable. But unlike a business, those of us who operate nonprofits, whether board members or staff, are not owners. Because a nonprofit is public, we are stewards of the public trust. The distinction is critical. It is why I can leave CNE after seven years, or any leader can depart any nonprofit, knowing that the board and staff will carry the mission forward to continue the organization’s vital work.
Do you have any other reflections on your time with CNE that you’d like to share?
It has been an honor to work for CNE and on behalf of nonprofits in our region. We have more than 2,000 nonprofits, and most are filled with dedicated, talented individuals who strive to do just a little bit better every day to make Colorado Springs a great place to live. CNE has shown me that Colorado Springs is home.
How do you enjoy spending your time outside of your professional capacity?
On any given night, you will find my wife and me walking, running or hiking outside or exercising at one of the local YMCAs. We are also members of the Colorado Springs Philharmonic and the Museum of Science and Nature in Denver. We love the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. We also enjoy traveling to new places, and I like to cook and read. I also like to grow a vegetable garden, but the past two years most of it has just been a buffet for deer and rabbits.