Human and Environmental Rights Changemaker Takes Foundation into the Future
The Executive Program for Nonprofit Leaders helped Maria Clara Tucci complete her evolution from finance executive to nonprofit leader.
Maria Clara Tucci is a lifelong advocate of women’s rights and community supporter. After studying political science and international public law in her native Florence, Italy, Maria Clara moved to California. There, she earned an MBA and launched a career in finance and investment management.
While she grew her career – and a family alongside it – Maria Clara also supported social causes close to her heart. She volunteered as a debt advisor, providing financial advice and education to low-income clients in London, where she now lives. She also lended business expertise to research and policy initiatives focused on the intersection of climate, gender, and international security.
After a successful 32-year career as a leader in the finance industry, Maria Clara transitioned into full-time nonprofit work. She now serves as Executive Chair of a European family foundation* that supports climate justice, land regeneration initiatives, and women’s rights around the world. “It seems like kind of a loop,” reflects Maria Clara. “In life, sometimes, you go back.”
Since becoming Executive Chair in 2019, Maria Clara’s goal has been to help the foundation become a “more sustainable, multigenerational family foundation with a clear mission and defined grant giving.”
As a lifelong learner, she wanted to further develop herself as a nonprofit leader and gain the knowledge to take the foundation into the future. While searching for philanthropy resources online, Maria Clara discovered Stanford Executive Education.
Gaining New Tools and Connections
Maria Clara joined the one-week, in-person Executive Program for Nonprofit Leaders. With both of her kids off at college, she was ready for an onsite learning experience.
The curriculum features cutting-edge research on leading and scaling a nonprofit, delivered through in-class lectures and small-group discussions. Maria Clara found a session on mission and strategy — including how they are different and how they are connected — very useful, as her organization had “defined its mission but still needed a clear strategy,” she notes. The session also gave her a framework to think about how to make decisions that addressed “the needs and goals of all stakeholders.”
She also gained a deeper understanding of how to serve more grantees without sacrificing program quality through making the grant-giving process more efficient and creating stronger collaborations.
Learning alongside other nonprofit leaders from around the globe was extremely valuable for Maria Clara. “My wish was absolutely fulfilled from that point of view,” she says. “It was very helpful spending the afternoon in smaller groups and working on discussion topics.”
Increasing the Foundation’s Impact
Maria Clara is still in touch with many others from her cohort. In fact, she’s created formal and informal collaborations with other program participants, including one with The Malala Fund exploring the “nexus between girls’ education and climate change,” and another with the non-governmental organization Chay-Ya to support an agroecology project in Nepal where women are leading climate adaptation initiatives and establishing sustainable food systems. Expanding her nonprofit leadership network allowed her to say, “If I want to try to do something on that topic, I already have a friend. We can brainstorm.”
She has applied the action plan she created in the program to help build the foundation’s strategy, streamline its operations, and support its grantee organizations. “We don’t just want to fund projects. We would like to have a longer-term relationship and give more core funding,” Maria Clara says. Knowledge from the program helped the team build “a strategy to give money in a way that empowers the grantee organization.”
Building a stronger organization is critical to reaching the foundation’s — and Maria Clara’s — purpose: “to do something for the planet, for the next generation, and in particular,” she says, “to do something now for climate justice and women.”
*Note: The family prefers to remain anonymous in its giving.