CEO, the Hands On Network
When Michelle Nunn, the daughter of a senator, graduated from college, she knew she wanted to do something in the public service arena.
So she thought about volunteering. She considered the Peace Corps. And then she heard about a new organization, Hands On Atlanta, a nonprofit organization that helps individuals, families, and corporate and community groups find flexible volunteer opportunities at more than 400 service organizations and schools. Nunn joined the group as intern/director — and a phenomenal career in the public service sector was begun.
“I have found real passion and love for that work,” Nunn says. There are now 52 Hands On branches around the country, and although many contribute the organization’s phenomenal success to Nunn’s leadership, she is quick to give credit to her counterparts.
“The great thing about my work is that it is really a collective enterprise,” Nunn says. “Any success I’ve had is directly attributable to working in a team with hundreds of extraordinary volunteers and staff.”
Nunn’s not just being humble; her attitude is at the very core of what she hopes to accomplish with Hands On.
“Given the work I do, for me success is being involved in something that is larger than yourself and being given an opportunity to contribute to something meaningful,” she says. “Throughout my entire career I feel like I’ve been striving toward that goal, but it’s one you are always working toward. You’re on the path to achieving it. I have achieved [success] but I haven’t ever reached the horizon. It’s a constantly receding horizon.”
A horizon, of course, that has seen its share of dawns.
“[There have been] lots of milestones,” Nunn says. “We had our first Hands On Atlanta Day in 1991 — our first signature event we created for the city around service. It was all volunteer run: We created 200 different service projects coordinated by volunteers. We gathered that morning when it was still dark, and it was one of those unnerving things that as the sun came up, we weren’t sure if anyone would come to the party — but we had more than 2,000 people come. It was a pivotal point for the organization’s growth, for us to build something big and have it realized.”
That also means taking chances, such as investing in new software, manpower or other tools to get your organization to the next level.
“The not-for-profit world entails taking leaps of faith and risks that sometimes pay off and sometimes don’t,” she says. “We are doing that now. We’re hoping to double the number of affiliates, but there is a degree of calculated risk.”
Nunn, who has two children, ages 2 1/2 and 6 months, has also slightly redefined her views on personal success in recent years.
“My definition of success is making a meaningful contribution to the world and having that be something that’s at a transformational level,” Nunn says. “I’m still striving toward that. I have two children and my success is also measured by having some life balance and being able to have time to spend with them.”
Within the next decade, she hopes to step down so that new leadership can take hold of Hands On. As the organization grows, Nunn plans to as well.
“I would envision being in public service but not in same position,” Nunn says. “It could be in not-for-profit sector or political or public arena — somewhere I could make a meaningful contribution.”