My first week on the job here as President of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce was in early-July 2010. One of my first tasks that week was to schedule time to meet with everyone of the members of the Chamber’s professional staff, including Linda Toohey, who invented Leadership Saratoga years before.
At the end of my meeting with Linda, I shared with her that I hoped to take part in the next Leadership Saratoga program and to be a part of the Class of 2011. She responded: “That’s a great idea, but you missed the application deadline. We have an application process and advisory board that carefully selects the class participants. I”m sorry but we just can’t change the rules.”
I’m not going to lie, I was a little shocked. Both of my prior chambers had leadership programs, and they took everyone who paid the tuition and wanted to participate. It was a profit center in both instances, plus a chance to teach those who participated how to be better community leaders. Here in Saratoga, Leadership Saratoga was different and the expectations for participants was much higher.
In particular, the brilliance of the strategic vision Linda, Joe Dalton and the team had when they created Leadership Saratoga was to make sure the time and resources invested in training volunteer leaders would always have a significant and sustainable impact on our community. This meant successful applicants had to demonstrate a genuine commitment to the community, a desire to be a better leader, and to really want to learn more about volunteer leadership and the needs of the people in Saratoga County.
Today, the Leadership Saratoga Alumni Association has over 500 members, and these individuals volunteer to lead more than 140 area impact sector organizations. Impact Sector leaders look for Leadership Saratoga graduates when they have openings on their boards of directors When they get one of these graduates to serve, they walk in the door with a built in understanding of how to be great volunteers and a team of people to call upon when they have questions.
The pandemic forced us to suspend Leadership Saratoga for two years. It just wasn’t safe to bring people from up to 24 different organizations together for the two-day overnight retreat and 14 in-person workshops. We knew many individuals would be reluctant to apply as they cared for elderly parents or had children in hybrid school settings.
Now, in 2022, our strategic plan involves restarting our most important and valuable programs, and Leadership Saratoga is at the top of the list. You can now visit www.leadership saratoga.org to see the workshop schedule, the application process, and to see who is on the Leadership Advisory Board. Besides submitting a written application, you will also be asked to schedule one-on-one interviews with members of this Board. They are the ones who will decide who is accepted.
Impact sector leaders led the way asking us to restart this program. During the past two years, they’ve done all they could to keep their organizations afloat and to meet the growing list of needs within our community. There’s been staff and volunteer turnover and the need for dedicated, skilled, and well trained volunteers has perhaps never been greater.
Leadership Saratoga is NOT a profit center for the chamber. In fact, for years, we subsidized the cost of the program considerably in our effort to help propel Saratoga County’s success. This year, our hope is to come close to breaking even, and a part of this involved increasing the tuition. But the good news is the Alumni Association is positioned to help with scholarship funding so this fee should not deter anyone from applying.
The only thing you need to do is to follow the process, and do everything on time. The deadline to complete the application and interviews is June 30, 2022, and we’re not changing this for anyone.