Nonprofits and Empathy

February 15, 2018

Periodically, we feature a thought piece from one of our amazing CNE board members. We hope you’ll enjoy this chance to get to know them better and hear a bit of their story. This piece was written by Michael McKee, who is also CEO of the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank

It’s easy to care about a hungry child, a disabled senior, or an army vet with PTSD. But what about the parent who is also an addict, or the felon who can’t seem to get a job  How understanding are we toward someone whose plight appears to be the result of their own poor choices?

It’s a tough question. We Americans are unique in the world for the measure of our philanthropy, but we also prize individual responsibility and self-sufficiency. We understand when people are trying hard but are down on their luck, yet our compassion can fall short when they seem to bring misfortune upon themselves.

Nonprofit organizations play a clear and obvious role in addressing inequities and improving the quality of life for all.  But we also play a less obvious role – enabling those who give and get involved in our work to become more empathetic to people they may never meet or otherwise even think about.

Through empathy, we suspend judgment, we connect with people who are hurting, and in the process, experience a deeper sense of purpose and humility.

That’s really the gift nonprofits give in return for the generosity of our community which, after real trauma and discord, is in need of a little more empathy as well.

Michael McKee
CNE Board, Director


A recent Harvard Business School article identifies empathy as a key leadership trait and says it “a deep emotional intelligence that is closely connected to cultural competence.” For more reading you can also check out The National Council of Foundations’ Leading with Empathy article.

CNE provides opportunities to connect to nonprofits in your community, including a board matching program for individuals interested in board service and our Emerging Leaders Circle, which is currently accepting applicants. Also, check out CNE’s 10 Good Things for more ways to connect with your community.

© Center for Nonprofit Excellence 2019

Contact Us

Center for Nonprofit Excellence
1701-A Allied Street
Charlottesville, VA 22903
434.244.3330

Office Hours

Mon – Thurs: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Fri: 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM