Lessons in Leadership

July 07, 2022

By Rob Humphreys ’16MBA

Margaret Linnane ’76 ’96MBA spent a lifetime nurturing the success of Central Florida’s nonprofit sector.

The leadership journey began at an early age for Margaret Linnane ’76 ’96MBA. Third oldest among 10 siblings, there was always a younger brother or sister who needed extra care or special attention.

In much the same way, throughout a distinguished career spanning 35 years in the nonprofit sector, Linnane guided Central Florida’s charitable efforts to new heights, helping multiple philanthropic organizations—and the executives who run them—reach their full potential.

It started in 1986 when a fledgling community food bank posted an ad for an executive director. Despite having no experience in the field—Linnane was a behavioral science major who oversaw the staffing of nurses at Florida Hospital (now AdventHealth)—she applied anyway.

“What motivated me,” she says, “was I thought it would challenge me on every front: HR, management, finance, marketing, public speaking. I don’t know why they did it, but they hired me, and I stayed there for 18 years.”

Linnane’s little food bank grew to become Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, which today supports 550 feeding partners across six counties, distributing enough food for 73 million meals each year. The road to achieve such widespread impact, however, wasn’t easy—and it ran directly through Rollins’ Crummer Graduate School of Business.

Realizing she needed better managerial skills to scale the food bank’s operations, Linnane returned to Rollins for an MBA. The Martin Bell Scholarship, given annually to one senior nonprofit professional, covered full tuition.

“Second Harvest Food Bank was maturing into such a major nonprofit that either I needed to improve my skills or step away,” recalls Linnane. “I don’t know where I’d be without my experience at Crummer. All I learned in the MBA carried the food bank to another level. It helped me as a manager and leader for the rest of my career.”

In 2004, Linnane returned to Rollins once more, this time as executive director of the Edyth Bush Institute for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership. She would stay for the next 15 years, working with all manner of nonprofit leaders to elevate their business acumen and multiply the effectiveness of their organizations. During this time, she also helped found the Florida Nonprofit Alliance, a statewide coalition of nonprofits focused on advocacy, collaboration, and research.

“So many excellent programs were developed there from a highly creative team,” says Linnane of the Edyth Bush Institute. “You can look at many nonprofits that have launched in recent years and know they started as ideas, and we helped them strengthen and perfect those ideas.”

These days, three years into retirement, Linnane has rekindled her childhood calling of helping young people learn and grow. Tutoring first-graders as part of Orange County’s Read to Succeed program is one way she gives back, and she still works independently with developing nonprofits.

For her extraordinary achievements and impact on society, Linnane has won the 2022 Fred Rogers Global Citizenship Award, which recognizes alumni who best exemplify Rollins’ mission of global citizenship and responsible leadership.

“I’m simply very fortunate,” she says. “To be able to direct the food bank and then the Edyth Bush Institute, both with such marvelous missions—to have those opportunities to grow myself and assist others along the way, I was nothing but fortunate.”

Reflecting on her lifelong ties to Rollins, Linnane has seen her alma mater evolve a great deal since enrolling as an undergrad half a century ago, especially when it comes to preparing the next generation of service leaders.

“Service leadership is now ingrained at Rollins and in its value system,” she says. “It’s beautiful to see. From the first day students are on campus, service is an expectation. Life is about others, not just about you. That messaging is superb, and the College is giving students every opportunity to experience what it’s like to engage in the community.”

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