Meyer Foundation Honors Five Visionary Nonprofit Leaders

September 27, 2007

Washington, D.C.—The Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation announces the recipients of its 2007 Exponent Award. The leaders represent nonprofit organizations working in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia with budgets ranging from just under $1 million to more than $5 million. Meyer selected the five awardees from among 30 nominees.

The 2007 winners include:


  • A son of Albanian immigrants whose legislative and political know-how galvanized local citizens and national organizations in a major campaign
  • for voting rights for the District of Columbia;
  • A former Senate staffer who combines astute management and relationship-building skills with a burning commitment to help the homeless in Montgomery County, Md.;
  • A Harvard-educated advocate who realized post-law school that her true calling was aiding young victims of abuse;
  • An arts leader whose management talents played a critical role in the dramatic transformation of a well-regarded Virginia theater housed in a renovated garage into a nationally recognized theater located in state-of-the-art facilities;
  • A highly regarded attorney whose vision, tenacity, and personal experience advocating for neglected and at-risk children has helped thousands of children receive comprehensive free legal representation.

The 2007 Meyer Foundation Exponent Award winners are: Ilir Zherka, Executive Director, DC Vote; Rebecca Wagner, Executive Director, Community Ministry of Montgomery County; Michele Booth Cole, Executive Director, Safe Shores – The DC Children’s Advocacy Center; Sam Sweet, Managing Director, Signature Theatre; and Judith Sandalow, Executive Director, Children’s Law Center.

The award, which celebrates visionary nonprofit leadership, includes a $100,000 cash grant for the recipient’s organization. The goal of the Exponent Award is to celebrate the accomplishments of these leaders, raise their visibility, extend their tenure and increase their leadership skills.

“Nonprofit leaders provide critical services every day to communities with growing needs,” says Julie L. Rogers, president of the Meyer Foundation. “These five represent some of our region’s best and the brightest. All five have navigated their organizations through significant challenges to achieve success, stability, and significant growth. They have demonstrated remarkable skill both as managers and leaders, and all are at pivotal moments in their tenure.”

The Meyer Foundation will honor the 2007 Exponent Awards recipients at an award celebration with an invited audience of elected officials and business, philanthropic, and nonprofit leaders. WAMU 88.5’s Kojo Nnamdi will host the event from 5:30-8 p.m., Monday, Nov. 5, at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre, 641 D Street in northwest Washington, D.C.

In selecting its awardees, the Meyer Foundation considered each nominee’s track record as a manager and leader, including his or her success at increasing the quality and impact of the organization’s work; instituting sound financial management; working in partnership with an engaged board of directors; and taking on leadership roles in the broader community.

The Exponent Award is the centerpiece of “Rewarding Leadership,” a three-year initiative designed to support and sustain the most capable nonprofit leaders in the Greater Washington region. Meyer developed the initiative as a response to Daring to Lead 2006, a study of 2,000 executive directors in eight U.S. metropolitan areas Meyer conducted in partnership with San Francisco-based CompassPoint Nonprofit Services. The study revealed that three out of four nonprofit executive directors of small and mid-sized organizations are likely to leave their jobs within the next five years due to relentless fundraising pressure, challenging relationships with boards of directors, low salaries, and lack of management support.

Audio clips, profiles and photos of the five Exponent Award honorees as well as details about the award, the Rewarding Leadership initiative, and the Meyer Foundation are available on the Meyer Foundation Web site.

Established in 1944 by Eugene Meyer, owner and publisher of The Washington Post, and his wife Agnes E. Meyer, the Meyer Foundation is one of the Washington region’s oldest and most experienced private grantmaking foundations. It strengthens Greater Washington as a community by supporting capable, community-based nonprofit organizations that foster the well-being of all people in the region.