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Nonprofit Profile: Vicky Carlson

Vicky Carlson


Name: Vicky Carlson.

Organization: Lead San Diego.

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Titles: President and CEO.

No. of employees: Five.

Website: www.LEADSanDiego.com.

Education: Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration from the University of Wyoming; Management Development for Entrepreneurs program at Anderson School of Management at UCLA.

Birthplace: Rapid City,

South Dakota.

Current residence: Rancho

Santa Fe.

Vicky Carlson became president and CEO of Lead San Diego in 2010. Lead was founded in 1981 and is celebrating its 30th year with over 2100 graduates from its programs. Lead continues its mission to develop leaders in the community to pay it forward through programs, community initiatives and graduate engagement. The year climaxes with the prestigious Visionary Awards, a leadership recognition event in Southern California honoring extraordinary individuals for their contribution to leadership throughout the region.


Mission of organization: To provide balanced, issue-oriented programming that informs and inspires leadership on regional issues.

Year founded: 1981.

Annual revenue: $950,000.

Administrative expense as percent of revenue: 34 percent.

Corporate support as percent of revenue: 23 percent.

Corporate supporters: We have a number of fabulous supporters including AT&T, Bank of America, Qualcomm, U.S. Bank, Union Bank, SDG&E and Wells Fargo.

Board Chair: Marilyn Sawyer.

Number of board members: 26.

Number of employees: Five.

Events: We have nearly 100 events per year through our programs. Our biggest event is our annual Visionary Awards, where we honor regional leaders. This year, we’re celebrating our 30th anniversary with our founders, graduates and investors in October 2011.

Wish list: Ability to measure the success that comes from the extraordinary work our program participants provide to many nonprofits in communities.


Measures of success: Grew revenues over 15 percent from previous year and on a trajectory to increase an additional 10 percent this fiscal year.

Smartest move: Taking on a new challenge to increase my personal and professional growth.

Missed opportunity: Spending time with those extraordinary leaders in our community who passed too quickly and who would have offered constructive lessons during their time.

Misconception: People often don’t realize that we’re a nonprofit. They also think that we offer one program. We’ve grown to offer three dynamic programs and activities for our graduates to stay up-to-date and engaged in the region. We also do significant work in underserved communities through our Leadership Action Teams comprised of the current Impact class participants.


Personal path to this organization: I believe it is our duty and privilege to give back to a community that does so much for us. In my previous career, I made it a point to be connected to the community and give back both financially and with my time. I served on many boards, one of them being Lead San Diego. When I stepped in as interim CEO to help with the leadership search, I learned so much more than I did serving on the board. I believe in the organization and the great work Lead does in our community so I made the decision to stay on as CEO.

Toughest aspect: The most challenging part of this transition is implementing our programs and initiatives with limited staff.

Most surprising aspect: The extraordinary amount of work activity and professionalism that occurs with such a small staff.

Greatest pleasure: Working with a fantastic board and incredible staff.


Causes: Voices for Children and Best Buddies.

Most like to meet: Angela Merkel and Paul Ryan.

Favorite place for business meetings: Harry’s Bar and American Grill.

Favorite vacation spot: Bellagio, Italy.


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