Name: Craig Larrabee

Age: 48

Title: President and CEO

Organization: Jobs for Maine’s Graduates

About: A student-centered results-driven nonprofit organization that’s focused on helping Maine’s students succeed.

Website: www.jmg.org

What’s your biggest challenge?

We are a non-profit that has doubled in size in the last five years, and finding quality employees — our employees are scattered throughout the state of Maine — and it’s always a challenge finding good people. We’re looking for somebody who wants to make a difference, that’s passionate about helping young people, that maybe may have some teaching background, may have a background in community involvement. We’re looking for somebody that does have a bachelor’s degree. We have a wide variety of people that work for us. Really it comes down to finding someone who has an attitude of whatever it takes to help our young people. In central Maine and southern Maine, we have really good pools of people. In the rural parts of the state, we do find it’s harder to find people.

We’re doing a lot of marketing in terms of what our brand is and doing more outreach to our partners at the universities, looking at pathways, if you will, of people who might be interested in being a teacher or working with young people, getting the word out to people in higher education institutions right now.

What’s the best advice anyone has given you?

To stay focused on our clients. In our case, it’s our students. The stories about our clients and out students is not about us as the adults in the organization. It’s about the kids and how we express that story to make the case statement for the need for our organization.

It’s been something my board of directors has made sure we emphasize as an organization. It’s also been something we have learned along the way, in terms of what is the voice of our clients. How do we make sure we are student-centered organization, and what does that mean? It’s something that has been carried through our strategic planning for more than a decade.

How do you foster creativity in yourself or your staff?

We pride ourselves on our culture. We’re one of the Best Places to Work in the state of Maine, one of the only nonprofits to receive that award. That really speaks to the investment we’ve made in culture, the importance that everyone in the organization does have a voice, how we’re all on the same team, we just might have different titles and that this is our organization together. It’s not just the CEO’s organization.

Those are all things we spend a lot of time on in our professional development. We bring people outside our organization into our organization to work on culture, and I think it’s really paid off for us.

If you don’t have ownership (by) and empowerment of staff, you won’t have an organization.

What’s your biggest fear?

Whether you are a nonprofit or a for-profit, one thing I emphasize is that the change process is happening so fast not only in our state, but in the country, and if we are still doing business like we were three years ago, we’ll be out of business in three years.

My anxiety or my concern is that we can keep up with the pace of change in our economy and in our society, and we can make sure that we can continue to be a relevant organization in the near future and in the long term.

(An example of this) from a technology standpoint is how we communicate now, how messaging is delivered, the changes within our educational systems, the different policy directives, the needs of our business community are changing very rapidly. JMG has a foot in the business community and one foot in the education community, and how we navigate that change process to keep our relevance to ensure our young people have every opportunity to be successful is critically important.

How we are doing business today is not how we were doing business three years ago.

What role does technology play in your organization?

It’s two different things, really.

One, first and foremost is how we communicate and all the pathways that are available to us, and how we get our value proposition out to the public in terms of who we are and what we do and looking for that investment. JMG is a public-private partnership. If we don’t have investment from both the public sector and the private sector, then we’re going to lose ground and not be a relevant organization. How we message and how we market ourselves and stay on top of that, and monitor that change process of how that works is huge for us.

We just spent just spent a lot of time on a new brand for our organization and how we’re getting that message out to the general public.

And secondly, from data collection standpoint, data collection is so important for us to make the case statement. It’s not just about testimonials from our students, but it’s the data collection on how well our students are doing, what their short-term and long-term outcomes are. Technology has played a major part of that now, and we’re anticipating that in the future as well.

We just celebrated our 25th anniversary and we have served 50,000 young people in the state of Maine since 1993. With our new brand you will see our new logo has a compass, speaking to helping our young people point in the right direction from an aspirational standpoint. And within our logo it mentions our tagline, “student-centered, results-driven.”

We were really able to hammer home during our anniversary gala (on Sept. 29) the points of being student-centered, and having the voice of our students be the center of all we do. And secondly, being able to show the results of JMG students. These students may have some barriers while they are in middle school and high school, but when you look long term after kids have gone through this program, they are making 14 percent more than the general population, over 80 percent of the population is staying in Maine and paying into the tax base. So that brand identity is very important when you have 50,000 alumni around the state and hundreds of people that have supported JMG to be able to identify to that brand with a sense of purpose and a sense of pride. It’s huge to getting the word out and maintaining the value proposition in the short and long term.

We had 700 people at the gala at the Augusta Civic Center.

All the governors who have been in office since we started in 1993 were at the gala (John McKernan, Angus King, John Baldacci and Paul Le Page). The governor of Kentucky (Matt Bevin) came to present an award to Gov. LePage for his efforts in doubling the size of our organization.

One of the main tenets of our program is we teach our kids the importance of community service, and our kids raised $25,000 for the Dempsey Center and presented a check to Patrick Dempsey.

We were able to raise $6 million. The Alfond Foundation gave us a grant of $4.5 million, and $1.5 million of that is a challenge grant. If we can raise $1.5 million in the next year, they will match it.

After the announcement was made Unum, in South Portland, announced a donation of $500,000 as part of the match, so now we have $1 million left to raise.

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