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Leader Profile:

Diana Rodriguez-Algra

Ms. Diana Rodriguez-Algra led the creation and implementation of Michigan Campus Compact and the Michigan Community Service Commission. She has also been responsible for the expansion of Volunteer Centers of Michigan, a part of the Michigan Nonprofit Association. Ms. Rodriguez-Algra moved to Washington, DC, to help launch programs at the Corporation for National and Community Service, utilizing her experience with the successful creation of the Michigan Commission. Ms. Rodriguez-Algra has been an important leader of the volunteer component of Michigan’s philanthropic infrastructure since the late 1980s.

Leadership Highlights

Ms. Diana Rodriguez-Algra talks about her career in philanthropy.
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  • Ms. Diana Rodriguez-Algra talks about the collaborative nature of Michigan's philanthropic leaders.
  • Ms. Diana Rodriguez-Algra talks about how leaders in Michigan have espoused a philosophy of servant leadership.
  • Ms. Diana Rodriguez-Algra talks about the mission and development of Michigan Campus Compact.
  • Ms. Diana Rodriguez-Algra talks about the merger between the ConnectMichigan Alliance (CMA) and the Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA).
  • Ms. Diana Rodriguez-Algra talks about the origins of the Michigan Community Service Commission (MCSC).
  • Ms. Diana Rodriguez-Algra talks about the mission and development of the Volunteer Centers of Michigan.
  • Ms. Diana Rodriguez-Algra talks about the value of putting aside your political beliefs and truly listening to people who think differently than you.
  • Ms. Diana Rodriguez-Algra talks about mentors in the Michigan philanthropic network who inspired her work and personal philosophy.
  • Ms. Diana Rodriguez-Algra talks about how strong interpersonal relationships helped Michigan's philanthropic infrastructure flourish.
  • Ms. Diana Rodriguez-Algra talks about how the willingness of leaders to take risks created a unique environment for philanthropy in Michigan.
  • Ms. Diana Rodriguez-Algra talks about how the W.K. Kellogg Foundation encouraged the development of philanthropic initiatives in Michigan.
  • Ms. Diana Rodriguez-Algra talks about the creation of the ConnectMichigan Alliance.
  • Ms. Diana Rodriguez-Algra talks about the importance of embracing diverse voices in the philanthropic community.
  • Ms. Diana Rodriguez-Algra talks about the next generation of philanthropic leaders and the spirit of entrepreneurial thinking as applied to nonprofit work.
  • Ms. Diana Rodriguez-Algra talks about her work with AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National and Community Service.
  • Ms. Diana Rodriguez-Algra talks about how Michigan philanthropic leaders have excelled at communicating the mission of the sector to policy makers.
  • Ms. Diana Rodriguez-Algra talks about the importance of embracing values of diversity and inclusion in the philanthropic community.
  • Ms. Diana Rodriguez-Algra talks about how Governor Romney and the Volunteer Centers worked to create a wealth of human capital.
  • Ms. Diana Rodriguez-Algra talks about the importance of having committed leaders with flexible relationships within philanthropic leadership.
  • Ms. Diana Rodriguez-Algra talks about the remarkable leadership of Governor Romney.
  • Ms. Diana Rodriguez-Algra talks about her career in philanthropy.
  • Ms. Diana Rodriguez-Algra talks about the value of admitting "I don't know" and learning from the experience of those who came before you.
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Education

In 1972, Ms. Diana Rodriguez-Algra received her Bachelor of Arts in Industrial Psychology from Michigan State University (MSU). Continuing her studies at MSU, she received a master’s degree in Labor and Industrial Relations in 1979, specializing in Collective Bargaining and Employee Relations. Between 1988 and 1991, she also completed additional post-graduate coursework in Adult and Continuing Education.

Philanthropic Biography

Ms. Rodriguez-Algra was born the youngest of three children to parents who immigrated to the United States from Puerto Rico. Born and raised in New York City, she did not move to Michigan until the 1970s to attend Michigan State University.

Early career aspirations for Ms. Rodriguez-Algra included practicing law and using her degree in Industrial Psychology as an efficiency expert. Straight out of her baccalaureate program, however, she began working with an organization called Model Cities in Lansing, which received a federal grant to improve city transportation. Through this program, she had the opportunity to extend bus transportation to small communities in the area, as well as to evaluate the social and environmental impact of these transportation systems. With her supervisor at Model Cities, Jacqueline Warren, she received a grant from the state to establish a Woman’s Bureau for the city of Lansing. Through the Bureau, she helped displaced homemakers rebuild their lives and enter the job market. She later accepted a position as director of the division of women’s programs at Michigan State University where, for the next nine years, she served her alma mater by designing, implementing, and evaluating programs that benefited women on campus.

Despite not initially seeking a career in the nonprofit sector, Ms. Rodriguez-Algra found her way into the Michigan infrastructure by first engaging her local community and then moving up the ranks to serve from a more holistic vantage point. In 1989, she was selected as the first executive director of Michigan Campus Compact.

Ultimately, this role sparked a passion for volunteerism in Ms. Rodriguez-Algra, which led her to executive administrative positions at the Michigan Community Service Commission, the Corporation for National and Community Service, and the Volunteer Centers of Michigan. Supporting volunteer infrastructure at the state and national level became her cause. “People think that volunteers are free,” she says. “Yes, I do give my time to my agency freely; but I need infrastructure behind me, coming in so that I know I am being well used – that I’m getting training.”

Ms. Diana Rodriguez-Algra cites Dr. Pete Ellis, a program officer for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, as one of her early mentors in nonprofit work who taught her that “you will fail, and that is okay” and that “you can learn from anything, no matter how bad it is.”

Contributions to the Field

Ms. Diana Rodriguez-Algra first became an active participant in Michigan’s philanthropic infrastructure through her work with the newly-established Michigan Campus Compact. While serving as the first executive director, she worked to instill a sense of civic duty at the organization’s 16 member colleges and universities. One of the program’s early projects provided a series of venture grants to member faculty so a service-learning pedagogy could be implemented.  Students were encouraged to engage with their local communities as part of the course curriculum. She also coordinated an annual conference and supported initiatives on public service and civic responsibility.

In 1991, Ms. Rodriguez-Algra became the first executive director of the Michigan Community Service Commission (MCSC). Through the Commission, she worked with the governor’s office, state departments, corporations, foundations, higher education institutions, nonprofit organizations, and volunteer centers to improve volunteerism and community service in the state. After three years with MCSC, she was asked to move into leadership at the newly formed Corporation for National and Community Service in Washington, DC. There, she served as the director for AmeriCorps’ national and state programming. Even though funds were limited, there was great potential in supporting community volunteer infrastructure:

“When you have an AmeriCorps member that generates 10 additional volunteers by their work in a community, and you multiply that by the number of AmeriCorps members that we can have in the country – can you imagine that power?”

Ms. Rodriguez-Algra later returned to Michigan as a service-learning coordinator for MCSC, where she collaborated with the Council of Michigan Foundations to develop service-learning resources for policy makers and educational leaders across the state. Some of these resources included hosting legislative hearings for state representatives, providing technical assistance to leaders in education, and developing a series of events on the sustainability of service-learning.

In 2005, as the executive director of the Volunteer Centers of Michigan, Ms. Rodriguez-Algra had the opportunity to work with local United Ways and community leaders to develop volunteerism in their regions. Housed under the Michigan Nonprofit Association, the Volunteer Centers of Michigan continue to receive support from the permanent ConnectMichigan Alliance endowment. Her philosophy, while leading Michigan’s 28 volunteer centers, was to foster trust in local leadership:

“Human needs are fairly the same, no matter whether you’re in a rural community or in an urban area. We wanted to make sure that volunteering was really critical to how that community operated, not for us to come along and say, ‘We have the blueprint for your success.’ The success was really built within the community structure that they had.”

Throughout her career, Ms. Rodriguez-Algra has improved volunteer infrastructure at the community, state, and national levels. Her leadership has facilitated opportunities for students, public policy makers, and citizens to engage in both the theory and practice of community service.

Quotes

Ms. Algra was interviewed regarding her experiences in working with Michigan’s philanthropic community and the Our State of Generosity (OSoG) partners. The following are selected quotations from her interview specifically related to the five organizing themes of the OSoG project.

Servant Leadership in Michigan Philanthropy

“We have been blessed with people that are servant leaders, first and foremost. They are not autocratic leaders, per se. They’re not leaders for the sake of saying that ‘I have a title or position,’ but they have been leaders that say that ‘I will lead because I have a purpose to support’ and that ‘I am here not to lead, but to serve; to serve my staff, to serve the organization, to serve the board, and to serve the community, regardless of who you’ve been or where you have been.’”

“Michigan has been very fortunate in its history, I think, because of the support that we’ve had from philanthropy, our philanthropy partners in the state, but also in the sense that we have had individuals that are willing to take that little edge, look over the cliff and say, ‘It’s okay, that step will be there when I jump.’”

Philanthropy and Public Policy

“I think the day when the foundations were run solely by men – white men – is gone, because our communities are changing. Our state is changing. Our nation is changing. I think we need to be more open to realize that everyone brings something to the table, whether it is a cultural background, or perspective, or a personal challenge that you faced in the community, or where you have lived, that has given you new insights. Sometimes those insights don’t just come from people of privilege; they come from other sectors of our community and we need to be open to that.”

Practical Wisdom

“One of the things I pride myself in is: if your staff succeeds, it is their success; if your staff fails, it is your problem. I think that is critical to me. If something doesn’t work, then I did something wrong – not my staff did something wrong. I did something wrong. I didn’t guide them appropriately. And if we were successful, then it was their work that brought the success about – because that’s the only way that we succeed.”

This profile was last updated: 05/15/2015