By Maegan Snyder

When it comes to developing leaders, the faculty and staff at the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development know there is no such thing as one size fits all. And it is for this reason that communities around Georgia have been calling on the institute for more than 30 years to meet all their diverse leadership needs.

In 2014, the Fanning Institute piloted the sixth edition of its customized Community Leadership Program.

“For this edition, we are really focusing on developing a curriculum with flexible modules that can be tailored to meet the needs of each individual community,” said Louise Hill, Fanning public service associate and co-lead for the program. “We want to meet them where they are, not just give a generalized solution.”

Similar to other versions, the sixth edition includes both basic and advanced modules that cover a range of topics such as diversity, managing conflict, group dynamics and communicating effectively. In this version, Fanning emphasizes bringing together a wide range of community representatives in the initial planning phase, incorporating more interactivity and technology in the modules, and encouraging ongoing conversations with those who are implementing and participating in the programs.

“Georgia is changing in terms of its economy, demographics and more,” said Raye Rawls, co-lead for the Fanning Institute’s Community Leadership Program. “We want to make certain what we provide to communities reflects that, which means it is a different solution for everyone. For a community to succeed, its leaders must be as diverse as its community makeup.”

One of the first communities to use the new curriculum approach was Americus–Sumter County. The community had a need to identify and engage its emerging leaders, while also encouraging current leaders to enhance their leadership skills.

“The process of figuring out what we were looking for took some time. We knew we needed to develop skills in citizens, but we also needed to fully understand what this meant and how it might be accomplished,” said Barbara Grogan, executive director of the Americus Sumter Chamber of Commerce and Payroll Development Authority, and former local Archway Professional. The Archway Partnership connects specific Georgia communities and the resources of UGA, facilitating a coming together of community leaders and groups to discuss each community’s needs.

“Through the Archway executive committee and work group, we spent over a year researching how other communities in Georgia had developed and implemented programs, and the common denominator in all of them was the Fanning Institute. So it only seemed natural that we too would partner with Fanning on developing ours,” she said.

Initially, the executive committee discussed specific skills they felt were needed in the community and identified overall goals and objectives. The committee then brought the findings to the Fanning Institute and began the process of developing the program.

“We knew we wanted to improve local economic development, enhance our workforce and build a more involved and engaged community,” said Grogan. “We also knew that it needed to be accessible and affordable since we would be drawing from many different demographics. The Fanning Institute helped us identify holes, figure out what we struggled with and how to overcome it, and also identified things that we were missing, things we never thought about before.”

As a result, the community formed Advancing Sumter, a 12-week leadership development program primarily aimed at building leadership skills and increasing community engagement. In late 2012, the Fanning Institute helped recruit 25 community members to participate in its Train-the-Trainer program, where they learned how to become facilitators of Advancing Sumter.

“The training program served as an excellent model for us and helped calm the anxiety of community members that did not have prior facilitation experience,” said Andrea Oates, city counselor of Plains, Ga., and one of Advancing Sumter’s original planners and facilitators. “Every lesson and module the Fanning Institute developed was committed to advancing our community. They truly became part of Advancing Sumter and supported our efforts at every step.”

The first class of Advancing Sumter graduated in spring 2014 and included 19 individuals from major employers including Allegiance Industries, Georgia Southwestern State University, Southwest Georgia Children’s Alliance, Windsor Hotel and Georgia Power. A second class is already being recruited, which will begin in early 2015. The community is considering innovative ways to engage graduates and provide them with ongoing outlets to get involved.

“I can’t wait to see what happens in the future,” said Americus–Sumter County Archway Professional Maggie McGruther. “We have already seen leaders emerge from groups who may have otherwise never had the opportunity. We saw participants come together and solve problems and really work to help build a better community. We couldn’t have done this without the support of the Fanning Institute.”

To learn more about the Fanning Institute’s Community Leadership Program, visit