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Longtime Nonprofit Executive Speaks at Notre Dame

By Bisk on April 12, 2013

A veteran of the nonprofit world said trends in education have left the United States facing a pivotal decade. Roxanne Spillett, the former leader of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, painted a picture of the challenges faced by the country’s 1.6 million nonprofit organizations.

During her speech at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, Spillett cited several statistics, including:

  • Every year, 1.2 million students drop out of American schools, which equates to approximately 6,400 youngsters every school day.
  • Of those students, 63% leave school before they finish the 10th grade.
  • Only seven out of 10 students will graduate high school. With minority students, who will eventually be the majority, that ratio drops to five out of 10.
  • Among 35 developed nations, the United States ranks 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math.


“Our future workforce is at risk,” said Spillett, a longtime adjunct faculty member in Notre Dame’s Master of Nonprofit Administration program. “Our global competitiveness is at risk. Our national security is at risk, and probably for the first time in the history of our country, our future economic security is going to depend on how well poor children do.”

Spillett’s speech was part of Mendoza College’s Ten Years Hence series, which examines issues that people in the business world will likely encounter over the next decade.

Spillett spent the last 16 years of her more than three decades with the Boys & Girls Clubs (BGCA) as the organization’s president and chief executive officer. She retired at the end of 2011 after presiding over a period of unprecedented growth, which saw the number of clubs mushroom from 1,800 to 4,000 and revenue rise threefold to $1.5 billion. Today, the nonprofit organization now employs roughly 50,000 people and serves 4 million children between the ages of 6 and 18, usually in low-income areas.

In her Feb. 8 speech, Spillett chronicled the organization’s expansion with an eye toward easing the negative effects of single-parent households and military deployments. Spillett was instrumental in forming a partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense that resulted in the chartering of Boys & Girls Clubs on more than 400 military installations around the world. 

In addition, five clubs were opened in public housing projects in the 1990s, Spillett said, which helped reduce crime in those areas while simultaneously increasing parent involvement. She said BGCA’s current leaders have been meeting with school officials to propose incorporating clubs into schools in low-income areas.

“I know that all of you, like me, have hopes of a great magnitude for the country, for the future of America,” Spillett said. “I would tell you this: achieving these hopes that we all share for the future of America will take more than doing the ordinary things we must. But rather, it will take us all doing the extraordinary things that we can and ought to do.”