A new CEO in town? Not quite.
Jennifer Sirangelo selected as the new president and CEO of Points of Light. (Special.)

The global nonprofit — Points of Light — has named Jennifer Sirangelo as its new president and CEO beginning Sept. 5.

Ever since 2007 — following the merger of Atlanta-based Hands On Network with Points of Light (founded by George H.W. Bush) — the nonprofit has been based in Atlanta.

But Sirangelo, who lives in Washington D.C. where she has been president and CEO of the National 4-H Council, is not planning to move to Atlanta. It will be the first time since the merger that the CEO of Points of Light will not be based in Atlanta.

In interviews with several people close to the organization, several questions emerged.

Does where the CEO lives determine where an organization is based? In a post-COVID world, where work has become much more virtual than place-based, how important is it to have a headquarters location? Is Atlanta still the headquarters of Points of Light? And how important is it to our nonprofit sector to have the headquarters of Points of Light based in Atlanta?

These questions are not unique to Points of Light and Atlanta.

Points of Light in action
Diane Quest, interim CEO of Points of Light, with board member Jean Becker, present the Daily Point of Light Award to young change maker Nathaniel Buescher of Chicago at the 2023 Points of Light Conference in June. (Special.)

Ever since the American Cancer Society moved its headquarters to Atlanta from New York in January 1989, the city has had a significant concentration of national nonprofits based here. 

CARE USA relocated its headquarters from New York to Atlanta in 1993. The Boys & Girls Clubs of America relocated its headquarters from New York to Atlanta in 1994. And Habitat for Humanity International moved its administrative headquarters from Americus to Atlanta in 2006.

Interestingly enough, during COVID in June 2021 the American Cancer Society got a new CEO — Karen Knudsen — but she currently does not live in Atlanta.

What makes Points of Light so significant is that the whole culture of corporate volunteerism was birthed in Atlanta in 1989 with the founding of Hands On Atlanta. That became part of a national network that emanated from Atlanta — Hands On Network — formed in 2000. The CEO of Hands On Network was Michelle Nunn, one of the original founders of Hands On Atlanta who became its CEO in 1990.

Ironically, Nunn is now president and CEO of Atlanta-based CARE USA. 

Martha Brooks Michelle Nunn
Martha Brooks and Michelle Nunn at CARE’s Atlanta headquarters in 2018. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

Eric Tanenblatt, a board member of Points of Light since 2017, served on the search committee that selected Sirangelo.

“I don’t really think where the CEO is located really matters,” Tanenblatt said in a telephone interview. “Points of Light has staff all over the United States. Because Points of Light is a global organization, I don’t think it’s essential to have its CEO located in Atlanta. We still have a large concentration in Atlanta.”

Tanenblatt is chair of public policy and regulation for Dentons — the world’s largest law firm. He said he couldn’t tell you where Dentons is based because it has operations around the world. 

McKenna Long Aldridge, the Atlanta-based law firm that served as the pro-bono attorney handling the 2007 merger between Points of Light and Hands On Network, was acquired by Dentons, which still is the pro-bono law firm for Points of Light.

“As someone who is on the board and has been affiliated with this organization for 30 years, I think we are going to be fine, and Atlanta is going to be fine,” Tanenblatt said of Points of Light. “Atlanta is not going to feel a loss by not having the CEO of Points of Light based here.”

Sirangelo will succeed Natalye Paquin, who served as CEO of Points of Light from September 2017 until November 2022, when she left to become chief operating officer of the Rockefeller Foundation.

Natalye Paquin
Natalye Paquin with the Points of Light Foundation in 2018 at the nonprofit’s headquarters building, which has since been sold (Photo by Maria Saporta)

“When it came to Natalye, I didn’t see her that engaged in Atlanta, but she was based in Atlanta,” Tanenblatt added. “From what I’ve seen of Jennifer at 4-H, I think she’ll be much more outward facing than what you saw with Natalye. I think she’ll work with our board to take Points of Light to the next level.”

Diane Quest, who is serving as interim CEO of Points of Light, will become its chief operating officer in September. She has been with the organization since April 2016 — all the time living in Atlanta.

“When people ask me where our headquarters is located, I say Atlanta,” Quest said. “Fifty percent of our staff is in Atlanta. Half our senior leadership is in Atlanta. We are based in Atlanta, but we are a global organization.”

Even though Sirangelo won’t live in Atlanta, Quest said three of the nonprofit’s top executives will continue to live in Atlanta. In addition to her, the chief financial officer and the head of human resources will be based here.

“Atlanta has had a big influence on Points of Light,” Quest said. “Hands on Network brought Points of Light to Atlanta. Our culture and our work style are heavily influenced by Atlanta.”

Jay Cranman, president and CEO of Hands On Atlanta, said Paquin “did a lot to move the organization forward” by making it more of a global organization. Hands On Atlanta and Points of Light used to be co-located in a building on Means Street, which was originally owned by Hands On Atlanta and sold to Points of Light. Then in 2021, Points of Light sold the building to Georgia Tech. Hands On Atlanta then moved its warehouse to 970 Jefferson Street and set up an office at the Gathering Spot.

Meanwhile, Points of Light has established an office in a co-working space at 101 Marietta St. N.W.

“From my seat at Hands On Atlanta, I’ve always felt like we have been the tip of the spear,” Cranman said. “We are the outward-facing brand [of Points of Light] in Atlanta.”

Hands On Atlanta has about 30 full-time employees with another 55 AmeriCorps members. Even though it no long has its own building with a big sign in front, Cranman said the organization is growing.

Jay Cranman
Jay Cranman of Hands On Atlanta

“Since 2016, we have more than doubled the number of companies we have been working with,” Cranman said. “There’s a real appetite for companies to be involved, and I think we will double again in the next seven years.”

Cranman said that in 2022, the nonprofit engaged with about 8,000 corporate employees. The organization is currently working with about 50 companies on 250 different community initiatives. The working model for Hands On Atlanta has expanded its focus from corporate volunteerism to helping companies become stronger corporate citizens.

When asked about whether Points of Light is still based in Atlanta, Cranman answered with a question. 

“What does it mean to have a headquarters in today’s market?” Cranman said. “You have to strike a balance between local and global.” Then he added that Points of Light can hire people from anywhere in the country and even the world, so it is not as “tethered” to Atlanta as it once was.

Points of Light has 145 affiliate members in its global network — 107 in the United States and 38 outside the country. It works with more than 200 companies, engaging 2.3 million volunteers in 2022. It also has honored more than 7,600 individuals with its Daily Point of Light Award. Of Points of Light’s 60 staff members, 32 are based in Georgia.

A valid question is whether it’s important for Atlanta to have a vital nonprofit community where CEOs of the organizations are able to collaborate on local, national and global initiatives.

“We don’t necessarily interact with a lot of Atlanta-based nonprofits,” Quest said of Points of Light.

Without a doubt, the world of work and location has changed since the COVID pandemic. Still, Atlanta’s stature would be elevated if our global nonprofit leaders worked more closely together for the good of our community and our world.

Maria Saporta, executive editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state. From 2008 to 2020, she wrote weekly columns...

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