Plugging In: Nonprofit Networks

QENO works to strengthen organizations

W2w Qeno

SARAH DANIELS is a master weaver, skilled at helping nonprofit leaders design and create a fabric that sustains their organizations.

She moved to Wilmington in 2009 and enrolled at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, hoping to pursue a career in international development. After completing a bachelor’s degree in political science, however, she shifted gears and opted to enroll in the university’s master’s program in public administration, concentrating on nonprofit management.

“I had moved around a lot my whole life,” she says. “When I came to Wilmington I fell in love with the place; it felt like home for the first time ever.”

Instead, Daniels has brought a world of ideas and best practices to her endeavors in the Wilmington area, most recently through her position as director of Quality Enhancement for Nonprofit Organizations (QENO). Since its founding about ten years ago as a partnership between UNCW and the community, QENO’s mission has been to help strengthen nonprofit organizations in the region.

While QENO offers coaching and workshops in such areas as leadership development, strategic planning and goal-setting, and financial management, Daniels also wants to focus also on increasing the capacity of the organizations with which she works. She brings first-hand experience from her previous positions: finance director for Thalian Hall, executive director of Feast Down East, interim director of the North Carolina Blueberry Festival Association, and executive director of the New Hanover Disaster Coalition. She also founded the Cape Fear Food Council, which was integral in coordinating food assistance services across the community after Hurricane Florence and early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

A consistent thread throughout her work with these organizations was the help she received from QENO.

“QENO services were always valuable: lunch and learns, workshops,” she says. “The other side of what (QENO) did was very dedicated support via grants to work with organizations one-on-one on everything from strategic planning to developing employee manuals. For me, both sides were very helpful.”

When Daniels assumed leadership of QENO in 2021, she wanted to help organizations expand their capacity to do more. At the same time, she essentially became a staff of one, so she had to prioritize services.

“I thought, what can I do with my time that might be considered capacity building?” she recalls. “I started with my experience and began to tinker with some broad concepts. I piloted a baby version of what I now do full time, QENO’s bread-and-butter program: GLM.”

GLM stands for governance, leadership, and management, and is a program Daniels sees as a conceptual framework to engage nonprofit staffers and boards to talk about their practices and think beyond their day-to-day tasks and concerns.

Currently, Daniels works intensively with twenty-five area nonprofits, using the GLM framework of setting goals, planning, assessing progress, and reviewing and revising policies.

“This is high-level strategic thinking, a space for the organization to get its head above water,” she says, adding that as she works with a group, they are encouraged to think about what they do well and what needs improvement. Beyond that, they may want to think boldly about collaborations with other organizations, or even about merging with complementary ones.

This kind of thinking, she says, is particularly timely now, with the advent of the New Hanover Community Endowment, created when New Hanover Regional Medical Center was sold to Novant Health.

“Everything about our nonprofit sector is changing, and QENO is part of that,” Daniels says. “I am engaging with our nonprofits to navigate that because what I hear from (endowment) CEO William Buster is the importance of collaboration.”

Daniels also brings her experience and perspectives to WILMA’s Women to Watch leadership program, providing Get on Board participants an introductory training about boards and preparing them to become change agents in the nonprofit community. (Info:

She’s also an active participant in the arts. An accomplished violist with a bachelor’s degree in musical performance, she’s a member of the Long Bay Symphony in Myrtle Beach.

As part of a complex organization that depends on collaboration, Daniels weaves her thread into a musical whole.

To view more of photographer Aris Harding’s work, go to

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Categories: Women to Watch