Back in the Classroom: LBJ Alum Walter Moreau Shares Lessons Learned for Nonprofit Leadership Success

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December 6, 2021
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Walter Moreau, LBJ alumnus class of 1994 and Executive Director of Foundation Communities. 

It’s the middle of the night, and Walter Moreau can’t sleep. Though he has found success as executive director of the Austin-based nonprofit Foundation Communities, he can’t help but wish there were things he learned earlier to help him on his path as a nonprofit leader. He took these ideas he was wrestling with and started making a list of the practical information one should know if they want to be an executive director. By morning, he had put together an outline of a dozen classes for a course he would later call “Nonprofit Management: How to Succeed as a Director.”  

This fall, Moreau had the chance to teach this course to a group of graduate students through the LBJ School. An LBJ alumnus himself, Moreau remembers wanting to soak up practical information as a graduate student that would help prepare him for a career in the nonprofit sector. One course in particular stood out to him as “the true highlight” of his experience at The LBJ School – the late Senator Barbara Jordan’s ethics class. 

“I love the way she taught in a very Socratic method,” Moreau said. “It was a training in public speaking and clarity of thought, but also her goal was to make sure we understood our core values.”  

He recalls his first day of class when Professor Jordan explained to all the students that they were too young to have figured out their core values and ethics in the public world.  

“I was a little offended,” Moreau remembers, laughing. “But she was very right; every class brought up issues I hadn’t thought about. Her class was a lot of theory but it was also very practical, so we got that compromise.”  

Walter Moreau speaking to the media

Walter Moreau speaks to the media at the construction tour of Foundation Communities' Homestead Apartments. 

Almost 30 years later, Moreau stood at the front of his own class on the first day and asked students: “What do you think are the responsibilities of a nonprofit director?”  

Everyone had good answers, he recalls – develop programs, work with your board, talk to partner agencies - until one student (a current nonprofit director auditing the course) raised his hand and said simply, “Raise money.” 

“I think the light went off for people that the thing that sits on your shoulders the most [as an executive director] is to make sure that the organization has the resources to fulfill the mission and to meet payroll,” Moreau said.  

Though the course covered topics such as board management and strategic planning, the two main focuses were on fundraising and storytelling. One of the earliest classes focused entirely on individual fundraising, earned income, and different revenue models.  

Third-year MPAff student Morgan Lubenow describes learning that an executive director’s primary job is fundraising as “the shock moment” of her LBJ career and is a takeaway she plans on using in her career as a nonprofit executive.  

“Walter’s fundraising class is going to be the most useful to me in the long run,” she says. “I talk and think about the Benevon Model all the time and how I can use it for not just fundraising but also for volunteers and staff."  

Hand-in-hand with fundraising is the course’s other focus – the importance of impactful storytelling. After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in accounting, Moreau was more focused on using data to raise money, but learned over time that the key is connecting with people’s feelings.  

“We are in the work of persuasion,” Moreau explains. “We are trying to win people over to our cause, either to donate or through other support, and there is no single stronger communication tool than storytelling.” 

Jean Sano Santana, a second-year MPAff student from the Dominican Republic, recalls Moreau explaining that the essence of being an executive director is to “hustle.” In that moment, something clicked for them – the Spanish word josear, a word Dominican Americans came up with based off “hustle.”  

“It’s a word that we use a lot,” Santana explains. “That’s the only way to ensure your organization has the funds you need, that you have the skills to tell the stories of your organization and your people to convince those outside to support you and to keep those inside motivated.”

Jean and Morgan MRC

LBJ students Jean Sano Santana (L) and Morgan Lubenow (R) volunteering at New Leaf Farm through the RGK Center's Nonprofit Studies portfolio program

When building the course, Walter ensured that these big ideas of leadership and management were wrapped in stories that students would remember 10 or 20 years from now.  

“I believe many of them will be directors, because they’re at the LBJ School and they care about community issues,” Moreau said. “Nothing would make me happier than to get a note from Jean or Morgan or any of the students saying, ‘I remember what we talked about in class and it helped me lead this nonprofit.’”  

Santana plans on returning to the Dominican Republic after graduating in May, and is looking forward to bringing their knowledge of fundraising and board management to their local nonprofit community.  

"Every day I walk out of the classroom with an idea of how to do something that works,” Santana said. “Walter is so passionate about what he does that it is impossible not to love what you’re learning.”