Copy the Leader: Casey Collier Pryor
Casey Collier Pryor, c’04, is the vice president, corporate & foundation relations, for the YMCA of Greater New York.

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Jayhawks in leadership positions are everywhere you look, including through the Jayhawk Career Network. KU Alumni, in partnership with SumnerOne, is highlighting Jayhawk leaders who are models for others in their industries with our “Copy the Leader” program.

Casey Collier Pryor, c’04, is the vice president, corporate & foundation relations, for the YMCA of Greater New York. We sat down with Casey to learn what leadership means to her.

What do you do in your work?

Serving 500,000 New Yorkers each year, the YMCA of Greater New York (the Y) is one of New York’s leading social service organizations. Founded in 1852, the Y is the second oldest YMCA in the U.S. and the largest in North America. We operate 24 YMCA branches—health and community centers that offer our signature programs and services, ranging from weight loss and blood pressure monitoring to life-changing youth development programs such as the Y’s college access program. The Y’s facilities and social services include two Counseling Service Centers for addiction rehabilitation and seven New Americans Welcome Centers for essential immigrant services.


I am a fundraiser, specializing in securing support from institutions. I support the strategic objectives of the Y, resulting in an increase of funds raised for critical social services in New York City and the effective positioning of the Y within the local and national philanthropic landscape. The key focus of my position is to develop strategies that drive growth, reduce costs, and increase the number of major gifts, sponsorships, and grants from corporations and foundations. I work collaboratively, cross-departmentally to ensure support and technical assistance for our 24 YMCA branch colleagues, in addition to proper due diligence and process compliance for all secured funder partnerships. Every year, our team raises over $10 million to support social services that help individuals and families in need of services such as childcare, workforce development, and career and college readiness, among other program offerings.

What are the qualities of a good leader?

Good leaders possess the ability to demonstrate empathy, provide clear communication, and support professional growth of team members—and mentor, if there’s interest from a colleague or direct report. (Not all employees want mentoring, and a leader must recognize that.) 


They create growth opportunities and promote team members, ensuring a strong talent pool and pipeline for the entire organization. Good leaders lead by example; they are consistent in their character, and approach and treat everyone across their organization with respect regardless of one’s level or position in the organization. They practice humility and celebrate wins of all sizes—recognizing that it takes a team rather than a single individual to drive the best possible results. 


They provide ongoing feedback and create an environment where everyone feels that they can participate. Importantly, good leaders let their team members know they are cared about and are understanding of personal situations. (This became very apparent throughout the COVID-19 crisis.)

How do you practice leadership at your job?

My hope is that I am seen as open-minded, inclusive, and passionate about the work we are doing together. I am a firm believer in providing clear expectations from the outset and ensuring there is an understanding by all participating team members. If there is a miscommunication, it is likely that I was not clear and/or did not create a space for real and honest dialogue. 


My work style is collaborative, establishing reasonable/attainable goals and timelines that we all feel that we can meet. I love celebrating team members’ successes, and mentoring is one of my favorite things to do in the workplace (and outside of the workplace). There is a real sense of paying it forward when someone wants to be mentored by me. I would not be in my current position or have advanced in my career without the support of other leaders who were willing to invest extra time in me and put me on stretch assignments.

What makes a team or group successful?

Successful teams are diverse, inclusive, and collaborative. They comprise individuals of different backgrounds, experiences and thoughts. Collectively, they capitalize on these differences and develop solutions, products, and strategies that drive growth, revenue and/or services that better serve their constituents.

How has your company adapted to the changes brought by the pandemic?

Like many charities, the Y was seriously impacted. Following New York State and City shutdown mandates in March 2020, all our YMCA branches and community centers were immediately closed resulting in a loss of $100 million in operating income. To protect the Y’s financial viability and our capacity to resume the programs and services 500,000 New Yorkers have come to rely upon, we were forced to undertake many difficult and painful cost-cutting measures. We furloughed or laid off a significant portion of our staff, and all remaining staff with salaries above a particular cutoff voluntarily accepted pay cuts through July 2021. We also closed and sold our sleepaway camp property and facilities in Huguenot, NY.


Throughout the pandemic, the Y’s programming and services pivoted to high-need and virtual services to serve our city’s children, immigrant communities, frontline responders and the homeless. By modifying our services and developing new programming, we provided a lifeline to those in need and helped thousands of New Yorkers remain engaged, connected and in pursuit of wellness and educational goals. A partial list of services includes: providing childcare for hospital workers; housing adults experiencing homelessness in single-occupancy YMCA branch guest rooms (to reduce virus transmission in the City’s congregate shelters); creating Learning Labs at YMCA branches citywide where children could access the technology and Wi-Fi to engage in remote learning; conducting an educational webinar series (in five languages prevalent among immigrants) on the need to get vaccinated; and partnering with New York-Presbyterian Hospital to operate vaccination clinics at three YMCAs. 


In May 2021, serving three high-need communities in Brooklyn — Coney Island, Flatbush and North Brooklyn — the Y launched “Y Community Markets” to provide food-insecure residents with access to groceries, toiletries, and other essential items such as diapers, in the dignified and familiar setting of our YMCA branches. During the COVID-19 crisis, we stepped up to help New Yorkers in need by providing emergency relief and virtual programs—some of which we had never offered before and will continue to do so as the need exists. We have proven to be nimble and responsive in ways that will continue to support our growth, operations, and ability to serve the community on demand.

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