A Very Interesting Place
Leah J Haynes
POSTED: January 30, 2017
Greg Keener (’03) has made a career out of working for a cause. An interest in technology and a passion for nonprofits led him to earn a degree in Computer and Information Sciences, with a concentration in Nonprofit Management from Guilford in 2003 and go on to spend more than a decade at 88.5 WFDD Radio–the Piedmont-Triad NPR affiliate–before taking up his current post with the Piedmont Land Conservancy.
As Development Director, Greg’s mission is to help more than 1,000 individuals each year support the work of the Piedmont Land Conservancy through donations. The PLC is a land trust, which means that they exist to protect North Carolina’s scenic, open, and farm lands. They do so in a number of ways. For example, perhaps your family farm–the one that’s been handed down since before the Great Depression–needs legal protection from being sold and eventually turned into a subdivision; the Conservancy can help you navigate the legal ins-and-outs of that process. Or maybe, a state park wants to expand its protections into the acres just north of the current property lines, but won’t have the money to purchase that land for the next couple of years. With the money raised from donors, Greg can help the PLC buy that land and keep it safe until the park is ready to take over.
“Most people don’t know what a land trust is.” Greg admits, “It’s my job to find new ways to tell people what we do. Plan events, get people engaged. To help a willing land owner, it’s about telling their story to the people who want to help.”
On any given day, you could find Greg taking supporters on hikes, organizing events, or developing opportunities for community education and collaboration.
In their 25 years, the PLC has taken on more than 200 projects to preserve land in the Piedmont and ensure that these spaces remain to “enrich the quality of life for our communities and for future generations.”
“Guilford can prepare you. Not only in values, in spiritual preparation. But also in practical skills.”
A Cause-Oriented Career
Prior to joining the Piedmont Land Conservancy, Greg spend more than a decade in Membership and Education Programs at the Piedmont-Triad affiliate of National Public Radio, 88.5 WFDD out of Winston-Salem, NC.
“I wanted to work for NPR because public radio was a cause I could believe in. As a listener, as someone who wanted to work in nonprofits.” Greg says of his first big career move after Guilford, “WFDD is journalism that’s mission-focused, instead of commercially focused.”
But Greg wasn’t a journalist. So, how was he to get involved with NPR? That’s where his degree from Guilford came in.
“What WFDD needed was someone who could run things from the tech side, and my degree in Computer Science allowed me to do that. Without my degree from Guilford, I wouldn’t have been able to take that job and get in with NPR.”
In Membership and Education, Greg was instrumental in facilitating many of WFDD’s philanthropic efforts, increasing charitable donations, and connecting kids in the Piedmont with educational resources like Radio Camp–a week-long, day camp held in the summer for middle school-aged kids that teaches them the basics of journalism (how to conduct an interview, writing, editing, creating stories) and radio technology (editing sound for on-air broadcasts).
In a world where there’s increasing pressure on colleges to prove the worth of their degrees in the working world, Greg knows firsthand what a Guilford education can offer a student. “Guilford can prepare you. Not only in values and in spiritual preparation, but also in practical skills.” When asked about transferrable skills he gained from his time at Guilford, Greg cites an expanded perspective as one of the most impactful. “I remember all of the classes I took that got me interested in things I had no idea I could be interested in.”
“It’s in partnerships, in working in communities and with like-minded people that we can make change happen. That’s certainly a Guilford College value–finding where we agree and how we can work together.”
Partnerships, at the Heart of it All
Many people may associate a career in nonprofits as directly connected to advocacy and activism, to pushing back against the system. While Greg acknowledges the value in that, he asserts that there are other ways to make positive change.
“We [at the Piedmont Land Conservancy] aren’t protesting or lobbying for environmental policy. That’s important, it’s just not what we do. What we are doing, however, is getting connected to people who own land and share our preservationist values.”
That’s what’s so attractive, Greg says, about a land trust model. It allows the PLC to work within the legal system to help landowners be good stewards of land right here at home.
“Our goal is to help people who have a conservation ethic and give them tools to live that ethic out.”
What it comes right down to is a commitment to partnerships, to community. Greg’s principled professional life is inspiring, but to those of us who know the classroom and extracurricular experiences that our students have here at Guilford, it’s not surprising. Community and Stewardship show up explicitly in our discussion of Greg’s work, but as someone who has dedicated his career to improving local lives, the other five of Guilford’s seven core values (Diversity, Equality, Excellence, Integrity, and Justice) are easy to see as well.
“It’s in partnerships” Greg says, “in working in communities and with like-minded people that we can make change happen. That’s certainly a Guilford College value–finding where we agree and how we can work together.”
“A liberal arts education encourages empathy which, I think, is what our world needs most right now.”
Its Own, Unique Culture
Guilford’s particular brand of liberal arts education–what we call the Guilford Advantage–is key to the kind of life Greg has crafted. A career of service–which is what a career in nonprofits is, at its core–requires a nose for problem-solving, a fierce commitment to ethics, and deep wells of compassion. Guilford’s core values combined with a principled approach to all facets of education cultivate these qualities in the kind of student that succeeds at Guilford. “It’s not for everyone, and that’s a good thing. But it is the perfect school for the right student.”
Guilford also inspired in Greg a curiosity, and in that curiosity, hope, that has fueled his life post-college. “Guilford instills in you a belief that the world is a very interesting place.”
When asked the pin down what makes Guilford College special, he replied,”Guilford’s got its own, unique identity. It’s a hard fought identity; there’s just a culture to that school.” And he does know a thing or two about colleges and universities, having received his MA in Higher Education and Higher Education Administration from Appalachian State University in 2010. A liberal arts education, he believes, is an invaluable experience for one hoping to engage with the world in meaningful ways, particularly in an age of an overabundance of information.
“Critical thinking.” he stated, simply. “If you don’t know how to sort through facts, you’re going to have a hard time being a productive person.” Guilford ultimately imparted upon Greg the importance of “building bridges, not putting up walls.”
“A liberal arts education,” Greg asserted, “encourages empathy which, I think, is what our world needs most right now.”