Meet a Nonprofit Leader: Kay Holt

This is the first in our blog series "Meet a Nonprofit Leader." If there's someone you'd like to see profiled, please let us know at

kay_holt.jpgDr. Kay E. Holt has more than 25 years of experience in higher education and arts management. She is the associate director and a professor in the graduate nonprofit leadership program at Oklahoma City University where she leads the new arts administration track. Prior to her current position, Dr. Holt served as executive director of Canterbury Voices (formerly known as Canterbury Choral Society), a position which brought her back to her home state of Oklahoma. Her other career experiences include director of education and community partnerships at The Dallas Opera and visiting professor at Southern Methodist University. Dr. Holt possesses a Ph.D. in Education from the University of Wyoming and is a graduate of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business Executive Nonprofit Leaders program.  

Start in the Nonprofit Sector

Before her career in arts management, Dr. Holt taught voice at the University of Central Oklahoma for 14 years. She performed in community theatre, where her arts management career began. As her skill set in arts administration grew, so did her connections with those in the industry. "I think what led me into the nonprofit sector was this circuitous route and that I wanted to make a difference in the lives of other people," Holt said. Because of her years of experience in the arts, transferable skills and connections, Dr. Holt transitioned into the nonprofit sector starting at a director position with The Dallas Opera.

Current Position and Organization

The ability to connect with other professionals played a part in how she ended up in her current role. As executive director of Canterbury Voices, she served on several committees and boards where she met Dr. Bob Spinks, director of the OCU nonprofit leadership program. After extensive experience in teaching and leading nonprofit organizations, Dr. Holt accepted a position as an adjunct professor for the program to bring her knowledge to others working in or aspiring to the nonprofit sector.

Leadership Style

Dr. Holt's leadership style is focused on developing people. She crafts her team to bring experiences and skills different from her own. "Building teams of people is really important for me. I have skills to bring to the plate, but I don't need 5 Kay Holts. I need people that are going to complete the picture," Holt said.  Part of that is also taking the servant-leadership approached, she said. This style of leadership focuses on serving not just the board of directors or even your staff, but the greater community in which your organization operates.

Advice for Aspiring or New Nonprofit Professionals

Dr. Holt recommends being open to new possibilities, being willing to go outside of your comfort zone and equipping yourself with knowledge. "Always look for opportunities that will move you forward," Holt said. "This doesn't mean you're always actively looking to leave your present job. It means you're always trying to grow and expand yourself as a human being." Aside from networking, she suggests furthering your education and staying up-to-date on trends and news in the industry.

Resources for the Nonprofit Professional

Networking is vital to being a successful nonprofit professional. Thus, meeting others in your profession and creating those connections are what will help you advance your career through the years. "Put yourself in scenarios where you are networking with not just like-minded people, but even people who are very diverse. Connections can occur amazingly in ways that you might not imagine," Holt said. The best way to network is by finding an organization such as YNPN or AFP and using that to gain skills in your field and create connections.

Managing a Nonprofit Career

Self-care is an important tool for anyone working in the nonprofit sector. The awareness of self-care is a trend increasing among nonprofit professionals, which is important for them to maintain long-term stability in the field, Dr. Holt said.

The Future of the Nonprofit Industry

Dr. Holt predicts multiple things will affect the nonprofit sector. She believes more professionals will be transitioning from the for-profit sector. As industries cut back, such as oil and gas, more professionals will find work in the nonprofit sector. Talent management will also become a focus for the industry as the baby boomer generations retire from their roles. Subsequent generations were small and thus, finding young professionals to fill these roles in the work force will become more difficult over time. 


This profile was written by YNPN of OKC member Kyle Wallace, an Admissions Counselor at Oklahoma City University. Would you like to write a blog for our website? Please contact us at