Through a gift to the University of Georgia, one couple is combining their interests in journalism and leadership development.

A gift from Craig Lesser in honor of his wife, Nancy, has endowed the Nancy Shepherd Lesser Fund for Rural Leaders in Print Media at the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach.

The fund will provide money to pay for newspaper reporters in rural Georgia to participate in their local community leadership program.

“I wanted to do something that would honor Nancy,” Craig Lesser said. “This fund seemed like a way to combine her passion for local journalism and my work with leadership development and economic development.”

After graduating from UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication in 1983, Nancy worked at newspapers in Warner Robins and Augusta, covering rural counties in middle Georgia. That experience showed her the vital role that local newspapers and reporters can play in rural communities, she said.

“Local journalism matters,” Nancy Lesser said. “Especially in rural areas where newspapers are part of the community fabric, reporters need to develop both a deep understanding of their community and the skills to help foster engagement and discussion around their community’s critical challenges.”

By participating in a community leadership program, local reporters can learn more about the communities they cover; build their relationships with government, education and business leaders; and enhance their personal leadership skills.

“This will help reporters cover local issues more comprehensively and create more effective journalism, which is a pillar of a strong, engaged community,” she said.

The Lessers graduated from Leadership Georgia in 1994 and Craig Lesser, a former Georgia Commissioner of Economic Development, currently serves on the Fanning Institute’s Advisory Board. Those experiences provide a strong perspective on the importance of leadership development to community and economic development across Georgia.

“The fundamental first step of economic development is leadership development,” Craig Lesser said. “Without engaged leadership in a community, nothing happens.”

Especially in rural areas, strong leadership can help communities compete for economic opportunities, he Lesser said.

“When an investor visits a location and sees a diverse leadership team from all sectors of the community supporting each other, communicating well and working together, it shows the investor that they will likely have tremendous support if they choose that community,” he said.

Private financial support to enable journalists to participate in community leadership programs will make a particular difference in rural Georgia, said Matt Bishop, director of the Fanning Institute.

“Often times, tuition is one of the most significant barriers to someone participating in their community’s leadership program,” Bishop said. “This gift directly addresses that, and we appreciate Craig and Nancy for their support of the Fanning Institute, UGA and leadership development throughout Georgia.”

In creating this fund, the Lessers see a way to support things that have meant so much to them over the years.

“This fund will help reporters do their jobs better and support leadership development in rural Georgia, where we have deep roots,” Craig Lesser said. “We believe it is important to give back, and we’re proud to do so by supporting UGA and the Fanning Institute.”

To give to the Nancy Shepherd Lesser Fund for Rural Leaders in Print Media, contact Matt Bishop.

Writer: Charlie Bauder; 706-542-7039;
Contact: Matt Bishop; 706-542-6201;