NASA CIO Linda Cureton combines book launch and philanthropy

Linda Cureton is accustomed to taking on big projects as NASA’s chief information officer. Her latest endeavor is bringing her out of her comfort zone and into a new role: organizing an ambitious philanthropic event to benefit two organizations very close to her heart.

Cureton is debuting her new book, “The Leadership Muse,” at a book launch benefit on Jan. 25 that will raise funds for the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C. and the DC Youth Orchestra—she herself is a graduate of both programs. Read an excerpt from the book here.

Cureton has had to apply her teamwork skills to organize the event, which is intended to draw up to 250 people, and she has worked closely with NASA’s ethics counsel office throughout the writing and event planning process to ensure she has stayed within the rules for career federal executives’ charitable work and other outside activities.

But in her view, the effort has been worth it to raise funds for the causes. “These two organizations did a lot to shape me,” Cureton said in an interview with FCW. “I want to give back.”

All proceeds from the book launch reception, minus expenses, will be charitable donations to the school and orchestra, she said.

The Leadership Muse book launch reception, to be held at the Carnegie Science Center, features food and entertainment. Ticket prices start at $30, while sponsorships start at $1,000.

Cureton began writing her book about 14 months ago, and it was released in December. Amazon ranked The Leadership Muse as No. 5 on the list of Hot New Releases in Leadership on Jan. 7.

A popular blogger and public speaker, Cureton said she wrote the book to highlight examples of inspiring leaders, from historic figures such as Pythagoras to popular culture characters from Star Trek, and also her own grandmother and her former teachers at Duke Ellington and the orchestra. Cureton played French horn, trumpet and piano in school.

“It sounds so corny, but I think we need leaders with courage, strength, power and abilities beyond mortal men,” Cureton said. “Heroic leadership is a divine inspiration.”

With chapters on leadership, teamwork and innovation, Cureton was careful not to include material such as detailed anecdotes about her federal employment at NASA or at other federal agencies in the book, following the advice of the agency’s ethics office. She also sought and followed compliance advice from the office on the completed book and the launch event. 

By law, federal workers who are not political appointees have First Amendment rights like any other U.S. citizens, and are able to raise funds for charities and engage in outside activities that generate income. At the same time, there are strong prohibitions against using their federal positions for any personal gain, including strict restrictions on payments or gifts from contractors with whom their offices are doing business.

Cureton said she worked hard to stay within the rules. For example, to maximize the fundraising, she is offering event sponsorships at $1,000 to $5,000 each, which include a private dinner on Jan. 27. However, federal contractors who do business, or seek to do business, with NASA’s CIO office, and any others whose participation would be barred by federal rules, will not be permitted to purchase those sponsorships, she said.

The online registration form asks prospective sponsors whether they fit in those categories, and if the answer is “yes,” then that sponsorship is rejected, Cureton said.

While the compliance issues stirred some anxieties at times, Cureton said she was pleased to be able to use the Eventbrite ticket-vending website that is selling tickets for the book launch to implement a solution.

“We are using cloud technology to help stay in line with ethics,” she said.

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