First Person Nonprofit

Focusing on the individual.
Real people experiencing and reporting on real life.


Through the Valley of the Shadow of Failure

Cate Steane is the executive director of Family Emergency Shelter Coalition (FESCO), a nonprofit for families between homelessness and a home. With 60 people -- most of them children -- in its care every night, she went through a harrowing organizational crisis and lived to tell her First Person Nonprofit story about it:

Exactly a year ago, I told my board that we were on a path to end the fiscal year with a loss of $137,115, or 11% of the budget. Cuts in our government contracts for services had been brutal; foundations were retrenching in response to their investment losses, and individual donors were bowled over by the recession. Not good news, but we had some reserves and we would somehow muddle through.

But two months later . . .

First Person: I Am A Young Social Entrepreneur

Editor's Note: What does it take to be entrepreneurial? We invited Anika Stephens to share her recent experience in an incubator for young leaders who have already made a positive social or economic impact in their communities and her advice for others interested in starting their own social venture.

I recently came back from an unforgettable trip to the United States. A trip that gave me the tools I need to grow my small socially minded business. As a small business owner I understand it is important to work together. Changing the world is not a one-person job.

Divorce and the Nonprofit Board Member

Over the course of seven years, I have served on the boards of two nonprofit agencies and on the education committee of a third. I'm a professional academic, with the organizational skills and the flexible schedule that make me valuable as a volunteer leader in the nonprofit sector.

Today I will offer what I would call a case study, if it were someone else. As it's me, perhaps it would be more honest to call it a partial confession. The second year I served on the board of a regional arts organization, several board member proposed to terminate the group health plan for the four employees. The Affordable Care Act was beginning, and the opportunities for staff to choose seemed to offer cost-saving for the organization.

Robert Egger: “Our Sector Is About To Be Hit, And Hit Hard” A Blue Avocado Interview

For 24 years, Robert Egger served as president of the DC Central Kitchen, which has created more than 30 million meals and helped 1,500 men and women gain full-time employment. Today he runs the astoundingly successful L.A. Kitchen on the same model of food recovery, job training and social enterprise. In the interview below, Egger dishes to Blue Avocado on what he would tell young nonprofit leaders, how the sector has changed since he got into it three decades ago, and why it's more important than ever that we take risks.

A Tiger Escaped Today . . . and I'm on the Zoo Board

It made international headlines: tiger attacks three visitors and kills one after escaping her enclosure at the San Francisco Zoo. What was it like to be on the Zoo board at that time? We are grateful to our friend for sharing his First Person Nonprofit experience and what he learned about boards:

How did you first hear about the attack?

It was Christmas night. It happened about 5:00 pm on Christmas Day. I was at home and it came across in an email about 5:30. Everyone started exchanging messages. My first reaction was sadness, deep sadness . . .

From Black Panther to Nonprofit CFO

Norma Mtume is my hero. As a college student she joined the Black Panther Party and went on to serve as director of the Alprentice Bunchy Carter and the George Jackson People's Free Medical Clinics. She also co-founded a nonprofit in a broken-down trailer in Los Angeles -- SHIELDS for Families -- and as CFO/COO for 24 years helped grow it into a $28 million, multi-service nonprofit rooted in an African American and Latino community of South Los Angeles. We are very lucky that she has shared her inspiring history and story with all of us:

Norma, how did you wind your way towards becoming a nonprofit CFO?

Well, just a week after I graduated from high school I started at Cal State LA as a physical education major with a minor in mathematics, and was working on a teaching credential. As a South Central L.A. girl, I was going to pull myself up by my bootstraps, and didn't realize until later that I didn't have any boots! I attended classes there for two years before I dropped out, got married and had kids, and, later, decided I wanted to be a revolutionary . . .

Crawling Out of the Psychological Depths

Most of us have had moments of despair. Marilyn Neece very generously shares her story with us:

It's hard to say this out loud. I lost my edge. I went from sharp-minded and insightful consultant to a tired and nearly burnt out executive director in just three short years.
I know the board is wondering if I'm all right. It's humiliating. They hired me to make the great turnaround. We started with such energy and focus. But then . . . life is very different from those case studies in Harvard Business Review.

It started out great

My organization is a small mental health counseling center that was founded 35 years ago by several churches. It's a neighborhood place. We still have Christian counseling for those who want it, but we are mainly secular, and we offer counseling in a number of languages.

I've been a successful executive director in the past. I know about boards, strategic plans. I was . . .

Following a Founder or Long-Timer Requires a Hard Head

When Blue Avocado asked for potential interviewees who had followed a founder or a long-time executive, we didn't expect 58 people to respond. We interviewed 18 executive directors who followed founders, and another 10 who followed long-time execs. Last issue's First Person Nonprofit and this article are also ramp-ups to the national survey of nonprofit leaders in similar positions. CompassPoint Nonprofit Services has conducted a study of such executives among grantees of the Packard Foundation, with the data so interesting that we are pleased to partner with them on the expansion of the study to a national audience. Nonprofit executives: please! Click here to take the survey!

If founding a nonprofit takes strong self-confidence and a soaring vision, following such a leader takes hard-headed management skills and just plain hard work, according to 28 "followers" -- let's call them "successors" because they succeeded long-timers. They work at organizations that range from 2 to 300 staff.

Here's a story that combines several themes: "I replaced the founder of 35 years. Plus, she was my mother! I'll have been in this job for 10 years come July, and nine of them have been a financial struggle. I'd be putting on this warrior clothing to go out and battle and find money and keep this vision solid. And then my mother would come in and say . . .


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