Muddy Boots 2.0

Waer Muddy Boots 

Muddy Boots 2.0 Blog


Leadership Thoughts:

Wear Muddy Boots

Be Intentional in how you spend your time.

Make it safe for folks to name the elephants.

Your personal brand is everything, as in what do you stand for and how do you stand. 


This is your time.

Find the pain and fix it.

It is all about your crew. Talent Matters

Be calm, be consistent, care, and always be a coach.

Legacy in the end is how we will be measured. 




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A Time to Rise, Again

Posted by on May 15, 2020 at 1:40 PM Comments comments (0)

“You can’t solve a problem on the same level that it was created. You have to rise above it to the next level.” –Albert Einstein


Poverty is pervasive, persistent, and painful. It is complex and cruel in its scope. It impacts society on many levels. Both the individuals and families experiencing hardship directly, and the opportunity costs to all of us. In my tradition, the gospel calls us to acknowledge poverty and to meet it with intention and resources. For many our response to that call, while filled with good intent, does not fundamentally change the trajectory of those living in poverty. One could argue that much of our current public policies share the same attribute. The impact of our actions does not change; long term the lives of people in poverty. Does it bring comfort, perhaps, does it save lives, at times, but does it at its core attack the root cause of poverty and drive change. The stark, data-driven, answer is no.


The social service sector, along with government safety nets, has been the backstop to those in poverty. Poverty in American in the 1960s was 15% of the population. Today 60 years later, unadjusted for inflation, it remains essentially the same. If one looks at the living wage, the numbers are significantly higher. Some argue poverty is a human condition and that the poor have always been with us, an interesting perspective unless you are the one experiencing hardship. No reasonable person can make the case that poverty is good for America. The question is who and how to address the challenge it represents to all of us? Clearly, the approaches and attitudes of the last 60 years are not working.


Imagine an America where the 30-35 percent of Americans living below a living wage and likely drawing on the social safety net is no longer doing so. Imagine the impact on growth, individual and corporate taxes, crime, families, and our overall quality of life. Imagine an America where full employment comes at a living wage, and a skilled workforce drives investments in infrastructure, new technologies, and innovation across any number of critical needs. Imagine an America where opportunity is available to all and that the engine of change is a living wage job and a self-determined life, not by circumstances, but by choice and a real available opportunity and path to economic mobility.


There is a Movement in America of individuals and organizations that believe this dream is real and reachable. A Movement that draws on Einstein’s observation that big problem requires bigger ideas. Ideas that challenge the status quo while drafting off the opportunity and uniqueness of a diverse, innovative, and courageous America.


At its core, the Movement requires that government, corporations and individuals come together and make the ending of poverty in America a national priority. A Movement that believes the opportunity to advance one’s self is available to all and that opening that door is an obligation on all of us. The Movement is the belief that economic mobility is not a redistribution of wealth, but the creation of wealth through innovative public policy and incentives to create living-wage jobs while lowering the need for the social safety net. By matching investments in education and training to employment in the new economy that address infrastructure, technology investment, innovative new markets, and the environment. Jobs that provide a path out of poverty and creates a new generation of consumers and contributors.


The Movement will also require leadership that thinks big and bold and is willing to take on the old ways. It will need a consensus of voters, markets, and the private sector to take the long view. It will require us to view that maintaining individuals and families in poverty is no longer acceptable and that fundamental changes require investment, time, and a long-term generational commitment. A belief that the way out of poverty is a job at a living wage and that opportunity is indeed available to all.


I believe we are at the tipping point. As Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” One need not look far to see and feel the divide in our country, and long term intergenerational poverty is perhaps our worst/best example. We are not far from social unrest and with it all of the consequences.


We have a choice. We can continue as we are, and the problem will not change or we can look to our better nature and say enough. Let us hold leadership accountable at every level of government and the private sector. Vote at the ballot box and as consumers. Get educated on the issues and look for the long term, innovative programs and policies that can scale, drive real change, and support them. Support them with your vote, your Visa, and your voice. Be courageous and call for change. If you are in leadership, lead. If you can volunteer, volunteer. Put grandchildren ahead of greed.


Let us go to the next level and let us go now!


It is time to rise above.


Dave Griffith is the Head Coach at Episcopal Community Services, where they are part of the Movement using innovative brain-based science to coach individuals towards and to economic mobility and advocating for public policies that drive the same agenda. ECS employees some 175 professionals and works with some 2000 participants and 300 volunteers through its various programs.


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A Prayer for this CV-19 Time

Posted by on May 15, 2020 at 1:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Prayer in this time of CV19


Lord, look over all our front line men and women caring for the sick.


Lord, look over all the essential workers keeping the supply chain running.


Lord, have mercy on the sick and grant them healing.


Lord, help us have faith in the face of death.


Lord, help us show compassion to those not working and in need.


Lord, grant wisdom and courage to all our leaders.


Lord, give us strength in this time of trial.


May we learn that which is essential is that whom we love,


be they family or the stranger among us.


May we come together now and remember we are stronger together,


both today, but especially tomorrow.


Lord, with you, our capacity is limitless and our faith strong.


In this season of resurrection, we take courage to face the challenges ahead.


May we do so. May we do so, May we do so.


Out of the darkness, may we find the light.



In Memory of a Coach

Posted by on May 15, 2020 at 1:35 PM Comments comments (0)

When I was a young man in boarding school, my Latin teacher was Mr. Hopley who, while proficient with the language of ancient Rome, also had a sense for the English language that he would use from time to time to turn a phrase such that many remain in my memory forty years later. He believed that words can inspire, that the spoken word, well turned, could stiffen a backbone, instill character, provoke thought, and become a touchstone for one’s values. His great gift was the lesson that words spoken, words written, only had true meaning if one could back them up with deeds and actions that matched the rhetoric.




One thinks of JFK’s enduring question; “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country?” or Lincoln’s well-chosen words at Gettysburg “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”




My favorite, probably due to Mr. Hopley’s influence, comes from Gene Edward’s well-conceived book, A Tale of Three Kings: A Study in Brokenness, a fictional tale about King David, Saul, and Absalom. In one chapter David, living in King Saul’s house, asks what to do when a spear is thrown at him. The answer?




When someone throws a spear at you, David, just wrench it right out of the wall and throw it back. Everyone else does… And in doing this small feat of returning thrown spears, you will prove many things. You are courageous. You stand for the right. You boldly stand against the wrong. You are tough and can’t be pushed around. You will not stand for injustice or unfair treatment. You are the defender of the faith, keeper of the flame, detector of all heresy.




Upon first reading, I was sure I had heard those words before. I continue to think about this passage a lot. On first read: Go ahead, return the spear. Justify it as a defender of the faith, keeper of the flame. Often our reaction to attack is to return the favor and to find some nobleness in doing so. In the end you both end up wounded, or perhaps dead. In the following passage, however, Edwards’s writes that perhaps you will be the finest spear thrower in the realm, but you will also be more than likely become quite mad. He understood PTSD before it had a name.




Edwards goes on to suggest that perhaps the true defender of the faith is the one who does not throw the spear, does not spend time with spear throwers, and the true keeper of the flame is quiet, even as one’s heart is pierced. Herein lays true leadership and strength.




How ironic that the classic phrase of English coronations, Fidei Defensor, defender of the faith (that’s where I’d heard the phrase), is turned from the old biblical story of David and Saul when that very same story speaks to the true king, one who would come after David and from the House of David and speak not of armies and violence, but of peace. We respect warriors, but we honor peacemakers.




So perhaps true defenders of the faith, true keepers of the flame, do not stand their ground on the strength of their swords. Perhaps the true defenders look for the common ground and the strength of peace. Perhaps the early deeds of a young King David match the words (ironically not his later ones, but Edwards has the liberty of prose here). Perhaps, Mr. Hopley was right. And to quote another man from Massachusetts “the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”




The work of peace goes on, and with it the notion that peace on the battlefield needs to be matched with peace on our streets and in our hearts. Peace that comes when the spear of poverty has been stilled. Then we can be true defenders of the faith. In a new land and in a new time. Fidei Defensor, Mr Hopley

The Trajectory

Posted by on May 10, 2020 at 9:55 AM Comments comments (0)

We all have moments that change the trajectory. The trajectory of our lives, our relationships, our careers, and our opportunity to shape our legacy. One of my all-time Muddy Boots heroes, Herb Brooks, coach of the 1980 US Olympic team, famously challenges his team before they played the Russians in the semi-finals that, “This is your time.”


Well, we are at such a moment. This is our time. We have some choices to make.


Let me frame these choices in terms of our stated values at Episcopal Community Services, where I work.


1. Dignity: We are asked in our tradition if you will respect the dignity of every human being -not some, every.

2. Justice: What are the rules for a free society, not just the rule of law, but equity and access to opportunity for all. Is justice equal?

3. Community: How does an interdependent community of individuals from entry-level supply chain workers to corporate executives function?

4. Impact: How do our public policies, our economic systems, our support systems drive results that deliver and create real opportunities for all individuals.


What CV-19 has made clear is the playing field is not level, nor has it ever been. That on the core fundamental legacy values of dignity, justice, community, and impacts, we are at an inflection point.


As we recover from CV-19 over the next several years and we rebuild our economy and establish health policies to face the next pandemic, what have we learned? More importantly, what will we do differently? Some thoughts:


1. All jobs have dignity and value. Can we build a workforce that allows for living wages and benefits while addressing the critical needs of infrastructure, clean energy, access to health care, supply chain, and sustainable food supply? The data says we can, but not without changes in public policy and support for these investments.

2. How do we level the playing field on economic opportunity and still drive innovation and investment in research and design? Again public policy and partnership with industry that supports education, training, and investment in creating living-wage jobs. The current safety net programs maintain people. The most effective safety net is a living wage job with benefits. On a macro level, we need a transition tax policy that drives this transaction person by person, company by company.

3. CV19 has highlighted the enormous value of essential workers. Time to value these jobs correctly as living wage jobs. As local communities and as a country, we need to find a better balance in how we value employment. I am all for the market to work, but it needs to be a transparent and free-market guided and led by thoughtful public policy that creates living-wage jobs. Think of an economy where you have 25% more consumers.

4. We spend time and substantial funds on programs that maintain our most vulnerable. One could argue that the impact of these programs saves lives, but fundamentally does not change lives. It is time to rethink the approach and call for different long term results. What does success really look like in a post-CV-19 world? The issues have long been here. CV-19 now shines a bright light on the challenges. It would be irresponsible not to pay attention on many levels but I also can see that social unrest is brewing. Let us work on the real root causes, not bandaids.


We have some choices.

It is our time to listen and learn.

It is time to act.

What trajectory do we choose?

ECS at 150

Posted by on May 3, 2020 at 7:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Today marks the 150th year of the founding of Episcopal Community Services of the Diocese of Pennsylvania. For 150 years, we have always run to the fire, and we will continue to do so. As we find ourselves fighting yet another fire, I have never been more proud of the organization.


To our staff, thank you for your service. You live our values of dignity, community, justice, and impact every day. To our board, your support, partnership, and guidance are unmeasurable, and on behalf of the people we serve, we say thank you.


To those of you who support us know that you make a difference and that without you this work would not be possible. We touch some 2000 lives annually from shelter, to housing, to out of school time, to coaching individuals to achieve economic mobility and more. We say thank you.


We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before, and others will stand on ours. Let our shared legacy be that even in the darkest of days, ECS gave light to the darkness and answered with our full measure the call to service. There will always be fires and we will always respond.


We may not be able to gather today, but I know we are together. Today, tomorrow, and always.


It is an honor to stand with you.


Stay safe, be well, be strong.


Coach" target="_blank">http://




David Griffith | he/him/his

Executive Director and Head Coach

Episcopal Community Services

Muddy Boots 101

Posted by on April 16, 2020 at 7:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Last week I had the opportunity to speak to an assembled group of leaders of family businesses sponsored by the Delaware Valley Family Business Center. They asked me to share my perspective, aka scar tissue, on the attributes of leadership observed over my years in business and my service as a board chair with privately held for-profit organizations.




I shared five core attributes.




Muddy Boots. Leaders who put on their Muddy Boots and go into the field and listen to the answers to two questions. How are we doing? What can we do better? Leaders do not manage the business from behind a desk. The listen to customers, competitors, employees, thought leaders, educators, to the people closest to the work. They seek outside advice and perspective.




Time. They are intentional with their time. "They do the important, not the urgent." They carve out think time. They are curious. They find the pain and fix it. They invest in learning and talking with contrarians. They think not in the present but three to five years out.




Elephants. They create environments where it is safe to name the elephants. They focus on the hiring and the care and feeding of talent. They work to be the dumbest person in subject matter areas. They understand that a bunch of talented people are more valuable than one individual telling people what to do. The world needs inventors and implementers. They understand that inclusion is a seat at the table and that the bigger the table, the better the decisions.




Personal Brand. People know what they stand for. They live their mission, their vision, and their values. People understand what is their North Star. They are consistent. They are both firm and calm. They run to the fire, not away from it. People want to work for them. They care more about other people's success than their own. They put their crew first, and their crew knows it.




Balance. They understand that while focus is important, so too is balance. They understand that shareholders are not the only stakeholder, but so too is family and community, employees, vendors, and customers. They understand and act that they are part of a much larger system and that we all carry the responsibility to pay it forward. They do not put greed ahead of grandchildren.




In the end, leadership can be summed up in the concept of legacy. True leadership understands that it is never about them. Rather it is about the organization they lead and the people they serve. They understand that old African proverb that "to go fast, go alone, but to go far, go together." Leaders pull the rope; they don't push it. They understand that personal achievement and economic security is a function of stakeholder service.




All of your stakeholders. Especially your future ones.



There is no new normal.

Posted by on April 10, 2020 at 10:45 AM Comments comments (0)



There is no new normal because there was no old normal. Ever


CV-19 is undoubtedly not the first nor likely to be the last crisis that changes the rules.


So what are the takeaways from this moment?



We are all impacted by CV-19, but we most certainly are not all in this together. If nothing else, this pandemic has laid bare the fundamental economic disparity in America. The reality of essential and nonessential work. The ability to work from home and be safer or to be on the frontline of health care, social service, critical industries, and supply chain services. The brutal alternative to non-essential is that a business with no inbound revenue cannot employ workers, with the consequence that 30 million Americans are without income and little assets to carry them through such a time.



Leadership matters and not just in the White House. Given 90 days' notice and I could make the case years notice and the best science available, how are we caught with our national pants down? We have dismantled critical national infrastructure and put politics and self-interest ahead of national interest. CV-19 was not fake news. Not connecting the dots and acting quickly and with intention is a failure of our Federal Government and Industrial Ecosystem, and we all own the blame. We vote, and we are accountable.



We can take the same roads out of this mess or we as a nation decide to take new ones. I know we will get through this, as the sun will come up. We will have and continue to pay a terrible price. The question is what we do differently. Can we create change in our future? With both pre and post-CV-19 as a baseline.



Can the nation come together and make a case for an economic recovery this time that provides a living wage for all Americans? Can we use the building of infrastructure to fuel that economic recovery? An infrastructure that is environmentally thoughtful, infrastructure that brings critical supply chain components back to America. Can we build a healthcare system that is robust enough to care for all in all conditions and not just future threats? Can we train and educate for the new economy and not the old one? Can we define an attribute of free enterprise that rewards the we and not just the me? Can we acknowledge that all work is essential and that all work has dignity? From the caretaker to the CEO?



Can we make the phrase, "We are stronger together" real?


Can we call for leadership that leads all of us?


Can we call for leadership that is willing to put the national interest ahead of self-interest?


Can we do the same?


Can we make different choices?



There is no new normal, but there is better.

Poverty, Race, and Privilige

Posted by on May 16, 2018 at 2:20 PM Comments comments (0)

I was recently invited to speakat Westminster where I am an Alumnus. Given our work they asked me to talk about Poverty, Privilege, and Race. The following are my prepared remarks.


Good Morning. My name is Dave Griffith, and I graduated in 1972 and served as a trustee from 2004 to 2012. Our 2 children are among the 12 Griffith’s who have graduated from here since 1953. While here I played hockey with Peter Briggs, I was a goalie, and this was when there was no roof on the rink, so basically we were gladiators. From my hairline you will no doubt see the family resemblance between me and my nephew Charlie. His Dad and I are brothers. I went on to Kenyon College in Ohio, and then for 38 years worked in the for profit world. The last 23 years with Modern Group Ltd in Bristol PA, an industrial holding company, where I remain Chairman. I also serve on several public and private boards.


I am currently the Executive Director and Head Coach of Episcopal Community Services. We are a 150-year-old social service agency focus on asking individuals, both participants and stakeholders, to Look Up and Challenge Poverty. We envision a world where opportunity is available to all. We do so on the bedrock values of Dignity, Community, Justice, and Impact.


As an agency we work with some 3000 individuals a year, we are by design a learning organization and by design a thought leader in our space, and we advocate for change to public policy on a local, state, and federal level. I am the first non-priest non-social worker to lead the agency. I am called to this work in part because of some of the early lessons I learned here. Not all of them pretty.


For the record, I am also an old, white, business guy.


Up until five years ago when I started at ECS, I would never have identified myself that way. Having been directly involved in the agency's work has been an education and a wakeup call, these learning have altered my perspective on poverty, gender, and race in America and my purpose today is to share that perspective with you as students and you as faculty. As a community these are issues you need to be in conversation about and take the appropriate actions when opportunity presents itself.


For many of you, this may not be a comfortable conversation. But it is a conversation that needs to be had. Especially, in the halls of education and in places like Westminster.


Let me ask you a few questions. If you would please answer me by raising your hand.


How many of you own more than two pairs of pants?


How many of you know where you will sleep tonight?


How many of you know where you will sleep in a week?


How many of you know where you will have dinner tonight?


How many of you know if you were sick where you would go and how it would be paid for?


How many of you expect to go to college?


How many of you have a home?


How many of you have a home that is safe?


How many of you expect a job when you graduate with your degree at a living wage?


For 15% of Americans, both urban and rural, white, Hispanic, and black, the answer to many of these questions is No.


This is in America, the wealthiest country in the human history with an average household income of $59,000.


It is important that to understand Poverty you understand some of the numbers. So bear with me for a moment and stay with me while I share with you some of the data. There are lots of myths about poverty, let’s look at the hard facts. If you are like me, the data was part of my wake up call.


Poverty in America is defined for a family of four at $22,900. A number not adjusted for inflation since 1972. Safety net support is available up to $34,000 regarding food with SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), medical with Medicaid and CHIP (Children Health Insurance Program), childcare assistance, early childhood education, out of school time. However, the safety net programs in America decline $1.50 for every additional $1.00 earned.


In Philadelphia where I work, the poverty level is 28% of the population or some 400,000 individuals. Half live at 50% of the poverty level, and 100,000 are children under 18. In America, some 1.5 million people live on $2.00/day or less, many on safety net programs, but not all. Poverty and near poverty cuts across race, gender and age demographics.


Poverty in America in 1960 was 15%. Today unadjusted for inflation it remains 15%. Apparently, the war on poverty has failed. One could, and I do, argue that the vast majority of social service programs in America are in the maintenance business. What they and all of us need to be is in the changing business.


In the Philadelphia region, the 14 federal and state safety net programs cost some $5.8 billion a year. Nationally some 35% of the federal budget is allocated to this space. Despite all of this funding and history, poverty is getting worse.


So what is the “So what” of all these numbers?


Poverty will consume us as a nation if we do not deal with it as a nation. 15% and I can argue for larger numbers, is a staggering cost to us as a nation. Left unchecked the social, moral, and economic costs are unacceptable and potentially a threat as critical as any we face. The economic gap is widening, and at some point, we will see social and economic unrest that will make 1968 look like a walk in the park. This is an issue that is very much part of your and my children’s future.


So what do we as a society do? What do you as a Westminster community do? You are already engaged in the surrounding communities; serving a monthly lunch in Hartford, running two summer academic programs here for underprivileged area students, sending students over spring break for community service projects, and also, of course, your civic engagement courses. But I want to challenge you to raise the bar.


First become knowledgeable. The roots of today's challenges are historical and influenced by deep seeded issues of economic justice, race, and gender. While we hold the founder’s words that “all men are created equal” as America's guiding light, our history, and frankly our actions, tells us a very different story both then and in today’s context.


Poverty is not a choice. No one wants to live in poverty. In fact, some of the most resilient people I know, are participants in our program. Learn the root- causes of poverty. Understand the differences between where and how you live, and someone in poverty. To go deep understand the issues of housing and family stability, of wellness, of education, of financial literacy, and workforce development.


The way out of poverty is a job. Not a minimum wage job at $9/hour without benefits, but a living wage of $26/hour with benefits. But a job at $26/ hour or better also starts with a core belief that opportunity with all the prerequisite is available to all. Not handouts, but access. The blunt reality is that core belief is not true.


As an old white guy let me name the elephant in the room. It’s called privilege. Of course, the way out of poverty is a job, just like the one I got when I graduated from Kenyon in 1976 with IBM. I worked incredibly hard to get where I am today. I didn’t need welfare; I thought poor people needed to get off their rear end and get a job.


The truth is I was born on third base, and I thought I had hit a triple. I had parents, a home, their network, education, access to opportunity. Yes, I executed when I got there, but a clear path had been laid out for me. Access to opportunity was and is available to me, for many in America, and not just those in poverty, this is directly and uncomfortably not true. For many the truth is they can’t even get into the ballpark. To be clear I am proud of my accomplishments, but I can’t and you cannot make the assumption that the “American Dream” is available to all in our country. Our future as a society depends on changing that reality.


Let’s contrast my experience to that of one of our participants at ECS. Shelby, not her real name, is an African American woman living with her Grandmother. She does not know her father and her mother is working the streets and on drugs. She is the fourth generation of her family to live in poverty. She attended a public high school where the attendance is 45%, and the graduation percentage is less. Fewer than 20% of her class will go on to get additional education. Her ambition was to work as a beautician because that was her experience. At 18 she was not sure where she will live when her Grandmother is no longer around, and she contributes all of her income of $7/hour, 35 hours from two jobs no benefits to help pay the utility bills and rent. She has been raped twice. Unlike many of her peers she is not a parent.


Shelby is in crisis 100% of the time. No one in crisis 100% of the time can productively problem solve, let alone lift themselves out of poverty. Placed in the same circumstances, how would you do?


I can tell you the same story 1000 times. Many more complicated, many more tragic.


Shelby does not want to be where she is. She sought us out at ECS and working with her we are setting goals to move her out of crisis and put her on a path the will provide her access to opportunity and in time real employment and the chance to break her families cycle of poverty. Shelby now has ambitions to work in marketing and digital media and is in a program at Philadelphia Community College to gain the skills she will need to reach this goal. Her paid internship is more than twice her last two jobs. All we did is provide a safe space, access to resources, and coach her as an individual with potential and the dignity that anyone deserves.


So get educated on the real story of poverty. Get the facts, not the political rhetoric that is so destructive on both sides of the aisle these days. Look at this issue not from your perspective which frankly may be privileged, but walk with a heart that is open to justice, dignity, community and an overwhelming sense of fairness. This is the essence of a Martlet’s values of character, community, involvement and balance.


The second thing you can do is when you can and have the opportunity get involved. While financial support helps fund this work, the key to helping break the cycle of poverty is building relationships, mentoring and direct involvement. Every child is one involved adult away from success. For many in poverty there is not such an adult let alone an involved peer.


There are organizations you can join, and work you can do. But please do not be poverty tourist. If you do this work, meet people where they are, get to know them and their stories. Work when you are ready with professionals at an agency and learn to be a coach or a peer to an individual living in poverty. Remember that your experience is not their experience. Understand what it means to be privileged and do not judge. While the scale of this issue is daunting, it starts one individual at a time. Someone helped you. Pay it forward when the opportunity presents itself.


The vast majority of agencies and individuals in this work are in the maintenance business; they tell people what they need rather than listen. I have found if you ask, people will tell you what they need. Be a coach and help them set goals and achieve them. The best brain science tells us that individuals learning to set goals and achieve them move from crisis to control. In fact, the efficacy of such work goes from 30% to over 85%. As an informed volunteer mentor or peer, you can help do this. The lesson is in the story of the fishes. I can give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach him to fish, and he eats forever. Join the movement, be an agent of change, teach people to fish, help people know what fishing is.


Finally, you can advocate in the appropriate ways available to you. Public policy and funding in this space are designed on science that is 20 to 30 years old and is built around the concept of maintaining people, not helping them change and lift themselves out of poverty.


You can advocate for fair housing, better education, no more regressive benefit funding as income grows. But the single best thing you can promote for is employment, jobs, and a living wage with benefits in America. The way out of poverty is a job. Poverty robs individuals of choice; choices economic wellbeing can provide.


With housing, education, and workforce development we can prepare individuals in poverty for the workforce, but where are the jobs? Yes, unemployment is at record lows, but a job at 40 hours a week at $26/hour with benefits and a 25 hour a week job with no benefits at $9/hour both count as individuals employed in the data. The working poor is a large number of the 15%. Understand and challenge the data, see the reality.


Advocate for job creation and job training and critically for individuals in poverty to have the training and access to jobs that are created. Right now there is a lack of individuals in the trades at critical levels. Infrastructure is failing, fund it. New technology jobs, startups. We need incentives to be created that drive real employment and not just for some Americans, but all Americans.


Here another elephant is the issue of race, gender and economic privilege. Economic privilege and access is not readily shared. We live in an investor, bottom line, economy; we need to live in one where social impact is a significant element in an investors criteria and not financial returns alone. I firmly believe that government funding will not, on its own. change the level of poverty in America. Our history suggest that public/private partnership drive the most effective programs. Partnerships that leverage inclusion and drive social impact create solutions that work and are driven by the market. 35% of the GDP not spent on safety nets could fund a lot of our other needs.


Your generation is the one that I hope will get this right. There is great power in inclusion and social impact investing and you know it intuitively. Hold your elected officials accountable, vote when you are old enough, be an informed citizen and start now. Not just of America, but of the world. When you are in a position to do so hold your community, your employers, and hold yourself accountable. As an old white guy, it took me 60 years to learn what real equality really looks like. Diversity is a checked box on an EEOC form, inclusion is a seat at the table, social impact is a return that also drives social justice. Our best moments as a country occur when everyone has a seat and return is measured in part by social impact. One can do good and make a profit.


You can make that decision now. How you behave, what you say and write about matters. Every day and in every place. Weather you be a third former, a senior looking towards college, or faculty teaching and coaching our next generation.


So I leave you with a few thoughts on poverty, race, and privilege.


First, acknowledge them.


Second, get educated on the facts, the history, and the issues. Understand what works. What is maintenance, what is myth, and what drives change?


Third, understand that it is in your interest to deal with these issues as the consequences of not are unacceptable. You and Shelby could have been each other, but for the luck of circumstances. Decide what you stand for, what is acceptable, and what your hopes are for the future, not just for yourselves, but the Shelby’s of this country.


Fourth when you can, reach in, volunteer, become a peer, understand social justice is not a spectator sport. No one wants a handout, what individuals in poverty want is a hand up.


Fifth, once you have done 1-4 advocate, vote, over time drive informed public policy. Understand that your individual behavior on the issues of race, poverty, gender, and privilege speaks louder long term than any letter to the editor and it is something you control, no one else. Look in the mirror.


And finally understand that what happens here on the Hill is an extraordinary opportunity that many individuals do not have access to, let alone are aware that such institutions exist. You can coast, or you can take what you learn here and challenge the status quo. Invest now, to be able to give back later.


It is my experience you can and will build a good life, but know a great one is when you do that and give back. You all can be agents of change. Much of what I learned, I learned here. Be curious, ask questions, read, and engage. Years from now the head start you get here will be the basis for success. Use that success to lift all boats.


You will note that one of the core values of ECS is Impact. All that we do is based on the core value that what we do has an impact. If it does not, we stop. Our work demands no less.


I suggest to you it is also a good value to have as an individual.


Answer one fundamental question? Does what you do make a difference beyond yourself?


Life, real living, is not all about being comfortable.


I have come to learn that by doing and facing the uncomfortable, one learns the most, grows the most, and it is rarely fatal. Scar tissue from such experience is the best teacher. You can live in fear of people different than you or you can meet people where they live and find common ground. In doing so you too can look up and challenge poverty. It is my working definition and implementation of Grit and Grace.


It is your choice. Choose wisely, but choose, knowing that not everyone has the gift and privilege of choice. Respect that gift.


Thank you, it has been my honor to speak with you this morning.


Oh, and lest I forget, in your spare time, beat Avon.



So you want to run a nonprofit ?

Posted by on March 20, 2018 at 7:35 PM Comments comments (0)

After 37 years of working in the for-profit world, I was asked to lead a nonprofit social service agency in Philadelphia. Having made the switch from CEO to Executive Director, I get asked about the differences from individuals thinking about making a similar transition as a final professional chapter and what they ought to consider.


So after 6 years here is my list.


1. Talent Matters. In both sectors the better the talent, the better the outcomes. Historically nonprofits have had lower compensation and benefits and the approaches I used to attract talent had to get retooled. While I have found that investing in professional development, best of breed communication practices and an inclusive workplace, as in people who work for you have a seat at the table with strategy and problem solving, all help attract and retain talent in both sectors. The great talent in the non-profit sector is called to this work. Discerning that call is critical in the hiring process.


2. The Pace is different. Not for the challenges, amount of work, and long days. Instead, the pace for getting answers from funders, government, and in matters of compliance is very different. I am used to regulation, but in this sector the amount of paperwork and the number of touches on any given issue is complex and at times lacks a sense of urgency. Persistent and specifically relentless patience is a necessary tool in the tool kit.


3. The myth vs. reality of this work. I thought I was savvy on the issues of poverty, race, economic opportunity. After all, I had run a large business and was well read and involved in nonprofits as a board member and volunteer. Never has the ability to listen, ask questions, talking to the people closest to the work, mattered more. I would urge anyone to come into this work with an open mind and an open heart. Business skill can make a huge difference, but the program work is complex and layered. It took two years before I could start to connect the dots around poverty and race and privilege in this space and understand what mattered to move the needle.


4. Collaboration is not a given. Forty percent of the social service agencies in our region have six weeks of cash on hand. Most agencies depend on government funding for ninety percent of their funding. As an observation, most agencies do not naturally collaborate as a function of protecting funding. I think the ability to bring focus on the work, especially work that delivers impact and to collaborate to produce a wide range of services is a skill where an individual with a business background can bring value. Joint Ventures can bring terrific value to the individuals being served and drive impacts at much more effective levels.


5. Data matters. I am used to using data to drive quality improvement. Getting data that you can take action on is difficult in this sector and only now being recognized as critical to driving process improvement. Like the for-profit work talking to your customers, finding the pain and addressing it is the key. In both sectors, we make the mistake of telling people what they need rather than asking.


6. Overhead. I ran a profitable business with 21% overhead as measured by GAAP and sit on several for profit boards. 990’s if you believe them suggest 8-10 percent in this sector. Funders are only now understanding that overhead is critical to successful programs. Finance, IT, HR, Marketing, Development all need to be done right so programs can function and focus on delivering quality impacts. Changes coming in GAAP will drive a better accounting in the sector. Donors and funders will take some time to reset the model on what defines success. It is not the budget mix, but the impacts. The best agencies deliver impacts in the most cost-effective manner. Education on that mix is critical.


7. Boards. There is a significant difference dealing with a paid board vs a volunteer board. Board recruitment is critical in both sectors. However, with a volunteer board there are different levers when making decisions, and with governance and nominations, while it should not be, it is different. Again this is a space that a business background can add value. It is essential to look at skills, diversity of thought and experiences, funding capacity and networking ability. The ability to have clear, transparent communications, hear from all views, have two-way feedback, and clear expectations, is essential for effective nonprofit board relationship with management.


8. Focus. It is easy to be pulled in many directions in both sectors. A critical skill is the ability to say no to your staff, your funders and board. Your heart will want to say Yes. The key is the focus to drive impact, and it requires a clear vision and strategy. In nonprofit work, there is a tendency to chase funding. Mission, Vision, Values matter, and they should define your work and your direction. If they are right and they respond to real needs, then the funding will follow.


9. Humble Experience. It is easy to think that the scoreboard you measured yourself with in business matters in the nonprofit sector. In many cases it does, but the program work is hard and it by definition is humbling. I would strongly suggest that the better way to share experience is as scar tissue. In that when you made a mistake, share what you learned, that you continued to move forward, that in most matters a mistake is rarely fatal, and that the sun will come up tomorrow. Experience is perspective and it is something you need to share from a frame of reference that matters to the people you work with.


10. Muddy Boots. If you know me, you know the story. You do your best work in the field with your muddy boots listening to the people closest to the work and the people you serve. Ask how we are doing and what can we do better. And you listen. You listen with intention and without defense. I have long believed that a leader is at their best in their muddy boots. This is true in any sector, profit or non, and I could make the case true in life.




Finally, if you are not called to the work I would strongly suggest you consider other options for a final chapter in your professional life. Understand what you are getting into and do it for the right reasons.




But if you are called there is no more rewarding work. You work with amazing people and stakeholders, you have the opportunity to coach young people, you get way more than you give, you learn and grow tremendously, and if you can move the needle in your space, make a difference then the opportunity for a legacy that matters are significant.


But, it sure as hell is not retirement……