|Posted on January 1, 2023 at 6:00 PM|
I am sitting on the same porch that I was in 2012 when I wrote my remarks for later in 2013 when I was introduced as the new Executive Director of ECS. Now ten years later and with the search for my successor underway, I find myself reflecting on what I have learned over the last ten years, about the work of challenging poverty, about leading a non-profit, and what I have learned about myself.
I would sum it up in the following areas. Listening, Talent, Focus, Impact, Marketing, Faith.
I have long believed that the people closest to the work know the most about the work. My life long belief in muddy boots has one in the field asking two questions. How are we doing? What could we do better? And not just employees and supporters, but most importantly is the individuals you are serving. People will tell you what they need. You build trust by listening, responding, communicating, and doing what you say you are going to do and the why. You include everyone at the table and everyone has a respected voice. The key is you need a respectful ear. If it goes well, it is the team, if not so well, it is yours. Never forget the power of a " Thank You".
The better the talent, the better the outcomes, the better the support for the work. It is unreasonable to ask people to do this work and pay them below the market. One of the first things we did was raise the entry wage and today we pay a living wage and benefits and at market above entry level positions. We also invested in professional development and other forms of support. We also invested in both program and advocacy talent and shared services in advancement, marketing, IT, learning and evaluation, finance, facilities, and human resources, strategy. The work we do, the growth we experienced, the results we achieved are a direct function of a talented team focused on the work. In Covid our ability to pivot quickly was a direct function of talent, process and infrastructure being in place. We know there will be other Covid’s.
It is easy to say Yes in this work. The real skill is to say No. One needs to be focused on the work that you do well, and it needs to be framed in you mission, vision, and values. Our mission is to challenge poverty, our vision is a world where opportunity is available to all, and our values are justice, dignity, community, and impact. All that we do is focused through our mission, vision and values. Our programs fall into the traditional social work buckets of stability, prevention, and transformation and we deliver through programs, partnerships and advocacy. They are all framed by a brain science-based methodology of coaching individuals to achieve self-identified goals and to assist with building assets. Our aim is to break the history of intergenerational poverty for an individual. We do so at different age points.
I note one of our values is Impact. Simply stated if the work we do does not drive improved measurable results, if we can’t identify and measure impact, we stop, evaluate and tune our approach. We have a full time three person learning and evaluation department and data is available to all through our business intelligence technology. In addition, we established an advocacy and inclusion function to look at public policy that serves as barriers to individuals moving out of poverty and both educate and call for changes to policy in partnership with out parishes and others involved in this work.
The reality of this work is you need to fund it. We are blessed with an endowment, but the work also requires individual, intuitional, and foundation support. What I knew but didn’t fully appreciate is the value of Marketing and Advancement in these efforts. You need your supporters to know your story, your case for support, your unique value proposition, your impacts, the truth about poverty, the impacts of racism and discrimination. You can be doing great work, but supporters need to know who you are, and you need to ask for support. Talent and investment in these two functions is essential in supporting the work
Finally, I have learned the power of faith. We are asked in our tradition to respect the dignity of every human being and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Watching my colleagues at ECS and our partners I have seen the power of such faith at work and the resulting impacts. The powerful lesson I have learned is we are truly stronger together. I have also learned that Poverty and its root causes is an evil we need to meet head on and that a just society needs to respond. Respond with transformational approaches, not maintenance programs, that open the door to opportunity. I have also learned that impact takes time and one need’s faith to stay the course. There are no quick fixes in this work.
I have also learned that the team is not just employees, but our board and supporters. The value of working together on strategy, focus, and funding is impossible to measure. Transparent and honest communications have served us well and the agency and our work are better for it.
We are seeking an individual to both continue the work and our strategy and to take the agency and its impact on the people we serve to a new level. I look forward to working with my successor to hand off as well as Rev. Midwood did with me.
It has been and continues to be an honor to serve and work with Team ECS.
Categories: Muddy Boots