By Rob Meiksins, CEO
It's been a year since I took the job as CEO of the Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee. That's hard to believe. Bonnie Andrews, the retiring manager of Volunteer Milwaukee, was in my office yesterday and when I told her about all of the LinkedIn congrats I'm getting, she was shocked. “A year?!” she gasped. “Time flies when you're having fun,” I replied.
Has it all been fun? No, not everything that has happened has been roses and rainbows. But a lot of it has been really good and really fulfilling. Here's my list of really cool things that I've experienced this year – and some things that are not so cool.
1. Feeling the energy that exists around doing good and helping.
The fact that Milwaukee is ranked third in the nation for volunteerism is an amazing thing and demonstrates what is cool about this town and the people who live here. The fact that our Volunteer Milwaukee program and our very own Bonnie Andrews had something to do with that makes a CEO very proud.
2. Thinking in big-picture terms about the nonprofit sector and what we can do to help.
Working with people on redesigning our training curriculum, for example. Getting a small team together and thinking about what we want a curriculum to do, the competencies we want a nonprofit organization to demonstrate, and the domains for those competencies – I just love that part of this job. Call me a geek, but I find strategizing around the best systems and approaches for helping the organizations that do great things in our community incredibly energizing.
1. The politics among and between nonprofits and the people who work for them.
Brutal honesty here: topping my list of uncool things is when people are on power trips and want you to help them but will not return the favor. When people get territorial and prioritize defending their little fiefdom at all costs. The flip side of that one is not caring that there is already something in place, and creating a competitive environment that does not need to be there. We’re all in this together, folks. We’re all trying to reach the same goal of a strong and vibrant community. Let's start putting our money where our mouths are: let’s start acting the way we say we want the whole community to act. We can do better!
2. The nonprofit sector’s inferiority complex.
We just assume we do not deserve the same investment as any other type of business, government entity, or other initiative. We assume that our salaries should be smaller than anyone else’s. We assume our buildings should look beat-up. We assume that we shouldn't invest in our overhead. In fact, we brag about it. Here's what I hate to hear: “We're doing more with less.” If that’s true, maybe you aren’t doing it as well. It costs more to do things now than it used to. So how are you making that work? We need to stop saying – and thinking – that doing more with less is a virtue, because the nonprofit inferiority complex is starving our sector.
I can't end in a rant, so I'll share another positive: hearing the stories of the people who feel they've been helped by us. When someone tells me NPC Organization Development Consultant Joyce Mallory is the reason their organization is doing so well, now. Or when a board director tells me he learned from my class on governance how to get everyone on the board to talk, and how that transformed their meetings. Or when I see people talking to each other before or after a meeting and they're finding out what they share and learn from each other. That's a good thing.
When we have successfully built a learning nonprofit community, I will know I've done my job with this organization.
So, yeah, it's been a good year overall. We've started some very exciting things, and I truly am looking forward to year two. I may be opening myself up, here, but I'd love to hear from you, dear reader. What are your observations of my first year in the big chair?