For thirty-five years, Richard Gottlieb was the Executive Director of Senior Services of Winston-Salem, a non-profit transforming how people age in Forsyth County. He began his tenure when the organization had net assets of $15,000. Today it has $17.5 million in assets with revenues close to $6 million annually.
This takes leadership, specifically learning how to lead your own mind toward success.
Richard recently retired from his position. Late in 2016, I had the privilege of spending time with Richard in a no-holds-barred interview and I walked away with an overwhelming sense of how much we all could learn from this man, especially nonprofit leaders.
A Nonprofit Infrastructure Focused on Seniors’ Quality of Life
The impact of Senior Services in Forsyth County, North Carolina these last thirty-five years is tremendous. Richard and his team created an infrastructure that allows and supports human beings to age with grace, dignity, and well-being, regardless of income, mental or physical challenges. What a vision!
Others will no doubt try to further capture the impact of his tenure (click here to read about that – so impressive!) but what I am most interested in is how he did it. Perhaps by examining the ‘how’, we might have similar success and truly change our corners of the world for the better.
Discovering the ‘How’ of Impactful Nonprofit Management Leadership
Richard was a very green Executive Director when he started and Senior Services was a fledgling nonprofit. He had previously served as an Assistant Director of a nonprofit in Connecticut.
Suddenly Richard was the boss. It was all very new and quite stressful but it turned out his interests and skills were a real fit with the organization.
At the beginning, Richard was fixing the copier, doing payroll, running programs and services, doggedly focused on survival. According to Richard, running a small nonprofit is a lot harder than managing a large organization because small organizations can’t afford specialists. Somehow, he kept at it.
There were so many people to learn from and be inspired by. He interacted with some of the most compassionate people in the workforce and the cream of the crop in terms of volunteers.
Eventually he was mentored and supported by some of the most interesting corporate and community leaders in North Carolina who shared a common interest in the well-being of seniors. Many of the leaders were elders themselves.
It took years to become competent in his role. There were so many firsts—the organization’s first building project, its first annual campaign, its first capital campaign. There were new sets of community folks to work with, there was learning how to re-fresh the brand, lessons in marketing and in relationship building, a whole world of real estate to learn about, along with hiring a team of staff members that would grow with him, and confronting legal issues—a constant stream of learning on-the- job. While most people get bored and change jobs, Richard’s job kept changing while he was continually learning. This is part of why he never seriously considered leaving.
As the agency grew large enough, Richard experienced the joy of focusing on what he was really good at.
I wanted to know: How long did it take to get out of survival mode? His answer? Eighteen years. Richard defines moving out of survival mode as having enough money in the bank to survive a storm; having a financial foundation that will allow the organization to continue its work even with some major hiccups, and enough resources to innovate and take risks.
The lesson here must be patience tempered with a drive to have more impact, to bring a critical vision into the world and to lead others to get behind it.
Richard took great pleasure and happiness in the fact that he left the organization in the best financial condition it has ever been in.
I asked Richard “What precipitated Senior Services finding this point of stability and sustainability?” His reply?
- Recognizing and taking full advantage of opportunities that aligned with the organization’s vision when they presented themselves and
- Relying on a strong team. Richard deliberately surrounded himself with people that were smarter than he was (including his board!).
Stay tuned for my next post where we dig deep into Richard’s success at cultivating and keeping a strong board of directors happy and performing –an opportunity missed by too many Executive Directors.