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December 2, 2013 / Suzanne Bergenhenegouwen

Valuable Lessons from Executive Directors

On Thursday November 21, we had the opportunity to learn from local SBYD organization’s best practices on running and operating a nonprofit organization. In a panel discussion, executive directors David Cohen (Doc Wayne), Stas Gayshan, (Space with a Soul), and Mary McVeigh (Soccer Without Borders) shared their insight on finance, accounting, and different ways of bringing outside parties in in their organization.

While working in the field of sport-based youth development, I learned sport and child development are combined on various levels. One important task of an ED is to continue to ensure that operational practices work towards this child development. “You wear many different hats,” but this makes you become less involved with the ground-work of the organization. Cohen spends quite a lot of time with the kids in his program. He knew little of the prevalence of violence in the city of Boston before joining Doc Wayne, but “it happens in our backyard”. To all panelists, knowing their program and making sure they remember why they got into the job helps them to really get to love their job. To Gayshan, work is not really work, “it is something I love.”

Running a nonprofit organization will teach you many valuable lessons. Learning how to say “no” was most valuable for McVeigh. To her, saying no had a negative connotation and could potentially narrow down opportunities for the program. But when her decision not to sustain one program resulted in other programs to become stronger, she understood the benefits. Saying “no” became easier for Cohen when he saw that it helps to keep the focus on Doc Wayne’s mission. In fact, Gayshan recommends that we reframe “saying no” as “opportunity management”.

Panelists noted the need to find people that buy into the organization’s mission, both on an organizational and operational level. McVeigh noted the importance of matching employee skill sets with appropriate task; for example, she keeps the coaches that have built trust with the children involved in the ground work where they work best, instead of giving them administrative and office jobs. Gayshan pointed out that universities should do a better job prepare students to work for nonprofit organizations. Teaching them to “open up their mind and think in solutions” will prepare them to “manage opportunities”. 

Towards the end of the panel discussion, panelists spoke to the benefit of partnerships and collaborations, which allow a nonprofit organization to focus on their priorities. According to Gayshan, “outsourcing takes some tasks of your plate.” This helps the staff to focus on the mission. “Consider help with administrative tasks and seek help with other organization that have the know-how” says David Cohen. He reached out to several other organizations when time was not on his three-people staff’s side. A partnership can also mean that you share a space with other organizations. Soccer Without Borders exchanged ideas on various organizational levels with Metro Lacrosse “because they were just down the hallway”.

This panel discussion provided me a new perspective on the SBYD programs I worked with these past months. There is definitely great knowledge behind the programs that makes all this work possible.

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