Non-Profit Leadership: Do you Lead as a Social Entrepreneur?

Senior older female executive ceo and happy multicultural business people discuss corporate project at boardroom table. Smiling diverse corporate team working together in modern meeting room office.

My background before I was hired at Lakeside was in small business. As a young man I was privileged to work my way through a small brokerage firm, starting out as a typist to becoming the manager of the business. In that process I learned much about the business world in marketing, customer service, administration, finance and so much more. I also found myself in spaces where we had to compete with other businesses in order to achieve growth.

Entering the non-profit world was a very different experience. I quickly learned that non-profits were more mission driven. I also recognized that the collaborative efforts were very different than typical business relationships. I realized that the trajectory of our organization was very limited for growth, development and any hope of becoming financially solvent.

I quickly learned that working in the public systems had unpredictable outcomes. I found that we were victim to politics, budget cuts and an environment where growth was almost frowned upon. As I related to politicians, our board, many of our systems that helped kids and other community organizations, I quickly came to the understanding that status quo was very acceptable to many non-profits. I knew if I maintained that philosophy we would soon be unable to support our mission and possibly would cease to exist.

As I researched the opportunities for growth, I realized that there were many ways to meet the needs of students in our community. I recognized that our school districts needed help for their students to find success in school. I made some telephone calls and we began new relationships with school placement personnel and special education staff. We used those relationships to increase our enrollment which eventually created opportunities to develop new regional schools. That lead to schools asking us to provide in-school counseling. That staff alone today totals 83 staff members providing services to 5,000 students in 45 regional schools districts.  We realized the need for training and began to provide social-emotional and trauma training which now provides training to 18,000 professionals per year.

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The point is that we as non-profit leaders always need to consider new opportunities that are presented within the parameters of the mission. We need to think seriously about the business side of growth, the staffing, program development and funding in a way that creates new avenues for more missional growth, for more staff and programs that meet the needs of a broader clientele. We also have to consider what we are capable of along the way so that we do not over-extend our resources.

Being a social entrepreneur means that we are ever conscious of our mission, our potential and the opportunities that present themselves. We need to create positive momentum by thinking out of our normal framework. I find that we have much more potential than we realize if we open our perspectives to a broader mission. With that comes more resources, a wider and more affectual reach and creates a brighter future for the organization.

Teamwork and Business Human Resources - Group of business people working together as successful team building strength and unity for organization. Partnership, agreement and teamwork concept.

Part of being a social entrepreneur also is that the pursuit of this momentum never ends. I can honestly say that the opportunities for Lakeside are broader and more dynamic than I ever imagined. It all started with having an entrepreneurial mindset and using our strengths and capabilities to grow us into our potential as a group of professionals and as an organization.

It honestly has been both challenging and a great deal of fun and reward to have the impact we do. I encourage every non-profit leader to think about what those opportunities are that will lead you and your organization to a vibrant and impactful future.

Gerry Vassar


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