Thought Leadership Blog

The HRS Thought Leadership Blog delivers validated findings, visionary perspectives and op/ed commentaries related to HR, Leadership, Organizational Development and Employment Law. To enjoy the full volume of available articles, please enter topic keywords in the search box to explore our body of work. Articles are regularly presented by the HRS team and guest experts.


What I've Learned through Successful Nonprofit Leadership: A “Distinguished Service Award” Winner’s Perspective

I've been leading charitable concerns since age 10, when my dad charged me with organizing a successful MDA carnival held at our home. Once you've made a positive impact, provided you have a moral compass, you are fueled for life! I am privileged to know so many great charitable leaders and equally privileged to enjoy so many great contributors in my circle of friends, family and community. 

Through the tumultuous drama of juggling adult egos, I find daily comfort and pride in the knowledge of having helped millions and raised millions. In that vein, I suppose I self-served my own conscience. (Fade to Phoebe Buffay on “Friends.”) What I'll never get...is how some can let self-interest override their commitment to greater good. I can't say I care 'why' someone facilitates good...just do good! 

As a volunteer leader, I've never taken a paycheck for service, but I've learned to set limits and be very selective in allocating my already overspent time and resources. I've supported hundreds, if not thousands, of causes... disease, legislative, economic, youth, community, education, ethics, professional, environmental...you name it! I've earned a healthy collection of honors and awards along the way. I won't be stopping any time soon, nor will my friends and family. 


Lesson #1…
Along the way I’ve learned many valuable keys to success, which should be deployed for ongoing greater good at warp speed. That being said, I’ve also learned this country needs nonprofit reform now. It's stunning how many undeserving organizations are getting away with nonprofit tax exemption, while diverting attention and resources away from more critical deserving causes. If you feel compelled to address taxation in this country, don't lose sight of bogus nonprofits and/or tax exempt nonprofits defying their covenants. George Costanza's "Human Fund" is alive and well. What I've also learned is that the lazy and self-serving are effectively alienating our best contributors. We need to clean house in some areas and refocus the spotlight in others. 


Truly Serving a Great Cause… 
While I’ve been associated with many, many organizations, today marks 5 years since I announced retirement from Arthritis Foundation leadership. The success with a truly great cause, as earned through great effort, inspires reflection and celebration. For many reasons, I retired at the completion of Board term which coincided with regional reorganization, which I helped facilitate. I miss the AF, and I’m thankful to keep in touch with so many friends met through service! Over 11+ years time with amazing people lending powerful contribution, I was fortunate to have chaired 2 record breaking annual balls and 2 record breaking annual walks, sponsored 3 Fox televised awareness campaigns from my backyard, instigated an awareness campaign for juvenile arthritis, advocated successfully to U.S. Congress, and sponsored/served on leadership committees for 14 other successful AF events. Helping millions and raising millions, with loyal family and friends, we championed a great cause. That being said, I am humbled by the enormous impact we made, and I remain today so appreciative of the opportunity to have worked with great people. 


More Lessons Gained Through Success…
Every great cause comes with challenge. If it didn't, it wouldn't exist as a real cause. Through challenge comes lesson. Here are a few keys to success which I have learned are somehow not obvious to all:

• We must allow nonprofit employees pride for their mission without allowing them to mistake taking a paycheck from a charity as actually serving the charity. Paid employees need to take the effort at least as seriously as the donors. Above and beyond is where true service lies. 

• Volunteer leaders, whether involved or not in the selection and training of staff, need some defined management authority over employees. Carefully select, train and hold accountable the volunteer leaders. 

• Charitable events are everywhere, every day. It's a competition to gain support. Any misfires in implementation need attention as missed opportunity to serve the cause. 

• A true supporter of an ongoing mission is likely unwilling to "whistleblow" a bad act under charitable governance. A walkout, somewhat quiet, is more likely. Pay attention and investigate. As with any disengagement, find the information.



The Resolution…
Through exhaustion or frustration, try to stay engaged. Keep the keys to success in your hands, “shut up and hang on,” and get it done! Push through the challenges, because the positive impact is well worth the effort. Cling to every helpful cliché you can, including “anything worth doing is difficult to do.” If everyone really did their part for even just a little while, imagine what we could accomplish together. 

For me, my longest tenure has been devoted to these organizations who surpass the bar and actually deliver to essential cause, cause for which I am passionate. I look for co-leaders who rise to the task and well-serve their responsibilities. I send deep appreciation for those who continue to persevere challenges, because great causes deserve great perseverance. My many, many volunteer leader peers agree.

As a closing thought, I am compelled to wholeheartedly thank friends, family, community and professional peers for every greater good they have championed and/or will champion in the future. I am fortunate to have worked with some great Boards, Committees and Councils as leader, member and/or reporting consultant. We need more great people to step forward, and we need it today. Grab your family and friends as you step forward. "It takes a village."


- Jessica Ollenburg, Board Chair Angel Wings, Board Chair HRS Gives Back





Jessica Ollenburg - Saturday, October 17, 2015