I have the blessing of going through a kitchen renovation right now.  I have to wash dishes in the slop sink in the basement, and microwave food on the window seat in my entry way.  I have to search for 10 minutes just to find my salt.   I have to wade through boxes of kitchen stuff in the guest room just to get a book off the bookshelf. 

 And… I had to empty my junk closet to let the contractors re-route a heating duct.  I’ve lived in my house 9 years and have added 3 children over those years.  So there was a lot of opportunity to stuff it full.  As I emptied it, I was embarassed to see what I had been “saving” for that perfect moment.  I had saved a ripped inexpensive raincoat that I thought I might need if I went caving again; the bridesmaid dress from my sister’s wedding that I would never wear again.  Throwing things out or putting them in a giveaway bin was painful, but once I got started, it was freeing.

This afternoon, I also met with a leader of an organization going through a strategic planning process.  We talked about the SWOT analysis and a MacMillan Matrix–a process to determine which programs fit the mission, have opportunity to grow (what needs to be done, and has funding to get done), what his organization already does well, and if there is passion or energy to get it done.  It gives him an opportunity to ask his board and community leaders–what is most important to them, and what is worth investing in.

I realize that although there isn’t much of a silver lining to these economic trials that families and nonprofits are going through, there is an opportunity.  It gives us the “pain” needed to make difficult decisions–to get rid of the less needed/past their prime/not working very well programs that a nonprofit may have. A chance to realize that your resources could be spent better in other ways. 

In the end, I will have a renovated kitchen. But an unintended benefit will be the newly organized,  half-empty closet– full of opportunity.


I am a very social person, so when I was given the task of interviewing nonprofit leaders in the Pittsburgh area, I was ecstatic!  Before I was given any proper guidance, I knew who I wanted to interview.  If you remember from my very first blog entry, I wrote about how I attended the Caring Place as a youth and the love I have for that organization.  Not too long ago, I gave a speech for the Caring Place at the opening of their new facility in Warrendale, PA, where I had the privilege of meeting the Board Chair.  We talked for a while before all of the guests arrived and I learned so much about him.  In fact, I think he is one of the nicest people I have ever met.  So, who is the nonprofit leader that I am talking about?  Merril Hoge!

Merril, Me, and the CEO of Highmark

Merril, Me, and the CEO of Highmark

Many of you probably know him from his years as the starting fullback with the Pittsburgh Steelers or from his show on ESPN where he analyzes football.  However, I know Merril because of the excellent work he has done for the Caring Place, which is why I choose to interview him first.

1. What was your dream job when you were a child?

At the age of 8, I saw football for the first time on TV and I was instantly hooked.  From then on I knew that I wanted to play football in the NFL when I grew up.

2. When did you start volunteering?

I did some activities with my church when I was younger, but I’m not sure I really understood the impact of my efforts then.  I guess I would say that I didn’t really start volunteering, or “understanding it,” until college, when I helped out with the “Just Say No!” campaign.  I was asked to be the spokesperson and also had to commit to using no drugs or alcohol.  I have never touched a drug in my life and thought that if I was going to preach about using no drugs or alcohol then I had to live by the message as well.  I wanted to stay true to the message and committed to the campaign.

3. How did you get involved in the nonprofit sector?

Walter Payton was one of my idols not only because of how he played on the field, but also how he conducted himself off the field.  Payton gave back so much by volunteering, and I wanted to do the same.  So, when I was approached by the Rooney Family and the Caring Place, and was asked if I would help out by being a spokesperson, I learned all I could about the organization, liked their mission, and got involved.

4. What other organizations do you work with and what are your positions?

I am the Chair of the Board at the Caring Place, but I also help out with friends’ nonprofit causes.  Further, I have helped out with the local and national chapters of the Leukemia Society.

5. Why the Caring Place?

I’ve been involved with other organizations and didn’t think they were run very well, but then I was approached by the Caring Place and liked what I saw and how well it was run.  The Caring Place adheres to its mission and everyone that works there loves what they do and works hard.  I feel blessed to be working with an organization that is so giving and incredible.  The Caring Place is very near and dear to my heart because it helps children grieve for the loss of their loved ones.  I really like what the Caring Place stands for and how it has grown into a grieving center.  I can also personally relate to the mission, because I lost my mother when I was a teen.

6. How long have you been with the Caring Place?

I have been volunteering with the Caring Place for about 22 years now and I have been Chair of the Board for approximately 10 years.

7. What is it like to be the Chair of the Board for the Caring Place?

I relate it to football; the head coach, or Chair, is only as good as the board members and staff who are executing the plays.  For me, I have a team of passionate, intelligent, and experienced hard workers who are all great people to work with.

8. What have you done as a board member to help the Caring Place grow?

I am very please that we have not changed how the Caring Place’s mission and how it’s managed.  The Caring Place is very successful due to mission-focus, passionate staff, and volunteers.  As a board, we have expanded the Caring Place reach by opening our 4th center.  Further, the Board has done a good job of reaching out and making relationships with funeral homes, hospitals, schools, etc., so that anyone who needs help has a better chance of finding out about the Caring Place.

9. How does working in the nonprofit sector relate to playing football for the Steelers?

Football relates to the nonprofit world a lot.  Running a nonprofit is a lot like running a team, in that you need many people, collectively working together, to make it successful.  Still, every individual has a specific job, but it takes a whole team working together to be successful.

10. What advice would you give the next generation of nonprofit leaders as they enter the nonprofit field?

Make sure that the organization you join is committed to: hiring good people; promoting a mission that has an established need in the community; and sound financial processes.

11. What is your favorite quote?

I would probably be a quote from Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”  Basically, what I drew from this quote is that if you want to be excellent and great it doesn’t just happen overnight; it is through habit and commitment.

Merril Hoge is someone that I look up to and respect a lot, so for me this interview was exciting and informative.  Please check back soon for my next interview with another nonprofit professional.


This is what it means to be totally committed to your mission…

Yesterday, Garrett Cooper and I had the pleasure of hearing a talk by Jessica Jackley, co-founder of Kiva.org (and Pittsburgher by birth and upbringing).

Kiva is a fascinating organization and just about my favorite example of social networking. Kiva is a microlender. That is, they facilitate small loans to people in developing countries (soon in the U.S.) to help them build businesses and become kivaself-sufficient. Unlike the typical microlender, however, Kiva is not the source of the capital for these loans – you and I are!

On Kiva’s website, www.kiva.org, stories and photographs of individual borrowers and prospective borrowers are posted. You or I then go to Kiva and select the person or group that we want to support. We lend as little as $25, Kiva aggregates our money with other lenders, and – Voila! – a new business is launched. And when the money gets paid back, as it usually does, we can pick our next recipient. $25 at a time, and in just 4 years, Kiva has passed over $62 million of loans to the working poor the world over.

Here’s Kiva’s mission: to connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty.


Read that again. That is a great mission statement. Clear, succinct, specific. No vagaries here. What do they do? Connect people. How do they do it? Through lending. Why? For the sake of alleviating poverty.


Some time ago, a company came to Kiva and offered them $10 million of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) money. Kiva asked them what they intended. Were they going to distribute the money to their employees so that all of them could log onto Kiva’s website and join as lenders? No, the company just wanted to give Kiva a check for Kiva to lend out. So Kiva referred back to its mission statement. $10 million could alleviate a lot of poverty. $10 million could provide for a lot of lending. But a $10 million check from a corporation wouldn’t connect people.


So Kiva said, “No, thank you.”


Let me repeat that. Kiva, a nonprofit less than 5 years old, turned down a $10 million contribution because it didn’t fit precisely with their mission.


Would you have that much courage in your organization?


This is what being truly committed to mission really means.


I’m planning to join Kiva’s network of lenders. Wouldn’t you like to? www.kiva.org

Have a question or something to add to this post?  Leave a comment, and you’ll be entered to win a 1GB USB drive.  One winner per week through the end of May.


“All of life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
Martin Luther King (Ohio, June 1965)Martin Luther King Jr.










 I distinctly remember a conversation that I had with a few nonprofit leaders a few years ago, when the last turn in the economy hit.  We were looking at decreased foundation grants and dips in individual giving.  I was curious about how nonprofits might band together to weather out the storm.


One leader said, “In these times, I’ve got to work more closely with other nonprofits to get our mission done.  I don’t have the funds to accomplish it myself.“ She said that she had met with two other executive directors in her field to see how they could get more done with less resources.


In the same evening, I met another executive who said, “I don’t have the time or resources to collaborate right now.  I’ve got to hunker down and cut costs wherever I can.  If I share with other nonprofits, we won’t have enough to do our work.”


Two separate and very different responses to the same crisis.   They are both partly right.  Most people assume that if you are collaborative by nature, your organization would not be competitive.  I think you need to collaborate in order to be competitive—not with every partner, and not on every issue, but lone rangers don’t make it too well in this environment. 


Partnerships should be entered carefully, because if it doesn’t add more value than it costs in time and energy, it should be abandoned.  It must be in the self-interest of your organization’s mission.  (to add to the discussion on self-interest…)  For some, the goal also means preserving the organization or preserving staff positions, which also has some merit.  However, we need to be careful to steward the mission first, which might live on with or without the organization.  That’s a tough pill, but one that has to be considered.  Asking yourself, “What would happen to the community if my organization didn’t exist?” is a helpful question to clarify the key asset you bring to it, and how to safeguard that addition.  Necessity is the mother of invention.  We all need to be extra creative–perhaps create a new partnership–to achieve the results we need this year.