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Coffee with Michelle Karpinski

This month we sat down with Michelle Karpinksi who was named Executive Director of Pretty Lake Vacation Camp last spring after spending nine years as VP of Development at the Kalamazoo Nature Center. She connects the dots between her love for the outdoors and her leadership development.

Tell us how you got to where you are today

Coming to Pretty Lake was like coming home. I grew up spending a lot of time outdoors. I strayed from that in college and moved even further away during my early career in broadcasting. I rediscovered the outdoors during my years at the Kalamazoo Nature Center. Working as their development officer I tapped into a deep-seated passion. This further developed as I spent time with my husband and sons in boy scouting. It all came together last spring – camping, hiking, nonprofit leadership – when I joined the staff at Pretty Lake. 

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community? 

Kalamazoo is such a cool place. While growing up, we moved a lot, so I would not see many people I knew as I went around town. In Kalamazoo, I go almost anywhere and see people I know. It’s a vibrant community with much to do. It’s also a comfortable size – small enough and big enough.

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

“Follow your heart.” I do my best to do the right thing for our community and for our kids. It’s not always easy, but it’s a good way to move forward.

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

No one moment stands out. I’ve learned the most from those challenging moments during my career. I’ll do my best and then take time to evaluate: what went well, what I could do better next time. We did this as a team at the Nature Center after having faced a challenging customer service issue. Taking time to evaluate and learn from the experience has informed my life and career.

What’s an average day like for you at work?

I’m still figuring that out! The typical day is different from season to season, but it’s always busy.

What are the types of challenges/opportunities that keep you up at night?

There is so much need in the community, I’m continually trying to figure out a way for Pretty Lake to fill that need. We have kids coming to us for summer camp, but they take away so much more than a fun camp experience. The power of the outdoors helps them do better in the classroom and get along better outside the classroom. It also opens them up to experiences they’ve never had before and the opportunity to see themselves succeeding differently than they would in a classroom.

How do you stay up-to-date on latest trends in your field?

I read – a lot. I have sites I follow online plus I take advantage of area conferences. As a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) with the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), I need to get my CEU’s to stay current. That drives a portion of my professional development. Since becoming an executive director, the new challenges now on my plate also drive much of my learning. My motto is: stay open and embrace change.

What advice do you have for those wishing to have a long lasting career in the nonprofit sector?

Find that thing that gets your juices flowing. Nonprofit careers are not the path to wealth but they offer a path to a rich life, and that path is easier is your passion is engaged. Many jobs (e.g., development) require a skill set that can be used in a variety of settings (university, arts, outdoors), but a job that doesn’t tap into your passion will burn you out. Build your skills and connect with your passion.

What hobby or outside interests do you really like?

I enjoy backpacking, snowboarding, and biking (all outdoors, of course).


You are here

Sometimes the first step is recognizing that there is a first step.

At work, at home, and elsewhere, there are times when I find myself at odds with the situation before me. I’m stuck…befuddled. When I don’t know where to turn, I find that there is one thing that will turn me back around.

Acceptance

Once I accept (i.e., acknowledge) that I am stuck then I know where I am. It drops a pin on the map of my emotional journey, allowing me to better see possible routes out of my funk.

My common sticky places vary from navigating situations that try my values to managing people that try my patience, from my own short-fused stress to long-term challenges of self-care.

In her brief article, 5 Ways to Bring Compassion to Your Working Life, attorney Sara Tollefson describes recent lesson she learned around using compassion to provide better client services. She suggests living your core values, practicing self-care, modeling emotional intelligence and more. I find these to be key to avoid getting stuck.

By taking a moment to observe the landscape and locate myself on it, I find a foothold and can choose to move in a new direction.

Compassion, forgiveness, these are the real, ultimate sources of power for peace and success in life. Dalai Lama


Interaligned communities

Last Thursday I enjoyed gathering at ONEplace with around 50 others to again explore the topic of community alignment. We spent good time hearing aspirations from each person, reviewing some statistics and concepts, and then engaging conversations – both in small groups and large group. At the end of the session, one thing was very clear to me.

We will never achieve community alignment.

I don’t see this as bad news or a negative statement. It’s simply grasping the fact that getting the 75,000 people who live in Kalamazoo or the 250,000 who live in Kalamazoo County to align around a common care may be an unrealistic expectation. And, even if we did agree on something (e.g., education is important), wouldn’t it be so high level, so unspecific as to appear unactionable?

We may never achieve community alignment as long as we define “community” as including thousands of people. In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell referred to Dunbar’s Law which says that once you hit 150 people, it’s time to start another community or open another location. Why? No one individual can be in relationship (i.e., in community) with more than 150 people. It’s too overwhelming.

Further, with 150 people we can achieve alignment at a deeper, more specific, more actionable level. A level where people can connect and impact can be felt.

Another relevant fact is that each of us lives within several communities. We have our neighborhood community, our work community, our religious community, our civic communities, our families, our friends, and more. Because we’re part of several communities, these various groups – aligned within themselves – may become interaligned due to our involvement in all of them.

(yes, I made up the word interaligned…don’t look it up)

So, a series of aligned communities may become interaligned as an individual takes part in all of them and carries their messages from one to another and another. This cross-germination may not align the wider community very specifically, but it may get it moving in the same general direction.

I’m still working on this one. It’s all to say that perhaps we’re expecting too much from community alignment and need to encourage a network of action-oriented interaligned communities.

What do you think?

Thom


ONEplace Nonprofit Leadership Academy

The upcoming ONEplace Nonprofit Leadership Academy offers early career nonprofit professionals an intensive leadership development experience – free of charge.

ONEplace, Kalamazoo County’s management support center for nonprofit organizations, opened in 2009 and has offered the Academy since 2012. The Academy provides emerging community leaders an in-depth exploration of leadership within a nonprofit context. Due to the generous support of area foundations and the Kalamazoo Public Library, all ONEplace services are free.

During the Academy, a variety of experts and practitioners guide the participants through subject matter critical to nonprofit leadership. Participants also engage personal development activities vital to being a leader.

In addition, each participant works with a mentor for the duration of the Academy. The mentor (usually a current executive director) and participant explore topics raised in class and other related issues.

As a result, participants discover their own leadership qualities and challenges through assessments, group discussion, and various participative exercises, and develop a plan for future steps toward leadership.

This competitive program includes nine full-day sessions held monthly from February through November. Prospective participants are encouraged to attend ONEplace Leadership Series and Management Track workshops offered throughout the year to prepare for and supplement this intensive Academy.

More at kpl.gov/ONEplace/ONLA


A Good Time to Grow


Photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/taniwha/ used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 / Cropped from original

Coffee is one of my passions. Why did I become someone with a preferred brewing method and blend? Two reasons: first, relevance--as a college student, coffee became an essential part of my dietary intake, and I grew more interested in what, exactly, I was drinking. Second, my environment; I lived in Ann Arbor surrounded by top-notch cafes and friends eager to find the perfect cappuccino.

Looking back, so many other things came from being in a coffee shop, discussing personal victories and difficulties. I often wish there was a place that we could easily gather now, though the content and depth of our concerns have changed. Current conversations with friends often center on our workplace experiences, and how best to navigate them. If you’re a so-called millennial, you’ve probably come across some of the challenges and rewards specific to full-time work. Why not have a space to tackle some of those things together, especially because the livelihood and success of new professionals is relevant to everyone. Emerging leaders eventually emerge—managing organizations and sitting on boards. Thus, support and guidance will benefit our community as a whole.

 So, let’s make this blog space an environment ripe for developing new professionals. I want to engage digital conversations around how to be more effective, confident, and prepared for advancement. I will post about great books, tools, technologies, or community events. As the facilitator, my goal isn’t to be right, but rather to share, discuss, and grow with readers. I invite your participation, so please leave comments and share your insights.

 If you have an idea or a trend you’d like to see featured here, please drop me a line. I invite all suggestions – even if you prefer tea.


Pinned

Meetings.

(Now, how do you feel?)

Opinions fall all over the map related to meetings. Many meetings waste time and money while others hold critical work.

The con side of the debate presents Jason Fried. His TEDx talk, Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work, boasts over 3 million views. He sets out a situation of needless interruption and worthless reporting and then places the blame at the collective feet of managers and meetings. He goes overboard (a bit) but raises points that warrant our consideration.

On the pro side of the debate sits Patrick Lencioni. In his book, The Advantage, he makes the case for having more meetings. He prefers single topic meetings with only the necessary people present. Review his Five Tips for Better Meetings in light of your current meeting practices.

Regardless where you pin yourself on the meeting map, you know that you have a next meeting coming soon. Why not make it a better experience for all concerned.

Best,

Thom


Where do you find support?

In a recent workshop, the instructor asked, "How many of you have a colleague outside of your organization that you can confide in regarding work issues?" Only two out of approximately 40 raised their hands.

A few days later, I spoke with an executive director who talked of not having work related support. “There’s just no one I can talk to who will understand.”

I consider this a critical issue to our sector’s effectiveness and sustainability. Leaders working in a vacuum, without open discussion or candid feedback, eventually lose perspective and misread the landscape. It drains the integrity not just from their unsupported leadership but from our community’s organizations.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Within that same week, I spoke to another executive director who told of regular discussions with a mentor. “Leaving those discussions, I feel empty, revived, and ready to face the next thing.”

Personally, I find work-related support from a group of regional nonprofit leaders that meets quarterly. This occurs in a retreat setting over a weekend. It offers not only a chance to talk but also to reflect, take stock, and sharpen my focus for the quarter ahead.

Support may take varied shapes and come in different ways, but it must be found. Where do you find your support? Where would you like to find it?

Pursuing answers to these questions may make all the difference to your career…and to your organization.

Best,

Thom


Get on the Management Track

Many nonprofit staff supervise others, manage programs, or both. Acquiring and honing management skills form a continuous process and a cornerstone of organizational effectiveness.

Our ONEplace Essentials program addresses your and your staff’s basic management skill development needs. Every month, we’ll offer at least one Management Track workshop focused on skills critical to your success.

For example, we recently held a video series on event management (July), a workshop on team building (Aug), and our Supervision Series (Sep/Oct). In the coming months, we’ll offer workshops on communication skills (Oct), problem solving (Nov), decision making (Dec), project management (Jan), and more.

Spending valuable time on professional development is essential to your career growth and your organization’s development. By scheduling our Management Track workshops further in advance, you can better plan and coordinate your professional development activities and get dates on your calendar.

Plus, we encourage Management Track workshops as preparation for (and follow-up to) a Leadership Academy experience.

Our goal is to develop Essentials into a menu of workshops that you can count on each year. Of course, we’ll adjust, tweak, and alter based upon your good feedback. Thanks!

[list of Management Track workshops]


Just ONEthing - Oct 2014

Late last month, over twenty participants (mostly executive directors and board members) gathered for a workshop on Attaining Sustainability. After an engaging discussion, we reviewed ten indicators showing that an organization is in a sustainable position. These include:

  • Leaders champion cause & purpose
  • Clear strategies
  • Effective programs & periodic evaluation
  • Single, clean, up-to-date patron database
  • Fund development plan that realistically projects revenue for three years
  • Communications that connect with target audience(s)
  • Leaders exercise influence not control, share knowledge and information
  • Budget to handle cash flow, build reserve, and meet short-term capital needs
  • Succession plans (short-term and long-term) for all key roles
  • Leaders are willing to do the right thing and stop doing the wrong thing

The discussion ended with this somewhat surprising insight: all of these indicators reside within the organization’s control. Participants left with the understanding that, over time, they can build – and maintain – a sustainable organization.


Coffee with John Dillworth

This month we visited with John Dillworth, President/CEO of Goodwill Industries of Southwest Michigan. John gives us his insights on how he looks beyond what’s immediately evident and stays true to himself.

Tell us how you got to where you are today (positions held, career shifts, etc).

I ended up as President/CEO of Goodwill Industries of Southwestern Michigan because I have a son with a disability called Fragile X Syndrome. If he hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be here today. I graduated from WMU with a Business degree and a major in advertising in 1979 and immediately went to work with Kellogg’s as a sales representative in Detroit. While in Detroit, I got my MBA from the University of Detroit and was put in charge of Foodservice sales in the NY Metropolitan area in 1985. In 1987, I was moved to Long Island, NY in charge of Retail sales for most of the NY Metro area.   In 1989, I was promoted to Director, Foodservice & Government sales and moved to the Kalamazoo area. I never expected to last long in a corporate HQ environment – but 50% travel probably contributed to the ability to do so. That travel was affecting my son’s schooling (he needed consistency) and I was tired of it as well so in October, 1999 I went to my boss at Kellogg and asked for his help in moving to a job that didn’t require the travel and his response was “we like you doing what you’re doing.” The following Sunday, the job for President/CEO was posted in the Kalamazoo Gazette and here I am.

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?

The Gilmore Keyboard festival is why we stayed. After attending the first events in the early 90’s I told my boss at Kellogg’s I wasn’t moving again. This isn’t something I’d recommend to folks climbing the career ladder but it was right for us.

What guides or principles do you rely most upon? 

People are individuals and should be treated as unique. Our federal and state programs – even the media likes to lump people together.   It’s just wrong. Everything we are doing is about recognizing that every person has abilities and strengths and we’re going to help them change their lives – hence our vision – changing the world, one life at a time.

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

When I went to Germany after the fall of the wall and bases were closing everywhere. A German military attaché got up in a presentation with worldwide media present and said “Americans need to continue their presence in Germany because we can’t be trusted.” That never made the papers. Ever since that day, I don’t trust the media to deliver the “full” story on anything. You have to look beneath the headlines for the truth – generally, just follow the money and you’ll find it.

What’s an average day like for you at work?

My job is to eliminate the barriers for others doing their jobs. That’s what I try to do every day.

What are the types of challenges/opportunities that keep you up at night?

These days, I sleep very well. In the past, I had two situations that kept me up at night. The first was raising the money to renovate the building we’re in and secondly, looking for a way out of participating in the federal and state workforce development systems as they focused on “closing cases” vs. placing people in employment. Both of those issues are no longer problems.

How do you stay up-to-date on latest trends in your field?

Read and read and read and don’t just read about your field. The latest trends in any field generally come from outside your daily frame of reference. Pay attention to Japan and California – especially California. What’s happening there will happen here whether you like it or not so get ready.

What advice do you have for those wishing to have a long lasting career in the nonprofit sector?

Don’t plan on a long lasting career – plan on making a difference in the lives of people every day. If you do that, you’ll have a long lasting career.

What do you geek (i.e., what hobby or outside interests do you really like)?

Piano. I played last week in a little Northern Michigan town in a barn with a bunch of folks playing a bunch of country songs (I’ve played just about everything but country) that I hadn’t heard and people were just so grateful we were there – the audience was right out of Northern Exposure. Music is a lot of fun as long as people don’t take it too seriously.

Anything else?

Life is a lot of fun as long as people don’t take it too seriously. This is just one chapter in our schooling. Lots of lessons to learn.