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updated: 1/21/2021 2:57 PM

Passion to serve drives culture at not-for-profits

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  • David Scheffler

    David Scheffler

By David Scheffler
Willow House

What makes a not-for-profit organization successful? Passion, commitment, dedicated volunteers, staff and donors.

Work can be challenging without passion for, or a belief in the organization's mission. Without passion and a true belief, work is less fulfilling, less rewarding and often not very motivating. Being interested in a cause or desire to help others and to make a difference in society is what drives many people associated with not-for-profit organizations. Willow House is a unique Chicagoland organization that offers free group support for those grieving the death of a parent or child, something altogether more challenging in the time of COVID-19.

Willow House helped my own family when we experienced loss, and we began volunteering because we benefited from the support and wanted to ensure others do too. Now serving as the executive director is important. I was driven to apply my professional background and personal experiences to strengthen and expand Willow House's reach. I want the organization to thrive, not just survive.

To thrive, a not-for-profit needs volunteers and staff committed to making a difference and leadership that supports that interest by ensuring everyone feels valued and sees results.

Volunteers are vital for any not-for-profit. Whether it's by serving on the board, a committee or assisting staff and promoting the cause, the dedication and willingness to give of their time, talents and treasures is invaluable.

Most not-for-profits could not survive without volunteers. Financially our volunteers contributed over 4,000 hours of time in 2020, at an average hourly rate of $25 an hour, generating a value of more than $100,000 that directly benefits those we serve.

Volunteers' efforts need to be recognized and genuinely appreciated for what they bring to an organization. At Willow House, outreach from board members and the executive director to encourage, support and thank each for their efforts and dedication is important. One Willow House practice includes paying for volunteers to attend educational training that will deepen their understanding of our mission.

Staff is driven by passion and commitment to the cause. With the goal of funding activities to benefit the individuals seeking help, most not-for-profits operate on lean staffing levels. This often necessitates staff performing many different functions. At Willow House, management recognizes the accomplishments of each employee and maintains strong communication among all.

Sharing thank you letters received from family members and recipients of Willow House services has proved to be inspiring, and is a key factor in keeping our team focused and engaged in continuing the important work they do helping others grieve the loss of a loved one.

The financial support donors provide an organization cannot be understated. Donors are like customers and need to be treated as if they are the best customer, regardless of the size of the contribution. There must be a positive relationship and connection to the mission and cause. As a "valued customer" they need to know they are appreciated and that their donation and investment matters in supporting so many grieving children and adults.

Operating a successful not-for-profit is not an easy task but one from which I derive personal satisfaction. With passion and experiences I can apply to the role, I hope to ensure our volunteers, donors and staff help Willow House expand its free service and continue to serve those managing grief.

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• David Scheffler is the executive director for Willow House.