Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Visionary Lost

I’ll conclude the description of my LeaderCulture model in the next entry. Today, though, I want to honor an individual whose vision of a breast cancer-free Wyoming inspired me and countless others across the state.

Debra Wasser lost a long battle with ovarian cancer on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2007. I share so many others in Wyoming the grief that comes with losing a friend, a visionary, and a leader who truly made a difference.

No one told Debra “no.” That’s how I ended up on the organizing committee for the first Komen Wyoming Race for the Cure. A mutual friend recommended that I get involved and that I meet Debra. I went to her house on a Sunday afternoon. I left with a job – and a sense of excitement about the vision she laid out.

Over the months leading up to the first race – and in the years that followed – I witnessed the myriad ways in which Debra drew others into her vision of a world without breast cancer and inspired those individuals to play a role in making that happen. They couldn’t help themselves: the picture Debra painted was simply too compelling, the cause too urgent. She had a magical way of giving life to Komen’s mission and her personal motivation for helping to fulfill it. She made us want to be part of the solution.

Debra moved on to other personal, professional and volunteer priorities. So did I. But I took away from that experience lessons about mission and passion that have carried me forward, to new challenges and opportunities. I thank Debra for that. I know I’m not alone. Countless others involved with Komen over the years drew inspiration and became empowered by the sheer sense that we would succeed, that Debra created. She truly exemplified the power of mission passion that moved people and changed lives.

Friday, September 14, 2007


Setting and ensuring direction of the organization is one of the most critical responsibilities of a nonprofit board. In fact, I’d say it is the ultimate role, from which everything else emerges.

Most of us are not present at the birth of our organization. Sometimes, we’re lucky enough to be in the position of defining a nonprofit’s purpose and the vision of a better world if we succeed. Most of us enter board work committing to an existing mission and to doing the work that moves the organization closer to its fulfillment. Hopefully, we’re also taking time periodically to re-examine and reaffirm (and update, when necessary) that mission.

It can be challenging to keep the board’s focus on mission advancement amidst the “urgent” details of organizational life. But it’s essential. Board members provide leadership in asking the questions: How is this program/initiative moving us closer to our mission? What progress are we making toward that mission? How can we make the most of opportunities while minimizing challenges to forward progress? Are we good stewards of ALL of our organizational resources – are we using them as effectively as possible toward our mission?

Make a point of posing mission-related questions regularly in board work. Include a “mission moment” in each board meeting, highlighting a project or recognizing an individual or group making a particularly important contribution.

Be good guardians and advocates for your nonprofit’s mission.