Monday, June 30, 2008

A Lesson in Mission from Mary Garland

When the Snowy Range Nonprofit Institute curriculum team began developing the 2008 agenda, I had an agenda of my own – at least for the opening talk on Sunday night (Aug. 3, Hilton Garden Inn).

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the importance of mission: understanding our organization’s mission, creating clarity about the mission, sharing it with others, and really living it. I struggle with follow through in my own daily board life, which is why the person we’ve invited to open the institute has become such a personal role model.

My acquaintance with Mary Ellbogen Garland began in 1999, when I joined the UW College of Education as its development officer. Mary was a founding member of the college’s development board. In my work with that group, I witnessed firsthand Mary’s energy and commitment to do whatever she could to promote our mission in ways big and small. While my duties shifted over the years, I was able to observe how she advocated for not only the college but for education across the state as she assumed a leadership role in the foundation named for her father, legendary Wyoming philanthropist John P. “Jack” Ellbogen.

I had a chance to interview Mary last year, for a profile that appeared in a college publication. During our chat, she made a comment that I will never forget. She said, “In all our thinking, we go back to donor intent: is this something that our donor would have wanted to do?” Then she added a personal connection: “I feel blessed. I can wake up every morning and ask, ‘What are possibilities for my dad’s foundation today?’”

That statement took my breath away then. It continues to do so as I read it again today. What a difference we could make in our communities – and our world – if all nonprofit board members could summon that kind of commitment to their organizations and their responsibilities.

This is what we’ve asked Mary to share with SRNI 2008 participants: that passion within that gives life to organizational mission. I know that she will inspire others to think about their own service and new ways to not only advance our organizational missions but truly live them.

For more information on Mary’s talk, click here. For more information on this year’s Snowy Range Nonprofit Institute, visit the institute website here.

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