CIPS CONNECTIONSINTERVIEWS by STEPHEN IBARAKI, FCIPS, I.S.P., ITCP, MVP, DF/NPA, CNP
Widely Respected Leader in Non-Profit Sector and Passionate Conservationist Shares His Views
This week, Stephen Ibaraki has an exclusive interview with Patrick W. Olenick.
Community is central to his life's work. He has provided over 20 years professional support in the not-for-profit sector. His work experience, passion for conservation, and commitment to the not-for-profit sector provides a creative mix to support the mission of Ecotrust Canada where Patrick serves as Director of Development (www.ecotrustcan.org).
He has proven major gift fundraising experience across a varied spectrum of organizations and a demonstrated ability to lead, inspire, manage and motivate senior volunteers, and professional and unionized staff in complex work environments. His senior strategic management skills have proved to be indispensable in budgeting, planning, and implementation of effective fundraising and not-for-profit management.
Patrick’s extensive background includes:
Q: Patrick, as a widely acknowledged authority and leader in the non-profit sector, we are very fortunate to have you with us for this interview and thank you for taking the time!
A: It’s my pleasure. My development (fundraising and friendraising) career focus is with medium sized non-profits in Canada. This is the sector where I’ve made my mistakes and learned from them.
Q: Conservation and the non-profit sector is your passion however, you also have a strong computing background. How have you been able to combine the two areas?
A: My computer background started in 1980. At that time I knew very little about computers but was fascinated by the potential to support one aspect of the work I was doing at the time. I never was one to think “I can’t do that”. So, with Computerland of Vancouver, I set out to design a PC network to help the Vancouver Children’s Festival sell tickets over the phone to the Greater Vancouver Regional District school system and the lower mainland general public. For any private corporation to have a PC network was a rarity in those days and totally unheard of in the non-profit sector. Government was just beginning to explore the possibility in a serious manner. Large corporations were still dependant upon mainframes.
With a hefty government grant in hand, I set out to create the system. We ended up with a Northstar Horizon computer with a CPM operating system and 64K of RAM (WOW), 2 Hazeltine 1500 monitors and a 10 MB Morrow hard drive, as big as the top of a regular coffee table. The cost of the hard drive alone would equip today’s office in a state-of-the-art PC network system. I learned to program in Basic. By the spring of 1981 we could sell tickets over the phone, print out invoices for the school sales, enter payments and print tickets and vouchers. We also packed the system up and moved it to the Festival outdoor site at Vanier Park for the duration of the performance week to sell and manage tickets onsite. For individual sales, I could accept VISA, M/C and AMEX and print tickets. It was a thrill to be able to electronically manage the ticket inventories for up to 300 different shows over 7 days with as many different seating capacities and arrangements. Yes, I could even sell reserved seat tickets! The system also provided by-the-moment seat inventories for any of the 300 shows and the ability to produce valuable management reports. It was truly a marvel. And I didn’t have ANY computer experience prior to designing and implementing this project. And the ticket selling was handled manually prior to 1981. That initial investment in technology saved our organization tens of thousands of dollars over the years. It also provided an interesting career opportunity.
I conducted many a tour of our system with various government and private sector people, green with envy. This giant step into technology in the early days kept us on the leading edge of office technology. Our staff developed skills far in advance of the computing office environment. It was also the halcyon days of ample government funding to support our growth in that area. The original ticket software concept was eventually adapted by Ticketmaster in Vancouver to sell tickets to the Vancouver Children’s Festival. They were an amazing corporate partner/sponsor and would go that extra mile to make things work for our audience. After many upgrades and advances in systems the original hardware ended up in our backroom storage facility. Someone walked away with it one night. I felt like a really close friend had passed away when that happened.
So began my professional relationship with the computer. I understood intuitively how such technology could make-work easier and provide for a very significant increase in workload and productivity.
Importantly, I learned how an improperly designed and implemented system could make life a living hell. What worked in one situation didn’t necessarily work within the context of another organization or department across the next desk (yes desk, remember we are talking non-profit).
Fundraising as a recognized profession, has only been around for a little more than a decade. I’ve been fundraising for more than 20 years. As a development (fundraising) professional I have used technology to help non-profit organizations create sustainable and successful fundraising processes. I lived the reality of how such an investment can return riches in so many different business forms.
Q: Where do you see the use of computers evolving in the non-profit sector?
A: Affordable, networked and remotely accessible fundraising databases. Key word is affordable (by non-profit standards). We aren’t there yet.
Many non-profits still use custom databases designed by someone with little, or more often than not, no experience in fundraising. Many don’t have any kind of electronic database. Most are based on a stripped down accounting or contact management tool. Fundraising is not accounting. Nor is it sales. Tools designed to support these kinds of functions are a very poor substitute. In my experience they work against any significant and sustained fundraising effort. Many can’t even produce a simple report showing a donor’s gift history without spending many manual hours reviewing the questionable data. Frustration with trying to make the software work causes most shops to revert back to a combination of manual paper and electronic spreadsheets. This is time taken away from fundraising.
A good fundraising database is essential for effective and sustainable fundraising. Period. The best commercial products are incredibly expensive for most non-profits across North America and around the world. Combined with the annual maintenance contract, the whole annual fundraising budget, more often than not, would be consumed in one fell swoop. And smaller organizations don’t have an IT department to support database management or for that matter, a budget that provides for a dedicated data entry position. The $30,000 initial price tag for an excellent database is more than a full-time position for most resource-constrained non-profits.
Q: What was the catalyst for your conservation passion?
A: When I was the Vice President of External Relations for Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific, I joined a group of students on a field trip to the world famous Race Rocks (www.racerocks.com) just off Pedder Bay on the southern point of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The group represented some of the world’s brightest 17-year-old students from some of our poorest third world countries. I got goose bumps as I watched these young adults experience the true and very foreign wonderment of a rich and bio-diverse ocean environment. I saw the ocean for the first time through their eyes. I was truly ashamed for taking our natural riches for granted. In an instant, they changed my life. I am forever grateful for that opportunity to share such a precious and private moment with them. My most cherished possession is a framed photograph of some of those students, given to me as a remembrance when I moved on to my next challenge. Surrounding the photograph are the signatures and best wishes of the 200 students in attendance the year I left. It hangs in a place of prominence in my office. Pearson College continues to grace my soul.
Q: Describe your current position and what it entails. What objectives do you hope to achieve?
A:Ecotrust Canada’s mission is to promote the emergence of a conservation economy—one that sustains itself on “principled income” earned from activities that restore rather than deplete natural capital—in the coastal temperate rainforests of British Columbia. We envision a region in which the economy results in social and ecological improvement rather than degradation. We are a private, nonprofit organization that works with conservation entrepreneurs, local communities, First Nations, government, scientists, industry, and fellow conservationists.
One of Canada’s foremost thinkers on the role of corporations and non-profit organizations in promoting social change has described Ecotrust Canada as being “at the vanguard of civil society organizations in North America…. Unlike many more conventional environmental organizations, Ecotrust operates with the critical understanding that ecosystems, cultural systems and economic systems are intertwined and mutually dependent. The organization has forged a powerful vision and practical mechanisms for reversing the destructive slide of the last century, creating instead real possibilities for a future of cultural and ecological sustainability. Because they work so closely and respectfully with native communities, they have earned the trust of these communities in ways that no other NGOs (or governments) have been able to.”
Transforming an economy that has long been based on industrial scale resource extraction is not an easy task. Our strategy is to act as a catalyst and broker to create the institutions and alternatives needed to envision, inform, and finance the conservation economy; support the conservation entrepreneurs that can give it expression; and conserve and restore the landscapes and waterways needed to provide benchmarks of health.
Jane Jacobs, revered urban planner and one of the most provocative thinkers of our age, has agitated in her book, The Nature of Economies, for what she calls “enduring prosperity.” In a letter of support for an Ecotrust Canada project, Jacobs wrote, “ Ecotrust Canada can be relied upon to surmount the difficulties and carry the project to fruition, as it already has done with other innovative and difficult projects. As an organization, it is intellectually and emotionally clear in its purposes; its people are practical and experienced….Ecotrust Canada enjoys wide support from members of the public familiar with its work and excellent capabilities. The match between its purpose and the (project) is almost miraculously apt.”
Together with our sister organization, Ecotrust, based in Portland, Oregon, we cover the majority of the Pacific Coast region of North America, from Northern California to the northern tip of Alaska. This bioregional approach allows us to find solutions that work for natural systems and go beyond political or economic boundaries.
Ecotrust Canada balances three values—social equity, ecological integrity and economic opportunity—in all our activities. These activities include mapping programs which provide training and technical assistance to First Nations and other communities; land-use planning and forest management programs to help communities harvest resources sustainably from the land; economic development programs which offer technical assistance and business planning to entrepreneurs and communities; and policy programs to advocate reform of forest and marine tenure systems and the protected areas network in British Columbia.
Ecotrust Canada’s information services and planning program was initiated in 1995 to support effective First Nations and community participation in land-use decision making, in effect to champion what we call “information democracy” after a century in which local participation in resource decision making was essentially non-existent. Since launching our program, several of our First Nations partners have translated their traditional knowledge of resource use into maps that have then been used to effectively negotiate with governments and industry to exclude ecologically and socially unsustainable development within their territories.
But information is not sufficient in itself. Our economic development programs offer business services, marketing assistance, credit and environmental expertise to small businesses in rural communities who are active in natural resource use, tourism, and value-added production. Ecotrust Canada's vehicle for carrying out this work is our Natural Capital Fund, which provides small business loans. Targeting both start-up and established businesses, loans ranging from $1,000 to $350,000 are offered to conservation-based or value-added businesses that are unable to access traditional financing.
Over nine years, we have developed an effective, stepped approach to being a force for change in coastal BC. The first step is to understand our land and sea through research and mapping; then to devise land-use, forest management and economic development plans to sustainably harvest our natural capital; and finally to facilitate the creation of enterprises, through business planning and financing, which can be the new actors in a conservation economy. Much has been said about “sustainable development,” but globally there are woefully few examples of sustainable development that is tangible, community-based and produces real results. Ecotrust Canada’s work is, and does.
Since our founding in 1994, Ecotrust Canada has evolved and grown considerably. We’ve developed an effective stepped approach to transforming the B.C. coastal economy from industrial smokestacks and liquidation of forest, fish and mineral resources to one that is conservation-based.
At a “wave tops level” my work integrates with volunteer Board members. I build and strengthen relationships between individuals and the organization I work with. I create processes to support, monitor and track the personal interactions that occur over a period of time. I also work with the Board to expand networking opportunities to help tell our story and identify and engage appropriate individuals. Today, from the moment an appropriate donor prospect is identified to cultivate, to the actual receipt of a significant gift takes from 18-24 months and sometimes longer. The mission and vision of an organization must reflect the core values and beliefs of the individual. In essence, the organization becomes a vehicle by which the individual can expand his/her values. This can happen in many ways. The most usual result of this very personal, complex and time intensive process is a significant gift of money or other capital to the organization. If the stewardship of the individual is handled correctly, the gift is large and will come with no strings attached or very few.
I was hired a little more than a year ago to implement such a professional process at Ecotrust Canada. We have an excellent track record of raising significant funds from a handful of mostly American foundations. Being so dependent upon a single source of revenue makes us vulnerable in the event any one of our stakeholders changed their funding interests and withdrew their support. My responsibility is to create and implement processes to identify, recruit and engage individual donor prospects while sustaining and even increasing our foundation revenues (current budget is a little over $4,000,000 CDN). The longer-term goal is to strategically steward these individuals over time to increase their interest in and support of our mission. By December 2005 our goal is to raise a significant amount from this select group and have strategic access to 11 key sectors critical to our mission. Our ability to tell our story increases substantially through this important network. Our ability to secure funds is diversified.
My first year was dedicated to implementing a fundraising database to support fundraising & moves management. A good portion of my time was spent understanding what makes Ecotrust Canada special and unique. The database and processes need to reflect this uniqueness in order to be successful and sustaining. Template database conversions and implementations do not work. I’ve undone more than my share of these template-consultant installations (they obviously never listened to the people employing them to do this work as they knew better). At the same time we needed to strengthen the processes to sustain and expand beyond our handful of tried and true sources of foundation revenue. This meant hiring a full-time grant writer and creating an organizational wide process to support a complex and demanding grant reporting capability. Accountability to our donors is critical for ongoing and significant fundraising success. Prior to my arrival, there was no tool to make this functionality possible. Our database is being used daily by fundraising staff. I am the primary tech support for the database as in house expertise does not yet exist (not unusually for non-profits). The database continues to consume the majority of my time. It needs to work well as we begin the next phase of our work. Bad databases are the downfall of any fundraising effort.
I’m just now beginning to work with my volunteer Board of Directors. My primary tools will be the database and our recently created Development Committee of the Board. Our goal is to engage 11 key sectors important to our mission by recruiting key leaders and decision makers to our Committee. In turn, they will help us expand their sector by engaging their peers. We are currently recruiting the best Chair to help us build our fundraising/friendraising committee. Recruiting the most influential individual will ensure our success. This recruitment process consumes a lot of my CEO’s and Chairman of the Board’s time – and they have my profound gratitude for their involvement, dedication and willingness to learn. By December 2005 we will have a collection of more than 100 individuals we can steward toward sustained and increased support of specific program or project areas.
Q: Provide some valuable lessons you have learned from each position that would be beneficial to the audience.
A: Rather than deal with 7 positions individually, here are my top 18 lessons, in no particular order:
1. Be willing to compromise
Q: Provide your top ten tips for effective fundraising.
Sure, again in no particular order:
A: 1) A clearly articulated vision for the future; an ability to articulate the vision and mission of your organization passionately and in your own words
Q: With your extensive senior management background, provide your top ten tips for effective leadership.
A: 1)Give back to your community - your time, money and advice
Q: What are the top essentials skills and processes for effective strategic management?
A: I look for a CEO who knows where he/she wants to take an organization. They should be out telling that story on a regular basis and be responsible for inspiring staff to accept that vision as their own. The CEO cannot be bogged down in the minutia of everyday administration. That skill set needs to be accounted for in another person. Imagination and three-dimensional thinking is paramount. If you don’t have the particular skill set necessary to articulate and implement your plans, bring in a consultant. Better still, build a strong and effective governing Board of Directors who can provide these services and know where to get the best. You also need a management structure to implement changes and measure progress. These managers have proven strategic management skills. You need to continually measure progress or lack of progress and have clearly articulated consequences if responsibilities go by the wayside. Progress needs to be reported on a regular basis and reviewed at appropriate times (Are we still on course? Has a material change occurred that affects our ability to deliver our mission?)
Q: Can you share with us, a humorous story?
A: 1) In September 1974 Pearson College opened its doors to the brightest young adults from more than 50 countries. One of those original students was. He recounted his story of getting to Canada and the College. You must remember that he was from a very poor region in Africa and had no comprehension of the world outside his own small village. His family had none of the modern conveniences of the time and didn’t know such things existed. Travel to the next village a few miles away was a huge adventure and very few even accomplished that in their lifetime. Orchestrating his departure was a miracle. Upon landing in Toronto, after traveling through several countries and time zones, he was utterly overwhelmed and amazed at the world around him. He had landed in a dream world beyond his comprehension. A volunteer met him at the passenger gangway to make sure he made his connection to Vancouver. He began to apologize to the volunteer for being such an inconvenience. He politely asked to be pointed in the right direction to the school and he would gladly walk the rest of the way so they won’t have to spend any more money on him. The volunteer assured him it was his pleasure to help and got him on the connecting flight to Vancouver. Now imagine how this young man must have felt, what his state of being was. He had never seen a plane (eating a fabulous feast thousands of feet in the air), had never see such tall buildings and marvels of a city! And everything was so clean and new. When he landed in Vancouver he was extremely jet-lagged, didn’t understand this effect and was in an altered mental state. He was awestruck by the expanse of Canada. When he walked off the plane he heard God’s voice calling his name. He truly believed he had died and was in heaven. There was no other explanation his mind could grasp. It was only the public address system paging him to meet the volunteer greeters at the baggage claim. He completed his schooling in North America and returned to Pearson College to teach and raise his own family. True story.
Q: What are your three most surprising experiences?
A: 1) Asking people for money and getting paid to do it.
2) In 1991, I successfully completed the Accelerated Computer Systems Management program at Capilano College (a 2-year program compressed into 9 months) and to this day I consider it one of my top personal accomplishments
3) The realization that my life and work experiences are valuable and sought after.
Q: You have designed and implemented many different solutions. Share with us four case studies and the lessons you have learned from each one.
A: Case 1: Writing a policy and procedure manual.
Case 2: Installing hardware in a brand new office.
Case 3: Designing a new software program from scratch only to learn that the solution already existed.
Case 4: Integrating my President’s personal Outlook Contact folder with Raiser’s Edge database.,
Q: What are the most compelling issues facing non-profit IT and business professionals today and in the future? How can they be resolved?
My points refer to my experience in the small to medium sized non-profit.
A: 1) The inability of many non-profits to invest in the best tools and resources to succeed in fundraising. This results in fundraising staff burnout at an alarming rate. Average length of time a senior fundraiser stays with a non-profit is 18-24 months. It’s a terrible domino effect as it takes
that long to cultivate a significant gift and it stops any momentum to sustain fundraising and friendraising. The granting world is focused on funding
projects or programs and not interested in funding the infrastructure to administer the project/program work. Electric and phone bills are not very
exciting. Few non-profit (large or small) organizations have a revenue generating capability to provide this core funding. Hundreds of thousands of
non-profit FTE hours are wasted on trying to create projects and programs to sustain their operations, time and effort that should be used to accomplish
their mission. Most of these “projects” take the organization off course.
2) Shortage of appropriate volunteers to support Board recruitment.
3) Shortage of skilled administrators and managers.
4) Shortage of skilled CEOs.
5) Shortage of proven senior development professionals.
6) Access to research resources. Only the biggest institutions can afford topnotch research to support prospective donor identification and cultivation. This is a huge stumbling block for small development shops. There is limited information to be gleamed from public sources and the effort to find this information is incredibly time-consuming.
Q: List the 10 best resources for non-profit technology and business professionals.
A: 1) Charity Village (Canada) - www.charityvillage.com
Q: What kind of computer setup do you have?
A: Toshiba Satellite Pro notebook, Pentium 4, Windows 2000 Professional, 2.0GHz Our database, Raiser’s Edge 7.61 SQL, defines our workstations in the office http://www.blackbaud.com/support/hwspecs/re7.pdf
Q: If you were doing this interview, what questions would you ask of someone in your position and what would be your answers?
A: Q1: How do you give back to your community?
I made provisions in my will for:
My volunteer Board involvement:
I mentor individuals just starting their careers in the fundraising profession.
I am always available to provide feedback and advice on non-profit fundraising when asked to do so by other non-profit organizations. I also willingly share my insights and experiences with Raiser’s Edge, one of the best fundraising databases on the market.
Q2: How do you follow your “bliss”?
Q4: What’s the last professional conference you attended? Do you find them useful?
Q: Do you have any more comments to add?
A: I just want to thank you for providing such a unique opportunity to share my work and perspectives with your audience. If anyone wishes more information on my work or profession, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Q: Patrick, thank you again for your time, and consideration in doing this interview.
A: You’re most welcome.