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The Power of a Story

Recently, my friend Gillian Hill recommended I write my story to help uncover why I'm so passionate about supporting the nonprofit sector. So, here it is!

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been involved in the nonprofit sector. By the age of nine I was volunteering for a local nonprofit, the Hilo Aquatics Club, as an aid to the swim instructor. The funds from swim lessons helped with our travel costs to compete. I learned I was a good teacher—capable of helping others learn how to stay safe in the water.

In high school, I was a student leader with the Kamehameha Schools Young Life Club where I learned some very important lessons about myself and others. Young Life is a national organization that is well known for its amazing summer camps across the nation. I got first-hand experience riding horses, water skiing, and building a faith that has lasted a lifetime. I recognized servant leadership at its best through the adult leaders who mentored me.

In college, I helped lead the Hawaiian Club at Whitworth College. Annually, we hosted a luau that funded our activities. I learned how important it is to be a beacon of light for the surrounding community. People looked forward to this event because of the unique food, soul-stirring music and story-telling through dance.

As an adult, I’ve invested my time, talent and treasure in my church as a volunteer and lay leader, helped start and lead local service organizations like the Magic Valley Safe Kids Coalition, Twin Falls Zonta Club, and Idaho Voices for Children. I’ve served political organizations such as the Twin Falls Republican Women’s Committee (PR liaison), and founded Extraordinary Women—a networking group for women leaders. I learned nonprofit organizations are the heart of our community. We offer what we have for as long as we can but often struggle to fulfill our mission because we lack a clear roadmap, resources, and/or strong leadership.

As the Director of the Magic Valley Safe Kids Coalition I started to learn about the importance of the Big 5, key building blocks for any nonprofit (and for-profit entity) that is able to go the distance.

  1. Effective governance & leadership

  2. Solid financial systems

  3. Sound communications

  4. Impactful evaluation

  5. Practical human resources

For the next 30 years I’ve had so many opportunities to learn & glean from experiences with over 1,000 Idaho nonprofits that now inform the approach for Idaho Partners for Good.

I’ve learned almost all nonprofit organizations need technical assistance in at least one of the Big 5 to thrive. G

Gaps in the Big 5 are endemic and keep our communities from truly flourishing because nonprofits are on the frontlines of human, social and environmental response, yet they can have glaring holes in their infrastructure. I know this because I’ve witnessed (and contributed to) it from every possible position—volunteer, executive director, funder, capacity builder, board member, and consultant.

On a consulting gig, I was asked to help identify options for an organization to move from crisis to sustainability. It served thousands of people and their education programs were top-notch. Their content was world-class and their outreach was solid. But, their governance was non-existent.

There were lots of options to move them along the spectrum to a more sustainable position but they believed their biggest challenge was funding. But, their greatest roadblock to sustainability was actually a lack of effective governance and structure. What happened? Instead of building a board that was diverse and skilled; one that could help put together the strategy needed to go the distance and provide the support needed to execute the plan, they chose to keep doing what they had been doing. It forced them to close their programming within the year. Was funding an issue? Yes, as it is for most nonprofits but without effective governance the organization rests solely on the shoulders of one leader. I’ve seen this pattern repeated throughout the nation and in both for- and non-profit organizations--the person with the vision and passion wears hats that are ill-fitting, and can often struggle with the issue of governance.

So what is missing because this organization is gone? Thousands of people a year no longer have the opportunity to learn experientially from these industry-relevant experts who helped expose them to the world of future high-paying careers and excited them to dig deeper and learn more. The spark of innovation and creativity is dimmer or left unlit in many communities. Good paying jobs go unfilled because the talent needed is missing in the community.

How might Idaho Partners for Good have helped? If they had been our grantee we would have walked them through the following to position them for current and future success.

  • Exploratory phase: Includes review of key documents, a letter of interest and commitment from the Board of Directors, and an on-site visit for a co-interview to see if it’s a good fit for both parties.

  • Decision phase: Partners make a decision on which nonprofit to invest in.

  • Assessment phase: Grantees are notified and complete an organizational assessment to identify key opportunities. Next, IP4G partners and the grantee use the assessment to design a mutually agreed upon plan with annual benchmarks.

  • Deployment phase: We deploy financial and human resources for up to 3 years. Annual evaluation based on key benchmarks either releases more unrestricted funds or helps us exit the relationship. Outcomes that meet the needs of both the donor and the investee are a priority. Social capital along with financial and human capital are invested by Partners. The investee is left in a more sustainable position.

So why this model of giving?

  • Idahoans don't know if their charitable giving is making the impact they hoped for. This model ensures donors are educated about their community, they know how to be effective capacity builders, and learn how to use a human-centered design approach to achieve the right results for the investee.

  • This funding & capacity building movement differs from traditional philanthropy because it’s designed for transformative impact over time. By investing our time, talent & treasure nonprofits can do more of what they do best—deliver high quality services and ultimately increase their impact.

  • Communities don’t thrive without a strong and healthy nonprofit sector that is poised and prepared to meet the needs of her people and place. Our nonprofit sector is weakened when their infrastructure is unhealthy. By providing unrestricted operating funds, skilled (free) consultants and training opportunities, we allow investees to develop core competencies, management practices, strategies and systems to enhance their effectiveness.

After 30+ years investing myself in this sector and over 100 face-to-face interviews in the last two years (business and nonprofits leaders), it’s a model that truly supports the right kind of outcomes for both those who give and those who receive. This isn’t about ‘fixing them’ this is a ‘we are stronger together’ mindset. We all have a responsibility for and to our community.

In a time racked with fear, anxiety and uncertainty we need hope, inspiration and help from each other. While, this is my story this can't be about me. It has to be about all of us and the story we want to be told about how we helped transform our community! This model brings us together to work side-by-side to build Strong, Healthy, Educated Communities. Email me at or check out

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