Big players in the business world lending a hand in nonprofit land | AspenTimes.com
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Big players in the business world lending a hand in nonprofit land

Allyn Harvey

During the past three months or so, Ian Priestnell has been discovering just how much he has to learn.

As a retired executive, Priestnell knows all about running a $450 million corporation. He knows how to manage operations in 51 countries by coaxing managers in Italy to work toward the same goals as managers in Argentina. He knows what he needs to do to keep his shareholders happy.

In short, he knows all about “the bottom line.”

Until a few months ago that all seemed plenty fulfilling. But ever since Priestnell signed up for the Executive Service Corps, or ESC, he has been learning all about nonprofit organizations and the people who work for them.

“These people realize they have to run their organization on the same terms as any for-profit business,” he said, “but they’re not motivated by the bottom line. They’re in it to help less-privileged people, and it really shines through.”.

Aspen’s chapter of ESC was founded two years ago by the Aspen Valley Community Foundation. It matches retired or semi-retired executives with nonprofit groups looking for help – advice, really – in any number of areas, such as board development, revenue generation and retail management.

Before unleashing an executive and all of his or her business acumen on a nonprofit, however, ESC puts the recruit through several days of training.

Last week Priestnell and about a dozen other retired executives spent two days learning about planned giving – where an individual sets up a legacy, bequest or even a family foundation to benefit a nonprofit – and other forms of “revenue generation.”

The seminar was led by Bill Hall and Barbara Weller. Between them, they’ve spent more than 40 years helping nonprofits assess their financial needs and tap into the different funding sources.

Hall has been connecting executives with nonprofits as a trainer for Chicago’s Executive Service Corps since 1980; Weller worked as a private consultant to nonprofits in the Chicago area for 20 years before joining ESC in the early 1990s.

Hall and Weller introduced the local retirees to concepts of nonprofit tax law, fee generation and what should be expected from an organization’s board of directors when it comes to fund raising. They also spent a good chunk of time teaching their “students” how to assess a nonprofit’s needs, formulate a plan and put it into effect.

“This is a very demanding volunteer job. Once you’re involved with an agency you need to stick with it until the work is completed,” Weller says.

The nonprofit segment of the economy includes everything from hospitals, universities and churches to legal service providers, family planning clinics, literacy outreach groups and organizations that help the disabled. The 40 or so ESC chapters across the country devote the vast majority of their resources to smaller, human-service oriented nonprofits.

“One of the joys is we’re utilizing the skills of people who have had successful careers, but you’re also teaching people new skills,” Weller says.

“Bill Hall and Barbara Weller are very, very good at what they do – they know exactly how long they can pump information into you,” said Ed Glickman, an Old Snowmass resident who has been with Aspen’s ESC since its founding two years ago.

He is now armed with plenty of ideas about how to improve an agency’s fund-raising prospects. And he is even willing to consider using a tool he found unappealing as an executive in the apparel industry – the retreat – to analyze and solve problems.

Some ESC volunteers like Glickman also bring their own experiences with nonprofits to the program. “One agency I was involved with for a long time made it a requirement that board members spend time with the staff on different projects,” he says.

That board-staff relationship made it easier for everyone when a new program was being considered. “It makes staff more aware of the cost implications of their proposals,” said Glickman, who is considering a post on the board of the Aspen Camp and School for the Deaf.

Meanwhile, others like Priestnell are new to the game: “The concept of planned giving, of persuading people to do that, was completely novel to me.” But the Snowmass Village resident is getting a kick out of this very new experience.

“I signed on because I want to get involved locally and share my experience from a 30-year business career. ESC has been very welcoming,” he said.


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