Leasha West

  Leasha West


Happy 100th birthday! This is a milestone that most nonprofits strive for, but only a few seem to reach. So how do successful long-standing nonprofits achieve this centennial status? Pretty Lake Camp in Kalamazoo, Michigan, celebrated its 100th birthday in 2016 and has significant insight on planning for sustainability as it carries on for the next 100 years. Hint: it’s not all about the money!

Don’t get me wrong; money is the fuel that runs the engine. However, the underlying strategy is relationships, relationships, relationships – that’s the secret sauce! Let me explain. When relationships are planted and nurtured, they grow over time and can be harvested in numerous forms.

With Pretty Lake Camp, this is via volunteer service, donations, publicity, referrals, and on it goes. One of the cornerstones of the overall strategic plan is to build intentional relationships with community members and others who have an affinity for summer camp, and who desire to directly impact youngsters in a lasting manner.

This doesn’t mean attending networking events and buttering people up to ask for donations. It goes something like this: invite people to tour the camp, enjoy a fresh-cooked meal, prepared by the resident chef introducing the camp’s Farm-to-Table initiative, with the Executive Director and a board member; visit the farm, observe the garden, meet the donkeys, mini-goats and pigs; discover the Adventure Center; take a pontoon ride on the lake and learn about the programs that Pretty Lake has to offer.

Get it? Folks come out to Pretty Lake and fall in love with the place – and subsequently write checks every year. That’s what sustainability looks like. Yes, financial sustainability is a necessary, intrinsic, core goal, but emotionally connecting with enthusiastic supporters should be top priority for any organization.

While many nonprofits strategize for multiple revenue streams, versus the conventional funding of charities by way of donations – meaning a combination of grants, investments, passive income, etc. – private donations still dominate as the main source of funds.

According to a donor survey conducted by Pretty Lake, one of the highest ranking factors that swayed donors was the leadership team. That’s right, the person sitting at the helm was incredibly impactful in the donor’s decision-making process. Even though the relationship and emotional connection with the organization were present, who’s running the show made all the difference.

The most desired specific leadership skills included the ability to inspire, be decisive, innovate, provide direction, prioritize and be adaptable. Transparency, reputation, and trust were non-negotiable. These qualities embody the Pretty Lake leadership team. What does your leadership team represent? Could this be hindering your sustainability efforts? Maybe a donor survey is in order for your nonprofit. You might be surprised by what you learn.

The final piece to Pretty Lake’s sustainability model is the careful selection of their board of directors. Every board member has been deliberately recruited and hand-selected based on their connection to the camp, their level of involvement, and their individual unique skillset. Rarely are there board openings, as every director is deeply committed. The devotion from the board, coupled with the stellar leadership team, solidifies the confidence in Pretty Lake donors and keeps them coming back and relentlessly promoting the camp.

Have you performed an honest assessment of your individual board members? Is every director going above and beyond the scope of their duties, or are they there to pad their résumé? These are the tough questions that must be tackled. Your 100th birthday depends on it.

Leasha West, CEO of West Insurance & Financial Group, is a highly decorated Marine Corps veteran and respected community leader. Leasha dedicates her life to helping others and sits on the board of directors for many nonprofit organizations. As a result of her outstanding volunteerism, she was awarded the President’s Volunteer Service Award by President Barack Obama. To learn more about Pretty Lake Camp, visit www.prettylakecamp.org

This article is reprinted from Issue #8 of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today so that you won’t miss other actionable articles that will help you run your nonprofit organization with less pain and more gain!

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