Maxing Out the Mission:
Leading a Cause Based Local Charity with Robert Day

Robert DayRobert Day‘s childhood of poverty and abuse included more than 35 homes before his unlikely graduation from high school. Today, through God’s grace, and with two Master’s Degrees in hand, Robert’s life work is dedicated to keeping children safe and families strong. Robert’s inspiring testimony, together with his unique and timely perspective, has made him a sought-after speaker for conferences, churches, civic audiences, and beyond.

Robert is the author of two books, Worst of Mothers…Best of Moms, and Desperately Healed… My Journey to Wholeness. These tell his story of a tumultuous childhood, and the arduous process of healing as an adult. Born to a teenage mother, who was herself a ward of the state, Robert survived abject poverty, neglect, and abuse; but in the end, this is a story of God’s infinite grace and mercy, and how He uses our pasts for His purpose.

In addition to his testimony, Robert loves to speak on issues of Child Welfare (particularly the history of the orphanage movement), Overcoming Poverty, and the process of Social and Organizational Change.


Read the Interview

Hugh Ballou: Welcome to this episode of The Nonprofit Exchange. Our guest today is Mr. Robert Day. Robert Day works in an organization. He is the leader at Patrick Henry Family Services. I am going to ask Robert to tell a little bit about himself and his passion for leadership. Robert, please tell us after that a little bit about the work of Patrick Henry Family Services. Robert, welcome to The Nonprofit Exchange. I am eager to hear how you describe your background.

Robert Day: Thanks, Hugh. I appreciate your having me on today. As you mentioned, my name is Robert Day, and I am the CEO of Patrick Henry Family Services. I have a Masters in social work and a Masters in divinity. I have taken two professional paths, one in ministry and one in social work. All my life, I have been in the nonprofit world in one way or the other. The story of how I got to Patrick Henry is more of a personal journey than a professional journey. Despite the fact I got two Masters degrees, I am a CEO, I am a homeowner, I am a taxpayer, I am a registered voter, I call myself a recovering orphan. What I mean by that is that despite that I’m almost 60 years old, I am still occasionally haunted by a spirit of orphanhood. 

You see, I was literally born into the foster care system. My mom was 16 when she gave birth to me, and she was in custody by the state of Tennessee. She had been removed from her family for abuse and neglect. It was a horrible time that came to the attention of the state when they discovered that my mom was being abused and neglected. She was put into an unwed mothers’ home. It was while she was there that I was born. She put me up for adoption. She was placed in a foster home in east Tennessee. The foster parents of my mother, George and Joanne Ball, when they learned I was up for adoption, they asked the state if they could foster to adopt me. So they made an unusual decision. They placed me in the same foster home as my mother with the intent that the foster parents would adopt me. When I started talking, I called my mom, “Sis.” I thought those foster parents were my parents and that she was my sister. 

For reasons I have never been able to discover, the adoption didn’t take place. When my mom aged out of foster care at 18, she made the fateful decision that I never regretted in my entire life. She took me with her. I was a child being raised by a child. More than that, an under-resourced and traumatized child. She grew up in abject poverty, abuse and neglect. She didn’t know her father. She had a very mean mother. My childhood and adolescence was a string of chaotic events after another: drugs, alcohol, domestic violence, crime. Because of that, I was in and out of the foster care system myself. At age 10, I was placed back in the same home that I was when I was born. George and Joanne Ball. That’s how I learned the first part of this story.

Through their fateful care of me and because they prayed for me every day of their life, I made it through childhood and adolescence. I often say that it was Christ that saved my soul, but the local church saved my life. Individuals in local churches would see this poor kid walking into church looking for a connection and sometimes looking for something to eat. That explains my passion of why I have been in the child welfare industry so to speak and why I have been doing nonprofits and why I pastor churches at the same time. This is what brought me to Patrick Henry in 2010. Even though I long ago cried out abba father and was adopted into the spiritual kingdom, I find myself wondering sometimes if anybody loves me or if anybody really cares. It’s not as often as it used to be or as severe as it used to be. That’s why I call myself a recovering orphan.

Hugh: That’s an interesting story. Tell us a little bit about the work of Patrick Henry and how that is relevant to your story.

Robert: Patrick Henry started out in 1961 as a children’s home on the former estate of Patrick Henry. Give me liberty, or give me death. Still two choices we have today: liberty or death. The children’s homes were the latest and greatest version of the old orphanage model. Since I’ve come, we’ve really transformed as an organization. We still do some residential care, but most of our children are placed with families now. We do a lot of prevention and early intervention so that children don’t have to be separated from their families. Or if they do, it’s as brief as possible. 

We do a number of services and programs for vulnerable children in distressed families. You can basically put them in three categories. We have counseling and therapy for children and families. We have camps and conferences. We provide a summer camp for kids from hard places. During the year, we offer conferences and workshops and training for families and professionals who care for those kinds of kids. Then we do our traditional care ministry, which we have been doing for a long time. We have a number of venues and settings we can take kids for a number of reasons who have had to be removed from their families and homes. The goal was always reunification. If that’s not possible, what is the permanent situation where a child can be connected with a family? Our mission is every child with a thriving family supported by a faithful community. 

Hugh: Wow. It says on your website your mission is built on the foundation of connecting with other agencies, churches, and families. That makes us uniquely better for the children and families we serve. Our title today is “Maxing Out the Mission.” Tell me what that means to you.

Robert: When I came to Patrick Henry in 2010, there were a number of issues that I faced. In fact, I wrote down within the first couple weeks all of the things I identified as issues that I needed to address. There were things that you would probably expect in an organization that was over 50 years old and lost its way. There was low morale and a lack of professionalism. We were spending more money than we were taking in. Maintenance was at a critical mass. One of those things in the list really proved to be the key to all the rest. I wrote it down as “Muddled mission and vision.” Nobody could really tell me what the mission was about. There was no vision other than we want to do better. As I try to unravel and understand the culture of the organization, the history of the organization, what were its strengths and weaknesses, I determined to build everything around the idea of mission. We had to build a mission. We had to discover the mission. We had to articulate it. We had to be clear about it. We had to communicate it over and over again. All the decisions we needed to make had to do with maxing out that mission. We needed to cut something. It was about maxing the mission. If we needed to start something or grow something, it was about maxing out the mission. 

Everything boiled down to three objectives. I needed to build capacity. By building capacity, I could expand our impact. By expanding our impact, I thought we could spark a movement. Those three concepts became what I call maxing out the mission.

Hugh: That’s impressive. It’s really hard turning a big ship that’s been going one direction for a while, isn’t it?

Robert: Yes. It’s not just the individual institution. When an institution is part of an industry that also needs to get turned around, it’s even more difficult. Everybody in the industry is going in the same direction, doggedly intent on their original model. What I think helped me was to understand that maxing out the model is not the same thing as maxing out the mission. Models have an expiration date. They have a shelf life. As an institution and as an industry, the model was either dead or dying quickly. We were one of the last in the industry to wake up to that. 

Hugh: Wow. That’s fascinating. You may or may not know that for 32 years, I have been working with nonprofit leaders in some genres. Some churches, but mostly organizations doing the good work outside the church. There are a lot of them. There are people of faith doing good work who are not inside a religious institution. We are called to do good work from different perspectives. 

I have been in Lynchburg for two and a half years. One of the first connections I made is with the Lynchburg Symphony. I recently stood up when I should have shut up and got elected president of the board. I am building my leadership skills on the shoulders of the most recent leaders who have been most effective in turning this huge ship around. We are seeing it happen in a substantial way. Many of the 750 orchestras in this country are underwater. It’s old stuff. It’s old patterns. People need to come to us. We are doing things differently. We are taking the orchestra to the people. It’s rethinking who we are. Is our mission our mission? Are people aligned with the mission? When I start board meetings, I put up the vision and the mission and ask if this is still where we’re going. Here are our goals for the year. How do we all play into those goals? It’s having that continuum.

I have been teaching this stuff for a long time. I have developed it in large member churches. I developed systems with a whole lot of moving parts. I had to be the referee for the moving parts, but also the influencer. You have to change our habits. When you are working as a transformational leader in an autocratic system, it’s harder to turn the boat. We’ve done that. I am back in the saddle, and it’s good to see it from both perspectives. It’s a year-long gig. I get to see it from both perspectives. At 73, Robert, I am still learning. I learn from every engagement. When I see a leader who says I have leadership down pat, I think uh oh. Lack of self-awareness. To me, the mission helps people have that north star. It clearly defines your long-term objectives. This is what it looks like when we are successful.

Sitting in your seat. Long way to ramp up a question. What is your biggest challenge as a leader? You came in with a challenge. I imagine that challenge has shifted. I heard you say capacity-building. That applies to the organization, but does it also apply to you?

Robert: Sure. it’s interesting when things start changing, the types of complaints that you start hearing. Of course, people are really experiencing a sense of loss. That’s what they’re fighting against. They have not quite been able to see the new paradigm. The speed of change is going rather quickly. I felt like we didn’t have time to navel-gaze. We started working right away. Of course, the complaint is we are always changing. My response is if you always want to improve, you always have to change. There is no way to get around that. What people don’t recognize is I had to change even more than the organization. John Maxwell talks about the law of the lid. If the organization is only going to go as far as the leader can take it. I had to really dig in deep and develop some skills I didn’t have. Do some things I hadn’t done before. Call on a kind of strength and courage I didn’t always have. As I explained earlier, my story, I experienced a lot of trauma as a child. I work in the same type of setting where kids are recovering from trauma. It’s easy to get triggered. If somebody rejected my idea, I might feel alone, or some old feelings came up. I had to personally get better before I could professionally advance to lead this organization. I would say I’ve transformed more than the organization has because of it. It forced me to.

Hugh: That’s rare, you know. Self-awareness is the biggest gap. There are two real big ones. What I see over and over is lack of self-awareness and understanding that listening is the primary leadership skill. There is listening with your ears and listening with your eyes. It’s four to one. You have one mouth. As a musician, I am going to lean that way. I see everything as building a performance ensemble. We are either rehearsing. We have a bad rehearsal in how we do meetings, reviews, other things. Or we are having good rehearsals. I see lots of systems that aren’t working as well. 

I have developed the principles. 1) foundations, knowing where you are going and having the skills. 2) relationships, have the best people around you. 3) have a system. We have really good people and good work. I have seen so many nonprofit boards who have their hands tied. Good people who want to work, but boom. We had a Lynchburg Symphony board meeting last night. Everybody was on the edge of their seat saying, “I want to help. I want to do something.” We have come into this commonality of erasing the silos. This is the program committee who said we need to do this stuff. Everyone else said they could help. I was so happy to see it. In a musical ensemble, you play off of each other. You listen. You fit into the sound. You don’t give up your individualism and your own skill set. What you do is raise the bar on your own performing because there is the synergy of the whole. The last one is balance. How do we balance everything? Multiple priorities. Spiritual, physical, mental, emotional. I spoke a bit about a pastor who died in service who I worked with, who wore himself out and burned out his body. There is a duty and delight in caring for self.

Speak about how do you keep yourself on that learning edge, that cutting edge of I need to continue? It’s what I call continuing improvement as averse to the corporate continuous improvement consulting model. To me, it’s the continuing improvement of the leader to say I am going to continue growing. If you stop that, it’s going the other way. What is your discipline of continuing improvement?

Robert: I read a book about every week. Not just things in my field, but in other fields. I read a lot about leadership in general. I go to conferences. It was a global leadership conference about five years ago. I was sitting in a satellite site. The speaker at that time made a statement that just pierced my soul. He said, “The organization will only be as healthy as the leader allows it.” I thought he was looking and talking directly to me. Of course, he wasn’t. I sure felt it. I was at this kind of critical junction in the organization. I felt like I couldn’t press through this breakthrough we needed to get healthy as an organization. I started thinking about the things I was doing directly or indirectly that was allowing that dysfunction to continue. 

I thought of that old expression about how in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. I thought of if the one-eyed king could have healed his people’s blindness, would he? The assumption is he wouldn’t because he’d lose power. I thought more significantly than that, he would lose his significance. If they could see, they didn’t need him. He would have no meaning again. I felt like I was the one-eyed king in the land of the blind. As long as they needed me, I was in charge. That’s why the dysfunction was there. I grew up in a dysfunctional family, in a broken culture. I had to learn how to rise above it, but I never learned how to make it better. When I started focusing on myself and dealing with some of the self-confidence issues and issues of control, the organization started getting better. We were hiring people. We were hiring good people. But there wasn’t that breakthrough until I allowed my blind people to be healed and not get in the way of that. Does that make any sense?

Hugh: That makes a lot of sense. There is a leader who wants everybody kept at a disadvantage, which is so contrary to leadership to me. If you’re the smartest person in the room, run. 

Robert: Right. One of my new hires had said that we were living in the old sitcom Father Knows Best. Everybody was seeing me as Father who knows best, and that’s why we weren’t getting anywhere. I had to get better myself and learn to trust the people I had hired. That’s when we started turning a corner. 

Hugh: I champion the style of leadership called transformational leadership. What do you lean toward? 

Robert: I don’t know if there is a name for it. I am not an exceptionally smart person, but I am smart enough to know that vision and passion rule the day. If there is enough margin and enough of a plan, and you get enough good people around it, as long as they have the vision and passion, the thing will take a life of its own.

Hugh: What you just described is the model of transformational leadership. It’s in the realm of servant leader because it’s not about you. It’s about the vision. It’s getting things off your plate. It’s equipping good people. It’s modeling. What you described fits the culture of leadership. I embrace two methodologies. That’s the culture of leadership. Building the orchestra that functions and performs at a high level. The other one is who am I, the leader? Understanding myself. I am not sure if you are familiar with the work of Murray Bowen, Bowen Family Systems. It’s a whole lot of revelation in that and it’s about maintaining this awareness, but also being open to improving ourselves. Also, what you described, we can’t change other people. We change ourselves, and people respond to that. That’s one of the basic tenets of leadership. 

How many people are employed at the organization?

Robert: At any given time, we are between 65-70 folks. In the summer, with our summer camp staff, we can be up in the 80s in terms of numbers.

Hugh: I know what it’s like. My church staff, there is a lot of different gifts and talents. There is also a lot of chance for misfire. Do you ever get them all together at once to do training or relationship building? Do you, and what do you do there?

Robert: As an organization, we are spread out all over south central Virginia, down in Danvold, Farnville, Bedford, and Roanoke. Every other month, we gather at Creek Camp, which we operate and run, and have an all-day staff meeting. It’s not about the specifics of announcements and details. It’s really a pep rally. It’s about encouraging the staff, celebrating our victories, celebrating ourselves, and the stars and the organization who may have accomplished something really neat. It’s about the fellowship and being together as a team. We usually do some kind of team involvement. We eat together. There is always at least one training opportunity our staff have to improve themselves at that meeting.

Hugh: How many do you have in your upper level of leadership who actually manage or lead other groups? 

Robert: Our organization, we try to have five layers of leadership. There are the trustees who are at one level of leadership. There is what we call the executive leadership for the chief officers. Besides myself, I have a chief operating officer and a chief program officer. Then we have another layer of what we call a ministry council. These are the directors of the various programs we operate. The executive and ministry council meet regularly, every Tuesday morning, and spend about half a day working out the details, tactics, strategies, and reporting on what we’re doing. Making sure we’re meeting our metrics and goals. Then we have a managers/directors level. Then the on-line staff. We consider them leaders and we invest in them as they lead their clients and their own work.

Hugh: In my work with leaders, there is discipline-specific knowledge. Knowledge that is specific to your organization. There is also a body of generic knowledge. You can lead a police department with generic knowledge. You wouldn’t know the specifics, but you would have people who know the specifics. In your seat, you had a history of working in this industry. It would be advantageous to have the specific discipline knowledge to run the organization. Is that helpful? Is that a challenge sometimes because having been in the church, there are insider eyeballs and it takes somebody from outside to ask why you’re doing it that way. What are the benefits and challenges? 

I am a conductor, and I am leading the board. There is industry-specific knowledge that I have. It’s interesting because most of the groups I work with, I have no clue what they do. It really doesn’t matter. It’s about the functioning of human beings. What are the benefits? There are a lot of people in there who are passionate about their mission, but they are compromised because they don’t have the other skillset. You have talked about how you built the skillset for leadership. You came in with some, but you have accelerated that. What are the benefits and challenges? Maybe you never thought about this. Of leading an organization where you’re deeply embedded in the knowledge of the work of the organization?

Robert: I explained this very thing to a new employee. I make sure that I sit and visit with all new employees, and then again in 90 days to see how they’re doing. The first time I sit down with them, I tell them, “Before you become a prisoner of the system, I want you to write down all of the things you see with fresh eyes.” If they take it seriously, they will come back and say, “As an outsider looking in, I didn’t understand this.” I say, “Thank you for sharing that,” and it will often open my eyes to those things we are blind about. 

Hugh: I think of Steve Jobs who said, “We don’t hire good people and tell them what to do. We hire good people, train them, and they tell us what to do.”

Robert: It’s also why I make sure I read books outside of my industry. Leaders doing other kinds of good work. Leadership skills are transferable. There is transferable knowledge. Sometimes seeing how somebody did something in another industry helps me start thinking outside my own paradigm. In child welfare, it’s an industry that is led mostly by social workers. Social workers have their own value set and they have their own paradigm. Very committed to those things. Sometimes, they can’t see that they themselves are the problem because they can’t think outside of the paradigm that they were educated on. I think we see it in medicine. You think like the way that you have been trained, and you may actually be the problem. 

Hugh: Try telling your doctor or preacher that.

Robert: Exactly.

Hugh: In this current stage of life, I have the pleasure of visiting lots of churches. Having deep dives and practical and intellectual study of the design and leadership of worship, which was my responsibility, is a very clear theology and tradition of what you do. It’s transformative, not transactional. I see a lot of transactional events we call worship. The mainline Protestant churches have grown themselves down with poor insider viewpoints. This is what we do. This is what we inherited. The health of that sector is challenged right now because we are not willing to look outside the discipline. I started a series of blogs called “The Shrinking Church.” What are we doing that is shooting ourselves in the foot? The church doesn’t have a lock on that. 

I imagine lots of organizations in your industry are challenged with their work. I find in my work around the country, one of the #1 challenges leaders lift up to me, it may or may not be true, is leader burnout. I am stressed with too much to do and too little time. The level of board functioning. We have good people, but they are not functioning at the level I want them to be or need them to be. And then the challenge of how do we continue to support putting gas in the car, the funding that runs the engine? Those are some of the top challenges. Do you want to speak to any of those?

Robert: It’s all about capacity, building the margins in our lives and our organizations so we can do something beyond what we are currently doing. We are at a point in our organization where we really want to break outside this paradigm of old thinking. We work in an industry that is dominated by government-run foster care. The whole system is based on the laws, the regulations, and the funding that comes from the government. Yet every time you turn around, you are reading an article that talks about how broken the system is. There are all these calls for comprehensive foster care reform. They want to change this regulation or law or add more money to the system. I am getting to the point where I don’t want to fix it, I want to replace it. I want to do something different. But nobody can talk like that because it’s very difficult to break outside of the paradigm, particularly where your funding is coming from that, and it determines when you do it, what you do, and how you report it. Yet we stand there and scream at the wind for bringing all this stuff to us. I’m convinced that the funding issue is what often keeps a nonprofit trapped in a paradigm because of the fear of what happens to funding. 

Hugh: That has lots of interpretations to it. Did I hear that you get funding from the government? 

Robert: We do not. Patrick Henry has never taken government money. It is the spirit of Patrick Henry–give me liberty or give me death. We have always been an independent player in it. But the foster care system itself has become a child welfare industrial complex. Billions of dollars are exchanged annually to keep this thing going. It’s a self-serving ecosystem that will protect itself no matter what. Here we are, this little organization in south central Virginia. We don’t depend on any of that. We can think outside the box. But getting people inside the box to say come on out, it’s great out here, you’ll love it, that’s hard. That’s difficult.

Hugh: The people you need to get out of the box, who would it be? 

Robert: In my organization, the trustees are outside of the box now. Even private nonprofits are often committed to this government funding. They have contracts, and they have to keep their beds full. When you talk to them about what it would take to end foster care, to make it obsolete, the first response is, “How do we keep our beds full and keep our contracts?” I say, “Are you seriously telling me that you’d rather have kids abused and neglected to come into the system so you can take care of them? Or can we take the same resources and energy we currently have and go upstream and really try to prevent this thing from happening, and divert kids out of that system? For those kids who do end up here, can we replace it with privately funded faith-based alternatives?”

Hugh: Absolutely.

Robert: That is what we are trying to do.

Hugh: Are you familiar with the work of Rise Against Hunger?

Robert: Yes.

Hugh: Do you know Ray Buchanan? 

Robert: I do not.

Hugh: Their vision, Ray lives here. He is the founder. He has been called back to being the face and speaker for this. Their vision is to end hunger in our lifetime. That to me is a powerful vision. By 2030, they have some very serious projections. They talk about why. It’s looking outside the box that makes it work. It’s a global movement, as you know. It’s looking at how do we not only feed people, but teach people how to feed themselves?

Robert: Absolutely. Just as building capacity makes a difference for that organization, we have to build capacity in people to make the difference in their own lives. They don’t depend on nonprofits like ourselves or the government. It goes back to the one-eyed king. What happens if people can see and take care of themselves? They won’t need us. That’s what keeps us from doing the better good.

Hugh: Absolutely. It takes somebody who is a champion for the vision as well. Sometimes it’s the same person. Ray did that for a while, and how he is external. They just hired a new CEO. It takes someone inside who knows how to connect the dots. It’s the performance piece of this that makes it work. With 150 employees scattered all over the country, there is a pretty big footprint with that. This challenge of continuing to look past the limitations. I find that the word itself, nonprofit, which is not an IRS term, but it’s become the industry. We call this the nonprofit exchange because people know what the industry is. The word itself is a lie. The word itself fosters this scarcity thinking. How are you an emissary or prophet to think in different terms, both internally and externally? You know what I’m talking about. We are a nonprofit. We are poor. We can’t do things. We can’t pay for much.

Robert: One of the challenges when I came is there was only one person who spent full time raising money for the organization. That was just one person. I knew that to build capacity, I’d have to put more resources into raising money. When you put resources into raising money, the question is shouldn’t we be using that money to help more people? If you let me raise more money, I can help more people. We now have an institutional advancement department of six full-time people and two part-time people who do nothing but raise money for this organization so we can have the margins to do what we want to do. Yeah, you have to break out of that starvation cycle, or we will never have the capacity to make a difference.

Hugh: There is this myth. Are you familiar with the work of Dan Palotta? The way we think about charity is dead wrong.

Robert: No, that sounds like my next book.

Hugh: Look at the TED Talk. He says we have this scarcity thinking. Breaking out of that mold. As an industry, we think we can’t pay decent salaries. As an industry, we think we can’t spend money on marketing. As an industry, people look at our overhead as the myth. What you have done is invest resources into raising money to accomplish your mission. That is a good business model.

Robert: We have to think about funding more than fundraising. We even have to think of sometimes I think this is a lot of activity to raise money to do what we do. Are there other funding sources? One of the things we have been blessed as an organization with is we have a nice endowment. The more that endowment grows, the more we have to do what we do. You can either ask somebody to give a $25,000 gift, which we’ll spend this year on some activity, or we can give us $25,000 for that endowment, which equals a lifetime of giving that will always have an impact. It’s the long view. You have to play the long game. The temptation is to take that money and spend it on current needs. But if you can build that endowment, that is really what gives you independence and freedom.

Hugh: That is a legacy gift. It’s the ultimate sustainability. Explain to people who may not know what the function of an endowment is. It’s money that is locked into an investment. Explain why that’s important and how that benefits an organization.

Robert: I should clarify that we have a reserve fund that acts like an endowment. Very few dollars were actually designated in that capacity. When I arrived, we had about $17 million in that reserve fund. We do about $4.5% annually. We use that to fund our administration. We can tell our donors that every dollar they give will go to meeting the need of a child in a family. That’s our commitment. Since then, we’ve grown that to over $44 million. That’s what’s allowing us to have the capacity to think outside the box and to break the paradigm because we have the ability to. When you don’t have the resources and are trapped in that starvation cycle, it’s hard to think beyond the moment. I like to ask people a question that was once asked me: If money was not an issue, and you were guaranteed success, what would you do? I once asked that to a director of a very old nonprofit, and his response was, “I would get the furnace fixed. If I had any money left over, I would buy new curtains for the dining room.” The whole question taps into that Mazlo hierarchy of need. She was so overwhelmed with daily needs that she couldn’t think about what she would do if money was not an issue and she was guaranteed success. All she could think about was getting the furnace fixed because that was what had to happen now. 

Raising money specifically for that reserve fund, that endowment fund, and leaving it alone so that it can grow and you draw off like we do 4.5%, it’s a wonderful foundation for an annual budget. Then when you’re raising money, you’re raising money to meet the needs and grow and expand. Once we caught on to that, I believe, I don’t care who I tell this, my goal is that in ten years from now, that fund will be $100 million. If it’s $100 million, it will fund everything we’re currently doing right now. The future generation who takes over after me, whatever money they raise will be for their vision and their passion to grow the organization to the next level.

Hugh: That’s a powerful statement. I do believe there is this commitment to a goal that is shared that enables it to happen. How people are going to know. We are going to cross a lot of leaders who say, “I have a lot of goals in my head. I don’t want to write them down because I may not make them, and I don’t want to be embarrassed.” This defeats the whole thing. You have to write them down so they don’t morph into something different. There is a commitment and discipline to that. What makes it work are two things. Understanding the value. Yeah, you get a lot of money. Then what? What is the value of getting the money? It’s the benefit to the organization. It’s what benefits you and the organization. You have to have the specificity of where you’re going, and you have to know the benefit. The second thing that works is sharing it. What you demonstrated is what I call vulnerability as a leader. You make yourselves vulnerable, and that makes you more effective. Publicly stating this is where it’s going to be gives it some energy.

Robert: Thank you. I hope that’s true. We have to raise money for today’s needs, but also tomorrow’s needs, the ones we are not going to be here to meet. There are challenges we can’t even imagine right now. What a blessing that would be to the next generation that they have the margins and resources to take on those challenges.

Hugh: That’s really good planning, good leadership to have that in place. There is that sustainability in the organization itself. The money goes to the work of the organization. That’s a good business model. There are too many nonprofit leaders who haven’t studied any business principles, who don’t understand how the business functions or the rules of that model. We haven’t studied about it in the nonprofit world. Understanding that paradigm of how we run a business is essential. I was enamored by that whole let’s state and be bold about stating it. James Allen wrote a book you can read in an hour called As a Man Thinketh. 

Robert: Yes, I know that very well.

Hugh: It was in male-dominant language from the era. People don’t want to change their circumstances, but are unwilling to change themselves. They therefore remain bound. That is one thing your narrative reminds me of. The other one, you state this, we are going to attract people who understand that. He also said we don’t attract what we need; we attract what we are. Being bold and clear, we attract people who can fit into that mold. Carnegie talked to Napoleon Hill about goals. Writing them down, you begin attracting the manifestation of that goal. Articulating it is so crucial. I know a lot of your folks on your top staff from different places. I know very little about Patrick Henry. I will have to come visit and learn about it. I am impressed with what you’re talking about. There are a lot of sound bites. You probably don’t even remember what they were because it was in passing. 

What’s ahead? You’re continuing to grow the organization. What’s the biggest challenge in your industry? You’ve already talked about some of it. You need to think differently. The tax laws are changing. The culture is divided. We have a dualistic, us/them mentality. People are not talking; they are yelling at each other. It’s infected the church and the culture from the government down. What is the challenge you face in a funny culture with an organization like yours? 

Robert: Just as I mentioned, my financial goal for the organization, in June of this year, we are going to launch a campaign called Vision 30, which is a 10-year initiative that by June of 2030, every child in Lynchburg and the four surrounding counties will be safe in their own home or with a substitute family that is supported by a faith community. We want to see those numbers in foster care at or near zero very much like the challenge that Kennedy gave to the nation about putting a man on the moon and bringing him back safely by the end of the decade. This vision is our equivalent to that. It’s causing us to reward ourselves in thinking what would we really have to do to make that happen? Of course, there are internal challenges. But for us to do this is for us to realize first of all, we can’t do that all by ourselves. It would have to be a community-wide initiative. There would have to be collaboration on a level I usually don’t see in the nonprofit world. 

I once heard somebody say that collaboration was the unnatural act of two or more consenting adults. That is unnatural. We just don’t want to do that. We will show up to a meeting called a collaboration meeting, but we are really checking out our competition to see what they are doing and steal their ideas. That would be the first challenge: how do we really build a culture of collaboration in the community where everybody is doing their part to make this vision happen? How do you sustain that in a world where it’s easy to get cross at each other over politics, funding, tactics? Figuring out those things is probably our biggest challenge. Because we have this really cool goal, it motivates us to work out and around those obstacles. 

I find that most people are responding pretty well to that goal. It’s hard to argue against that goal. It’s easy to argue about the specifics and who is going to do what and who is going to be in control. Getting nonprofit leaders like myself to set aside the ego and put aside the branding and can’t we just all agree that we are going to do our part to do this and collaborate and work together to make sure there is no gaps in services for these kids and families.

Hugh: I am working on a Lynchburg-specific collaborative model. I have to share that with you. 

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Robert, what thought do you want to leave people with today?

Robert: When I came to Patrick Henry, I was confused at first about the difference between footprint and impact. I kept trying to expand the footprint. More locations and other buildings and more square footage. That is a lot different than impact. We actually have less square footage and fewer buildings, but I think we are growing in our impact. That is what is really important. Impact, not footprint.

Hugh: Wise words. What is the result of our work? That is what attracts the money, the impact of our work. 

Robert: Yes, absolutely. Not the size of our buildings. It’s the power of our impact.

Hugh: Thank you for being with us on The Nonprofit Exchange today.


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