NPO 008: Liz Mills (Carlson Community Services)

Today's Guest: Liz Mills
Liz Mills is a life-long Chicagoan who began her professional life in corporate meeting planning and marketing. After a successful 20-plus year career in bank marketing, she took time off to raise her three children. Liz now leads Carlson Community Services, a non-profit serving the Irving Park community, the neighborhood where Liz and her family have lived for 20 years. In addition to her work with Carlson, Liz is involved in several groups that seek to foster a safe, connected and culturally rich neighborhood. Liz enjoys her book gang (a slightly more intense version of a book group) and enjoying all that Chicago has to offer.

Nonprofit Spotlight: Carlson Community Services
The mission of Carlson Community Services is to connect the Irving Park community with programs that enrich lives through education, culture and service. CCS operates three programs, The Magic After-School Place, Three Brothers Community Garden and the Irving Park Fine Arts Committee.

Story of Good: Josue
Liz shared the story of Josue, a participant in their after school program who started off not wanting to participate in any of their activities. As the program staff started to engage him more in homework help (he's very bright), they saw him come out of his shell a bit, but it wasn't until Josue joined the Break Dancing club that he really began to shine!

Lessons Learned:
As nonprofits grow and evolve, so too should the Board of Directors. When many nonprofits get started, their initial board of directors is typically comprised of people connected to the founder. As the organization grows, there is an opportunity to grow the board as well. There are many advantages to this, but Liz points out two major ones. First, she discussed the importance of having a group that is committed to the cause and will show up. Quorum is necessary for decisions to be made, so this is a really important number to maintain regularly at board meetings. Second, Liz talked about how the role of board members shift over time too. While initial boards often function more to get things started and provide insight and support to the executive director, older nonprofits typically need the board to take on more of a fundraising role. 

Within these relationships between the staff and board, there can be bumps along the way. Liz shed light on some of the keys to her success in this role including the importance of an active board chair who is willing to have individual conversations with board or committee members that may have concerns or questions about a new direction the organization is taking. Having allies in this work is very important, so nonprofit staff- it's essential to build strong relationships with your board leaders.

Liz also addressed the issue of working from home and the challenges that can accompany that setting. To remedy that, Liz has connected with a friend in a similar work situation and the two have established "office hours" where they will go to each other's homes and work side by side. This is a great idea for nonprofit leaders that need a little extra motivation to complete their tasks or who find themselves too lonely in their home work environment.

Tools for Nonprofits: Liz shared her Board Matrix for others to review. As she mentioned, it's not rocket science, but it is always helpful to have a template to work off of to create your own!

Next Interview: Jake Teitgen, Board Member for Bethlehem Farm


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