Friday, June 29, 2012

Celebrating 13 years of Rich Cowles’ leadership!

Yesterday the Charities Review Council celebrated and said farewell to Rich Cowles, our executive director for the past thirteen years!

Wednesday night at Mai Village in St. Paul, we recognized and remembered the leadership of Rich. If you weren’t able to join us, here are some highlights and make sure not to miss all the photos in our Facebook album!

Heidi Neff Christianson, our current board chair, announced that we met our $10,000 goal for the “Make It A Rich Legacy” campaign and thanked all those that gave in honor of Rich. She presented Rich with a guest book for his house, so all those who visit him in the coming years can write their memories and stories. In her closing comments, Heidi recognized Rich as a “true servant leader.”

Following Heidi, each board chair that served under Rich’s tenure took the stage from past to most current:

David Brown:
Reminiscing about an era pre Google, Facebook, and social media in the late 90s when he was board chair, David said with a laugh “We knew we had many issues to solve, so we hired Rich Cowles.”

Tom Schroeder:
“Rich was our noble leader, always keeping the board calm and focused and staff working for the mission.” Tom joked about his and Rich’s breakfasts together which included more philosophical conversations than work. And in reflecting on the Council’s legacy of past board chairs and executive directors noted, “We stand on the shoulders of giants… Rich, welcome to being a giant.”

Deb Ruegg:
Not having realized that being asked to be vice chair of the board eventually meant being chair, Deb joked “I was a reluctant chair, but I think we did pretty well, Rich.” Reflecting on Rich’s leadership skills, she first thinks of his vision, then his integrity, dedication, and most of all his sense of humor.

Julia Classen (while unable to attend, Deb Ruegg shared her comments):
“I know Rich will say something about how we all have played a role in the success of the Council, but let’s not let us be fooled this time. Let us all acknowledge that Rich is a wonderful, talented leader that really does deserve the spotlight.”

Jim Toscano:
Jim opened his remarks with “Most of all, I cherish that Rich is my friend.” He chose three fitting Cs to describe Rich: citizen, character, and courage.
Highlighting Rich as “the guy who actually made diversity work—not just a symbolic gesture” and that “we are a new organization today because of this man.” And with laughs, he ended with “God speed, God bless, and be my friend forever.”

Steve Joul:
Adding to previous characters described about Rich, Steve said that “Rich has a quiet sense of leadership that didn’t need to use flashy words—I found this to be so empowering.” He went on to comment that “I saw Rich as my mentor, even though I was the chair of the board” and that “as a member of the foundation world, I am ever grateful for Rich’s work. One of the highlights of my life has been to serve on the board of the Charities Review Council.”

Cindy Kleven:
Representing the current board, Cindy elaborated on Rich as a thoughtful leader who cares deeply about his staff. She recognized his thoughtful navigation of the organization from a watchdog to guide dog. And ending on a personal note, she talked about her involvement in the cultural competency committee saying “I’m sure many of you would say the same thing: Rich saw things in me that I didn’t see in myself.”

Then, LaVon Lee and Patty Wilder, current board members, presented “Our Father’s Eyes” Native American blanket to Rich, to honor his time with his family and grandchildren.

To conclude the program, Rich finally had the chance to say a few words of his own.
“The only one thing I can take credit for in all of this is getting good people involved with the Charities Review Council. Be well, keep in touch, and meet all standards.”

On behalf of the Charities Review Council and our extended community, again, thank you Rich, for everything you’ve done to improve the sector. Enjoy retirement, your grandkids, writing, and whatever else you choose to do!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Rich's Legacy: Sector leaders share thoughtful and humorous memories

 In honor of our executive director Rich Cowles' retirement on June 28, the Charities Review Council launched a “Make It A Rich Legacy” campaign. As part of this campaign, the Council will feature insights and reflections about Rich's tenure from key Council supporters.

In this post, three former Council staff and two current board members, share funny, thoughtful, and impacting memories about their time with Rich.

Kelly Rowan

When I began working at the Charities Review Council at the ripe old age of 25, I knew I was joining an organization with a mission I believed in, and I could tell from my first interactions with Rich, Amy, and Joan that I was coming into an organization that was intentional about its organizational culture, that 'lived its values,’ and that was highly regarded for its role in helping both donors and nonprofits to effectively improve our communities. The role that Rich occupied in ensuring those attributes became immediately evident to me. Not because he pursued those aspirations in a flashy way at all, but rather because of his grounded, thoughtful leadership and strong personal convictions. Rich was a humble and self-aware leader and boss, and I genuinely feel fortunate to have worked with him and learned from him.

While he was so careful to elevate the priorities and values that have been so core to the Council and to the legacy he leaves, Rich never took himself too seriously.
I loved that other staff and I cherished every opportunity to torment him with hummus or other exotic and spicy foods.
He was also always quick to share self-deprecating stories of his own missteps and blunders along the course of his professional life. Did you ever hear about the time, early in his career, when he unabashedly described a peer community leader as 'nefarious' - among other leaders - when he really wasn't at all sure of what that adjective meant?! He thought maybe it was a fancy-sounding compliment. He had the humility to share that story with me when I was feeling particularly mortified because of a ridiculously embarrassing gaff I had made one day.
To this day, I can't even remember what I was so mortified about, but I can absolutely remember laughing until I had tears streaming down my cheeks with Rich as he shared that story with me. That's the kind of sincere kindness and perspective Rich shared with all of us every day. We're going to make mistakes, we might as well make them with conviction, but also with the humility to revel in them and learn from them.
As a leader and supervisor, Rich never shied away from challenging me or others with the very toughest criticisms that we needed to hear. BUT - he always said them in such constructive ways, that rather than feeling defensive or put down in any way, I always felt like he expected nothing short of the best from me and others, and that we would undoubtedly get there together. That is one of the most valuable traits I have cherished and hope to have absorbed, even to some extent, from my time with him. Rich was the most conscientious leader; we always knew that he was looking out for the best interest of the organization first, while at the same time, we had the comfort of knowing that he would always be straightforward and authentic, and that he genuinely cared about each of the Council's staff, board, volunteers, constituents, and supporters.

Thank you, Rich, for all that you have shared with us, and for the differences, large and small, you have made in the lives of so many who've known you. I wish you the best as you begin this next phase of your life.
Describe your current job, volunteer activities, etc.
Managing Director at Excelsior Bay Group, providing strategic fundraising, governance, and management counsel to nonprofits. Board member at the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of the Twin Cities.

When did you work at the Council? What did you do? March 2005 to August 2011, started as Program and Administrative Associate, then Outreach and Resource Manager, then Development Manager.

Martin Wera

What impact did Rich have on your work (volunteer OR paid) in the nonprofit sector?
I am so very fortunate to I consider Rich a mentor. He was a great guide and teacher in helping me to grow professionally during my time at the Charities Review Council, always supportive of my career in general. My greatest memories are a combined vision of Rich, Jenna Salinas, and I driving around the state during our 2009 Standards revision process, gathering input from donors and nonprofits.

You can learn a lot about someone when they pick you up at 4 am and drive to Duluth in their Toyota Corrolla.

Any favorite “Rich-isms”?
Let’s “noodle” on that.

Describe your current job, volunteer activities, etc. Community Relations Manager at Ameriprise where I am responsible for grantmaking and employee engagement and volunteerism. I am also a volunteer for the Social Change Funding Committee of the Headwaters Foundation for Social Justice.

When did you work at the Council? What did you do?  

I worked at the Charities Review Council from 2009 -2011 as program manager and program director—managing our services to nonprofits, initiating services to grantmakers and presenting workshops about our Standards.

Sara Leiste

I worked at the Charities Review Council four times. I was an intern twice under the previous executive director and then a part time staff member. Rich hired me to be a full time staff person, mostly doing reviews. My favorite Rich-ism is "get on the bus."

I currently work in higher education, at Capella University. I am now on the side of having to meet external standards, which is a very different place to be.

I'm glad I had the experience at the Council to show me that the standard keepers are on the side of good, and are working to make things better.
I have a few stories to share:
Even though Rich hired me twice, I never interviewed with him. When I got out of grad school, I talked to Rose, and she convinced Rich to hire me part time until I found a full time position. When another staff person left, I assumed I would apply for the job, but not that it was guaranteed. Rich apparently got the staff together and asked if they would be OK with offering me the job. They were and he did! His faith in me (and the staff's judgment) gave me a lot of confidence. Now that I think of it, maybe you shouldn't let the HR people on the board hear this story!

The second story is that Rich rescued me from being trapped under a pile of boxes.

First, you have to know that when the offices were in downtown St. Paul, they were smaller and we had a lot of extra files, many in bankers boxes stacked in the narrow hallway by the supply room. It was early one morning, and Rich and I were the only ones in the office. I needed a file, and it was in the middle of a stack of boxes. When I started moving boxes, I set them on a table that was also in the hall. I didn't know the table was unstable. It fell over, and trapped me against the wall. Rich heard the commotion, followed by me yelling for help. He had to get off the phone quickly to move boxes, right the table, and check that I was okay. It was all fine in the end and both of us learned a lesson about that table!

I worked at the Council when the September 11, 2001 attacks happened. I don't have a specific story, exactly. I just want to say how grateful I was. Like a lot of people, I thought about what was meaningful in my life and work. Part of that was being glad to work in a place where I knew and trusted my co-workers. There were only four staff people, so we knew each other well. The culture was very supportive and collaborative. Rich gets a lot of credit for that.

Cindy Kleven

3M Community Affairs
As I complete my 6th year on the Charities Review Council board, I am sad to see Rich leave. He has been a thoughtful leader and a change-maker for the organization. His guidance helped the organization move out of a watchdog role into guide-dog role, and that has been very beneficial to the Council and, even more so, to nonprofits.
Rich has been outstanding at relationship building with the board and the people engaged in the organization. He knows that people bring their whole selves to the workplace and shows great care and concern about what is happening personally as well as professionally.
I've appreciated his quick laugh and ability to inject appropriate humor into board and committee meetings.

Rich also stepped forward to take a leadership role around cultural competence—making it a priority at the executive director level. His steady guidance has helped move cultural competence from a task force to a committee with the intent to integrate it into all of the Council's work.

Rich will be greatly missed, but he is so deserving of this next exciting chapter in his life. I look forward to seeing him around town and at alumni events in the future!
Photo Credit: Greater Twin Cities United Way

Sarah Bjelland

Wells Fargo
Describe your current job, volunteer activities, etc.Plan and write Corporate HR communications for Wells Fargo's 270,000 team members. Volunteer on the Wells Fargo Community Funding Council and with the Charities Review Council.

What was your role at the Council?Have volunteered on the program committee since 2009; marketing committee 2010, board member since 2011. Named the Council's volunteer of the year in 2010.

Please tell us about your favorite memory (or funny story!) working with Rich as a board member:

The first time I met Rich and was introduced to the Council's work was when staff members hosted an educational forum for Community Capital Alliance after work hours in the office.
The conference room was packed with young professionals who all worked in the private sector and were eager to learn about accountability to better evaluate nonprofits and learn how the Council supports the nonprofit sector.
Rich was welcoming and encouraged us to ask questions and asked about how we combined our interests in the nonprofit sector when we worked in the private sector. We could not have fit one more person in the conference room and we all stayed listening and learning and Rich led a great session and I stayed connected to the council from that session and on.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Rich's Legacy: Former staff share touching memories

 In honor of our executive director Rich Cowles' retirement on June 28, the Charities Review Council is excited to kick-off the “Make it a Rich Legacy” campaign, taking place now through June 27. As part of this campaign, the Council will feature insights and reflections about Rich's tenure from key Council supporters.

Here's what two former staff had to say about Rich's legacy:

Elizabeth Petran

When did you work at the Council? What did you do?
I worked at the Charities Review Council for a short time during the beginning development of the Accountability Wizard.

Describe your current job, volunteer activities, etc.
I went from being a frenzied social worker, to working at the council to raising sheep and chickens on a farm in Cannon Falls.

What are some of your favorite memories of working with Rich?
2005 was an exciting time for Rich, but also quite scary. He was leading an old nonprofit into new times. Change is hard and though he was committed and facing it head on, I believe he was quite concerned about the end result. He took his responsibility to the board, the nonprofits and most importantly, the givers, very seriously. I guess that’s what makes him so excellent. He takes his work and his interactions with all around him personally. People matter. Relationships matter. The Council’s mission matters.

One morning I called Rich from the veterinarian’s office to tell him I was going to be late. My pooch, Leon, was very ill and it was time to let him go. He had been getting progressively sicker over the last few months with cancer. Rich asked me where I was, and said not to worry, if I needed the day off, it was absolutely fine. About 10 minutes later, just as I was visiting with the veterinarian and getting ready to say good-bye I heard a familiar voice in the lobby. Rich poked his head in and joined me at Leon’s side. I can’t express what having him there meant to me. I was so accustomed to carrying on alone that it hadn’t occurred to me to ask for company during this difficult time. We both wiped away tears as Leon quietly passed away. It was an excellent send off for a dear old friend. Thank you, Rich.

Rich and I meet occasionally for breakfast to catch up. As we were sitting in Maria’s Cafe eating breakfast, Rich asked me, “Did you know I tweet?” It took me a split second to realize he wasn’t talking about some kind of digestive problem. I smiled hugely when he told me about his tweeting and blogging. He’s on Facebook. Friend him if you haven’t already. When I first met him he was very concerned about the Council’s move to computer use for the review process and where it would lead. Technology wasn’t something he was entirely comfortable with at that point. Now he’s all about the tweet. Richard N. Cowles is a very cool guy, and I’m so pleased to know him.

What's your favorite "Rich-ism"? (e.g. “noodling”)
“Richnerd." Rich met with me a several times to try to help me become more detail oriented and a better planner. It turns out that I am not particularly well suited for Project Management. He and I noodled a lot over strategies that would help me stay on track. He had lots of ideas and I did my best to get him off the topic and onto more interesting things like literature and philosophy. We had good conversations and some of the strategies helped for short bits of time. Anyway, at the conclusion of one meeting we decided we were both nerds. The next day I got an email and it was signed by Richnerd Cowles, Executive Director.

If Rich were an animal, what would he be?
To me he is most like a Golden Retriever. Very smart, always friendly, and extremely loyal.

Matt Karl
I am currently a Consulting Team Member at Bromelkamp, a company that fosters the work of grant makers nationwide by providing database technologies and services.

When did you work at the Council? What did you do?
I worked at the Charities Review Council as the Senior Research Associate from 2001 to 2004.

What impact did Rich have on your work (volunteer OR paid) in the nonprofit sector?
Working with Rich helped me realize how important it is for a nonprofit to have a well-articulated mission and to make sure all programs connect strongly to that mission. Working at the Council reaffirmed to me that, when organizational change is afoot, valuing input from all stakeholders is absolutely critical to success.

Any favorite “Rich-isms”? (e.g. “noodling”)
I think Rich’s palate has expanded since working at the Council. But I do remember that whenever staff had lunch together and wanted any sort of ethnic food, Rich preferred to go to either a buffet or a place with pictures of the dishes on the menu. That way, he could be certain exactly what he was getting.

If Rich were an animal, what would he be?
He’d be an impala who has hung up his running shoes and taken up African drumming.

Help us "Make It A Rich Legacy" and support our goal to raise $10,000 in honor of Rich Cowles by Wednesday, June 27. Donations made in recognition of Rich’s leadership will go to the Campaign for Growth – a $600,000 effort to build the Council’s infrastructure to be able to reach more nonprofits and donors.

Please go to today to “Make it a Rich Legacy”, and finally, join us next Wednesday June 27 at Mai Village from 3-6pm for an informal farewell celebration.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Rich’s Legacy: A big smile, integrity, and vision

In honor of our executive director Rich Cowles' retirement on June 28, the Charities Review Council is excited to kick-off the “Make it a Rich Legacy” campaign, taking place now through June 27. As part of this campaign, the Council will feature insights and reflections about Rich's tenure from key Council supporters.

Here's what our current board members have to say about Rich's legacy!

Anita Patel, Board Member (Vice Chair)
Vice President, Racial Justice & Public Policy at YWCA of Minneapolis

I joined the Cultural Competency Task Force and immediately saw the authentic nature of Rich’s leadership. He grasps the idea that the Charities Review Council can truly be a positive, transformational force for our community, particularly as it comes to creating inclusive organizations.
His dedication to understanding how the Council can best model all standards, including pushing the envelope on its own Diversity & Inclusivity Standard is exciting to witness.
I also appreciate how much he shares of himself in this work… I was putting on a racial justice workshop one evening in the suburbs and suddenly Rich walked in the door. He shared his own story, and earnestly looked to connect with folks; developing tools to deepen understanding and action to create strong, inclusive communities. His huge smile, thoughtful questions, willingness to engage the community and compassionate nature are all pieces that come to mind as I reflect on his strong legacy of leadership. Thanks for all you have done and will continue to do to strengthen our community!

Dan Johnson, Board Member
Vice President, Public Policy & Mission Advancement at National Multiple Sclerosis Society

In my role as a Charities Review Council board member, funder, and personal supporter of Rich, I’ve developed a respect for his professionalism and integrity—attributes that have served the community remarkably well during his tenure.
Rich is among a small handful of local nonprofit leaders that work daily to strengthen our region’s capacity to a maintain a high quality of life while assuring a strong safety net for our most vulnerable.
Leading a behind-the-scenes infrastructure organization is far from sexy—nor is Rich—but knowing that he has touched thousands of lives in gentle and meaningful ways is a legacy he richly deserves and few can own.

Diane Hovis, Board Member
I'm retired and loving it—and I’m willing and eager to mentor Rich into a successful retirement! It's a busy life, full of all the things you really want to be spending your time on. I'm a current board member, in my 5th year on the Charities Review Council board.
I've always been so impressed with the absolute integrity that Rich brings to every situation and have loved the chance to witness his passion for improving the entire nonprofit sector.
It's been an honor and a privilege to work with Rich! Congratulations Rich, and best wishes as you transition into your next adventure!!

Morris Goodwin Jr., Board Member (Secretary)
Vice President, Finance and Administration, Wilder Foundation

What are your favorite qualities that Rich holds?
First Quality: Compassion. He cares about donors and he cares about the quality, accuracy, and character of the information provided by nonprofits.

Second Quality: He is dedicated to improving the field, enhancing transparency, and building the ability of nonprofits to excel and execute their missions.

Third Quality: Indefatigable optimism. No matter what, Rich always thinks things can and are getting better.

What strengths does Rich hold as a leader of the sector? Rich’s strengths lie in his intelligence both IQ and EQ. He has an amazing ability to synthesize trends in community, policy, and program and to see simpatico relationship potential between people, systems, institution, and process. He cares for staff deeply and always demonstrates the character and commitment to their growth and development.

What do you like about your service on the Council board? First is the opportunity to work with Rich, he told me about his passion for cultural competency, and his desire to make it a strategic imperative which was unique and powerful positioning. The second thing is a really excellent and diverse group of board members who each in their own right represent institutions and organizations that want to see the nonprofit sector thrive, grow, and expand their mission impact. Third is the chance to work with really enterprising and enthusiastic staff members, who are smart, savvy, fast on their feet, and extremely creative and effective in what they do. It’s amazing how much they get done with so few resources.

Volunteer Activites:
St. Paul’s Church Ministry, St. Matthews Church Social Justice Ministry, Twin Cities RISE! Board Member, MEDA Board Member, CRC Board Member, St. Paul Chamber Board Member, Search Institute Board Chair; Episcopal Community Services Task Force Member, Aspirate for Episcopal Diaconate.

Help us "Make It A Rich Legacy" and support our goal to raise $10,000 in honor of Rich Cowles by Wednesday, June 27. Donations made in recognition of Rich’s leadership will go to the Campaign for Growth – a $600,000 effort to build the Council’s infrastructure to be able to reach more nonprofits and donors.

Please go to today to “Make it a Rich Legacy”, and finally, join us next Wednesday June 27 at Mai Village from 3-6pm for an informal farewell celebration.