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The Hidden Secret to Our Success

Written by Ken Leinbach
    Monday, 03 September 2012

“Hello Ed, is this a good time to discuss the terms of the lease for the Arboretum project?”...“Wait, are you sure?”...“You mean you are in Hamburg, Germany and it’s midnight over there?”...“I can’t believe you took my call! Thanks for agreeing to help.”

And on another day...

“Hi Andre, we have a situation we need to address at the Center—do you mind taking a minute to discuss this with me?”....“Thanks”...are you at an airport? I just heard an announcement in the background?”...“You are in Moscow on your way to Siberia! That’s crazy! You sound like you are in the same room with me, what time is it?”...“11pm!”...“Wow, thanks for taking my call!”

I am often uncomfortable with the credit that I get for the successes of the Urban Ecology Center. I’m sorry, but you just don’t grow a three branch multi-million dollar organization by yourself. It takes a lot of skilled and dedicated people...a lot of them. Many of you have had experiences with our talented staff, but the hidden secret behind our Center’s success is in fact my boss...or shall I say bosses. I’m speaking here of our Board of Directors. These are people like Ed and Andre that give of their valuable time to our important mission — even at odd hours from the opposite side of the world!

In the nonprofit world, it is actually a team of volunteers that is responsible for governing the agency and ensuring that the organization is fiscally sound. This same group hires, fires and manages the Executive Director...that would be me (thankfully, not fired yet). At any given time the Urban Ecology Center has somewhere between 20 and 30 Board members. We have an exceptional Board and always have...it’s amazing!

The Board meets as a full group every other month and groups of Directors meet monthly in smaller working committees. Those committees are focused on important functions like Finance, Development and Marketing, Nominating and Governance, Human Resources or the overall leadership and coordination of the Board through the Executive Committee. Or they might lead a branch advisory committee -- one for Washington Park, Riverside Park and soon to be the Menomonee Valley. Or they participate on a task force for special projects like the Rotary Centennial Arboretum Project. Everyone has a responsibility and none of our work at the Center could be done without them.

It is the Board of Directors that allows the Urban Ecology Center to sing. Do you know how much I knew about financial management or human resources policy when I started here at the Center? Well, to be honest...nothing. For this reason and much, much more I have needed help...a ton of it. What I have discovered over time is that asking for help is a powerful act. If your need is legitimate, your purpose is pure, and your vision is clear, people are willing to use their talents to assist. And not just any people. We are talking about people who are leaders in their own realms where they are running huge organizations or managing key departments in global companies to name just a few of our Board’s talents. Did I mention legal advice? OMG, without this legal help we wouldn’t have a single lease, partnership or branch!

We sit with overwhelming riches when it comes to volunteer expertise. Because of this I feel like one of the luckiest Executive Directors around! I am blown away by the deep intellect, profound dedication and amazing skill set we have represented. And then to beat all...Board and committee meetings are actually fun! Sure, they are sometimes intense when hard decisions need to be made, but they are always filled with laughter, too. And I think all of us would say that we learn so much because of the diversity of the group. Despite the relatively large size, over the years the Center’s Board has remained blessedly free of internal politics allowing for a high degree of efficiency and output. In short, we get stuff done.

Now you may think from this description that we are all like-minded. We aren’t. Far from it, in fact. We have liberal environmentalists working closely with folks who don’t believe in global warming. I do not lie. We have those who need numbers to understand, and those like me who do better with words. We have business executives working closely with community activists and education experts. We have people with a deep faith tradition and those that do not participate in any formal religion. We all grow from the diversity. It’s fun to learn how others tick! We have cultural diversity and age diversity too...but not enough. These are areas we are striving to improve. Perhaps due to this diversity, this is not a rubber stamping kind of Board, but a group that challenges and asks the hard questions and in turn makes difficult decisions...but we do this from a place of respect, transparency and dialogue.

The Urban Ecology Center, somehow over the years, has been able to maintain a remarkable Board of Directors. A diverse array of Milwaukeeans coming together around a shared vision, all rolling up their sleeves and using their respective talents to move this organization forward in a positive direction. If you know anyone who has been, or is, on our Board, be sure to thank them for their essential and effective volunteer service.

At the latest Board meeting my bosses elected officers for the coming year. The Board leadership is:

President: Ed Krishok, Managing Director, International Legal Affairs, Harley-Davidson Motor Company

Vice President: Monique Charlier, President, Rivet, LLC

Treasurer: Peter Campbell (re-elected to serve a second term), Associate Managing Director, The Private Bank

Secretary: Kathy Werlein, Supervisory Analyst, Research Department, Robert W. Baird & Co. (Kathy is also serving a second term),

Our current Board directors are:

Marc D. Andraca, Jennifer Breceda, Peter Campbell, Monique Charlier, John Clancy, Eric Crawford, Derek Deubel, Danni Gendelman, Jeff Geygan, Mary Gute Witte, Dennis Grzezinski, Troy Hilliard, Edward Krishok, Cora Lee-Palmer, Theresa Lins, Blake Moret, Will Nasgovitz, Bill Rumpf, Molly Schissler, Mary Staten, Carl Trimble, Kathy Werlein and Andre Williams.

Finally, I’d like to give particular thanks to the following three very special outgoing Board members.

Theresa Lins has been with us for almost a decade. She has served on just about every committee and become an integral part of our family. Her hard work early on with marketing got our name out to the community and her recent work with governance has been critical to our growth.

Marc Andraca of Johnson Controls has been with us for four years and as Board Vice President has been a key driver of our recently completed strategic plan. Marc and his wife Deb have led our Hoot in the Night summer camp fund raiser for the past two years.

Jeff Geygan taught me how to keep a meeting moving and end on time. His finance expertise came at a very important time for the Center. Jeff put together an incredible team for our finance committee before shifting over to become our Board President for the past two years. He and his wife Kathy were instrumental in creating our popular annual fundraising event, the Summer Solstice Soiree and Auction.

We will deeply miss Theresa, Mark and Jeff. I share my deep gratitude to each of you for your service to the Urban Ecology Center.

Ken Leinbach

Ken Leinbach

Ken is a nationally recognized educator and leader in community-based environmental education. He currently serves as the Executive Director of the Urban Ecology Center. With his contagious energy, Ken speaks on a number of topics including: urban education, community organizing, environmental issues, finding abundance, the power of story, sustainable design, the need for "near-by" nature, leadership, fundraising, and green living. Ken holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Antioch College in Ohio, a Masters degree in Environmental Education from Prescott College in Arizona and received an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the Milwaukee Instituted of Art and Design.

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