Thursday, October 18, 2007

Big Night

"If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: thou shalt not ration justice."

Justice Learned Hand

October 18, 2007

Each year, the Center for Nonprofit Management (CNM) hosts a dinner and awards presentation to honor area nonprofits for their commitment to management excellence. The awards recognize nonprofits for a job well done, and they reinforce the importance of effective leadership in the nonprofit sector. Last night, there were more than 1,000 people in attendance at this very important event.

LAS was a finalist for two awards: (1) CEO of the Year (Ashley!); and (2) Excellence in Communications.

Before the dinner, I was joking with Ashley about whether I really wanted him to win CEO of the year. After all, if he won, that just put more pressure on me as his successor.

The winner of the Excellence in Communication Award was the first to be announced and LAS was joined with two other great organizations as finalists, Nashville Area Habitat for Humanity and Nashville Area Red Cross.

LAS won!

This is a testament to the vision of Ashley, our board, community advisory council, community education staff, the Bradford Group, and all our staff. However, the award wouldn’t happen unless people do the work of developing the information, following through with requests, and working together. It truly was a team award and will be an inspiration to all of us to work hard

In connection with this award, I want to emphasize several points. The work of Jeff Bradford, Mike Reed and the staff of the Bradford Group was essential to making this happen. It is obvious they have a heart and passion for our work. They have been instrumental in assisting us in communicating our messages to our communities.

Secondly, Rae Anne Seay, our grant writer, has made a tremendous contribution to our organization. She wrote the nomination that made us all look great. The work is important, but so is communicating what has been done.

Thirdly, Adinah Robertson and Bev Adcock of our community education section have been so important in teaching us how to communicate our legal information to our client in a manner that will empower them. As I mentioned in my remarks, we cannot meet the overwhelming needs of our clients and handle all the cases. Justice does feel like it is being rationed. But, we do not have to ration out important information to our clients. They can use this information to obtain justice. As the saying goes, knowledge is power.

This award was the product of the guidance and work of our Board and the Community Advisory Council (CAC). Beginning in 2004, the CAC began discussing the importance of hiring a public relations firm. This suggestion was presented to the Board and the Bradford Group was selected in 2005. After a recommendation from the CAC to hire a grant writer, in 2006 the Board discussed and moved forward with that recommendation. LAS hired Rae Anne and we all know what her work has meant to our organization. It is this type of vision and input from the CAC and the Board that is essential for our organization. We are grateful for their time and wisdom.

Finalists for CEO of the year included Hal Cato from Oasis Center and Nancy West of the Siloam Family Health Center, two truly outstanding leaders of great organizations in our community. Ashley Wiltshire was named the winner!

Ashley gave a wonderful speech (we were limited to 45 seconds) as he acknowledged the hard work of all of the staff, the board, and advisory council. Once again, knowing that Ashley would not even consider writing up something about himself, it was Rae Anne who put together the nomination narrative that highlighted Ashley’s leadership and, just as importantly, the work of LAS.

LAS was the only “double winner” of the night and I wish all of the staff and our supporters could have been there to experience the appreciation we all felt. There are so many wonderful nonprofit organization delivering necessary services in our communities and it was an honor to just be a finalist in these two categories. It was a reminder that people look up to us and are counting on us. We have done well but there is much work to be done.

I hope that when they read this they can sit back and smile, feel good about what they are a part of, and feel renewed about what great things we are going to do together.

We have both trophies on display at the front desk and Ashley has agreed (with Susan’s consent) to let us “borrow” it for a little while until it is returned to the “Wiltshire trophy case”.

After the presentations, I mentioned to people about what great things I have been able to do in less than three months as Executive Director with the winning of these two awards! Of course, I had absolutely nothing to do with these awards but gladly accepted all the accolades. That is what executive directors do, right?

In my acceptance speech I expressed my appreciation to our staff who have produced the “success stories” of clients receiving justice. But, most importantly, I am grateful to the inspiration that we receive from the character and lives of our clients. They motivate us to obtain justice for them. If they are able to receive justice, they also receive hope. We want to deliver justice, we want to give them hope.

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