LeadingAge Magazine · May-June 2017 • Volume 07 • Number 03

This I Have Learned …

May 15, 2017 | by Randy Brown and Stephen Proctor

Essays from nonprofit leaders.

In these personal thought pieces, contributors reflect on the core values and beliefs acquired and lessons learned in our nonprofit sector.


Randy Brown
Randy Brown

Who Owns a Nonprofit Corporation?

by Randy Brown

As the CEO of a nonprofit organization, I’m frequently asked who owns Rowntree Gardens (formerly Quaker Gardens). It’s a constant reminder that the concept of who owns a nonprofit corporation can be a difficult one to grasp, especially given the answer is, “No one … and everyone.”

With no owners whatsoever, only stakeholders, the answer to the question usually leads to a discussion about public purpose and mission. As a faith-based Christian organization, the Friends Church under the name Quaker Gardens founded our purpose and mission as a continuing care retirement community (CCRC, now life plan community) more than 50 years ago.

Three years ago, as a stand-alone community, we felt we needed to work on building our brand and improving our marketing efforts. We went through several months of staff brainstorming, staff self-evaluation, consumer focus groups and many discussions around culture. This process also drew attention to who our stakeholders are and yes, raised the question “Who owns a nonprofit?”

It wasn’t long until we had clearly defined our culture, established our brand, identified our stakeholders and developed a written marketing plan. Still, there was the question of nonprofit ownership and the answer seemed to be that it is the public at large.

Once we began developing our brand brief, we knew we wanted a vision statement that fit our culture, served our stakeholders, honored our faith-based roots and could also have an impact on our “owners”—the public at large. The vision statement we adopted, “To be a daily blessing to all we encounter,” is perfectly aligned with what we had set out to accomplish—a vision that would have impact beyond our organization.

As a nonprofit organization, what better way is there to serve the public at large than to bless all we encounter on a daily basis? The focus is on the “ALL” we encounter, not just other staff members, community members and stakeholders, but all.

When visiting our campus, a guest, visitor, family member, vendor, delivery person or anyone from the public at large will get a sense of the compassion, devotion and blessing that take place in our community every day. The foundation for a strong culture of blessing others was established early on and has remained strong over the last 50 years. It grew out of our Christian heritage and flows from a genuine faith that defines a purpose greater than ourselves.

This I have learned: When you have a strong culture that defines your brand, combined with a vision that reaches beyond the walls and boundaries of the organization, the public at large (the nonprofit owners) are served; their dividends are the lives that are impacted in a positive way.

Randy Brown is CEO of Rowntree Gardens in Stanton, CA.


Stephen Proctor
Stephen Proctor

I Have Learned the Value of Maturity

by Stephen Proctor

When I began my employment with Presbyterian Senior Living 45 years ago, I was assigned to work as a nurse in a small skilled nursing community. My first supervisor (who was not involved in hiring me) was certain I was too young to be placed in a position of responsibility. Hoping to convince me to resign, she decided to tell everyone who would listen that she resented being saddled with an idiot for an employee.

Believing I had done nothing to deserve this treatment, I thought about how I should respond to such a patently unfair situation. There seemed to be 3 options.

  • I could lash back at her verbally.
  • I could report her behavior to someone higher up in the organization.
  • Or I could passively undermine her authority as my supervisor.

Ultimately I decided not to react to her unfair criticism, but to work hard and hope everyone would realize that I could make an important contribution to PSL’s ministry.

I now recognize this as one of many turning points in my career. In time, my fellow staff members became so supportive of me that my supervisor had no audience for her criticisms. Eventually her critical comments ceased. Within 2 years she retired, and I was given her position and responsibilities.

I am convinced that my behavior toward her fostered a sense of respect among my new staff that served as the foundation for the next several years as their leader.

But the story does not end there. About 15 years later, my former supervisor was suffering from dementia and needed care in a PSL community. The family contacted me as PSL’s chief operating officer to see if I could help with placement.

When I visited her following her admission to the dementia unit, I discovered that all of the unpleasant criticisms had faded from her consciousness, and she could only recall good things about the time we worked together. Before me sat a kind, sweet woman, barely clinging to her dignity, in desperate need of care and compassion. Any lingering reservations I may have had about how I had reacted to her unfairness as a supervisor vanished.

From this experience I learned that responding to unjust criticism with maturity was not only the right thing to do but also set the tone for the leader I would become.

Decades later I found a definition of maturity written in the front of my mom’s Bible that helped me recall words of wisdom Mom had spoken to me as a child. When I read it, I understood why I had been able to make the right decision years later as an adult.

Maturity is:

The ability to stick to a job until it is done.

The ability to do a job without supervision.

The ability to carry money without spending it.

The ability to bear an injustice without wanting to get even.

Thanks, Mom.

Stephen Proctor is chief executive officer of Presbyterian Senior Living, Dillsburg, PA.