Lisa Whetzel has been with Britepaths since 2005, and as Executive Director since 2007. When Lisa became Executive Director, it was a small organization with 5 staff and a $300,000 budget serving 1,000 people annually. Under her leadership Britepaths has grown to serve over 7,000 clients, with 2 offices, 22 staff, and an approximately $1,500,000 budget (due to pandemic assistance funds, it is over $5 million for FY 2022). Lisa is a proven leader in creating culture and policies which attract and retain exceptional talent which is demonstrated by longevity of staff employment and improving diversity in staff and board composition.
Tell us about your leadership style and how this contributes to your organization’s success.
When I was offered the position of Executive Director almost 14 years ago, Britepaths, then Our Daily Bread, had 5 staff and I had no nonprofit management experience. What I did have, however, was counseling experience, a strong work ethic, a passion for social justice and willingness to learn and adapt. I learned over the years how to hire resourceful, smart and passionate people; and then to give them space (while assuring accountability) to create impactful programs.
What advice would you offer for other nonprofit leaders?
As a young ED, I read Forces for Good by Crutchfield and Grant. I implemented 5 out of 6 characteristics they identified in their summary of impactful nonprofits (still working on #6!). 1. Advocate and serve; 2. Inspire evangelists; 3. Nurture nonprofit networks; 4. Master the art of adaption; 5. Collaboration; 6. Make markets work. Number five, “collaboration” has been key to our success and reputation, and enabled us to help more people than we could have done alone. For example, we offer our services for free, including to other nonprofits’ clients. As nonprofit leaders, we need to cultivate the next generation of leaders, not just within our own organizations. We need to be generous and not proprietary about best practices and program design. I have been blessed to work in a region with collaborative leaders. Their willingness to share financial policies, board management practices, intake forms, etc. saved me time and made me a better leader.
What does this award mean for you and your organization?
It’s an honor to be recognized in an area with such a large pool of strong leaders and organizations. It affirms that Britepaths is on the right path and encourages us to continue.
This award will enable me to strengthen staff effectiveness. Years ago, we had an in-person training on effective communication strategies. The staff found it very helpful to use the same definitions and lay ground rules on expectations of one another. We found ourselves even playfully joking about it. With staff turnover and working virtually, we hope to bring back the same consultant to build on that training. This series will include a mindfulness practice component to prevent burnout which staff have found very helpful in the past. I had underestimated how important that is to address the whole person so that they bring their best selves to work.