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December 14, 2010

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December 14, 2010

Being on Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council’s board has been one of the best experiences of my life. There seems to be no end to the stream of new ideas that come from board members and no limits to their willingness to invest their time and money in GPLC’s work. They are an inspiration to me.

I wanted to learn from the best. When I was considering what board I might join, I went to experts in community affairs who knew all the major nonprofits in the Pittsburgh region. I told them that, above all, I wanted to be on a board with exemplary members working for a well-managed nonprofit. They agreed that GPLC was at the top of the list with a smart board and top-performing staff.

Since 2006, I’ve been continually learning about the organization – learning what makes it work so well and adapt to change, especially in the form of challenging economic environments. Some clues were spelled out for me recently in GPLC Executive Director Don Block’s article, “Facing Challenges in Nonprofit Organizations” in the fall 2010 issue of Squirrel Hill Magazine.

One of the things Don mentions as key to the success of a nonprofit is a board that is involved and well-informed. GPLC’s board and staff members have frequent opportunities for discussion and teamwork toward common goals during board meetings, committee meetings, event planning, events and other experiences. The staff members are very available to help educate us about what they do and how we can help them. One of our annual events, the Annual GPLC Trivia Bowl, is a totally board-run event so we can take some fundraising pressure off our staff and free them up to focus on their work. But we rely on them for occasional guidance and value their opinions.

Of course, there are five other keys to success in managing a nonprofit discussed in Don’s article, and they concern the staff and students and other stakeholders. But as a board member, I’ve focused on the board’s role here. However, it appears to me that the staff, students and volunteers are unusually committed. A secretary sometimes calls students at home to make sure they are on their way to class whenever she feels they need encouragement. Volunteer tutors decide to cook Thanksgiving dinner for their English-as-a-second-language students. This doesn’t even scratch the surface. Read the other reviews of GPLC on this Web site.

It’s not surprising that GPLC’s adult education programs give people tools they can use to improve continually their quality of life for the rest of their lives. Those involved in GPLC don’t just put a bandage on a problem. They’ve got better ideas.

The Great!

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

Almost every time I hear a GPLC student talk about how GPLC changed their lives, I cry. They cry. The success stories are some of the best examples of what's right with the world. The impact of GPLC's work on real people's lives is profound. GPLC's donors fuel these powerful changes.

Ways to make it better...

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

We currenty operate Literacy AmeriCorps, which provides adult education volunteers to seven U.S. cities (Phoenix; Washington, DC; Los Angeles; New Orleans; Dayton, Ohio; and Seattle; as well as Pittsburgh). I wonder how we might expand and impact more students' lives in the future.

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