On a rainy afternoon 5 years ago fifteen members of the Aspen Executive Service Corps participated in a brainstorming session with a youth services organization called YouthZone. The question Executive Director Debbie Wilde posed:
“Should we take what we’ve built so far and expand its reach to youth services organizations throughout the U.S.? If so, how?”
The impossible dream
In and around Glenwood Springs, Colorado during the past 30 years they had built an organization that was devoted to kids from 6 to 18 who were in trouble with substance abuse, school and community problems, delinquency, and severe family issues ~ sometimes described as youth ‘circling the drain’. They had already made a big difference to thousands of kids and were not only doing good work, they had the facts to prove it.
Given those results, among the best in the country, the answer to Deb’s question was an easy Yes! They had cracked the code when it came to taking kids in trouble and getting them permanently back on track. It seemed natural to take it out to more young people in need. But there were huge issues that made this new dream seem nearly impossible:
- Having just enough to fund the work they were doing, where would they get money for expansion?
- Board and staff people liked the idea, but their plates were full ~ how could they take on more?
- How could they tell their story in a way that generated national interest?
- Wouldn’t it need a new organization to take this on?
- What would Deb’s role be since she couldn’t do both?
However, that afternoon as the enthusiasm and passion for the idea came alive, so did the dream.
In our experience all organizational transformation is sourced by the personal transformation of its leaders ~ and in YouthZone, the first person in line was Debbie Wilde. She joined nearly 30 years ago and became the Executive Director in 1989. Over the years her leadership ensured the balance between a values-based culture and evidence-based strategies. Her view was that doing good work and helping kids was good stuff, but if they couldn’t accurately measure the impact on each person, they did not know the real results they were achieving nor could they do fundraising with integrity.
After the brainstorming meeting, one of her first steps was to ask me to be her coach and to make her first personal Best Year Yet plan. Top among her goals that year were to start writing a book about nonprofit leadership, get the YouthZone screening tool online, and complete her life coaching certification. But the highlight of the planning was the moment she created her New Paradigm:
Who I am is my gift to the world!
Although always confident, Deb’s natural humility kept her from taking responsibility for what she had created at YouthZone. It was then she realized she’d have to step out in the world in order to make the impossible dream come true. She also began to accept that she’d need to go public herself, and to do so meant beginning the journey of replacing herself as head of the organization.
“I found that my plan was the place to put the 'hard stuff' – the more challenging things that
made me stretch my courage and my skills."
She soon took Best Year Yet® to the leadership team and beyond. They found that organizational change is always unnerving, for some more than others. Along the way “we had to acknowledge that and take the time to provide information, answer questions and commit to not overreaching our financial and people resources . . . and the perceived scarcity of time and money and the fear of trying something new were big obstacles. My vision for the team was bigger than their vision of themselves: who are we to do something this transformational and far-reaching?”
As the years went by Deb kept all eyes on the vision, patiently listening, being flexible, but trusting that the day would come when the dream would manifest.
In the past 5 years the board, staff, and volunteers have created a new database, put their screening tool online, and created new ways of doing business. They saw their outcomes with youth improve and their organizational efficiency showed remarkable progress. But most importantly, as Deb says,
“We expanded our understanding of who we are and what we are capable of.”
As a result, Deb lists these achievements:
- YouthZone increased its sustainability. We have weathered subsequent economic challenges in a way that surprises others.
- We have added programs and increased staff.
- Our thinking has changed from scarcity (we don’t have enough) to abundance (we have enough to share and to try new endeavors). We have created a new social enterprise to take YouthZone’s learning beyond our doors.
A month ago, after 5 years of training and mentoring by Deb, Lori Mueller took over as YouthZone’s new Executive Director, and Deb left to launch the social enterprise:
Insight to Impact
Evidence Based Strategies for Youth Development
The impossible dream has come true ~ and Deb is not starting at ground zero. Two pilot programs with other youth services organizations have already been implemented successfully. And before she’s even begun serious marketing, they’ve had close to 30 enquiries about the YouthZone System. Moreover, her networking has generated enthusiasm from a long list of potential partners, state governments, businesses, venture philanthropists, and, as she says, “people who understand that the future lies with those organizations that can produce a measurable impact”.
Within a few months her book will be published. It’s a practical guide for nonprofit leaders called The Sustainable Nonprofit: 10 Strategies To Grow A Successful And Exceptional Organization.
As the inspiration for the realization of this impossible dream, Deb reports:
“I have grown as a whole person. My courage, confidence and patience have expanded. I don’t wallow in guilt about what I have not done. I feel better about who I am, and what I have to offer the world. I watch friends and colleagues around me planning to 'wind down' their lives. Instead, I have planned my next big venture!”
Deb is one of my heroes ~ someone who put herself on the line, reached inside to find what she needed, inspired others to keep the focus, included everyone, and always remembered, above all, what a difference this dream would make to so many more kids.
About the Author
Jinny Ditzler is the author of the best selling book, "Your Best Year Yet!" now translated into 14 languages and in its 20th printing in the U.K. She is a founder of the personal and executive coaching industry, having originated the process in the U.K. in 1981. Jinny is also the founder of Best Year Yet®, a global business that has trained over 400 Program Leaders and Coaches, who have worked with over 800 companies in 14 countries. Over a million people have used Best Year Yet® in the past 31 years.
Jinny’s expertise is in coaching, facilitation, writing and speaking, and she’s recognized as a thought leader in the fields of organizational revitalization and personal transformation. Her passion is to make personal and organizational transformation simple and sustainable for people everywhere.
She has been active in nonprofit organizations both in the U.K. and U.S., serving on industry boards and on the Board of Trustees for The Hunger Project. She was also one of the early founders and a president of the Executive Service Corps in Aspen, Colorado, an organization that trains business leaders and independent professionals to provide consulting and coaching to nonprofits. She is married to Tim Ditzler, the creator of Producing Results® Online (PRO), the cloud software for tracking monthly and weekly progress on Best Year Yet plans.