Who are you, and what do you do?
My name is Susan Hay Patrick and I am the CEO of United Way of Missoula County.
What has been one insight or lesson that has been most helpful in your career?
Only one?? I think following my instincts; the only bumps in my career were caused by my failure to do that.
What has been your favorite mistake? A mistake that in retrospect led to a great lesson and progress.
I don’t like mistakes, but I would say that taking a job, early in my career, that had a lot of responsibility, but little authority, taught me to never do that again. It was very frustrating to have so much expected of me, but, due to having virtually no authority, having so little ability to really affect change.
Project forward ten years. How will your industry or field be fundamentally different then? What opportunities do you see?
Change is happening very fast in the nonprofit field. If government continues to retrench, reducing support for essential services and programs, the nonprofit sector will increasingly be called upon to fill the gap – this could crush our sector, unless we adapt strategically and nimbly to new realities, especially the rise of the Millennial and post-Millennial generations. We as a sector need to double down on efforts to connect with and reach Millennials, meeting them “where they are.” We need to constantly have our eye on the horizon, working smarter by using technology, being data-driven (to track our results), and communicating effectively the results of our work. All of that represents opportunity!
What are some bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
I am troubled by the constant pressure on nonprofits to reduce overhead; that somehow underinvesting in ourselves is a smart practice. It is not possible to cut one’s way to prosperity. So when I hear someone say, “we’re cutting [insert name of program]” and/or “we’re doing more with less,” I want to stab myself in the eye with a fork. Thinking with a scarcity mentality leads to scarcity, not prosperity.
In the last two years, what have you become better at saying no to?
I’m still a work in progress in that area. I am better at saying yes than no; I believe I am a “connector” at heart, and also that if I can make a difference to a cause or an organization, I will try to do so. I will say that I have a longstanding – longer than in the last two years! – rule of never doing anything social out of obligation; if someone wants to get together with me outside of work, I will not do it unless I genuinely like and am uplifted by their spirit and presence. My time is too precious to spend it with people I don’t enjoy.
What is the one book you recommend most often and why?
Is this the part where I recommend some life-changing business book?? That is not going to happen! As an English major, I am a firm believer in reading great fiction, as a way to transform our outlook and bring magic to our lives! I cannot possibly recommend just one single book…but if I had to, it would have to be the amazing, magically realistic saga that is “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. (For its breathtaking awesomeness!) Also “Pride and Prejudice,” by Jane Austen, for its wit and trenchant observations of life by a strong female – plus, of course, romance. Also the poetry of Mary Oliver and Billy Collins…see? I told you I couldn’t recommend just one book!
What advice would you give a smart and ambitious recent college graduate? What advice should they ignore?
Advice: Life is short. Do something with yours that you love. Be passionate about your work and it will rarely feel like work. Do not ever take a job just for the money – yes, I know student-loan debt is crushing, but your SOUL will be crushed by taking a purely mercenary approach to your career.
Do something to make the world better, now and for the next generation. It is a far better, healthier, happier way to live than to be solely focused on amassing wealth and material things.
Also, travel. Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness” – and he was right. Never pass up a chance to travel.
Ignore advice to take any job, just because it pays well. Same with majoring in a subject just because it will lead to a high-paying job – only do things you are passionate about.
What is your favorite quote, one you aim to live by?
“If you ask me what I came into this life to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud.” Emile Zola
Also, “Leap, and the net will appear.” Not sure who wrote that.