A Small Nonprofit That Thinks Really Big

by Joan Garry

Nonprofit leaders like you are our most powerful storytellers, reminding all of us of all that is good in the world, lifting us up.

Emily Klehm, the Executive Director of South Suburban Humane Society, asked me a question that seemed to come out of nowhere.

Why do you think so many women won’t leave abusive relationships?

I responded the way you might expect. Fear of the unknown. Codependency. Lack of money.

And those are all important reasons. But then she told me another one. In fact, apparently it’s one of the biggest reasons. And my jaw dropped.

Many women won’t leave abusive relationships because they won’t leave their pets.


Listeners of my podcast might remember Emily. In an episode called “Anatomy of a Crisis,” we talked about how a staffer of hers had reported that she had been held up at gunpoint and a dog had been abducted. And then the staffer went missing. The story got weirder and weirder.

Emily gave us a master class on navigating an organizational crisis and how to come through even stronger. This was an amazing episode and I strongly suggest you listen to it, if you haven’t already.

I caught up with Emily several months ago and learned that her tiny nonprofit had a new and outsized vision. And that she received a $6 million grant to bring that vision to life. Yes, I said $6 million.

Game changer.

So, you don’t get $6mm without a big vision. Wanna hear about it?

Spoiler alert: it’s really big, really innovative, and yes, it involves helping victims of domestic violence.


When I say animal shelter, we have a picture. It’s better than it used to be – animal welfare has traveled miles to create great environments for animals awaiting their forever homes.

Emily Klehm is asking the next set of questions. She is not exactly complacent. So why just a place where animals are sheltered and folks stop by, pick out a new furry friend and bring said furry friend to its forever home? Her next set of questions began with two words: “Why not?”

Why not a whole campus? Why not beautiful grounds where folks can bring their furry friends on walking trails? Why not a partnership with some kind of wildlife agency? Why not an opportunity to spend real time with a prospective new family member in an open setting? Why not have a lovely 31 acre setting to walk the dogs in their care? So they feel at home rather than just a pit stop.

And her vision goes one step further. Those women who won’t leave their relationships because they won’t leave the pets who love them without condition? Why not a pet-friendly domestic violence shelter on this campus?

Emily’s vision has phases. Secure the space. Then, replace the 50 year old building that wasn’t intended to be an animal shelter.

Next, centralize all low cost services so that people and pets-in-need know there is one place to go for help. Then, a partnership with a wildlife agency on campus so that all animals in the community have a single home and single place for help. And the last phase includes that pet friendly domestic violence shelter.

Remember that earlier question – what is she going to do with all that money? Now that you have heard the vision, you can see that South Suburban is going to need quite a lot more than $6mm. In fact, Pet Smart Charities just committed $150,000. So now she has the big vision and some of the money she needs. Emily is getting there.

I LOVE everything about this story. And I can’t wait to see how it turns out.


You know who else has great stories? You.

You know how I know? Because nonprofit leaders like you are our most powerful storytellers, reminding all of us of all that is good in the world, lifting us up.

I often say, “A great leader is a great storyteller.”

The object of the game for a nonprofit leader – staff or board – is to invite folks to come closer to your work. The closer you bring them, the closer they will want to come. And the best tool you have? Bringing your work to life through the stories of real people.

When folks balk at fundraising, I use this equation:

Credible Messenger + Compelling Story = New Stakeholder (a new volunteer, a new board member or a check!)

And it is stories like these – stories like Emily Klehm’s – and so many others – that compelled me to want to rewrite my book. I wanted to tell their stories and I knew readers would benefit from the lessons these stories offer.


I could tell you that earlier this year, during our country’s dark spring, I wasn’t going to the movies, eating out or seeing friends. So I had time on my hands.

And while there is some truth to that, I also saw the timing opportunity. Write in March, release in paperback in mid-December and give nonprofit leaders – staff and board – a guide, a navigation tool to bring with them into 2021. It could make a great holiday gift for board members and staffers too.

I know 2020 has been a year like no other. Well, I have no crystal ball but I sure know there will be no returning to normal. And this will present unique challenges but all kinds of really interesting opportunities. Great leaders will anticipate both and be ready.

I am hoping my book will help you and your organization navigate the journey.

But it was more than just the timing.

A 2nd edition of my book was only of interest to me if it offered a lot more – not just an extra chapter and a preface. If I could offer a substantive rewrite and make it more accessible through a paperback edition, then hell yes. I wanted to take it on. And so I did.

I’m very proud of the first edition of the book but since its publication, I have learned so much from clients and members of my Nonprofit Leadership Lab. In addition, I saw gaps in content that I wish I had included.


  • Information on how to build a real leadership team, how to attract great people to your mission and keep your superstars happy and motivated
  • How to build and nurture the board of your dreams and get the staff and board to actually work together as partners
  • The right way to approach strategic planning, even on a budget, and how to build a sustainable and balanced fundraising program
  • A brand new chapter that does some real truth telling about boards. Why they really matter. How we fall short (really short) in marketing board service as the opportunity and privilege it is. Why boards screw up (spoiler alert: most boards don’t really understand their job and how important it is.) You won’t read any other chapter about boards quite like this one.
  • How to create a crisis management plan and the best way to navigate leadership transitions
  • And finally, ⅔ of our 1.5 million U.S.nonprofits have budgets under $1mm and 2/3 of those less than $500,000. These organizations are the backbones of our communities – food pantries, homeless shelters, equine therapy programs. These nonprofits are unique – with amazing superpowers and also real challenges. And incredible stories. I felt compelled to dive deep into this segment of our sector.

It’s not a typical “clinical” nonprofit leadership book.

Yes, it’s instructive. But it’s a lot more than that. I think you’ll find it funny (yes, funny). It draws on my personal experiences as an ED, a board leader, a volunteer, and a donor. It helps that I’ve played every position on the nonprofit field. And it draws upon amazing stories of folks whose work has touched me, whose stories are vehicles for a variety of important lessons, each of which will drive more effective leadership.


You can learn all about my new book, download a free chapter, and pre-order from the online store of your choice at https://book.joangarry.com.

Pre-orders on Amazon make a big difference in how much exposure the book gets. So I want to incentivize you to buy it before December 22nd (and if you’re reading this AFTER December 22nd, 2020, don’t worry – the book itself will still be enormously valuable for you and your nonprofit.)

So if you pre-order the book, you can enter to win a FREE 90-minute virtual workshop with me for your board!

I will dig deep with your board on a key topic. You can count on lots of interaction, a big fat dose of actionable advice, and my signature sense of humor. Each book you purchase gives you a chance to win. So consider buying copies for each of your board members as a holiday gift. More chances to win!

Again, The details are on my book website at https://book.joangarry.com.

Good luck with the contest!

And please stay safe.

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