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Stories of Philanthropy: Why We Give

Read the stories of why our Service Corps volunteers give to 501 Commons

Philanthropy occurs when people donate their time, talents, and/or treasure in the service of others. Members of our Executive Service Corps generously invest their time and talents as volunteer consultants to over 1,000 nonprofits every year. Seeing the positive impact of their work up-close, many Service Corps members expand their commitment to our communities by contributing treasure that helps to underwrite the vital work that we do together.

The following profiles provide insight into what compels three Service Corps members to be leader-philanthropists.

John Pehrson

John Pehrson has had a long and enriching relationship with 501 Commons that had an interesting start. About three years after retiring from The Boeing Company as a program manager, in 1988 John conferred with his former boss and Executive Service Corps of Washington (ESCWA) co-founder, Fred Maxwell, about a volunteer opportunity through ESCWA, which is 501 Commons’ antecedent. Boeing and the Washington State Schools Association were funding ESCWA’s effort to deploy and support skilled-volunteer teams of retired executives and education planners charged with helping school districts to design strategies to achieve a higher level of student achievement. The project lasted over a decade, helped the planning within 40 school districts across Washington, and was a great success.

John volunteered hundreds of hours, in service to Washington communities, by completing many more Executive Service Corps consulting projects. His exemplary communitarianism and leadership inspired the creation of the "John Pehrson Award," which annually recognizes a Service Corp member for the “contribution of time and talent on multiple projects, as well as the willingness to go beyond expectations.”

“My work with 501 Commons was a wonderful transition from work to retirement,” John said. His Executive Service Corps volunteerism “opened doors to organizations that are important to him to this day.” John continued his commitment to public education with assignments with the Association of Washington State Principals, MESA Washington, the City of Seattle’s Families and Education Levy oversight and the initiation of the Seattle Pre-school program.

John says that he “admires 501 Commons’ growth and success under the leadership of Nancy Long,” and asserts that strengthening hundreds of nonprofits, each year, is “vitally important to Washington communities.” His history with 501 Commons and deep appreciation of its mission moves John to make a significant annual financial contribution toward 501 Commons’ continuing progress. John “likes staying connected and pertinent to the organization” and contends that he “gets more out of being part of 501 Commons than he gives.”

In complementing his annual philanthropic commitment, John has made provision for 501 Commons to receive a “specific bequest” through his will that will be paid out over three to five years. John based his decision to donate, through his estate planning, on the following considerations:
  • He is fortunate to have resources beyond his family obligations that he can allocate in his estate.
  • The bequest celebrates the success and joy he experienced in the past, while positively affecting 501 Commons’ mission accomplishment now, as well as in the future.
  • It is easy to do!

Ann Suter

Mary Ann Suter, known to friends as Ann, is an ebullient and thoughtful person. The former SCAN TV executive director, prolific volunteer, community leader, and philanthropist joined the Executive Service Corps in March 2010. Ann does not remember how she first became aware of 501 Commons, but she recalls being impressed with Executive Director Nancy Long and the concept of organizing an army of skilled volunteers who can build the capacity of nonprofits.

Ann has “liked the variety of projects” she has accomplished as a volunteer consultant. Her first assignment was being part of a two-person consulting team that guided Northwest Folklife, an experience that inspired her to become a member of the organization’s board of directors. Ann’s experience spans at least seven assignments, including projects in board governance and signature programs like Springboard and Pathways.

Pathways, a short five-step consultative process framed within the Five Elements of a Healthy Nonprofit Self-Assessment, is of special interest to Ann. She appreciates the value of the Five Element Assessment that nonprofit organizations complete prior to conducting the planning process, which they can emulate for other types of projects.

Ann donates her money where she invests her time and expertise by being a generous financial contributor to 501 Commons. As a former board treasurer for Northwest Folklife and the 23rd Avenue Action Community Team, Ann says she “appreciates that funding beyond earned income is essential,” and knows that nonprofit client fees cover only about 44% of 501 Commons’ operating costs.

501 Commons is fortunate to benefit from the Suters’ generosity. Ann and her husband Ronald included 501 Commons in their philanthropy plan, funded through a donor advised fund (DAF) that benefits from surplus retirement savings. Ann and Ronald believe in “making investments in the long-term growth of well-organized local nonprofits that are making significant positive impact.”

They like that 501 Commons is “strategic and visionary” in strengthening more than 1,000 nonprofits a year for the benefit of people, families, and communities throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

Shirley Bishop

For the past decade, Shirley Bishop has been one of our rock star volunteers. Her passion for serving nonprofits is best exemplified by her work with boards.

Given their weighty responsibilities — and their capacity to do harm to the organization through poor leadership — the board is critical to the stability of any organization. Shirley guides these leaders by observing and listening, identifying the obstacles holding them back, and crafting tailored recommendations based on where the organization is and what they hope to achieve.

“Doing the hard work of altering or changing their programs is up to them, but I can offer that outside perspective so that I can encourage their boards and executive leadership to develop a vision for where they want to be in two, or three, or five years. Then I help them develop the skill to think strategically about what they need to do now in order to make that happen,” Shirley says.

Her methodology includes attending board meetings and reading as much documentation as possible from the past year (such as strategic plans, bylaws, and minutes from previous meetings). She then looks at their priorities and determines what they could be doing now to move forward. Finally, she conducts phone interviews with each board member to get a better idea of what kinds of questions and conversations should be happening at future meetings so that they can be more productive.

Some of the dynamic nonprofits Shirley has worked with include (going clockwise): Invest in Youth, NW Parkinson's Foundation, and Chief Seattle Club.
“Nonprofits provide useful services in the community,” she says. “And it doesn’t take a whole lot to send them on the right path.”

In addition to working on 45 total projects since 2010, Shirley also donates to 501 Commons because she knows first-hand where her contributions are going.

“Volunteers are the likeliest source of donations to nonprofits,” she says. “As volunteers we see the impact 501 Commons has on nonprofits and we benefit from the investments they make in the Executive Service Corps. As important as it is, the mission doesn’t immediately tug at your heartstrings, which is why it is all the more important for volunteers to give back to them.”