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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 | Ann Suter | Shirley Bishop | Andy Cheung | Peg Hunt | Cynthia Wang | Alykhan Jivraj

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.

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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."

Andy Cheung

When we need a dynamite technology consultant to serve on Plan IT, facilitate a Windows 10 upgrade project, or provide IT expertise to passionate nonprofits, we know Andy Cheung will help our clients succeed.

Andy has emerged as one of our top tech consultants, culminating in winning the 2017 Action Learning Consultant Team award alongside his frequent partner, long-time Service Corps member Bill Winkelman. Andy says working in Plan IT is among his favorite client engagements.

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From left to right: Megan Moorehead, Andy Cheung, Bill Winkelman, Chris Miller, and Crystal Cheairs.
“The Plan IT program gave me a valuable opportunity to help the Washington Poison Center investigate their unique IT operations and offer insights to increase their efficiency and reliability on IT,” Andy says. “I love the organization and people so much that I continue to help them deliver their mission as a board member.”

What drew Andy to the Executive Service Corps was the opportunity to meet dedicated, mission-driven people and work with them to improve their operations. He’s seen first-hand the difficulties many nonprofits face by not having permanent IT staff or a plan for managing their technology. Andy volunteers and donates to 501 Commons because he strongly believes nonprofits should not have to choose between spending time keeping up with technology changes and focusing on delivering their core mission.

Andy recently “stepped up” his commitment to 501 Commons’ mission by becoming one of the seven founding members of the Executive Service Corps Leadership Council. The council collaborates with staff to increase the value of ESC membership and enhance the quality of the service that members provide to 501 Commons and its clients.

“There are many ways to help improve lives and I find donating time and money through 501 Commons has a nice compounding effect to impact more lives,” Andy says.

Peg Hunt

Peggy Hunt, better known as Peg, is a remarkable person. She has tended the family apple orchard, been a wildland firefighter, worked in an Alaska salmon cannery, conducted organizational development research and consulting, grew an aerospace electronics firm with her husband, been president of an education foundation, and currently is the owner of a landscaping design and installation company.

In addition to being a spouse, parent, and recent volunteer for Washington Women in Need (WWIN), Peg is a founding member of the 501 Commons Executive Service Corps Leadership Council and regularly volunteers for consulting assignments. Peg learned about 501 Commons from a friend who was already a Service Cops member and joined in June 2011. Since then, Peg has completed a wide array of 18 assignments for a variety of nonprofits.

Peg has a deep appreciation for the value nonprofits deliver to our communities and learned a while ago that she has a talent for strengthening them. Peg enjoys helping nonprofits discover their goals and objectives, and then achieve them.

She especially loves working with smaller organizations and the challenge to “meet people where they are,” with respect to their history, cultural values, and practices. Peg asserts that consultants must build trust with clients to effectively conduct their collaborative work together.

Listening carefully, asking the right questions, exhibiting a calm and thoughtful style, and using the client’s “language” is what Peg says is responsible for her consulting success. Being hearing impaired and requiring the use of hearing aids, Peg often employs practices that every consultant should adopt: She paraphrases to confirm understanding, and relies upon documenting plans and actions to ensure she is in sync with clients.

501 Commons depends upon donations from foundations, corporations, and individuals to underwrite our vital mission. Like many other Service Corps members, Peg invests her philanthropy where she spends her volunteer time by making an annual donation to 501 Commons. She is confident her financial contribution is well-spent and permits us to deliver the consulting services that help nonprofits thrive.

Cynthia Wang

Cynthia Wang’s “passion for people – clients, teams, and the community, integrity, and [a] maniacal focus on what matters” is why she’s one of our more accomplished Executive Service Corps volunteers.

A recipient of our prestigious John Pehrson Award in 2017, Cynthia has completed seven assignments, is currently engaged in three consulting projects (including this project at Vietnamese Friendship Association), and contributes her energy and expertise to improving the quality of the volunteer experience as a founding member of the Executive Service Corps Leadership Council.

Her first 501 Commons assignment was as a solo consultant to Medieval Women’s Choir a mere four months after joining the Service Corps. What she likes best about being a volunteer consultant is the “implicit trust placed in her by clients” and that she “never feels alone, because 501 Commons is available to help” her be successful. Cynthia says it’s “cool to be part of a group of people doing well by others.”

An avid hiker and birder, Cynthia works as the Director of Design and Digital Engagement, Market Development and Insights at IBM. In addition to her extensive work with 501 Commons, she serves on the board of Neighborhood House and volunteers at Low Income Housing Institute’s (LIHI) Urban Rest Stop and with Northeast Seattle Together (NEST).

Cynthia complements her volunteer commitment by making a financial donation to 501 Commons through payroll deduction. Cynthia says her philanthropic investment “amplifies the scale and impact of 501 Commons’ services beyond her volunteering.”

Alykhan Jivraj

Alykhan Jivraj is a lifelong volunteer whose family and religious community instilled in him a sense of obligation to help others. Like many millennials, Alykhan is attracted to skilled volunteerism as a means of meeting people, investing in his professional development, and contributing toward the quality of life in his community.

He arrived in the greater Seattle area from Berkeley, CA, after being recruited by Microsoft about five years ago. Microsoft is exceptional at fostering volunteerism and philanthropy by matching employee donations of time and money to nonprofits. Alykhan became familiar with 501 Commons by searching the Microsoft volunteer portal for “strategy and consulting” volunteer opportunities, which he was incentivized to do by his employer offering to donate $50 to a nonprofit of his choice.

Since joining the Executive Service Corps in January 2015, Alykhan has completed four assignments and is currently executing a consulting project with Pine Manor Recovery Housing & Services. In addition to “giving back” to society, Alykhan has been instrumental in enabling 501 Commons to benefit from Microsoft grants awarded based upon his Executive Service Corps volunteer hours.

Alykhan really likes 501 Commons’ “framework” for successfully conducting consulting projects and appreciates the “specificity” of our standards and the support he receives from staff. He enjoys meeting other Service Corps members and learning about the nonprofit sector through his service. A testament to Alykhan’s commitment to 501 Commons’ mission is that he helped recruit colleagues Stephanie Yasunaga and Jessica Shain to also become Executive Service Corps members.