Corrections or additions?

This article by Vivian Fransen was prepared for the December 20,

2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Giving Back on a Nonprofit Board: Steve Iverson at Enable

The challenges are enormous. The competition for

financial

resources is fierce. And there is no paycheck for the many hours

working

as a volunteer on the board of a nonprofit organization.

But for Steve Iverson, serving on the board of Enable Inc. of

Princeton

has been one of the most satisfying ways for him to make a difference

as a volunteer.

"Everyone is so busy these days, all fighting for time," says

Iverson, employed as director of human resources for the Princeton

Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL). "Yet without volunteers,

nonprofit

organizations can’t function well. If everyone decided not to become

involved as volunteers, nonprofits would not operate effectively."

"As a board member, I have great compassion for the work of this

agency and can help set the strategic direction for the

organization,"

Iverson adds. "For me, it’s an opportunity to give back by helping

others."

Iverson first learned about the organization he serves during a United

Way presentation held at his workplace. He recalls the day eight years

ago when Wendy Crook, the founding director of the organization that

originally started in 1989 as United Cerebral Palsy of Mercer County,

came to PPPL to talk about the needs of people with disabilities

living

in the community.

"Wendy (whose husband was employed at PPPL) called me a week later

to tell me about an opening for someone with expertise in human

resources

to volunteer on their board," says Iverson. "She asked me

to come on board and I said okay."

Iverson soon discovered that the organization needed his skills to

help make significant decisions. Not only was the decision made to

expand services to individuals with various disabilities (not only

those with cerebral palsy), but to establish a new organization called

Enable Inc.

Today Enable Inc. serves 500 people with disabilities and their

families

in central New Jersey, providing information and referral services,

respite care, home modifications, personal assistants, employment,

and group homes with supportive services. With a current staff of

125 part-time and full-time employees, Enable Inc. has an annual

budget

of $3.5 million and receives funding from various sources, including

the New Jersey Division of Developmental Disabilities, the City of

Trenton Community Development Block Grant, and funding for

accessibility

through Mercer County (www.enablenj.org).

Iverson’s initial commitment included attending board meetings (which

are held every two months), participating in various fundraising

activities,

and being available "whenever the staff and board need an HR-type

for free advice." However, as he learned more about the needs

of the organization and the families served by Enable Inc., he was

asked to take on more responsibilities, serving as the organization’s

second board president. He took the initiative during this time to

work with other board members and staff in preparing the

organization’s

first written strategic plan to guide future decisions.

"This strategic plan is a road map," explains Iverson.

"The

process took us nearly a year, including weekend retreats. It takes

time to address key questions about our mission and growth. And now

we have a forward-looking document to guide our decisions."

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Iverson grew

up as an only child. His father was employed in the newspaper world

(working for Triangle Publications) and his mother was a homemaker.

Iverson attended New York University and graduated in 1966 with a

degree in industrial relations. After serving in the military with

an armored tank unit, he landed his first job in human resources with

the New York Central Railroad before its merger with Pennsylvania.

Uncertain about how the merger would impact on his job, he suggested

to his future wife, Annette, that they settle in an area halfway

between

New York City and Philadelphia.

"I literally drew a line on the map, marking Exit 8 on the New

Jersey Turnpike," says Iverson. So they took a ride, turning off

at Exit 8, and have lived in central New Jersey ever since.

Iverson held various positions in the region, including nine years

with divisions of Johnson & Johnson. In 1978 he accepted his current

position at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, where he works

with eight professionals to address the human resources needs of 500

employees. PPPL, a research facility supported by the United States

Department of Energy and managed by Princeton University, is dedicated

to "creating innovation to make fusion power a practical

reality."

No stranger to the need for forward-looking thinking and managing

complex circumstances, Iverson has great respect for the role of a

nonprofit organization’s executive director, which he describes as

"uniformly underpaid with yeoman tasks to do."

"Running a complex organization makes a great deal of demands

on those implementing the action steps of a strategic plan," he

explains, adding that he also serves on the board of the Princeton

University Federal Credit Union and his townhouse association in

Hopewell.

"It’s important for such individuals to know their board cares

about the progress of their daily operations."

Iverson offers the following advice on how to be an effective board

member of a nonprofit:

Make a commitment to attend all board meetings. Iverson

notes that when you miss a board meeting, you lose continuity which

cannot be replaced by a day-after telephone briefing. Understanding

the flow of board discussions is equally important as knowing about

the decisions that are made, he adds. "Be there," he states.

"Show up at every meeting."

Do not micro-manage. Resist the temptation to become

enmeshed

in the details of the organization’s work. For example, Iverson

recalls

a board discussion about opening a new group home that focused on

the need for roof repairs, including details relating to its shingles.

"We called a time out, with a reminder that staff can handle that

level of detail," says Iverson.

Go out in the field and get to know the service/product

that the organization delivers. For Iverson, a visit to one of the

group homes that is managed through Enable Inc. helped him understand

how life is much different living in a house in West Windsor versus

living in an institution. Respect for privacy, freedom to decorate

one’s own bedroom, and modifications for ease in navigating a

wheelchair

are just some of the differences he found. "See (the work being

done) and feel the difference," he says, noting that sitting

around

the lunch table with clients and the group manager provides a much

more satisfying experience than videos and pictures.

"Somehow it seems easier to be sensitive to the needs of

children with disabilities," says Iverson. "However, these

same children are often left floundering when they grow up. At Enable

we focus on helping adults with disabilities have a fuller life in

the community and live as independently as possible."

"Steve Iverson is so supportive of our work," says Joyce

Edwards,

executive director of Enable Inc. since 1993. "His loyalty and

long-term commitment is a gift."

A believer in rotating the individuals who serve on nonprofit boards

by electing officers once a year, Iverson stepped down as president

after serving five years, insisting that "it’s healthy to rotate

board members and keep the board sharp." He continues to serve

now as "just a board member." He credits his wife, Annette,

for being "enormously supportive" of his volunteer work (which

averages eight hours a month) and attending all the fundraising

dinners

with him. (The next dinner, hosted by the Princeton Hyatt, will be

Thursday, May 3.)

Although their two children (Paul, age 27, and Lisa, age 20) are grown

and living away from home, the Iverson family has joined many others

in the greater Princeton area (including Merrill Lynch, the Hyatt,

Jamieson, Moore, Peskin & Spicer, and many other businesses and

individuals)

in adopting a new holiday tradition: giving to families through a

program of Enable Inc. called Holiday Baskets. This initiative makes

it possible for as many as 60 families in low-income circumstances

served through Enable Inc. to receive food, clothing, and gifts

delivered

to their homes by staff and volunteers. Donations (including financial

contributions) are still welcomed for this year’s Holiday Baskets.

"When you are launching your career, it takes so much of your

time and energy," he says. "For me, my interest in volunteer

work didn’t ripen until I reached my early 40s. I believe we are all

better off when we give back as volunteers."

— Vivian Fransen

Enable Inc., 13 Roszel Road, Suite B-116, Princeton 08540.

Joyce M. Edwards MSW, executive director. 609-987-5003; fax,

609-520-7979.

www.enablenj.org


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