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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
resources is fierce. And there is no paycheck for the many hours
as a volunteer on the board of a nonprofit organization.
But for Steve Iverson, serving on the board of Enable Inc. of
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,
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
Iverson adds. "For me, it’s an opportunity to give back by helping
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
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
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
Today Enable Inc. serves 500 people with disabilities and their
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
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
through Mercer County (www.enablenj.org).
Iverson’s initial commitment included attending board meetings (which
are held every two months), participating in various fundraising
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
first written strategic plan to guide future decisions.
"This strategic plan is a road map," explains Iverson.
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
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
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
"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:
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."
in the details of the organization’s work. For example, Iverson
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.
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
are just some of the differences he found. "See (the work being
done) and feel the difference," he says, noting that sitting
the lunch table with clients and the group manager provides a much
more satisfying experience than videos and pictures.
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
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
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
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
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
Joyce M. Edwards MSW, executive director. 609-987-5003; fax,
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