July 20, 2019
 
Sense of Social Justice Led Linda Wood-Boyle to Become an ED

Linda Wood-Boyle: Leading a nonprofit like HomeStart depends on cultivating relationships.
Linda Wood-Boyle took a fundraising job after graduate school that led to a career in nonprofit development, which, combined with a strong sense of social justice, paved the way to her becoming an executive director.

Here is her story.

Growing up as the daughter of a Methodist minister, I was instilled with the idea of helping people, that you give a nickel if you only have a penny. It developed in me a sense of social justice.

As I was doing an internship for my bachelor’s in social work at the University of Southern Maine, I found I really enjoyed working with the elderly, doing what would be called hospice today. It was intense work and I loved all of it, but after a while was burnt out.

I then pursued a master of divinity at Boston University’s School of Theology to learn about pastoral counseling. After graduating in 1982, the dean offered me a job in alumni relations while I was preparing to get ordained. From there I was promoted to director of development learned to become a fundraiser and ended up running a $7 million capital campaign. After the dean retired, I felt it was time to move on and did fundraising for several other nonprofits.

In 1992, I went to work for the Methodist Theological School in Ohio as vice president of institutional advancement, working with a staff of eight. After three years, as I was about to turn 40, I wondered what happened to the social worker in me. Why was I a full-time fundraiser? I had heard about others who went from fundraising to being an executive director and knew that would appeal to me.

At that time, the Somerville Homeless Coalition was looking for an ED with fundraising experience. I interviewed and was offered the job. It was the perfect match, a combination of my social work passion, my experience as a fundraiser, and the experience I had gained managing staff.

Richard Ferrelli, chair of the Coalition, was a great support and source of wise advice. He had confidence in my instincts, was very open to suggestions, and allowed me to take risks with new programs and opportunities. He gave me my wings. From the time I started there in 1995 until I left five years later the budget went from $450,000 to $2 million.

In 2000, I heard the ED at HomeStart was leaving and thought I’d throw my hat in the ring. It was a very young agency and I saw it as a diamond that needed brushing. I saw that I could go in and build a donor base and a board and services. While the Coalition provides temporary shelter for adults and families, HomeStart focuses on ending homelessness.

Our goal is to prevent homelessness as opposed to helping people after they become homeless. We take about 2000 calls a year from people who say they’re about to be evicted and need help. We help them stay in their homes if it’s sustainable. It costs $1,200 to prevent homelessness if the situation is sustainable, compared to $30,000 to keep a family in a shelter for a year. Also, it’s better not to uproot kids. We’ve became known as the housing gurus. We serve 50 shelters in Boston and Cambridge.

I’ve had some really good mentors at HomeStart. Peter Rosenberg, our former chair, opened up his Rolodex to help take HomeStart to the next step with fundraising and board recruitment. Ed Frechette took over for Peter and is a very creative marketing guy who’s totally passionate about the work. They both bring passion and enthusiasm and endless hours, but they don’t micromanage.

I tend to be a dreamer and big picture thinker and have two managers who aren’t afraid to say it’s great to have a dream, but will ask me how I’ll make it happen. They’re so committed, and provide the perfect balance.

I empower my managers; I’m a really good mentor and I love that part of my job. When a new staffer arrives, we arrange a meet and greet with every other staffer to have a sense of team. I’m very pleased with the way we’ve been able to grow, but one of the challenges of getting bigger is that you have more HR issues and I get further away from the client.

Leading a nonprofit like HomeStart depends on cultivating relationships. We’re at a lot of tables; we’re very good collaborators – whether its current or potential funders, donors, or partners. It’s my job to keep those relationships active and my board engaged.

As told to Peter Lowy, January 2012. Learn more about HomeStart.

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