Walt Zerrenner makes the Fox Cities a better place to live.
Walt and his late wife Aline attended the first Memory Café at the Appleton Atlas Coffee Mill in 2012. They had such a positive experience, Walt joined the Fox Valley Memory Project (FVMP) Executive Coordinating Committee. Walt and the Committee worked on strategic planning, growing resources, and eventually achieving 501c3 tax status to create the nonprofit Fox Valley Memory Project (FVMP).
When the FVMP needed to address the board of directors, they approached Walt to be the Board Development chairperson. Even though Walt had a long successful career in health information systems working with large, savvy nonprofit boards, filled with the highest-level CEOs in corporate America, he shared, “I really didn’t know much about small nonprofit governing boards.”
Walt’s a lifelong learner, so he started doing research. Which brought him to Nonprofit Leadership Initiative (NPLI).
NPLI’s Leadership Institute, a year-long educational program for nonprofit leaders, provided helpful information on bylaws, board members’ roles and responsibilities. Continued research led Walt to NPLI’s Nonprofit Next, an online resource filled with tools, tips, and downloadable templates. His favorite template – the Board Expectations Agreement.
Walt admits there were challenges as the FVMP board went from 18 members to 6 after he asked individuals to sign the Board Member Agreement and commit to the role required of board members. But it was the work he did with what is now a 13-member board, that he retired from in 2022, which brings a broad smile to his face. “The FVMP has gone from a part-time executive director with a budget less than $100,000 to a full-time executive director, eight staff and over $800,000 in grant funding.”
Walt continues to access NPLI’s learning resources by participating in Board Roundtables and is a graduate of the Board Academy. “What I learned during the Board Academy session on financial leadership was very beneficial. Boards shouldn’t focus on every detail of the finances, and the course taught us how to focus on organizational stability.” Walt also shared, “If I can take away one thing that improves my organization, it is worth my time.”
Board service is a passion for Walt and he uses the knowledge he’s gained to make a difference on the boards of the Fox Valley Veterans Council, BEAMING Inc., and Unity Recovery Services.
When asked what surprised him about his board service journey, he said, “I found out it wasn’t so hard to ask for money. I learned to say, let me tell you why we do it. I talk about the smiles that happen because of our work and the differences we’re seeing in people. It’s so important for board members to be involved in the mission because that makes it easy to share success stories.”
Coincidentally, that is exactly the message NPLI shares in our board member fundraising courses. To learn more about becoming involved on a board and the educational support services NPLI provides visit npleadershipfv.org.