Empowering More People

Career & Life Direction welcomes Dr. Barry Slauenwhite as he reflects on personal initiatives which have helped Compassion Canada to grow and thrive.

I have been serving with Compassion Canada for almost 30 years. The first ten years was spent as VP of Marketing and Communications and the last 20 years as President & CEO. Over this timeframe I have seen a lot of changes…most of them ones I have initiated. Some out of necessity and some out of innovation. None without their fair share of stress and hard work.

When I was first appointed to the role of CEO I asked the board for one year of no growth so that I could concentrate on rebuilding the foundation of the organization. Although we had experienced modest growth over the previous ten years, it was obvious that the organizational structure would not sustain stronger growth and the potential was much greater than what we had realized. We had experienced consistent deficit budgets and struggled to meet our financial obligations. Although we were bringing in new donors we were not doing a good job of servicing and retaining them.

And now, 20 years later, Compassion Canada has grown by 900% and we are considered to be a leader in donor retention.

The first move I made was to build a new organizational culture. Staff morale was low as was productivity. I took the staff away on a two-day retreat and introduced my new philosophy of how we work together emphasizing the Fruit of the Spirit mixed with excellence in how we carry out our work. This one exercise proved to be a valuable investment in boosting staff morale and productivity.

The second step was to create a team style leadership. Our leadership tended to be more autocratic and staff felt their giftedness and skills were being undervalued. We emphasized collaboration, empowerment and joint decision-making. I formed an executive team that continues to be the backbone of how we run the organization. Work teams were created along with cross-functioning ministry teams to ensure communication was flowing to all levels of the ministry.

Engaging the staff and giving them a voice in decision-making produced almost immediate results. Morale dramatically improved and productivity soon followed. Then I turned my attention to more structural issues such as board governance.

The potential was much greater than we had realized

Our board followed more of an operational format so I engaged the chairman and together we set out to move the board toward a policy governance model. This was a strategic move that brought new life to our governing board. Adopting a policy governance model created an exciting new framework in which management was empowered to be more visionary and strategic creating significant amount of synergy that impacted our overall productivity and growth.

Compassion, like many NGOs, was heavily dependent on government funding. This created somewhat of a laissez-faire attitude towards fundraising. We had not developed a strong private donor network which positioned us to be quite vulnerable to government funding whims. Hence a significant portion of our funding and subsequent program activity followed the roller coaster agendas of the government foreign aid agenda. After coming to grips with the long-term implications of this funding model we developed a private donor strategy that replaced government funding and created a whole new network of donors that continues to be the backbone of our funding program.

Lastly, we created a national volunteer strategy to mobilize current and future donors to passionately promote the ministry cause. Initially just a handful of committed people, this network now numbers over 2,000 and has become a significant component of our marketing strategy and is responsible for a sizable portion of our overall revenues.

To help measure the effectiveness of my strategies, I engaged the services of the Best Christian Workplace. This tool gives me an accurate pulse of how the staff is doing and what areas I need to give attention to. It provides a mechanism for staff feedback and overall staff health. The data from this feedback helps me adjust my strategies in tweaking what is weak and building on what is strong.

Over these 20 years as CEO I have learned the value of surrounding myself with good people. People who are passionate for the cause, committed to Christ and His church and competent in their skill set. I have learned that character is more important than skill and that people thrive in an environment where they have a cause and are able to express themselves in responding to that cause.

Dr. Barry Slauenwhite has been serving with Compassion Canada since 1983. He is a leading voice in the Canadian Christian community, speaking on behalf of the poor. Barry and his wife, Sharon, live in London, Ontario, and have two adult daughters and two grandchildren.  

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