Becoming CEO of Propellus

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Written By: Doug Watson, Director Member Services & Operations

I guess it starts with dropping out of high school (oops, not supposed to tell people that). Actually it’s true. One of the reasons I didn’t just drop out once but three times is because I didn’t like the way things were run. Even in my ignorance I understood that things could be a little neater, a little tidier, even take into account the person you are serving when deciding how things will happen.

Fast forward a number of years. I married a wonderful person who believes the best in me. I kind of think that’s an important lens for any marriage decision. Our first year of marriage we worked together for a charity which had us travelling across western Canada. Two years later that charity imploded due to lack of funding, poor organization, and inability to tell its story. It was disheartening because this charity did fantastic work, important work, but the day-to-day management pressures got in the way of the purpose.

A couple of years later and I came across a job description for CEO of Volunteer Calgary. It looked like the type of organization I would love to work at. I could see, with a strong membership base, that it had the opportunity to directly influence many of the issues that non-profits face and that were important to me. Fortunately I wasn’t arrogant enough to think I could apply for the role. Instead I held onto a copy of that job description for the next nine years and used it as template to model my career and education.

Jumping ahead, I spent six years living in England working with numerous non-profits across Europe. What kept cropping up over and over again was the struggle of volunteers and staff to create meaningful follow-through on the intense passion that existed. It was this that drove me to pursue an MBA at a business school whose reputation was in the areas of leadership and organizational design. As my studies came to a close, I began job hunting. We knew we were moving back to Canada and most probably back to Calgary. My job hunt came to an abrupt halt when I found the job description for Director, Member Services at Volunteer Calgary. I used the excuse that I had to focus on moving across the world but the truth is this was the job I wanted and the work I wanted to do. Early conversations and two job interviews later and voila, I’m working for the organization I had admired many years earlier.

From day one Jamie and I understood that his time with the organization would come to an end we just weren’t sure when. He wanted to do significant work for Propellus and move on so someone else could put their stamp on the organization.

Having just completed the Imagine Canada Standards Accreditation  process we had a robust succession plan in place. This led to us both working closely with the board to ensure continuity and stability for the organization through what could be a very tumultuous time for an organization, a leadership transition. If you went for coffee with me you would find out the nitty gritty of transition, we all know change can be challenging. For Propellus, leadership transition was further complicated by a board that was going through its own evolution. What we know about organizations though is that they all go through moments of evolution and revolution. It is what they do through these moments that define and set the course for the future. Propellus had the discipline to prepare in advance, be open and transparent about the change and the courage to take another step forward in serving you.

I have seen several non-profits, doing great and important work, fail simply because passion wasn’t enough. It is passion that helps us identify needs, it is passion that keeps us standing in the face of obstacles and challenging times. When passion is paired with deliberate and disciplined actions we have the strength to move forward to achieve our missions as charities. I am pleased to say that Propellus is working hard to be extremely disciplined in our actions and proud to be able to work with each and every one of you, our members, to continue to create a thriving, engaged community.

I’m around for a coffee or chat if you’d like to hear more. Call (403-231-1425) or email me  or come by the office for a visit.


Have you read Jamie’s farewell message? Check it out.

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