Michelle Candland of San Diego Women’s Foundation: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Lead A…

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Michelle Candland of San Diego Women’s Foundation: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Lead A Nonprofit Organization

Can you track outcomes? The warm and fuzzy stories only go so far; responsible donors want tangible outcomes and statistics. How many people are served? What was the money used for and did it make a long-term difference?

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Candland.

Michelle’s ultimate goal is to leave it better than she found it. Period. She applied that mantra to her past career in the commercial real estate industry and continues to view her volunteer work in the community as well as her responsibility and joy of being a wife, a mother and a grandmother, through a similar lens. Michelle has lived in Los Angeles CA, Phoenix AZ, Alvin TX, Edmonton Alberta Canada, Salt Lake City UT and has called San Diego CA home since 1998. She spends her time with family and friends, volunteering in the community, traveling and on rare occasions, just relaxing.

Thank you so much for doing this with us. Before we begin our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”?

When I was 19 working and living on my own, I visited a psychic. After asking if I had any specific questions (which I did), he told me the following: You will have two sons who will live long lives, but they will both have a brush with death at a young age. You will be successful beyond your expectations, but you will experience financial ruin. You will touch the lives of hundreds or even thousands of children you will never meet. You will be deeply loved but you will be physically and emotionally abused. It all became a reality.

I was a single Mom for many years and didn’t begin my work with nonprofits until I moved to San Diego in 1998. By then, I was happily married to the love of my life, was proud to be the Mom and Mom #2 to a blended family with six children, was working with the largest international commercial real estate company in the world and anxious to integrate myself into my new community.

Can you tell us the story behind why you decided to start or join your non nonprofit?

Whether in your career or in life in general, one experience builds on another. A great way to immerse oneself into a new community is to join a service organization. My choice was to join the legendary downtown Rotary club founded in 1911, which lead me to volunteering with a local drop in school for homeless and at risk children, now known as Monarch School. The school needed a great deal of assistance and it soon became apparent they would need to relocate. That would take money. As it turned out, it was estimated it would take a little over a million dollars. The most logical next step was to form a 501c3 nonprofit in order to raise funds and provide donors with some tax benefits. That was my first foray into starting a nonprofit. In looking back, I would compare that experience to navigating across the sea in an inflatable zodiac with a used outboard motor, not sure where we were headed. A bumpy ride, we took on some water, but ultimately made it to a place that was very special. By 2014, I was honored to be elected President of my 500 member Rotary club. Rotary International is the largest service organization in the world with 1.2M members in 32,000 clubs in 120 countries. That was more like being the captain of an aircraft carrier. Lots of moving parts, a number of qualified voices, a plethora of rules and slow to turn, but incredibly rewarding. We changed countless lives both locally and globally and continue to do so every day. In 2014, I joined the San Diego Women’s Foundation. It was founded in 2000 by a small group of philanthropic minded women who understood how the power of women in the community could drive change. In 2021 I was elected President — the Women’s Foundation is more like a cabin cruiser; sleek, well maintained and can turn on a dime. We are agile and can respond to needs in real time.

Can you describe how you or your organization aims to make a significant social impact?

The mission of the SDWF is to connect, educate and inspire women to come together in collective philanthropy. The organization is member driven with a small but mighty staff of three. There are currently 200 members; all members make an annual donation which is split between an annual grants pool and an endowment. The members identify the cause to be supported based on current needs in the community, keeping in mind they must serve underrepresented individuals. They research and select the organizations who receive the grants and many times become involved independent of the efforts of the SDWF.

Without saying any names, can you share a story about an individual who was helped by your idea so far?

With over 22 years of service in the region, the Women’s Foundation has made a life changing impact on countless individuals. The grants have ranged from helping homeless break the barriers to shelter, help rescue and defend survivors of human trafficking, aid in educating students in low-income schools, help eliminate food insecurity and recently joined with the local Rotary District to help the surge of incoming refugees feel welcomed and established in our neighborhoods. One of the greatest benefits of our organization is educating our members about the countless needs in our region and providing a platform to help them help others. I once overheard a homeless student at Monarch School mumble to a fellow student standing in a line for a donated Thanksgiving meal, “Well, I won’t be dumpster diving tonight!”

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

First and foremost, keep one thing in mind. WE are THEY. Nothing will change unless we all take responsibility for the health and wellbeing of our communities. Next, it is imperative that we go to the heart of the issue and listen to those with lived experience rather than parachuting in as “help strikes again”, and last but most important, use your voice in a civil and respectful way.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is helping others to become their best selves while mutually accomplishing impossible goals. A good leader is willing to demonstrate the delicate art of failure and use it as a stepping stone towards mutual success. One of my most gratifying experiences throughout my career was helping to develop professional teams that consisted of several people; each had a specific skill set that complimented and enhanced the other team members. That mutually beneficial dynamic drove enormous success for the whole team.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 things a person should know before they decide to start a non profit”. Please share a story or example for each.

Is the cause or purpose widely acknowledged as a need? Are you trying to help feed an underserved community or raise money to pay for your neighbor to make pies for the school bake sale?

Is the cause worthy of sustainable growth? Are you raising money to build a school or to teach your niece how to carve a canoe?

Do you have community support for volunteers? Are you the only one who thinks this is a good idea or when you share the idea, do people say, “What can I do to help?”

Can you get local government and large companies involved? Local police, council members, mayors, all have huge reach and influence as do business owners. If they don’t want to be associated with your idea, that should be a sign to reconsider or redesign.

Can you track outcomes? The warm and fuzzy stories only go so far; responsible donors want tangible outcomes and statistics. How many people are served? What was the money used for and did it make a long-term difference?

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non profit? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Melinda French Gates

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson” Quote? How is that relevant to you in your life?

“Those who think it can’t be done should get out of the way of those who are doing it.”

There have been countless situations in my life when I was told I would fail. I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, accomplished enough, strong enough. It has taken years to realize that the only one who determines my success is me and I am ENOUGH.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can visit the SDWF website: https://www.sdwomensfoundation.org/

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your mission.

Michelle Candland of San Diego Women’s Foundation: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Lead A… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.