On episode #7 of the 2B Bolder podcast, guest Terri Sorensen, CEO of Friends of the Children, a national nonprofit based in Portland, OR with the mission of impacting generational change by empowering youth who are facing the greatest obstacles through relationships with professional mentors talks to host Mary Killelea about her career journey. Tune in and learn about this fantastic company and hear Terri talk about the reason nonprofits can be so rewarding, hear her advice, and some lessons learned along the way that have helped her to become successful and fulfilled in what she does.
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Learn more about Friends of the Children https://friendsofthechildren.org/
Hi there. My name is Mary Kill Olia. Welcome to the to be bolder podcast. Providing career insights for the next generation of women in business in Texas. To be bolder was created out of my love for technology and marketing. My desire to bring together Lifeline is women and my hope to be a great role model in source of inspiration for my two girls and other young women like you, encouraging you guys to show up to be bolder and to know that anything you guys dream of, it's totally possible on to be bolder. You're gonna hear inspiring stories of how successful women some I know, some I just want to bring to you guys and they're gonna talk about their careers in business and tech. And they're gonna tell us their stories about their passion, their journey and they're challenges. And we're gonna learn some of their advice along the way, too. So sit back, relax and enjoy the conversation. My guest today is a woman I have great respect for and have known for over 15 years. She's hardworking, kind, honest, driven and passionate about the causes that are dear to her heart. She is the chief executive officer of Friends of the Children, which is an amazing company that has been guiding, supporting and mentoring Children since 1993. Terry Sorenson. I am so thrilled that you are here, so thank you for joining us and being on the show and talking about friends of the Children.
Absolutely. I'm excited to be here and share more about friends of the Children and my journey.
I think it's gonna be amazing, because I think the area of working for a non profit or a job that is fulfilling and provides passion and meaning is on the mind of so many women's today. And I think they're gonna benefit from again learning about what your company does, but also just your career path and how you got started. So can you start by giving us an overview of what friends of the Children is all about? And then I want to go in to your personal role and responsibility is a little further in the conversation.
Absolutely so Friends of the Children is a national nonprofit We Select Children Age Board of sex who are either in foster care or risk of going into care we provide them with a salary professional mentor all the way through graduation. So 12 plus years, no matter what. Ah, we've really taken mentoring out of the volunteer realm. And that's why we use salary professionals because we actively select those kids who need us the most and then intentionally over 12 plus years break generational cycles, off poverty, low education, incarceration, teen parenting and child welfare. We were founded in Portland in 1993 and it's been exciting to take this model in this organization to 21 cities around the country. Ah, we have four long term outcomes. So 83% of our kids graduate from high school when over 60% have a parent who did not. 93% avoid the justice system when over half have been impacted by parents who've been incarcerated. 98% avoid teen parenting when 85% were born to a team parent. And then finally, now that we've been around for 26 years, 92% of our youth accomplish one of what we call the three e's enrollment in post secondary enlistment in the military or employment in a living wage job
that is amazing. I'm getting goose bumps just hearing those statistics and the impact that you guys air having on changing lives. So that's I I just commend you on that effort. That's amazing. And I know we could spend, you know, the next hour or two, just learning so much more about your business. But today I really want to get into you and your career, and I know you've helped build this company. You've been there for 17 years. Correct?
Can you walk me through your career of how you started at the company and some of the various rules that you've had and but led you to be the CEO today?
So I'm actually a recovered c p. A. I
in accounting in college, and I went to work in the corporate world, first for Ernst and Young's doing public accounting and then for Sprint, the telecommunications company. And after her about 10 years in corporate life. Um, my second child was born, and I decided to stay home, uh, for about four years and really just focused on my Children and family and that, um, that was big for me because I always knew that You know, I wanted a career and to be in leadership, but I really felt like at the time I needed to devote myself to my Children and family. So after about four years, and during that time, you know, I was very active in my community. I was on a local school board and, you know, really doing a lot of volunteer work in addition to being home with my Children, families. And I, frankly, was watching Oprah Winfrey, who I found really inspiring. Ah, during that time that I was staying home. All of those things contributed Thio me feeling like I did not want to return to the corporate world. I wanted to use my financial skill, uh, to help others. And I found the best way to do that was to work for a nonprofit. So I went to work for the American Red Cross as their controller in Portland, Oregon, and I did that on a part time basis. Ah, which was really great as I was easing back into the workforce, and I found that I really could make a tremendous impact by bringing the skills I've learned in the corporate world and in business to a nonprofit. It was very rewarding. After about two years, one of the leaders at the American Red Cross left to run Friends of the Children Portland chapter as executive director, and she introduced me to the organization. And frankly, I really fell in love with it. Um, my Children were about the same age as many of the kids in the program, and I just saw, Ah, the disadvantage that they have the opportunities that Mike has had that that they did not, And that really led me to becoming a donor at Friends of the Children. And then, ultimately, I came over again. Still part time as the finance director toe helps at a news trajectory for the Portland chapter after about two years there, Ah, the executive director left, and the founder, Duncan Campbell, and the board asked if I would fill in as the interim executive director. I said, Absolutely, but I don't want the job full time. Uh, you know, I didn't feel like I had the skills. Ah, certainly I knew how to run an organization and the financial impact, but I hadn't raised funds before, which was a big part of the rule. And I also didn't have programmatic experience of working with Children facing the greatest obstacles. So I threw myself in, ah, as the interim executive director for the Portland chapter, and after about four months, things were going amazingly well. Um, we ended up doubling the revenue that we raised at our signature event, which reached over a $1,000,000 for the first time. Ah, I found that fundraising was sharing your passion to the program, and I really threw myself into working with our friends on a daily basis and getting to know our Children's Children and families so I would be able Thio, you know, have empathy and help them be empowered to change their own stories. Mouth After 17 years, uh, it's been It's just been amazing for me professionally, to be able to get up every day and use my business skills to run this great organization and grow it. Ah, but also, you know, to know that I'm impacting so many Children and families across the country. Seven years ago, I stepped into the national roll Ah, as national President and then became CEO a couple of years ago. Um, and during that time we expanded friends of the Children from the founding chapter in Portland to 21 cities around the country, and 16 of those have been in the past seven years. So learning how you take a great nonprofit with evidence and that it works, and expanding that around the country has been inspiring, challenging. But all of it has been an amazing opportunity for which I'm extremely grateful.
That's an amazing story. And just to think it, if you wouldn't have taken that time when you were home with your daughter or, um, Children to evaluate your re entry into the workforce and aligning that with, you know, really listening to your soul talked to you in how you wanted this next re entry into the workforce to play out. Imagine, you know where your life would be in the impact that all these people that you've unpacked could wouldn't have experienced. So I love that you took the time and listen to your inner voice that led you down this path, and I think that's important. I think a lot of people don't take the time because they're like, I need a job. I got to get back in the workforce during those kind of transitional times. So love you sharing that story. And and I know you, you know, like I said before had huge impacts on the growth of this company and the additional chapters and have had huge success with fundraisers. And it's become the model for some of your other chapters. What's the secret of the success when it comes to fundraising?
Well, first of all, I think it's really important, you know, that we have the data to show the effectiveness of our investment. Um, because salary, professional mentoring, hiring, you know, a friend work with eight kids is their full time job. And paying a living wage, a salary and benefit that's gonna keep them for the long term is not easy. So you know, having the data and measuring what works and then being able to make the case of why people should invest in it, um, is key in fundraising. We had the Harvard Business School Association of Oregon do a return on investment study for friends of the Children, and it should for every $1 invested, the return was over $7. Um, and that's been key. You know it's not necessarily about what you're spending it. It's what are the ramifications? Um, so over $900,000 per child who achieves our long term outcomes is saved in terms of the community that's been really important for making the case in terms of fundraising. You know, it is about sharing your passion for the program. We talked about the friend razor where, uh, you know, under my first year is executive director. We raised over a $1,000,000 today that of that in Portland raises over. It's raised as much as $2.5 million annually, and we as we launch sites across the country, each of them, uh, puts on a friend razor as well. And I think the secret there is you bring together people who have the capacity to give and have an interest, and then you really inspire them to invest. And, um, it's been it's been really phenomenal. I remember one of my donors who had historically given about $25,000 a year, um, at the front razer, and she and her husband were sitting at my table, and that year they raise their paddle at 75,000
instead of 25. Yes, I was stunned and I went over and and thank you so much. You know, we're so grateful. And she said, No, thank you. You are allowing us to invest and feel so good about where this money is going. And, uh, so just one small story of it's not just the kids who are going on to be great things that are inspiring. But I'm inspired by donors every day who I want to make the investment. Thio. Help others be successful.
That's amazing. Um, so what is a typical day looks like for you. If if there is such a thing in your current role,
you know, it's actually one of the things I love about my job and why I've been able to be a friend's for 17 years is because no, no, two days are the same. Um, you know, this past week, I just got home from Washington, D. C. Where I spent four days meeting with Congress, men and women on the hill, sharing about friends of the Children and asking for their support in their states across the country. Also, we presented at the National Mentoring conference that was going on, um, last week and and also met with donors and investors thinking them. So that was last week.
This week, I'm really focused
on. We're searching for executive directors in Portland and Salt Lake City. Um, I'm presenting on a webinar about how to form high performing nonprofit. Uh, so each of our cities is a separate five, a onesie tree with their own executive director, their own board. And so, you know, we're about really growing this model within each community, and it has to be owned by the community. You know, as CEO of National in in Portland, Oregon, I cannot make Chicago or Detroit a success. It has to be with local leaders and local support. So I spend a lot of time, um, helping higher. The executive director's put the boards together, um, and working with executive directors and their team's coaching them. Currently, I am working with Detroit into Kamar, our newest Edie's on that we also have board meetings on a regular basis, and both the National board and each local board has the national representatives. I set on four of our our chapter boards, and that really allows me to keep learning what's happening at the local level,
then meeting with our team members and inspiring them. Thio do this work because I can't do it alone for sure. I have a great, high quality team.
When you were younger and college or even after college, Did you know you wanted to work for a company that did good in touch people's lives in such a meaningful way?
I absolutely did not. I went out of college with my accounting degree, and I think I always had a desire to be a leader. I wanted to run a company, and I always thought that would be in the for profit world. Um, it was much later in life after having Children that I really realized I needed more. Um, I needed the purpose of, you know, uh, ticket up every morning and really love what I do. Because like many leaders across
country, I can tend to be a workaholic and so loving your job, even though it's hard and challenging. Um, I had no idea that I would end up being a CEO of a nonprofit, but I'm thankful every day for that and I think it helps inspire my own Children and others, too, you know? Think about what they're doing every day and making sure in their own way they're making a difference.
Absolutely. Have you had mentors that have helped you out throughout your career? And if so, how did you go about building those relationships?
I've had amazing mentors, um, in my career, uh, one of them, actually a good girlfriend of mine who ran ah, local insurance company. And she was one of the ones. When I said, you know, I'm gonna take on this role of interim executive director at friends of the Children, but I don't have the skills to do it, you know, for the long term. They need someone with more experience than I have. And she said to me, Terry, a man would never say
that you're talking about
You have the skills, you have the leadership. You know? Sure, it's a stretch assignment, but don't think that you can't do it.
um, it was really her words that gave me the confidence to say Yeah, you know, no one necessarily has all of the skills to do a job that they are offered or have the opportunity to dio. And so her words really inspired me. And I try to pass that on Thio other women because I do think we maybe you're a little reluctant in thinking about what we bring to the table that far exceeds the experience of having done it. Uh, I've also been very lucky, every so in the way our nonprofit is set up. Uh, every two years there's a new board chair. And so that means I've reported in my 17 years at friends of the Children Thio 8 to 10. Amazing CEO Ah, and leaders from different industries, Um, all of them in the for profit world. And it's just been amazing. Like the former CEO of Fred Meyer, um, a wealth manager from, AH significant investment firm who works with billionaires. Ah, the former CEO of Intel Capital. Uh, I've just been very fortunate to have these amazing business people in my life. And during the two years that, um, you know, I report to them, I really try to stoke up and learn from
all of their secrets And, um, what's worked for them, and and that could be challenging if you imagine your boss changing every two years, but I've seen it as an opportunity to really learn from some of a using people. So I always tease because I don't have my m b A. But I feel like I got my MBA on the job by, um, meeting with all of these incredible people on a regular basis and learning from them.
So when it comes to working, what has been the best advice that you've received? And I know it sounds like you've received a lot of great advice from these wonderful people that have helped you, and I'm sure you probably can't just say one piece. But what are a few nuggets that you would say?
Yeah, one of my action of the very first board chair. When I became the interim executive director of Friends of the Children, he said to me, Be a leader. And while those air simple words, uh, they rang in my mind at, you know, at all time meaning step up when you need thio with humility and integrity, um, both managing communications up to board and donors, but also to your team. Who's doing the work? Um, often different audiences need different leadership from you, so that's been the single best advice, and I pass it on whenever I can. Just remember, be a leader.
That's so true, because if you can give your different audiences what they need instead of just being one type of leader, I think everyone will will feel supported and lead vs feeling like they're too far removed or they're not addressing my concerns or issues. So that's good advice
with the network. Um, since we have executive directors around the country, I don't forget that I'm a leader of leaders, and I think that's really important letting other people shine in their own leadership.
Absolutely. Now that's great. What's been the biggest challenge that you faced in your career?
I think figuring out how to take the local nonprofit friends of the Children that was founded in Portland or again and bring it to cities and scale it right. It's, um it goes really deep when you are providing salaried professional mentors For 12 plus years. A lot of people said I don't think this model could be scaled, and so figuring that out has been the greatest challenge. Um, we ended up writing a business plan, uh, using expertise from folks on the board and others some pro bono service is, And we entered it in a business plan competition in New York City. And the first year, um, we placed in the top three and I went and pitched it. And, ah, we didn't win that. We went back the second year. Uh, and we revised it works with some more pro bono consultant, pitched it in New York and we won. And that really changed the trajectory. You know, we had a business plan. It had won a competition. We took that business plan to someone who had invested in us before at a small about, like, $100,000 per year. And we asked for $5 million to establish an endowment that would ensure there would always be a national arm of front of the Children. And I'm thrilled to say, Ah, he and his wife invested that $5 million in us, and that allowed us to take off and continue to think big, knowing that we're trying to solve a big problem. Intergenerational poverty. So since that time, we launched a $25 million campaign back when I would have said that
impossible and we thought it would take us five years if we could even do it. We did it in under three. And so now we launched a $50 million campaign, and one year in ah, we've raised over $13 million. So I think thinking big and then raising, raising the kind of funds it takes to solve the problem.
What advice would you give someone interested in a career in the nonprofit sector?
I think people can be surprised by how hard people work in the nonprofit sector and how under resourced we are. So I think going in prepared for that. It's a tough job if you really are intent on scaling it and making sure that the folks you're serving get the best possible service. So I certainly work more hours than I ever did in the corporate world, which can be shocking to some people. Um, so I think just being prepared and you have to really be jack of all trades. I mean, my assistant and I helped launch our current branding with you no logos and Web sites across the country when there were only two of us onboard. Unfortunately, we've grown that Teoh, a team of 26 that works for National, with more expertise. But in the early days, we had to be the jack of all trades and really look Thio. Others who would support us with pro bono service is because we didn't have the resources to purchase the service's.
Do you find people are willing to give you pro bono service is I mean, you must. But
there are a lot of amazing people giving us pro bono service Is I mentioned that I was in D. C. Last week, Um, meeting with Congress people, and we found through one of my national board members Ah ah lobbyist and she and her team took us on as a pro bono client, set up 21 meetings on the hill and attended all of them with us. Um, you know, that's really new for us. We haven't had that opportunity before, and I think people feel really good about giving back and investing in in what we're doing.
What are some essential qualities you look for when hiring someone? Now I know their role specific qualifications, but if you had core qualities that you look for in someone. What are some of those
we really look for people who align with our values. We recently did a values refresh because we found, you know, while we still believe our values from 27 years ago are important, we weren't necessarily using those values when we were interviewing and hiring people when we were rewarding people with performance reviews and salary increases. So things like putting Children first, pursuing goals, relentlessly demanding equity. Um, all of those examples of the values that we look for when we're hiring folks.
What drives you, Terry Sorenson, to be successful? What would you say is your Why?
Well, there's so many kids out there who are facing unbelievable obstacles through no fault of their own, and that inspires me. Every day I get up and use my skills. Thio help them change their own stories, and that's really what it's all about, I have to say, with expanding nationally, it's been really rewarding to also hire leaders across the country in our cities like Chicago, Austin, Texas, Detroit, Tacoma, um, Salt Lake City. Hiring and giving those leaders the opportunity in their own communities has has been a amazing reward as well.
What keeps you up at night,
raising the funds to continue to grow and serve more Children across the country? We set a goal in 2000 16 to be in 25 cities by 2025 were in 21 now, so I know we're going to make it early, so I think we'll we'll raise it 50 cities.
you know, I just know there's so many people in and Children who need friends of the Children. They need a caring adult in their life for the long term. So that's what keeps me up at night. Having the resource is to continue to grow and make make salary professional mentoring a part of prevention for juvenile justice, for foster care, for education. That's what keeps me up at
night. Do you find that there's more men or women that apply to be mentors?
There are definitely more women that apply. However, our programs, your equal numbers of boys and girls and we do gender match so equal numbers of men and women mentors. Ah, usually they have a background in helping others, whether that be teaching social service is art therapy. Um, and so it tends to be more women applicants. However, we're just committed to finding great friends, and we d'oh! I mean, the both the man and the woman that we have as professional mentors are really inspiring. I mean, there we hire with the intent of they go through 4 to 5 interviews, including outings with friends with other friends and Children so we can see how they interact. And we don't hire anyone who we wouldn't want hanging out with our own Children for four hours every week.
So work, life, balance. I know you said you're a bit of a workaholic, Um, and having work life balance is somewhat of a oh, what's the word I'm looking for oxymoron in the sense that I think it's hard to dio on. And I know that you love to bike and and cycle and travel. So how do you manage work, life? Balance? Do you disconnect when you're away? Do you set time aside? What? What's what are your secrets? Toe work? Life balance
where five balance is extremely difficult. And I try, um, to really learn from things I've seen in my life my own parents got divorced after 34 years of marriage. And really, it was because my father was a workaholic, I think, and not paying enough attention to my mother. And so I really think about that, Um, because I know I have the tendency to be a workaholic, and I love my work, so that makes it easier to be a workaholic. So making sure that I take time for my husband and my family is just critical. Um, I'm probably still on my phone way too much checking email way too much, but I do try to set it aside and really give quality time when I'm with my family and exercise is so important. Um, for me, Uh, I've I've loved cycling for a long time, so we typically will take a cycling trip once a year. And so then I can spend at least all the non rainy days cycling and preparing for that trip, and that doesn't really allow me to clear my mind.
also love to paddleboard, and I found that you can't think about other things when you're
paddleboarding Oriole intact in the lake. That is to
say that that's a good one. Um, yes,
because I made that mistake of thinking
about other things and ending up in the lake
unexpectedly. That's great. If you could tell your 20 year old self one thing, what would it be?
Think big. I think you know too often we don't think big enough. And, um, I've really learned throughout the years like you can exceed your wildest dreams. And what's possible?
That's great. I think this is the last question. Do you have any good books or career books? Um, podcasts that you love and would share with our listeners?
Well, I'm new to the whole podcast scene, but I'm really excited about it. Um, I am an avid reader. Uh, one of the books I'm reading right now is New York Times Bestsellers. So you want to talk about race and, um, I tend Thio read a lot of books that talk about inequities and systemic racism because it's so important to what friends of the Children does. And I know that I have a lot of privilege of the white woman. And so I find that these books really help. Spire em are learning for me as we're leading a diverse group of leaders who represent very diverse Children and their families.
You've been awesome to talk to. And again, Like I said, I could talk to you for hours, just learning more about your company. And and I appreciate you coming on and just talking to us about your career. So where can someone learn more about friends of the Children? And also they wanted to connect with you,
Uh, go to our website at www dot friends of the Children Got or GE. I'm also, uh, Terry Sorenson on Twitter and Lengthen. And I do look at my Lincoln messages, but we'd love for you to learn more about friends of the Children.
Awesome. Thanks, Terry.
Thank you, Mary. This has been really a pleasure.
Thanks for listening to the episode today. It was really fun chatting with my guest. If you like their show, please like it and share it with your friends. If you want to learn what we're up to, please go check out our website at to be bolder dot com. That's the number two little be bolder dot com