Be Fearless Spotlight: YWCA of Northwest Georgia

This Spotlight is crafted in partnership with BoardSource and authored by guest writer Caitlin Kelly as part of a special blog series by the Case Foundation featuring Be Fearless stories from the field. Follow along with us as we meet people and learn about organizations that are taking risks, being bold and failing forward in their efforts to create transformative change in the social sector.

It takes guts to stop a capital campaign right in the middle — not to mention returning the funds already raised. But Holly Tuchman, CEO and Executive Director of the YWCA of Northwest Georgia (the Y), is a woman with a truly fearless approach to achieving her organizational goals.

Having opened the first domestic violence shelter in Georgia over 35 years ago, the goal of the Y is to empower women and work for peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all people. With the support and dedication of their community, the Y’s work focuses on programs to reduce domestic violence and sexual assault, ultimately “helping clients lead safe, healthy and self-sufficient lives.”

When she arrived to lead the Y, just over eight years ago, she found a main building constructed in 1962 in desperate need of renovation and a domestic violence shelter with bunk beds so old and rickety that the Salvation Army refused to take them. Radical change was necessary, but she was determined to see it done smoothly, thoughtfully and strategically.

This was easier said then done. At the time the organization was losing $30,000 to $40,000 a month. “I had no idea it was as bad as it was,” she says. “After much discussion with our board of directors and community stakeholders, we decided to stop the capital campaign.” Tuchman returned the money to astonished donors, explaining there was now a new team and new approach in place.

Rooted in the new approach was the replacement of the Y’s swimming pool. A long-time symbol of a traditional Y and a fixture in the community, it was replaced with 12 transitional apartments for women fleeing domestic violence—giving them a safe space to stay while they continued to heal, live a violence-free life and work towards self-sufficiency.

Working closely with their engineer and interior designer, both of whom offered some skills pro bono, meant Tuchman and the Board could push for an attractive yet affordable final result all could be proud of. The shelter’s bunkbeds were falling apart; advised to keep them to save money, they insisted on new, more welcoming furniture instead. They were able to expand the Y’s training room space, counseling department, and office space for administrative and programmatic staff.

Tuchman, along with Capital Campaign Chair, Kim Gresh and a committed and compassionate board, re-launched their capital campaign with the new direction in mind. They infused the team with a real sense of urgency. “We just don’t ever stop! We work for our clients 24/7, 365 days a year. Our staff never quits!” As the only YWCA of its kind in Georgia, devoted to aiding women fleeing domestic abuse, “we’ve had many successes. But we have also had clients who unfortunately became a domestic violence murder victim. But we keep on going, because the next person needs our help,” she says.

Being bold and taking risks are essential parts of Tuchman’s professional DNA and have helped to make the organization stronger. “We launched our [new] capital campaign in early 2009, at one of the worst times we could possibly have started, and we finished it with no long-term debt,” she says. The campaign raised $7.28 million over five years, which allowed them to renovate their building and shelter. All renovation was completed this past May—bypassing the original sum of $6.5 million that a fund-raising consultant they’d hired had already told them was impossible. “It wasn’t enough,” Tuchman replied firmly. “We raised probably another $500,000 beyond that.”

But Tuchman doesn’t do it alone. She relies heavily on the expertise and energy of an unusually large board, with 30 members, eight of them men. Talk about reaching beyond your bubble! “When I first came to the YWCA eight and a half years ago, we had to petition our national organization to allow men to join our board.” She did so for a compelling reason: “We could have lost $1 million in donations if we didn’t.” In fact, when she began asking men for donations to the capital campaign, the pushback was real: “You want me to support your organization, but I can’t be on your board?”

That is no longer the case. In addition to the eight male board members, the board will also welcome its first male chairman in July 2016, the culmination of a lengthy process of conscious growth. “It was a combination of a couple of things,” she explains. “We started Y’s Guys, a committee of men who wanted to talk to men about domestic violence, and we created a men’s breakfast to get men involved in the issue. If we’re going to stop domestic violence men have to stand up and say ‘This isn’t acceptable in our community.’”

The board, which meets monthly, offers Tuchman and her staff skills most useful for “the big picture” like marketing, fundraising and finance. “They offer the strategy and our financial ability to sustain the organization. They’re not micro-managers. They stand along us and fearlessly lead.”

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