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Coffee with Bob Littke

This month we sit down with Bob Littke as he recalls lessons and memories from his career, including 22 years as Executive Director of Senior Services.

Tell us how you got to where you are today

I worked for 12 years in Radio and Television broadcasting. My first job in broadcasting was working with radio legend Paul Harvey in Chicago on his daily national broadcast. After completing a Ph.D. in Psychology in 1985 I left broadcasting and took my first job in human services as the Director of the St. Joseph county Commission on Aging (Michigan) where I worked for six years as Executive Director before coming to Senior Services of Southwest Michigan where I have been President and CEO for the past 22 years.

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?

The giving spirit of the community is what most impresses me. This community has gained national attention for its generosity and willingness to share in countless ways. Nonprofits are particularly helped by the philanthropic sector as well as by the thousands of people who volunteer each year to help others in our community.

Who was one of your mentors and what do you carry with you from that relationship?

Joseph Dunnigan was my closest mentor and he helped me in countless ways. His long history and extensive background in the community were combined with a huge heart. I often think of him and the times we spent together.

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

There are several that come to mind, but one in particular is relevant to this conversation. Shortly after coming to Senior Services I was asked by my board to conduct a $2 million fund raising campaign. After extensive research I developed the campaign strategy and rationale. My mentor, Joe Dunnigan, wanting to help me arranged a meeting with a major foundation professional who promptly shot my entire project full of holes. While this stung at first, I was able to step back and see the concerns he had identified. After addressing all the weaknesses of my original proposal I was able to develop a winning concept that resulted in a successful campaign that raised the entire $2 million goal.

What’s an average day like for you at work?

Luckily, I am surrounded by a great staff and leadership team who help accomplish even what seems impossible at times. I’ve never believed that long hours are an indicator of success but that leadership is best when accomplished strategically. Following a well-designed strategic plan that we all have agreed to allows for a structured calendar of events and minimizes the potential for crisis management and/or uneven workloads throughout the year.

What are the types of challenges/opportunities that keep you up at night?

Those things that are beyond our control are always potential sources of stress. With a background in Psychology I often remind myself that “worry is like a rocking chair…while it gives you something to do, it does not get you anywhere”.

How do you stay up-to-date on latest trends in your field?

Belonging to organizations that bring similar organizations together has always been one of the most beneficial tools I use to stay up-to-date. While there are unlimited amounts of facts and statistical information available on-line, I find nothing more valuable than getting together with other leaders around the State and Nation and learning about new and innovative ideas from these peers.

What advice do you have for those wishing to have a long lasting career in the nonprofit sector?

Be a leader, not a manager. Managers do great things and get the job done, but leaders help set the course, determine the direction and create the vision that others need.

What do you geek?

I really enjoy flying and have been a F.A.A. licensed pilot for over 30 years. I’m also very active in my church and assist as a part time staff member.

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