This month we sit down with Anne Wend Lipsey, Executive Director of Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes.
Tell us how you got to where you are today (positions held, career shifts, etc)
I graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in secondary education, and then my husband and I moved to Ann Arbor. After studying Urban Planning at the University of Michigan, I worked for an organization doing home repair for senior citizens in Detroit. The community-based group did good work helping to keep people in their homes. We moved back to Kalamazoo, and I got involved with Ministry with Community as it was starting. I worked with their Center City Housing (precursor to Housing Resources, Inc) and with the beginning stages of Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes (KLF). With KLF I helped facilitate conversations involving soup kitchens and the role of Ministry and KLF with prepared meals. After spending six months working at the Eastside Neighborhood Association, I applied to KLF and became their second office person. During this time (1984-91), KLF was very grassroots, so we did it all – from office to warehouse. I then worked for about seven years with United Way and about five years with the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. During these years I got a comprehensive view of the area’s nonprofit sector and the particular experience of observing nonprofit leaders. I returned to KLF in 2003 – still a grassroots effort – and took on the task of developing it into a more stable, long-term organization.
What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?
Kalamazoo is my hometown. While I’ve lived other places, there’s just something special about Kalamazoo. People here care about the broader community. They’re willing to struggle with the big questions and take on the big issues. At the same time, there are pockets of really cool activity going on here. And it’s accessible. Kalamazoo is big enough to have Peace Jam host Nobel Peace Prize laureates and yet small enough to get from here to there without fighting traffic.
What guides or principles do you rely most upon?
I rely on groups: an incredible staff that consistently does great work, a dynamic board that asks the tough questions, and a volunteer corps that operates out of caring passion. The combination creates a great energy that’s bigger and different than any of them could do on their own.
Who was one of your mentors and what do you carry with you from that relationship?
Bob Rasmussen was pastor of North Presbyterian Church when Ministry with Community was starting. He’s a friend and set me on the right path. I worked with Ann Marston on allocations at United Way. She was a strong advocate of nonprofit organizations and knew their importance to the community. My husband, Sandy Lipsey, has the ability to listen deeply. He helps me get to the other side of the hysteria. And my parents: my dad taught at WMU and my mom worked with substance abuse prevention. I grew up during a wild and wonderful time when you needed to take sides, and my parents taught me to be on the side of social justice – the side of “we,” not “me.”
What’s an average day like for you at work?
First, there’s my rev-up time when I touch base across the organization on items of the day. There’s time spent interfacing with the board – as a whole, in committees, or in individual meetings – as we continue navigating the transition from grassroots to stable, dynamic organization. I spend time on fund development: writing newsletter articles or thank you notes, visiting donors, or talking to groups about KLF. Finally, there’s checking progress on items I’ve delegated to other staff.
What are the types of challenges/opportunities that keep you up at night?
The primary challenge: people are food insecure. We’re doing more advocacy than ever. We no longer talk about putting ourselves out of business, because the situation is not improving. For example, how do you stand up to cuts proposed in the Farm Bill? It’s the injustice of it all.
How do you stay up-to-date on latest trends in your field?
ONEplace provides incredible resources for the nuts and bolts of nonprofits. I also stay connected with national organizations – the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) and Feeding America – plus regional ones as well – the Food Bank Council of Michigan and the Food Bank Council of South Central Michigan. I’m more an observer now but did spend time on the board of the Food Bank of Michigan. I also keep in touch with others that provide emergency relief services in our area.
Advice for those wishing to have a long lasting career in the nonprofit sector?
Listen, listen, listen, listen. I’m centered in the belief that it is with others that we find wisdom, perseverance, and strength to carry on. The other piece is to have fun with each other – with staff, with volunteers, even with the board. We’re all a part of this community. We’re all in this together.
What do you geek (i.e., what hobby or outside interests do you really like)?
I’m a potter (I make weird pots). I also garden, read mystery novels, and spend time with my grandchildren.
Push out your timeframe. Find one place to naggle at the edge. What does it look like over a long period of time? Accomplish something today and then build upon that.