When Frank Skuthan, a career banker, decided in his mid-60s to focus on volunteering with a non-profit organization, he didn’t know what he didn’t know: Serving on the board of a non-profit can be quite different from doing the same in the private sector.
“I’d been COO (chief operating officer) of a company on the New York Stock Exchange, so I thought I knew what it meant to serve on a board,’’ says Frank, who in June joined the board of Family Promise of Bergen County.
But even before joining Family Promise, he learned there’s one big difference between the private and the non-profit sector — the client.
“In a publicly traded company, your primary constituents are the shareholders and the customers. Here at Family Promise, it’s all about the clients,’’ who are homeless working families with children.
That means, for instance, recognizing that what might be easiest for a family might not be its best route to self-sufficiency. “It’s a delicate balance that was difficult for me to understand at first,’’ he says. The goal is less to do things for clients than to prepare them to do it for themselves.
Frank also discovered another difference between the boards of for-profits and small non-profits like Family Promise: the importance at the latter of practical skills.
While the directors of large companies are often senior industry dignitaries valued chiefly for their big-picture vision, judgment and oversight, smaller non-profit boards need people who will roll up their sleeves and work with the dedicated professional staff of the organization on key initiatives such as helping to organize a marketing campaign.
That’s fine with Frank. “Right now, our board is working on a strategic plan with the goal of ending homelessness for working families in Bergen County. I feel that in my role as trustee I can really have an impact on moving the needle and helping Family Promise serve more people.’’ To this task he also brings experience in marketing, operations and finance.
The Ridgewood resident says he was attracted to Family Promise because of the impact that its work has on children. Homeless working families with children are generally invisible to society and our program of addressing the issues of homelessness, rather than the symptoms, has given parents the skills to become self-sufficient. These parents can then pass these skills to their children, hopefully breaking the cycle of homelessness.
Frank comes from a family of school teachers, and taught for a high school for a year after graduating from Georgetown. And, as the father of five children between the ages of 17 and 37, he knows plenty about kids.
Frank spent about 40 years at financial institutions, including Hudson Valley Bank in Westchester County. But he says it’s still unclear what impact the new tax law will have on donations to non-profits like Family Promise.
He says this much is clear: “It seems there’s going to be less of a government role in this area, so it’s more important than ever for the citizens of this country to step up and help small not-for-profits in any way possible. Family Promise is fortunate in this regard in that it has a large network of committed volunteers who are passionate about its mission.’’
Frank Skuthan is among the most enthusiastic.