By Sharon Arkoff
Interview with John Van den berg
1) What do you do for your “real” work, and how have your general job skills lent themselves to directing the Foundation?
Throughout my life I have been a problem solver; from organizing school trips in high school to building housing subdivisions (when I started the Foundation in the late 1990s), to assist in finding solutions for management and financial issues of small cities and communities (what I do now). In each case, there was a problem to be solved.
In the late 1990s, there was no organization that focused on the well being of Kerry Blue Terriers; the dogs themselves. Yes there were clubs, but they focused on the social aspects of breeding and showing Kerries; there was a need for an organization that focused on the wellness of the dogs, their health, their rescue, and the education of the people who wished to be involved with the breed.
There were also many people who wished to help, but no structure to channel that volunteer energy.
As an MBA and entrepreneur, I had the skills and experience of creating companies, setting up organizational structures and finding a way around legal and financial obstacles. The idea came to me to use these skills to build a framework, to allow other people to use THEIR skills to execute the mission of the organization.
All the accomplishments of the Foundation are the accomplishment of the volunteers of the Foundation. I just provided the framework for these volunteers to operate in.
I did not know very much about Kerries (and I still don’t know as much as many of you), but I did know how to build a successful entity, and raise the funds to kick start it, so volunteers with a deep knowledge of Kerries could direct their energies to help the breed.
2) Are there unexpected things that you have learned from your Foundation work?
While a career in real estate development gave me both financial and social rewards, there was something lacking. The Foundation provided the answer. It gave me more satisfaction than many of the other things I was involved in. Soon I realized that “giving” to the community is much more rewarding than “receiving”. In fact, it changed my career. I grew up in a typical suburban community in Belgium but always liked rural America. Now I help dozens of small cities, towns, and communities with solving their problems, like finding grants to fix their water treatment plant, to writing policies for their long-term financial success, to train their management to be more effective.
When we have a passion for something, we will do our best work. Don’t waste your time doing things that don’t fulfill you.
3) As a volunteer yourself, what do you think is the most important thing for other volunteers to know?
There are two types of volunteers and both are needed for a non-profit to be successful.
We need volunteers who have the passion and skills that line up with the Foundation mission. This pool of volunteers make their skills available to the Foundation and accomplish 95% of the work of the Foundation.
The second type of volunteer only does 5% of the work for the Foundation, but it is the necessary work that nobody else wants to do. These people do NOT have the skills or experience but recognize that there is work to be done that nobody else can do, and yet, they step forward and are willing to develop the skills to carry the ball over the goal line. These are magical volunteers because they score for the team. These volunteers do not look at their skill or experience, but at the work to be done, and do whatever it takes to deliver.
Volunteers don’t work in a vacuum; they have the support of the whole organization; from the administration to their rescue team leaders, to the marketing and communication teams.
Volunteers need to know that their work can not be done without fundraising—it is an integral part of the process. Therefore all volunteers who spend Foundation money must recognize that those dollars were donated by our supporters and must be spent wisely.
4) Is there such a thing as a “typical” Foundation volunteer?
There is no “typical” volunteer. We all have different skills and interests. It is up to the management of the Foundation to recognize those skills and harvest the energy of the volunteer in such a way that it fits the mission of the Foundation. Each and every person has skills that can contribute to the mission of the Foundation. Management needs to put this volunteer in a position where they fit best. Volunteers who feel a sense of accomplishment because their skills are being used—whatever skills they are–will be happy, long-term volunteers.
5) What motivated you to start the Foundation, years ago, and what has been motivational for you since then?
The mission of the Foundation has always been focused on the Kerry. We rescue Kerries not because we want to provide a Kerry to a new family. We rescue a Kerry because the Kerry needs help. We provide education about the breed through our web site and newsletters, not because we want people to be knowledgeable about the breed. We provide education about the breed because we want Kerries to be treated well. We provide funding for health and genetics studies, not because we want people to have healthy Kerries. We assist in this research because we want the Kerries to feel better.
When we focus on what is best for the dog, I think, we will always come up with the best decision.
6) What non-dog things do you enjoy doing, in your spare time?
I am one of those lucky people who walk through life doing things they deeply enjoy. Now in my late sixties, I don’t have the energy to do all the things I wish I could do; I must be selective where I focus my time and effort. My current work allows me to travel to the most remote and needy communities in the Western US and put my skills to work so they can achieve their goals and aspirations. My work is my hobby and “spare time” exists only to recharge my batteries to continue the next day. Music and books are my constant traveling companions and give me a diversion from my work.
Every day brings me in contact with new people and new experiences. These are both the challenge and the source of the energy to allow me to help make this world a better place.
I believe the new management team of the Foundation has the same passion and philosophy about the organization. I feel comfortable letting go of the ship because it is steaming in the right direction and the crew is experienced enough to handle whatever may be lurking behind the horizon.
While I won’t be responsible for the operation of the Foundation, I will always be looking forward to reading about the efforts of the volunteers in these newsletters and on the web site.