Saying Goodbye to Pillar Nonprofit Network: A Journey of Learning and Purpose

We're bidding farewell to a valued member of our team who has been instrumental in shaping the heart and soul of this organization. Over the past 14 years, Susannah’s dedication and commitment has not only enriched our community but also left an indelible mark on our mission to empower nonprofits and strengthen our local fabric. Join us in celebrating Susannah by signing this community e-card and reflecting on the impact she’s had on Pillar's evolution.- Maureen Cassidy, CEO, Pillar Nonprofit Network 

What drew you to Pillar Nonprofit Network?

Working in the nonprofit sector was not on my radar when I first saw the posting and applied. I had worked in the advertising industry and then transitioned into education as a teacher. At the time it was very difficult to get a job teaching, so I was exploring what I would do next if it wasn’t teaching.  I saw a contract posting for Pillar that involved education and communications and I thought that this job would be a great way to combine my skills in marketing and love of learning. Pillar sounded really interesting and I was drawn to the idea of supporting nonprofits and the community. I have to admit that I didn’t really understand what Pillar did but I was open to the challenge to learn more and having a role that was fulfilling. I was lucky enough to get to work with a consultant to develop the learning and development program and build the business and marketing case to sustain the program. I essentially created my job and then just stuck around for a long time because the work has always been meaningful.

You’ve led Learning and Development and helped shape the program and its many iterations since 2009. How has it evolved over the last 14 years? 

Yes, there have been lots of changes and I have seen it all! Learning and development in general is always evolving and being a capacity-building organization we need to be adaptable to the needs of the community but also be forward-thinking to challenge old ways of doing things. Early on we were doing more traditional nonprofit capacity building and obviously leadership trends were very different. We developed some key programs early on such as All About Boards (still running into our 12th year) and a leadership development series (ran for 10 years in that format). As Pillar grew we also started to explore social innovation and how new tools and supports could support nonprofits such as social enterprise frameworks and social finance, now known as VERGE. And then more recently how the UN Sustainable Development Goals could be used to measure impact, through the SDG Cities program. And of course, Equity and Inclusion training was very different 14 years ago and we have learned a lot and are continuously learning. In 2017 we offered our first event connected to Indigenous reconciliation and with the support of an Indigenous Advisory Committee we were able to offer learning opportunities and sharing circles. I know that Pillar will continue to listen to the community and develop meaningful and impactful learning opportunities to support all the staff and volunteers who are making a difference in our community every day. 

What are you most proud of about your work in Learning and Development at Pillar?

Being a key player in building a reputable, recognized and successful learning program that deepens and strengthens the local nonprofit sector. I have loved seeing the knowledge translation that can take place by learning a concept, then applying it to the work being done and seeing the impact that takes place. I have developed lasting and authentic relationships with many partners including community impact organizations, businesses and government. I have loved supporting Executive Directors/CEOs and volunteers and everyone in between.  I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to help the community learn more about equity and inclusion issues, and Indigenous reconciliation and along the way, I was incredibly lucky to learn so much myself. 

What is the most important thing you learned about community?

I have learned that we are capable of small and big changes (they are both equally important) when we come together with a shared vision with people at the centre. I have also learned that the folks doing the work in the community are resilient and strong but they are also tired and undervalued. The work that is being done in the community impact sector is incredibly important and as a society, we need to support it better. We need to continue to centre decent work, equitable best practices and policies that are going to improve the lives of everyone in our community. 

What has connected you to your sense of purpose while working at Pillar? 

All the people! I am incredibly grateful to work with an amazing team, present and past. Amazing humans with so much heart who want to do what is best for our community and show up authentically. They are willing to have deep and sometimes hard conversations when we have made mistakes and how we can do better. They have been willing to step in to support me when I was at capacity or life situations needed my focus. All of the presenters and facilitators over the years generously shared their time and expertise as part of the program to help the community learn and grow. Everyone who has attended events and engaged with me over the years in workshops,  networking opportunities, a community of practice and so many opportunities for connection.  It has been great to get to know cotenant members at Innovation Works and help make connections and bring the community together in the space. Executive Directors/CEOs, board members, volunteers, support staff and clients as well who have been a part of Pillar’s network. It was always about the people. 

What is your greatest hope for the future of Pillar?

As a community, my greatest hope is that we recognize what an asset it is to have an organization like Pillar in it. A group of volunteers 22 years ago had a vision for the kind of organization that could bring together nonprofits, businesses and government to support the community. I might be slightly biased but Pillar is a great resource for London and Ontario.  I have heard many times over the years comments like “I wish we had an organization like Pillar in our community” or “There is no organization like Pillar in my area doing this kind of work”. And I know that there are still many people who do not know what Pillar is and what we do. I am not sure my parents could explain my job to anyone! So I hope that the community gets to know Pillar, the team behind it (volunteers and staff) and the resources that are available. And finally, I hope that Pillar learns and grows along with the people who make up our network and the world we live in. We have made our share of mistakes over the years, so I hope we are able to continue to learn from those mistakes, share what is possible with our community and always strive to do our best. 

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