Q & A With Elizabeth Scott
Interviewed and Written by: Ann Parker
In a new monthly blog series, you will learn more about our staff members. Through these one-on-one interviews, we will share our career passions and philosophies—and some personal information, too. Elizabeth Scott, President and CEO of Brighter Strategies, debuts this Q&A below.
What initially inspired you to embark on a career in the nonprofit space?
I didn’t set out to work in the nonprofit space. I started in the corporate arena, moved to government, and then landed a nonprofit job while I was in grad school. I remember thinking that it would be an easy gig—hours from 8 to 4, with lots of time for classwork. I really had no clue! What I found in the nonprofit world was that people had to work twice as hard with half of the resources available in the for-profit sector—and the goal was not to make a profit, but to impact someone’s life.
We didn’t have the luxury of hiring lots of staff, so everyone wore multiple hats. It was a great learning opportunity. I learned more about managing others, running programs, budgeting, marketing, and IT in my first year in the nonprofit arena than I had with my previous employers collectively. I also learned about the dedication and passion that mission-oriented people bring to their work. Every individual I worked with could have made twice the amount of money in the corporate world, but they all chose this work because it wasn’t just work, but a vocation—a calling. I can’t think of a better place to build capacity.
What is your philosophy for nonprofit management?
I believe that being a nonprofit is a tax status, not a management philosophy. So each of my clients must understand and own her unique management philosophy. Nonprofits employ a significant portion of the workforce, and as employers, they are obligated to serve not just their clients, but their staff well. I enjoy working with my clients, helping them to set stretch goals and watching them be successful. I assume that they understand how to do their mission work, so my job is to help them create systems and plans that promote a healthy culture.
How do you envision the nonprofit field growing within the next decade?
This field will, like many fields, continue to be more and more regulated, and will see greater scrutiny. Funders are keeping a watchful eye and want to ensure their monies go to good use. I think we’ll continue to see an increase in accountability and a focus on management excellence.
In addition to managing the practice, you teach in the Masters of Industrial Organizational Psychology and the Doctoral in Organizational Leadership programs at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. How has such immersion in academia affected your work?
An effective classroom is a learning community in which students support each other and apply theory through personal reflection, as a means to move to critical action. I teach my students to critically examine the world and to be practitioners who are grounded in the scholarly literature. While it’s important to know both sides of an academic argument, it’s more important to understand how such theory plays into practice in the real world.
I apply the same philosophy to my consulting work. I hope to guide clients to embrace change and move to critical action. Clients seek our services because they must come to a decision point in their organizational lifecycle. I believe my role is to show them their options and to help them identify the path that makes the most sense for them and their organizations. No two strategic plans, organizational measurement systems, or job redesigns are the same. It’s only though collaboration, deep listening, and a focus on ongoing learning that we can be successful in our work.
What do you enjoy doing for fun and relaxation?
I love to read. I read almost anything I can get my hands on. I’ve read eight books this month so far: business books, novels, scientific books (I love reading about neuroscience and the brain). I’ve actually run out of shelf space at my house and have books piled in multiple rooms! I’m trying to convince my husband to turn our dining room into a library. But I don’t think I’ve made a compelling pitch yet—he seems unconvinced! I also love to travel and send time with my family.