by Roderick Vester

As a pianist, I have always been fascinated with the tuning process. Piano tuning is complex. It doesn’t simply consist of placing stress on the strings and aligning the intervals for correct tonal qualities. Piano tuning requires assessment. And while there is an equal tempered scale, each piano is different and unique – with its own set of challenges. The tuning process isn’t a one-time event. It requires adjustments throughout the year. This is very similar to nonprofit work. Every nonprofit organization is unique. Every nonprofit must implement assessments. And every nonprofit must continue to adjust as needed. My experience in the Institute of Nonprofit Excellence was similar to piano tuning. I was being refined each step of the way.

The Institute of Nonprofit Excellence expanded my thinking in many ways. I vividly recall a discussion on social impact. PRIZM had been a great model of social impact for me. The youth that we encountered consistently testified of their beliefs and values being enlarged to include a diverse community and outlook on social inclusion. I knew that PRIZM was committed to building a diverse community through chamber music education, youth development, and performance. However, INE began to introduce me to the idea of social impact as not just a psychological state but a physiological state as well. I began to also include, in my thinking of social impact, how people lived and how they organized their lives around their needs. This was an important shift in my thinking and application.

The Institute of Nonprofit Excellence not only challenged our external interaction and thinking, it also challenged our internal strategic thinking. What were our strengths and weaknesses (internal) as an organization? What were our opportunities and threats (external) as an organization? The S.W.O.T analysis. This challenged us to think critically about our programs and organization as a whole. We were able to identify items in every section of SWOT. From there, we created plans to strengthen our weaknesses, identify and act on new opportunities, and chisel away at our threats. INE also addressed issues of sustainability, engagement, resources, shared leadership, constructive partnerships, board governance, development, and engagement. In depth discussions surrounded these concerns that exist among nonprofits.

The internal and external mechanics of the organization are crucial. Tackling the challenges we are presented with is of great importance. However, what about us: the people who are doing the work, the people who are spending countless hours thinking, strategizing, attending meetings, conferences in pursuit of excellence. Production often takes precedence over people. But production cannot happen without people. INE discussed these concerns as well. We discussed self-care and were very transparent during our discussions on how, at times, we became lost in the work and forgot to take care of ourselves mentally and physically. These conversations drew up in on a more personal level and we took of our business selves and showed our individual selves. I appreciated this part of our modules just as much as anything.

The Institute of Nonprofit Excellence served as a great refinement center for me as well as PRIZM. While our light was shining, it became brighter as a result of INE. We were sharpened as a result of our INE process and involvement. I realized that who we are shapes who we are not. As a result, I have learned to embrace all over again our uniqueness as an organization committed to diversity, access, and opportunity for the youth we serve.

Roderick Vester has served as an accompanist for a plethora of national recording artists and has worked as a musician, composer, arranger, and producer. He serves as Interim Executive Director for the PRIZM Ensemble, the Director of Music at First Baptist Church-Broad, and as CEO of his music production company, Fully Vested Music. Roderick holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, a Master’s degree in Counseling, and a Master’s degree in Music. He is currently pursuing his PhD in Music Education at The University of Mississippi.