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  • Positive Polarity Podcast

Exploring the Intersection of Philanthropy and Business with Lynnea Katz-Petted

Tell us a little bit about Revitalize Milwaukee. How has evolved into for you as we get started today?

So, it's been 15 years since I've been here. We were talking offline before, and it's interesting getting here was not at all planned in a lot of ways. I left the corporate world, and I was looking for something part-time non-stress, and I was the first executive director for this organization that at that time was doing 10 homes a year. And we were geared at helping people stay in their homes and give them the much-needed support that homeowners lack. So, it was one of those opportunities I thought, Oh, I'll do this for a little bit, get them going. You know this is going to be easy. I got the bug that you got on that one day. And I'm like, why are they not doing something more? And here we are 15 years later.

So, when you started the first year and you said it was 10 homes. So what was your number for last year?


Who's an ideal person for Revitalize Milwaukee, and what are some of the things that you help them with?

Our whole goal is again to keep people in their homes and age in place. And what that looks like is so unique and different for every single homeowner. So, our ideal homeowner has been in their community for 20, 30, 40 years. They have been a part of the fabric of the culture. They often have multiple generations that are living in their house or did live in their home. And they're incredibly resourceful, proud individuals who have fallen on hard times and need some help. And as we get older, or as I get older, I should say, we have the classification of senior, which is comical cause it's 60 and older. So, as I approached that, I'm going to have to find another way of referring to that category because that's not working for me.

And I'm here for many others because we're not at all seniors, but at the same token, the resiliency of the folks that we help. And then we also serve people with disabilities at any age. And then we also do veterans and their families. One of the greatest gifts that I've gotten to experience is talking with these individuals and learning how they've overcome things that would probably stop most people dead in their tracks. And I think there's a common misconception that you know, the people who need social services or need services from somebody else. People who need help from someone else, that they're just not working hard enough or that they've done something wrong, or, you know, they should've just not bought this or not bought that or pull their bootstraps up or get another job. And a lot more grace and understanding needs to be had in those realms to understand some of the challenges truly. And like I said, the resilience, so it's given me a lot of strength.

So how do you find these people right now? I mean, there's a plethora of them out there, I'm assuming. How do you make that connection?

Over the years, I've built up a lot of networks that have been able to refer. One of the most important things for me is defined by people who truly need our services the most. Right? So, the department of aging, the city refers to a lot of people. We have a lot of connections with neighborhood groups, and right now, you know, it's interesting, the safe at home order was geared towards the fact that our governor and elected officials thought that most of us would be safer at home. But if you're in a situation where you're having the worst moment in your life, and you're experiencing a situation where there's no plumbing, for example, in your home, it's just simply not working, or your toilet's not working. And you've been maybe hiding the fact of that by going too fast-food restaurant or gas station or a friend's house to shower or bathe or whatever.

And all of a sudden, all those safety nets are shut off around you. It's been eye-opening and to try and explain that to people that maybe have more or been from a place, and then they've worked hard for what they've got and not understanding as you said before a day in your shoes where someone could be in that situation. So, systems that were already either failed or we're at the point of, on the brink of failure, just crashed and burned. So over the last few months actually done 121% more projects since the same time last year, and then correlated with a 240% increase in our expenses because when someone's, you know, major plumbing system fails their shut off valve pops up the wall because it was corroded. The pressure was too much for it. That is a lot more to from an expense standpoint than if we had gotten to it sooner or we'd been notified.

How about on the reverse side of the volunteering side? Is that the same situation, or where do you find your workforce for these volunteer-type projects?

Yeah, so great question. So unbeknownst to most people, we actually are basically a nonprofit construction company. So, we pay our contractors, and they are licensed city contractors, go out to the homes, and do work just like you would have hired somebody to do work on your home. We do have a number of volunteer projects throughout the year, but they're generally focused on the larger type of projects. So, we can get people who want to give back and want to have that direct connection with who they're helping be able to do that. But I would say probably 75% to 90% of our work is done by paid contractors. And we've grown over the years. We're well organized, turnkey, and volunteer opportunities from corporate clients because you want to provide a meaningful experience, and, at this point, everyone's overworked and underpaid.

So, you want to find somebody who's going to do this for you and allow you to look like a hero from a company standpoint. So, we were doing a lot of those, and we were successful with those. And then, of course, COVID hit, right? So, we had four on the books for this year, and we are doing our black belt this year, though. I made a decision. I don't know if it's right or wrong, but I'm a risk-taker, and we'll do everything we can to keep people safe, but the community still needs our help. And the black belt and the volunteer projects are an opportunity for us almost to do more for individuals because there's so many willing and able to help. And like you said, there's just jobs for everybody. And we meet people where they're at, and we try and elevate them so that they can walk out of their home, even proud homeowners, and know that they're safe.

How do you decide the scope? How do you go into a house and decide what's needed?

That's a good question. That's a difficult question too. If we were only to have all the money in the world, right? First, we're focused on safety and accessibility, right? So, you're going to have the most beautiful home in the city, but if you can't navigate the stairs or get out of your home or get on and off your own plumbing or make a meal, you can't function well. So, our focus is on safety and accessibility, and then we look for deferred maintenance. And then, of course, trying to make sure that the outside is safe as well. So inside and outside. So, it comes down to a function of time of year and also the availability of funding. We're 99.9% nonprofit, you know, not government funded. So, people give us government grants and then also events and things. So, it's a function of all these different pieces coming together. You know, it's like when I say it's a nonprofit construction company, there's so many different pieces of it. And really when it comes down to it, we're not any different at all than a regular business. We just don't post profits. So, we have the same challenges and expenses, but it's a difficult call to say yes, or to say noted, especially to people who are in desperate need.

Are you personally coordinating volunteers, or do you have someone else on the team coordinating the volunteers?

Back when you came out, yes, I was coordinating the volunteers, but now we've grown and had a great team that's incredible. And everyone takes a piece of it, and they all support the organization's mission and experience with the volunteers. It's a juggling act because you can't have too many, can't have too few, and want to make sure that everyone has an amazing experience. So yeah, it's, it's interesting.

Are you grant writing them for yourself, or do you have somebody doing that for you?

I'm involved in the grant writing process. I guess that I try and institute a leadership role to help develop my team, but also make sure that I'm focusing on the highest and best purposes of the business, which is working on the business, not in the business. So, I try to make sure that I'm involved in the first 10% of something, let the team run with, and manage 80% of it in the middle. And then I'll be on the backside the other 10%.

That's cool. Where did you find that? Can you unpack that for us?

Well, it's not my idea, so I can't take credit for it. I can take credit for sharing it, but you know, I am an avid learner. I'm very invested in figuring out how to be better tomorrow than I was the day before. And what that looks like is constant learning. Right? I am involved in a mastermind group that I am extremely excited about that, combined with reading the Harvard Business Review, listened to a lot of podcasts. I listen to books on tape. I'm constantly trying to challenge my own thinking so that I can then show up in a better and refreshed way to help grow our business. Growing a nonprofit is something I never saw myself doing. I've always been in corporate consulting and finance. And so, this was kind of a surprise prayer for me. It wasn't intentional.

But the fact that I'm here and the fact that I have such a passion for it. I don't do failure. Well, I'm pretty driven. And how then I show up is dependent on me and the choices I made. What that looks like is just constantly trying to say, okay, what's working, what's not. And then creating a new future and then being able to measure it right. And if I can't measure it, then I can't tell if I did a good job or not.

Then what does that last 10% look like? Is that the presentation, is that the signing of the contract? What does that in a sales kind of world look like for you?

It depends on the level of delegation that the vision has been shared with. So, there's certain parameters that the project is usually geared around. So, there might be something like in a sales environment where I hate going. There might be another situation where somebody who's been on the team for a long time, highly trusted, highly competent, and highly able to execute and make good decisions might be, Hey. I want you to go and do this before you signed the contract is short to me, and let's just talk about it quickly and then have them execute it on your behalf. So, there's like everything in between that. So, it depends on where the level of the team member is. And I think one of the things that I appreciate about people is risks and then also feeling forward, right? So, everyone's not going to have the best answer, and that includes me. But how do we set them up for success so that they can take it and run with it and then be able to make those crucial mistakes to help them learn how to handle both conflict, disappointment, and opportunity?

I do a lot of work with the disc personality profile and in a DISC assessment. You can get a pretty good feel for how risk-averse people are. You know, you'll run into people that avoid risk, like the plague, and then there's people like you that, when they see risk, they go towards it. If you're working with somebody on your team and are more risk-averse, do you look at that as like a ying to your yang? Or is it more like, oh my gosh, you've got to get out of the comfort zone and explore this risk with me. And again, there's no right or wrong answer. Curious on your end, how you see that?

That's a great question. And we just had our quarterly team planning session about a week ago, and I have people in my team on both sides of the spectrum and what I appreciate the people about the people who are more risk-averse than I am. They helped me frame it in a way because sometimes I can also be too risky. And you know, I do need to be pulled back, or I do need to be like, well, is this going to work? Are you kind of overshooting? So, through the transparent conversation that allows us to come to a place that feels good for everybody, right? And it's, it's a win, win because if they don't buy into the division or whoever, you're selling to, or your board or whoever it is, your spouse, even, right? If you're not listening to their fears and hopes, their dreams, this as much as somebody who's on the risk side, you're not going to be able to come at a solid placement forward.

Because you know, believe it or not, stuff does go wrong. And no one wants to be told that, you know, "I told you so," or "I knew it wouldn't work out" or whatever. But if you come at it from a place, okay, here's the things that could go wrong. Here's some things that could go, right. And everyone's, you know, entering the conversation on the same level playing field. And you know, when you're doing the after-action review, are you looking at it from a post events transaction, then you can dig deep into what really did work and what maybe you should try differently next time.

So, your mastermind group is a group of people, CEOs that meet monthly, and you just work through some of the opportunities you're going through, assuming?

There's a whole host of things that happen on a weekly and monthly basis. So, it is geared to learn some of these baseline skills and be there for each other. One of the most interesting things in my cohort, there's people who are sole practitioners, person business, all the way up to multimillion-dollar companies. And what's interesting is that every quarter when we get together, and every week when we talk, we're all struggling with some of the same things. So, it's marketing its technology, empowering, and managing your team's growth of opportunity visioning, trying to get investors, trying to get your operation system set up. So, it's geared towards being a sounding board. That's confidential, obviously for everybody, but also for, you know, leadership can be lonely. You can't have the same level of conversation that you would with a fellow CEO that you would with your team. And appropriately so. But at the same token, we do need outlets. And also, someone who inspires from time to time when we're not feeling it, you know?

Do you have a board of directors as well?

I do. And it's important to me. Again, I'm aware that things shouldn't stay the same for very long, which probably drives my team a little nuts. But at the same token, I think you always have to be coming from an innovative mentality to stay ahead of the curve. Because right now, my motto this year going into 2020 was to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

I looked for the treasures inside the challenges, right? And so what is it that's going to help me get to the next place positively? And I was listening to a meditation today, and it was interesting because it was the clear meditation was about how it is so important that the end game is not where you end up, but the journey itself. Who you become, and how you become, what you become is because of the journey.

We've got to self-regulate and shake ourselves off and then go and find the help when we need it. But also, just give us the ability to have the grace and the pep talk, and we needed as well. So, stuff goes wrong and, and still, people need to rise above and find a way, to deal.

How do you deal with people that are different than you? Whether from a board perspective, whether a team perspective or the ultimate is the customer perspective. I mean, how do you deal with that?

It's interesting. Because I do have somebody on my board that is very much like you described, but it's really interesting because I think the cool thing about relationships and being in the moment with relationships is responding to people where they're at. Right? So, for anyone who's had a board, either for profit or nonprofit, you've got anywhere from 10 to 15 to 20 personalities that are incredibly different than others. And you add your team onto that, and then you add your donors onto that. And then you add your clients onto that. So, I think to be a good listener up front and knowing your leadership style, knowing your strengths and weaknesses. And then also trying to, as I said, meet them where they're at. So, it's not about making somebody wrong or right. It's about understanding where they are and then elevating them to whatever next level they want to be part of. Of course, if you're in a volunteer role, it's a different conversation than if you're paying an employee to do a task. But for the most part, the division is the same. How do you help them see the goal and then see where their strengths are and how they can be a part of the solution to get there.

I really can appreciate the team that you have and the different layers of kind of like a customer, but also the customer as the end-user, the homeowner in this case. So, they're pretty cognizant you must spend a ton of time investing in them to react and act to all those different groups I would assume?

Correct. So, we've been doing annual meetings as a team, and then we also do quarterly training, and then I encourage everyone to kind of see what they need out there. And if something looks good for them, as far as an opportunity to learn about how they react or want to improve themselves to take advantage of it. One of the great things that just get feedback from the team is that we had a great quarter planning sessions. We do them every quarter at the end of the quarter. We look back and do an after-action review, but we also look forward and say, okay, we have the quarterly goals that we outlined at the beginning of the year. Do they need adjusting? Do we need to add or take away or whatever? Then some of the feedback was that the opportunity to learn as they're enjoying what I'm bringing to them.

So, they want to do more. What we're going to do at the request of the team was to do a two-hour training once a month, we have team lunches as a group. And so, we're going to do two-hour trainings. And that was one of my things is I wanted to bring you in to do what you do best, which is DISC assessment and as one of the trainings. So, I'm excited about again, learning and growing together as a group, and I was adamant at the beginning of this whole COVID thing. I'm still don't know what's going to happen. But I said to my team, there's two things. One, I want us to come out stronger as a team. And two, I want us to come out stronger as an organization. And I said, if we just do those two things, I think everything will be fine.

So, I'm a black and white person. I'm thinking there's only two boxes. Right? And so I'm thinking in preparing for this, I'm like, I need you to help me understand from your perspective that intersection of philanthropic and business because all I see is philanthropic is what I do on my off time and businesses, what I do during the day. And I'm trying to understand for an entrepreneur like you and the successes that you've had, how do you connect those two?

That's a $50 million question. I think I've always thought of it as a business, to be honest with you and then, just to your point, helping people who don't think about it as a business, I have to be, you know, a true professional. I hate the word charity. I hate it because I don't feel like the people that we're helping our charity cases. That's not what they are. They're part of our community. They're what makes all businesses successful. For us to elevate everybody, not just the people who may have still specialist skills or maybe have the opportunity again, I can't tell you how much of an honor it has been to work with the homeowners that we do.

They've taught me way more than I've ever given them. And I don't say that out of just pure rhetoric, it's really about somebody in their very worst moment. So, my commitment to the community has kind of I guess as we talked before, it's taken me by surprise. You know, I'm not from the Milwaukee area originally. But I could see that the depth in the souls and they just deserve so much more than they were getting. And so, for me, I'm not going to lie. It's a huge challenge to get people.

And then, not to get in the racism thing, but it's been really difficult because we know I'm not at all shy. And so, when I broached the topic of maybe what's holding them back, they're thinking about who needs help and who doesn't. It is met with denial and challenges back to me like I'm the wrong one and many people, honestly, I'm not going to lie said the same thing you said over the years. Like, what are you doing? Like you could be making seven times as much. You can be leading this; you could do that. It will come like it's all going to be there. It's not going to go away. But at this moment, in my time, I needed to do this for whatever reason. You know, again, I was not planning on staying here. It was a part-time job. Non-Stress.

We had a budget of $40,000 that was including my salary, plus the 10 homes. And my board said to me, as they should, you want to get paid next year then raise the money. And so that's one of the things that I think when we look at the equalization of entrepreneurship inside of nonprofits and businesses, if I were to able to do what I've done in a nonprofit scenario for-profit and turn something small into a functioning business for 15 years, starting at zero every year, there's something to be said for that. So, I think I appreciate the question more than, and you know Dave because I would love to figure out a way to help people see on a bigger scale, how powerful it would be for them to partner with a nonprofit. And not only from a learning standpoint but also from an empowerment standpoint. Your businesses, your employees, and the community, because I don't think you can have one without the other.

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