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The Formula for Action with Veta Richardson

This week on the Nonprofit Build Up, we’re talking Veta Richardson. Veta is President and CEO of the Association of Corporate Counsel or ACC, the world’s largest professional association for in-house counsel. With more than 43,000 members spanning 85 nations and staff located in North America, Asia, Australia, and soon, Europe, ACC offers a global voice and thought leadership for the in-house community.

Veta is widely recognized for corporate governance leadership, having been named to the prestigious Directorship 100 list four times. Previously, as executive director of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association , Veta was widely recognized for thought leadership in the areas of diversity and inclusion and advised hundreds of Fortune 1000 companies and multinational law firms to establish and strengthen their diversity and inclusion programs.

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About Veta T. Richardson

Veta T. Richardson is President & CEO of the Association of Corporate Counsel, the world’s largest professional association for in-house counsel. With more than 43,000 members spanning 85 nations and staff located in North America, Asia Australia and soon, Europe, ACC offers a global voice and thought leadership for the in-house community.

Veta is widely recognized for corporate governance leadership, having been named to the prestigious Directorship 100 list four times. Her advocacy regarding the role and positioning of the chief legal officer serves as the basis for recommendations issued to corporate boards by NACD, a US-based multinational directors society.

Previously, as executive director of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA), Veta was widely recognized for thought leadership in the areas of diversity and inclusion and advised hundreds of Fortune 1000 companies and multinational law firms to establish and strengthen their diversity/inclusion programs. Her in-house expertise was shaped over more than a decade as in-house counsel at Sunoco, Inc. in Philadelphia, where her practice focus was corporate governance, transactions, securities disclosure, and finance.

Veta has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, Financial Times’ Agenda Week, Bloomberg News, The Financial Post (Canada), Law Society Gazette (United Kingdom), and countless other business and legal publications. She has also authored op-eds and articles in Corporate Counsel, Law360, Forbes, China Business Law Journal, India Business Law Journal, and Ethisphere Magazine. She serves on the editorial advisory board for Asia Business Law Journal and as an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown Law School.

She received a B.S. in Business Management from the University of Maryland at College Park and a J.D. from the University of Maryland School of Law.

Read the podcast transcription below:

-Upbeat Intro Music-

Nic Campbell: 

You’re listening to the Nonprofit Build Up Podcast and I’m your host, Nic Campbell. I want to support movements that can interrupt cycles of injustice and inequity, and shift power towards vulnerable and marginalized communities. I’ve spent years working in and with nonprofits and philanthropies, and I know how important infrastructure is to outcomes. On this show, we’ll talk about how to build capacity to transform the way you and your organization work.

Nic Campbell: 

Hi, everyone. This week on the Nonprofit Build Up, we’re talking Veta Richardson. Veta is President and CEO of the Association of Corporate Counselor (ACC), the world’s largest professional association for in-house counsel. With more than 43,000 members spanning 85 nations and staff located in North America, Asia, Australia, and soon, Europe, ACC offers a global voice and thought leadership for the in-house community.

Nic Campbell: 

Veta is widely recognized for corporate governance leadership, having been named to the prestigious Directorship 100 list four times. Previously, as executive director of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association , Veta was widely recognized for thought leadership in the areas of diversity and inclusion and advised hundreds of Fortune 1000 companies and multinational law firms to establish and strengthen their diversity and inclusion programs.

Nic Campbell: 

Veta has been quoted in several prominent business and legal publications including the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and the New York Times. She has also authored op-eds and articles in several Law Journals and Forbes and is an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown Law School. And with that, here is Veta Richardson.

Nicole Campbell:

Hi, Veta. I am so excited to have you joining us for our Fast Build Lead Series and to get us started, can you tell us about the Association of Corporate Counsel, your role there, and the Association’s immediate priorities?

Veta Richardson:

Yes. Well, Nic, first of all, thank you for inviting me to participate in this series. The Association of Corporate Counsel is a global bar association or legal association, and our membership consists solely of in-house counsel or counsel who are employed by the corporations that they serve and advise. And our membership now numbers more than 46,000. It spans 85 countries around the world, and we’re the largest association of our kind.

Nicole Campbell:

And can you talk about your role with the Association and what you spend most of your time on?

Veta Richardson:

Thank you. Well, you did ask me that didn’t you. I didn’t get to that part of it. My apologies. So as President and CEO, my focus is working with the board of directors, which is also global in scope. They are people who come from our membership and generally serve as chief legal officers or senior level counsel to the corporations where they work. And my role is to work with them on setting and executing strategy for the Association; strategy designed to think about how we position the organization best to remain relevant and continue to serve our members all over the world. So we serve through a variety of programs and services. We’re in the education business. Many lawyers are required to complete educational credits to keep their licenses current, as well as keep up with all the laws and regulations that are constantly changing. So education is an important component of our services.

Veta Richardson:

We also support with resources that are designed to help in-house counsel avoid recreating the wheel. So what we do is we leverage the power and knowledge of our membership who help one another. So if someone has to develop a cyber security policy, there will be another member who’s already gone that route and may have contributed theirs. That can be redacted, of course, but then shared. So if you need a sample policy or form, or to understand how to do something that may be novel to you but someone else has experienced, we provide resources that are practical help-guides for our members to do their jobs. And then the third way that we serve is for professional development and career advancement reasons, members like to connect with other people and peers. And so we serve a very important networking function and our networks are established at the local level through our chapters.

Veta Richardson:

We have 60 chapters around the world, but in addition to our local network of chapter members, we also have online for it that exists, that are more focused around a practice area and focus. So labor and employment lawyers, securities, and finance lawyers, people who do compliance and ethics, people who do intellectual property. So different practice area focused networks, as well as networks that are focused on how to run the law department, law department management, legal operations, running a small law department, which has challenges that are separate and unique from running a larger department. So that’s how we serve. And I’ve been CEO of the association since 2011, way back when I started practicing law, I was a member and joined ACC right out of law school.

Nicole Campbell:

Well, that is really great, Veta. And when you’re talking about the Association is global, it’s in many different countries, different jurisdictions. And I wonder if you could talk about how do you as a leader create that kind of environment where people want to network, where they want to do this kind of information sharing. And you mentioned policies, for example, how do you foster that kind of comradery quite frankly, across the globe from where you sit?

Veta Richardson:

Yes. Well, you know, it’s a very interesting dynamic within ACC. Certainly coming from the community, having been a member. And I was in-house counsel to an energy company for a little more than 10 years. So I came from a very large law department, understood how they work, understood some of the challenges and opportunities potentially for service. So as I moved from a practicing lawyer into the bar association community in a service role for two positions before I became CEO of ACC, I brought that perspective with me. And what’s interesting about the in-house counsel community, Nic, unlike other areas for lawyers is lawyers, perhaps in law firms, compete with one another and other law firms to generate the business that they need and to develop client relationships. But in-house counsel are unique in that they have one client, their employer, from whom they get more than enough things to do and work.

Veta Richardson:

So it’s not a competitive relationship per se, between in-house counsel. So there is greater opportunity to encourage them to share and to get to know one another, there’s this natural desire to connect with one another because they all share being part of a larger corporation where the business is not law, the business is some other sector or focus, and they all share the responsibility to get to know the business, but apply that legal knowledge to the business to help them advance their objectives. So there’s this natural commonality to want to know, Hey, you’re like me, one small sector law within a bigger corporation that has very additional verticals and we have to be able to serve the organization well. So tell me, how do you do this? And there’s a natural desire to share and to have that exchange. So that really preexisted me. It’s one of the reasons that ACC was founded.

Veta Richardson:

So I was fortunate to, when I graduated from law school, be hired by one of ACC’s founders and he had the perspective that he wanted lawyers to come into his law department, who were, what he called baby lawyers, not people who had worked someplace else, but who would work and learn through his model of teaching about how to be a good in-house counsel. And so coming in with that type of general counsel, as my first employment situation showed me and the organization was founded on wanting to create opportunities for in-house counsel to be able to share and to serve their corporation better. So there isn’t competition that way. There’s a desire to connect and compare, contrast exchange war stories. And that’s always been a part of ACC since its founding. So my delay is figuring out how to harness what they want and offer opportunities for them to be able to share and post and exchange and come together and learn.

Nicole Campbell:

I think that’s great because you have a sort of natural environment for the cooperation to exist and for members to work with each other. And so a question I have around your membership and what you’re doing, and this pandemic, this environment that we’re in, what has changed or what have you started doing more of, or less of within ACC for your membership, given the uncertainty that we’re in? You know, we’re also in this moment of social justice unrest and what has changed or what have you been thinking about more or less during this time?

Veta Richardson:

Wow, that question is so big in terms of what’s changed. So what’s changed for our members, is everything from where they work, because the majority of our membership were moved from working in a normal office environment, like I was accustomed to, and many of us are accustomed to, two because of COVID having to move their work environment to home. So that was the biggest shift. And we do know from surveying our members, doing a flash poll, the overwhelming majority of our members, you know, like in the 80 and 90 percentile, told us that that transition to home, because of being technology enabled, was pretty seamless. That way that they were working effectively from home, which was a delight to be able to hear, because I know that a lot of other sectors and other professionals had more difficulty making that transition. But many of our lawyers also because of being a global organization, many of them had clients, anyhow, client like business people, that were not located within their physical space.

Veta Richardson:

You know, so if you were based in New York, but you also provide legal support to a division in Europe or in the Middle East or in South America, you’re always having to communicate virtually or through online or a telephone, anyhow. So making that transition to home, people felt that they were very technology supported by their employers as lawyers to be able to do that effectively. But then once people got home, the challenges that we all face about being at home, and there are others potentially in your home with whom you’re sharing space. So well, our members then, when we had flash polls, reported that they had challenges; negotiating children who may be at home, but who are involved with online education, having to tutor kids, because they’re not going into a physical classroom with a teacher like they were. So people are balancing that you’re also balancing trying to stay safe because COVID is a vicious disease, trying to make sure that you have the things that you need outside of the work environment and all that is going on within the home environment too.

Veta Richardson:

I noticed that for our council, they said that work-life balance became even more difficult because when you work in your home; cutting it off was a little more of a challenge than it is sometimes when you physically separate from your space and make that commute home. Now the commute home may be to a different room or the stairs or down the stairs in terms of separating from your office environment, and then some had spouses or partners who were working from home too, who you had to figure out, how are you going to negotiate that space? Because most people did not have their home environment set up with two complete office environments for perhaps the two adults and then children having to use space as well. So people were having challenges, negotiating all those boundaries, as well as just worrying about the impacts of COVID on themselves, their loved ones, their communities.

Veta Richardson:

So when we conducted wellness surveys, we heard that our members were feeling extreme stress. Some reported that they were having depression, having anxiety waking up in the middle of the night, having difficulty sleeping. These things were going on, probably just the same as, you know, the general population and citizenry, people were feeling stressed and concerned. So we saw that although lawyers are very fortunate, tend to be among the most educated in society, most have very good incomes, are in safe spaces in terms of having a safe home to retreat to, but the other things were causing all kinds of stresses on our membership. So one of the things we saw that was interesting, Nic, is a spike whenever we would offer wellness programs. And as a leader, when we first discussed it, I thought, oh, I wonder what wellness programs, lawyers being so stoic, will this be something that they gravitate to, or see ACC as a place to seek assistance and guidance in managing?

Veta Richardson:

And we found that our wellness programs really went off the charts in terms of participation, hearing from people that it was appreciated, that they liked knowing that other in-house counsel were experiencing the same thing. They were not alone. And I think that was a dynamic of being at home. You have less of a connection to know about the challenges that others like you are facing. So sometimes you feel like it’s me who’s having a problem. Everyone else is doing okay. And it was validating to hear, no, everyone’s having a difficult time trying to navigate these new circumstances. I will also share that in terms of some of the racial justice issues that have come to the fore, ACC was reasonably quick to issue a statement regarding the death of George Floyd and others at the hands of police. The extreme upset that caused anger, that humanity of any individual would be violated that way, concern as lawyers about what are going to be the next steps, because that was a situation that cried out for attention justice, re-examination of problems, concerns the societal failings that had resulted in loss of life, the way that we’ve seen.

Veta Richardson:

So when ACC issued its statement and did so I think back on June the second or so, and it went to all 46,000 ACC members and it was posted on all of our social media accounts, I received an overwhelmingly positive response from members all over the world who were saying, thank you. We appreciated your statement. We appreciate the fact that it was not watered down, that it was specific in terms of calling out the violations on humanity that we all witnessed. But beyond calling it out, we also said that we want to be part of a dialogue to empower in-house counsel as leaders in their organization.

Veta Richardson:

And lawyers are leaders in their communities. We needed to empower people so that they could, in their communities and their corporations, be a positive force to make a difference and address some of these systemic issues. After that we’ve launched Allies for Change partnership with the Society of Human Resources Management, SHERM. SHERM is global in scope like ACC, but much bigger. They have more than 300,000 members, are in hundreds of countries around the world and have quite a reach. So ACC partnered with SHERM. We’ve held a couple of webcasts that first sought to define some of the concerns that we see, bring in other corporate leaders from the chief legal officer and chief human resources officer community, to talk about how the lawyers and the human resources professionals in their organizations can come together to really look at policies, programs, approaches within their workplace in order to address and make sure that they are not inadvertently unconsciously or even through neglect, consciously creating workforces that are less inclusive than we would all feel proud to be a part of. So those dialogues started.

Veta Richardson:

Then we had a second dialogue with SHERM that was led by Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHERM CEO. The first one I moderated that was all about looking at some workforce surveys that SHERM, which has a fantastic research conducted to look at how people are feeling in the workplace and look at some of the differences between how black people and white people in the workplace look at how their organization is doing. They also look at what may be going on in society. There were stark differences there.

Nicole Campbell:

What really comes out for me is just one, having that foresight and insight into your membership to say, let’s do a wellness survey. Let’s find out how people are doing, how they’re coping and understand where they’re coming from. And then on top of that, add an action, right, to the information that you get. So not just hearing it and saying, oh, now we know, but here’s what we’re going to do in response to that information, to receive that information. And similarly with the racial justice statement that you made. So not only just saying this is where we stand, which is just, I think bold for a lot of organizations, but this is how we are coming on in terms of racial justice. This is what is important to us. This is what matters, but then also adding action to that and saying, okay, with that being said, here’s what we will do. So I do appreciate it just from being so insightful, but also taking that action behind it, which I don’t think that combination you’re seeing on a lot of organizations doing your responses resonates so much with me. And I know, Veta…

Veta Richardson:

I just want to share that that approach is pretty much ACC formula. We start first with trying to dig in and understand where are our members? Because we’re a membership association. We’re not trying to serve all lawyers or all of society. Our focus is on in-house counsel and how to serve them, how to empower them. And however, they need to be empowered to do the best job that they can in their corporations and their communities. So when you focus on who is it that we serve and being real crystal clear about who that group is and who that group isn’t. Now there may be things that ACC does that the accountants might say that resonates with me and I can try it. Or the tax professionals may see it, or someone who has retail might think, oh, I could do those things too, but we’re not trying to serve them.

Veta Richardson:

We’re focused on in-house counsel. So it starts for us with being clear on who we serve. And then being curious about where are they? Oh, you’re here. Sounds like you might need, is this what you might need? Yes. Develop it, offer opportunities for them to come together and share because the power of this network is really when they get together and exchange with one another and identify, oh, you may be doing this. I could see us doing that, but maybe we should put a spin on it a little bit. That makes it better for our own organization. So then bringing people together so they can hear what others are doing to either replicate or modify it. So it works for them. And then collecting practical steps to make it easy to implement and do or undertake that’s our magic formula. So it’s about who we serve, what they need, what can we do to help deliver it, give them opportunities to share, to make it the best it can be for their personal situation, and then equip them with resources that are practical in nature so they can implement and do.

Nicole Campbell:

And I think it’s about knowing your why, and being able to live out your organizational values so that it shows up in everything you do and naturally that’s coming through in what you’re explaining ACC does. And I know that you are not a 501(C)(3), as many of the listeners probably are in. But I wonder if you could talk more about your organization structure and your tax status as it relates to the sector.

Veta Richardson:

Yes. So Nic, I’m going to start off by saying I’m not a tax attorney to know why they chose 501(C)(6) versus (C)(3). All I can speak to is the differences as best I can communicate it, which would be a 501(C)(3), that would qualify more as a charitable organization, an organization that individuals can make a donation to and take a charitable deduction in the United States for income tax purposes. We were a 501(C)(6), so donations to us, maybe it will qualify as a business deduction or business donation. People who join our membership, don’t get a charitable deduction. The dues they pay would be a business expense. So it’s very different. Our structure allows us two buckets of funding possibilities, dues, which is a fee that you pay per individual, or there are group discounts for the whole organization to sign up it’s lawyers.

Veta Richardson:

That’s one category dues revenue, and then we have non-dues revenue. And that would come from things like our educational conferences. We do research reports and people buy access to them. We have organizations who serve in-house counsel or the legal profession, law firms, e-discovery companies, executive recruiting firms, people who provide services that in-house counsel may want to buy to make their organization run or buy because they have that purchase responsibility on behalf of the company. So organizations that want to promote what they do for in-house counsel to consider buying those products or services also offer us underwriting or sponsorship revenue to support our events, to advertise online, to want to put forth their white papers and pay a fee for people to be able to distribute for ACC, to distribute that so that they can get visibility and perhaps be considered for retention or purchase opportunity. So those are only two buckets; dues, non-dues, on the dues side, education. People would pay a fee to attend, or people are paying to sponsor to get visibility at that educational conference and showcase perhaps their expertise in an area.

Nicole Campbell:

Well, you know, it’s interesting because I think a lot of (C)(3)s actually are thinking about membership structures. I think we’re just in a time where membership subscription types of models are really prevalent and many organizations that I’ve talked to are exploring what that could look like. And when you think about your membership dues, I know you mentioned that you have some people in more departments that are very large and some people in all departments that are very small. And can you talk about how you go about thinking through the membership peers or the membership for different types of members based on size? Is it based on the amount of benefits that are provided to different team members? You know, like a tiering type of structure, just to really give us a basic understanding of, for an organization that’s thinking I would love to pursue this membership model. I’d love to get dues. We have really active quote-unquote members, but how do we monetize that, but still provide a benefit to those members?

Veta Richardson:

Yeah, well, for us, we don’t make our membership dues structure overly complicated. You can join as an individual or you can be signed up as part of a corporate membership. So there are those two ways now, as ACC went global, one of the things that our board of directors had a conversation about is that our basic dues rate, however many dollars that translates in us dollars for certain sectors of the world, where the economies may not be as developed to pay the same rate X dollars us in other locations where in-house counsel salaries are not at the same scale would have prevented ACC from potentially being able to reach different sectors around the globe. So in that regard, we use standards that are published from world bank standards regarding how nations are tiered in terms of their economies. And by reference to where the nation is tiered, it may result in injustice and up or down with respect to the basic dues. And so that’s how we adjust being global in scope, if someone wishes is located in Egypt and they wish to join ACC, the cost that an individual in-house counsel would pay based in Cairo, would be different than the cost of an individual membership for someone headquartered in New York city.

Nicole Campbell:

No, that makes sense. And the fact that you’re taking that into account, right, it goes back to what you said about knowing who you serve and who you want to reach. And so being able to tailor even your membership structure to pull in those people, I think is extremely important. And so if I’m looking at a leader who is running a (C)(3) organization and he, or she is thinking about how do I scale my impact, how do I start to think about leading this organization in a way that will allow it to consistently and sustainably show up for the communities that we’re working with? What advice would you give to that leader? If that organization were just getting started? So on the more the startup side versus an organization that has been around for a longer period of time is out of that startup phase.

Veta Richardson:

Yes. Well, if I were starting up an organization, I would think about one focus on your mission and what is it that you’re trying to do to make a difference? Because every mission statement is about service and making a difference in one or more particular types of ways. So I would start with really being very mission focused in terms of what is it that you’re trying to achieve for individuals or for society or whatever your constituency of need or focus might be. Then secondly, once you think about that, we all have to naturally think about, well, what are the programs and services that we can execute that will be mission furthering? And then how are we going to fund it, right? Because you can make up as many great programs as you wish, but what are sources of revenue going to be to enable those programs that, you know, we believe will make a difference to be able to come to fruition and all programs require financial investment, as well as human investment in order to be able to do that.

Veta Richardson:

So assuming that, you know, you think about the competencies of the people that you need to execute. And that’s very, very important. I think sometimes that organizations can get a little bit too focused on one or the other meaning finances or people to help with execution and ignore one. But you have to be focused equally on both because if you don’t have good people to execute your programs in a highly professional way where you can demonstrate a return on the investment that someone may make through a contribution or a membership, then you’re going to be at a loss because you will find yourself in a situation where people like what you have to say. So they make that initial contribution. But the way that you execute is faulty or leave something to be desired. You don’t get an additional investment. So it becomes a one and done, and how I look at every relationship as a leader, whether it’s members, it’s board members, it’s people I interact with externally it’s people who fund sponsors.

Veta Richardson:

I don’t want any relationship to be one and done when you’re in the business of a nonprofit, trying to make a difference in communities. However you define your community focus may be, you have to be about building relationships for that organization, for the long-term. So when people make a donation as a leader, you have to be really mindful about the value that they receive back. If it’s someone who’s donating so that you can help a community in need, and all they want is the satisfaction of knowing that their dollars were well spent. You have to be about demonstrating to them what the positive impact you were able to make from their donations and those of others. So the first thing you want to do is to focus on your mission, be clear about who you’re wanting to serve, be focused on what programs or initiatives are going to be mission furthering to advance service to that community or constituency.

Veta Richardson:

And then thinking about how are you going to fund it, whether that’s through donation, you know, it could be through a membership model, but however, you are collecting a contribution, you have to think about how am I going to demonstrate back to the person who makes that contribution, whether it’s an annual membership dues or contribution underwriting program, or a service, how am I going to demonstrate back to those who have given me money, that there is value that we’ve created value and been good stewards of what they’ve entrusted us with. And only when you focus on that, do you have relationships that aren’t one and done, but that stick with you and that you can cultivate and advance for a longer term, but what’s important to your execution or the people who are in your organization and making sure that they’re engaged, that they’re delivering, they’re communicating and giving you what you need as a leader, to be able to manage those constituent relationships.

Nicole Campbell:

You have these core pillars that you’re using to build out this organization. And what I like is that you’re keeping at the core of all of that relationship building and value creation, right? Like what if this person does contribute money or their time? What is the value that they’re receiving in return? And a question I have for you, Veta, on all of that is what does infrastructure look like to support those things? When you think about infrastructure. And I know that that word is used a lot of different ways, but when I use it, I mean about your governance, thinking about what the board looks like, your governance structure, your operations or policies, practices that are turned into actual policies are formalized that way. And then how you’re structured, you know, are you a C6, a C3 externally, but also as you mentioned, like having the right people in the right heat, so to speak, so they have the right core competencies to actually do the work. Then you start to think about infrastructure that way. And what you mentioned in terms of this is what, as a leader, you should be focusing on, how does infrastructure come into play for that leader and for you as a leader of ACC?

Veta Richardson:

Yes. Well, infrastructure and governance are really important. And I, as a leader, you need to spend time proactively thinking about it, not just accepting structures that may have existed when you came into the role, you know, and if you are coming into a role fresh, that I would say coming into it fresh and having the opportunity to create the structure and governance approaches from the initial days of the organization, you have a gift. But for that, it’s going to take a lot more effort to look at how others who may be in similar space or doing similar service models, to be more curious into how are they structured or set up. So you can cherry pick the best. But when you come into an organization that already has existing structures, as I did, you’re looking at it more from a critical eye about how am I going to revamp or revise, not blow up and start again.

Veta Richardson:

So especially for an organization that was around for decades, by the time I was named its third CEO. So in that case, my challenge is I came into ACC, was that for more than in 10 years, ACC had set a goal of being a global organization, but for a variety of reasons, had not done well in ability to execute acute that vision. I believe that one of the key revamps or approaches ways that I looked at it that was different from ACC previously was, I went about focusing on the people to make sure that they had global competencies and more of a global perspective. So, if you’ve only thought about serving and doing business in the United States, it’s quite a shift to all of a sudden think that your service model is now going to address people whose experienced culturally language, legal jurisprudence structure is entirely different.

Veta Richardson:

Easy example is when we write in our publication Supreme Court, here in the U S everyone presumes, oh, everyone knows. We mean U.S. Supreme Court. Well, no, that’s not true because there is a Supreme Court equivalent that may not be called that. And that is very distinct and different in every nation around the world. And so it required with our own team, disrupting our own biases and presumptions that the team had come to have focused solely on serving a us and north American market for in-house counsel. So we had to do multi-cultural training. We had to think about how we hire people and what are the skills and backgrounds and competencies that we want people to have. Now, our interview process asks people about their global competencies. They can be demonstrated because they may have been born and educated outside the United States.

Veta Richardson:

They may be first immigrant from a first immigrant family. So they didn’t grow up necessarily in the United States and educated here. It may be someone who studied international studies and has more of a competency through academic, you know, training and focus, or it could be because the person’s traveled extensively and has spent time living or working outside the U.S. So those things are prized when we have people apply. Those are the resumes that, you know, move to the top of the list because we believe that they will come to the organization with greater sensitivity on serving, beyond our headquarters, geographic boundaries. And in addition for our board of directors, which was not nearly as global as our board is now, it meant that as we go through nominations process and think about people who will be invited to join our global board of directors that we do.

Veta Richardson:

So with building it to be a global board. So I’m really excited about the fact that previously you could probably have counted on one hand, the number of ACC board members over a span of almost 30 years. By the time I became CEO who had come and worked from outside the U.S. well, now you count the number. And it is so global that when we try to host a conference call, we’re trying to deal across eight or nine different time zones. And recently held our global board meeting. We had some board members in Pacific, us who are getting up at 5:00 AM for the two hour board meeting. And we had our members in Australia who were, you know, starting at 10:00 PM their time and all times in between. And so how you go about even scheduling those gatherings to have strategic discussions is a management issue in itself.

Veta Richardson:

But it’s one that we’re delighted about because having those diverse perspectives have made us such a better high performing organization. A little metric is when I started at ACC, we had about 29,000 members and about 28, 20 9,000 members. And our out of us presence was largely Europe and Canada, but it was around 9% outside the U.S. Today. Our presence has grown in, you know, about nine year span to 46,000. And our outside of us presence is about 25 or 26% of our global membership, which gets harder because every year, the denominator of how many members we have keeps going up. So to get that percentage to 25, it’s been really a journey for us. And one that’s enriched our association and allowed our members to really connect with their peers around the world, which is what they told us they wanted.

Nicole Campbell:

Everything you said about working globally really resonates with me. And it’s the reason that I love international work because it forces you to step outside yourself, so to speak and outside of your own box. And it forces you to keep in mind different perspectives is a constant reminder of that. So everything that you’ve said about why you think of that sort of global competence as important when you’re recruiting and trying to get people onto the ACC team and the board completely resumes with me, because I know just from working in that space, it’s very true. Even down to scheduling calls, like you’re constantly reminded, not just, you know, Eastern time, for example.

Veta Richardson:

I will also say Nic, what has been instrumental in making our team so diverse and high-performing is being purposeful about how we recruit. So when I came to ACC, they had a program where people would refer people that they knew and get paid a bonus. You know, if they refer to successful candidate, I didn’t want a friends and families sort of network, and I’m not criticizing that. But if you’re trying to move the composition of your group to have perspectives and abilities that are diverse and different having referral systems before you’re diverse, doesn’t get you there. You know, if we were to implement that now, given how diverse and there are like nine or 10 languages that are spoken within our staff, maybe more. Yes, but we’re ACC was versus where it is now to get there. We had to have open competition. We had to spread word about job opportunities as widely as we can. We specifically outreached to diverse communities of color as well, to make sure that when there is an opportunity, people would hear about it widely. And so we would get very, very high, highly capable applicants that we then were able to pick from among. And so we made it very competitive to get into our organization and are really pleased with the quality of people that we have as well as we’ve been able to bring on.

Nicole Campbell:

That definitely comes through, because what I’m hearing is just very deliberate. So it doesn’t just happen. And you say, well, we want this. And then it just organically happen if you’re being deliberate about it. And I think it’s really important that, like you said, you can’t have a diverse workforce, a diverse board, rich is just going to produce much better results for the organization, unless you are deliberate about that. We can’t just hope that into being, but I think you’ve come through very clearly that what ACC does is deliberate and it’s clearly working, right? When you have the increase in membership and also that significant increase in the diversity of that membership.

Veta Richardson:

Yeah, but, I’ll also say what this team has been able to achieve being so diverse. And high-performing when I first came to ACC our budget or our revenue was in the range of about 16 million. Now with COVID, it’ll be 23 million, but a normal year for us would be in the range of 26, 20 7 million for our budget. So that’s substantial growth and it would not have been achievable without such a diverse and high-performing team to really dig in and have competencies to serve a global membership.

Nicole Campbell:

You know, your responses and our conversation has just been so powerful because of the insights that you brought to that conversation. And I want to ask you a question to help us continue to build knowledge through books and people we should learn from or about in order to close us out. What book do you think we should read next? Or what artists do you think we should be paying attention to

Veta Richardson:

A book or an artist? What’s funny is there’s a book. It’s a really simple little book that I read all the time. And it has a companion book too, that I especially like. I read it more to remind myself about what’s possible. So the first one was ‘Who Moved My Cheese’. And I like it cause it’s just a fast little parable, but a professor from Harvard wrote a counter to it called ‘I Moved The Cheese’. And it’s more about how you are empowered to influence your environment. And that’s something that I spend time as a leader focused on. I like books that really help you as a leader, focus on understanding where you are, but also the awesome responsibility that you have to move an organization forward and not feel that COVID is doing this to us or the economy is doing that to us. But what is it that we can do notwithstanding these challenges to continue our mission, make a difference, stay well-funded. And that reminder of the awesome power that you have as a leader, to be central, to figuring that out and executing that those are the messages that I need as we face the challenges that we’re facing. So I find that most helpful and instructive.

Nicole Campbell:

I think they’re incredibly relevant for the times that we’re in now, where people are thinking hard about what can they do as individuals and to just have that reminder is critical. And so you mentioned ‘Who Moved My Cheese’ and that’s by Spencer Johnson.

Veta Richardson:

Yeah, and ‘I Moved The Cheese’.

Nicole Campbell:

And then we’ll put that in the show notes so everyone can have access to it. And again, you have shared such knowledge and insight that I think leaders across the sector can practically use in their own organizations to help them build bravely. And I think that that is where the difference is made. So not just this theory that people take in, but theory plus action. And I think you’ve done both so well today. So thank you again for your time and for joining us.

Veta Richardson:

Thank you, Nic. And I want to say to all the other women, particularly African-American women, who are in leadership roles too, the other resource that I would recommend that just reminds you of who you are and where we come from would be ‘Phenomenal Woman’ by Maya Angelou. That is a favorite poem of mine.

Nicole Campbell:

Agreed, thank you so much, Veta.

Veta Richardson:

Thank you. All right, bye.

-Upbeat Outro Music-

Nic Campbell:

Thank you for listening to this episode of Nonprofit Build Up. To access the show notes, additional resources, and information on how you can work with us, please visit our website at buildupadvisory.com. We invite you to listen again next week as we share another episode about scaling impact by building infrastructure and capacity in the nonprofit sector. Keep building bravely.