MEET TRACY BYARS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, JW HOUSE – KEEPING FAMILIES TOGETHER DURING MEDICAL CRISIS
SVT: What is JW House and what do you do there?
TB: JW House is a hospitality house on the Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara campus. We keep families together during medical crisis by offering a welcoming home just steps away from the hospital, and by providing a caring and compassionate environment that inspires hope.
JW House began in 2004 as the dream of young Jan-Willem (JW) Knapen, a boy who survived leukemia as a toddler only to be diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer as a teenager. Unhappy that his family had to be separated while he underwent treatment in the hospital, JW worked with his oncologist, Dr. Wong, at Kaiser Santa Clara on the idea of a house for families to be near their children in the hospital.
Although terminally ill, JW raised $10,000 in initial seed money. The community then embraced JW and rallied behind him to raise over $2.3 million dollars to build the house. Although JW passed away in 2005, the community was inspired by his determination and positive outlook to complete his dream home for families facing medical crisis. The first guests of JW House were housed in December, 2008, and since that time we have served over 1,500 families–approximately 4,700 individuals.
As the new Executive Director here, I am thrilled to be joining a wonderful community of volunteers, donors, board members and staff who care deeply about caring for the caregiver. After all, though we’re told “put your own oxygen mask on first,” few of us are able to do so in times of crisis. The result is we’re more stressed and less present for our loved ones.
While I will be responsible for overseeing JW House operations, my primary responsibility will be to coordinate and lead efforts to grow the organization and increase its capacity to serve even more families facing medical crisis.
SVT: How would you describe your leadership style?
TB: I call it “compassionate collaboration” and believe it’s really the only way to work these days. Each one of us can make a difference, but we can really only change the world by combining our skills and energies with others. When we do, the results expand exponentially. It’s important to remain compassionate because, let’s face it, collaboration can sometimes be difficult. With compassion comes patience, understanding and the realization that we all want to help change or save lives, make a difference and make the world a better place.
SVT: Would you say you live to work or work to live?
TB: Well, as much as I hate to admit it, I would say I live to work. Of course I enjoy “play” too, but I really have fun at work. I enjoy meeting challenges, working with others, and feel deeply satisfied with a job well done. I’ve also learned that no matter what I do for a living, I tend to throw myself in 100%, and on the rare occasions I’ve had breaks from a paid position, I find projects and throw myself into those. Because of this tendency (some may call it being type A) I decided about 13 years ago to devote myself exclusively to nonprofit causes or missions that I connect with and that are aligned with my values. When you have a position in an organization that matches up with your values then you can devote your whole self to it. And when you fully commit to something, you’re “all in” and the rewards are astounding.
SVT: What are your greatest challenges and what do you love most about what you do?
TB: Well, I’m brand new at JW House so I don’t know yet what challenges I may face. I’m sure there will be some, but so far I’ve been very impressed with the operation as well as the board and staff members I’ve met. What I love most about working in the nonprofit sector is the feeling that what I do matters. Whether it’s inspiring philanthropy and seeing a donor thrilled to be making a difference in someone’s life, or creating policy and procedures that facilitate some type of valued service, I can connect what I do with how I’m making a positive impact in someone’s life.
SVT: How did you make the shift from the corporate, for-profit world to working in
nonprofits, and what advice would you give to others seeking to do the same?
TB: I shifted to the nonprofit sector in 2002 by following one of my passions, which led me to the Executive Director position at the Horse Park at Woodside. Having been involved for many years as a volunteer with a nonprofit equestrian youth organization, I followed my love of horses and capitalized on the connections I had made in the horse world to help me land that position.
The most important piece of advice I can give people seeking to move into the nonprofit world is: Don’t underestimate it! Many people in “corporate America” either think there’s little difference between them and nonprofits, or think that if they’ve had success in the for-profit world their skills will easily translate to the nonprofit sector. Not so! There are many differences and much to learn. However, the good news is that there are many wonderful resources to guide you, from the Association of Fundraising Professionals, to CompassPoint, to BoardSource and many, many more. Search online, read, attend conferences, workshops, network, and join the groups and associations that make the most sense for you.
SVT: Did you think growing up you would be doing what you’re doing?
TB: Certainly not! One of the little jokes in the nonprofit world is that no one dreams of becoming a fundraiser. We all just find ourselves here one day. However, I was raised in a wonderful church community in Santa Barbara where giving back and serving others was instilled in me at an early age. I believe that’s the genesis of my desire to make a difference in the lives of others, and what I love about fundraising is that I can make a difference not only in the life of the receiver but in the life of the giver as well. It’s a great feeling to connect a donor with their passion and help THEM help others.
SVT: Who in the nonprofit world has inspired you the most?
TB: There are so many inspiring people. It’s hard to pick one. I’ve probably read everything Jerrold Panas has ever written. Then there are specific experts in specialized areas, such as Mal Warwick who’s an expert in direct mail fundraising, and Tom Ahern who specializes in donor communications. Certainly Lynne Twist, Kay Sprinkel Grace and Kim Klein are each very inspiring in their own ways, and I’ve been impressed recently by Claire Alexrad. All these women are local to the San Francisco Bay Area too!
SVT: What in your past prepared you for your current position?
TB: I love a role where I can use 100% of myself, of what I’ve learned, know and have become. I can tell already that as Executive Director of JW House I’ll be using it all. I began my career in television at KTVU-TV in Oakland, then built my own small service business, worked in a change management consulting firm and learned meeting facilitation, then built a marketing department for a large corporate insurance and consulting firm – all before making the move to the nonprofit world. From my service orientation, to my entrepreneurial approach, to specific skills in marketing communications, meeting facilitation, management, leadership and fundraising, I look forward to using it all.
Tracy M. Byars
Tracy has broad experience in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors. Her nonprofit and fundraising experience was built on a solid base of marketing communications, business development, public relations and events management experience in the for-profit sector. Since 2002, Tracy has focused on nonprofit management and fundraising, including annual and major gifts; planned giving; donor cultivation, solicitation and stewardship; volunteer recruitment and recognition; grants acquisition; strategic partnerships; and board development. In 2009, she achieved the Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) designation, the recognized standard of excellence in fundraising.
Considered a start-up specialist, she opened a small service business in 1989 (still in business today), created a marketing department in a large corporation, built a multi-million dollar consulting practice from the ground up, launched the institutional advancement function at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, and is now setting her sights on growing JW House to bring hope, hospitality and healing to more families enduring medical crisis.
A member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), she is an active member of the Silicon Valley chapter and enjoys serving as a mentor to young fundraisers in the area.
JW House 3850 E. Homestead Road, Santa Clara, CA 95051 (408) 246-2224 www.jwhouse.org