826 Seattle's Teri Hein: If I Were Mayor

How the head of the nonprofit after-school tutoring center would impose her benevolently dictatorial qualities on Seattleites.
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Teri Hein, Executive Director of 826 Seattle

How the head of the nonprofit after-school tutoring center would impose her benevolently dictatorial qualities on Seattleites.

Seattle mayor. It's a tough job, dogged by police reforms, a stretched budget and no end of public safety crises. And while there's mayoral criticism everywhere you look, it's not likely you'll come across much that's constructive. We'd like to change that. Over the next few months, Crosscut will be linking up with leaders across Seattle to ask them what they would do if they were elected mayor.

Next up, 826 Seattle's Teri Hein. Hein spends her days running a space-themed after-school writing and tutoring center that breathes creativity right alongside the discipline kids need to finish their homework. What would she do with the key to City Hall?

I should confess that I’d probably make a better benevolent dictator than mayor. I’m not that great at compromising or wading through bureaucracies and I’m impatient. I’ve always been rather attracted to the concept of benevolent dictators. Now, they can get great and innovative ideas pushed through quickly.

For instance I would make everyone in city government read Dan Pallotta’s “Charity Case.” This book is a breath of fresh air for we nonprofit leaders, who work extraordinarily hard to right the world under circumstances which aren’t always optimal for doing our best work. There is some tremendous talent in the nonprofit sector now. Imagine if we had the same salaries that are common in the for-profit world. How many more-qualified candidates we would have to choose from when we search for employees.

Imagine if all donations were given to us without the restrictions that often are part of the donation — such as no funds for salaries or rent. How can we do our work without paying salaries and rent? Imagine if nonprofits were free to raise money in the same way as for-profit businesses?  Imagine how much more effectively and efficiently we could accomplish our missions if we could borrow the most successful techniques from the for-profit world — including big advertising budgets.

As mayor (or benevolent dictator) of Seattle, I’d invite Dan Pallotta to town to talk to us about creating what he calls an Anti-Defamation League for Charity -– an organization that would advocate for the rights of nonprofits to pursue their work unfettered. This league would campaign to educate the public regarding things like the need for good, competitive salaries for nonprofit workers and the need to lift restrictions on how nonprofits raise money.

This league would help encourage the kind of entrepreneurial thinking that thrives in the for-profit sector and is needed in the non-profit sector in order to tackle the problems that directly affect the quality of all of our lives. Isn’t the work that nonprofits do — the work of educating our children and housing the homeless and ending hunger — exactly the work that should be as nimble, unobstructed and well-compensated as possible?

Want to read more? Check out last week's If I Were Mayor with TechStars' Managing Director Andy Sack.


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