Nonprofit Graduate Laurie Miller

Laurie Miller, Director Sumner Downtown Association
talks about the UW Tacoma Nonprofit Certificate Program

Article by: Jacob Bush, KBPDC staff writer, August 2013

Laurie Miller, Nonprofit GraduateThe KeyBank Professional Development Center at the University of Washington Tacoma impacts many diverse public and private organizations throughout the Puget Sound. It does this primarily through the professional education it provides students and most notably through the knowledge they return to shape their organizations with.

One such organization is the Sumner downtown association (SDA). By hosting annual events like the Rhubarb Days Festival, Classy Chassis car show and the 40th Annual Arts Festival, the Sumner downtown association’s aim is to promote and preserve the historic downtown as the heart of Sumner. The organization wants to create a desirable place to work, shop, and live by reviving the once vibrant community life that defined Main Streets across America.

Once the Sumner Downtown Association Board approved the 2013 budget, they had moved a few steps closer toward accomplishing these goals. They chose to send their executive director, Laurie Miller (pictured above on the right with instructors Alan Strand and Kristina Mayer), to take advanced professional courses at the KeyBank Professional Development Center.

Up to this point Miller had attended a number of nonprofit continuing education seminars that offered little information that she either already knew or that came straight from a textbook. Following the board’s decision however, Miller welcomed the opportunity to study at UW Tacoma.

“Personally I believe that continuing education is mandatory. Programs change, economies change, and this was an opportunity to educationally enhance the Sumner Downtown Association and Board,” Miller said.

Miller enrolled in the nine month Nonprofit Management Certificate Program focused on performance management, nonprofit leadership, financial management, fundraising and resource development, planning, evaluation and social entrepreneurship. Within six months Miller had finished the program, and with that became the first nonprofit management student certified by the University of Washington Tacoma.

“You can learn, but if you don’t use that knowledge, it’s wasted,” Miller said. Next, Miller turned her attention toward applying her newly acquired knowledge. Drawing upon the lessons from the performance management class, she began rethinking some of the Sumner Downtown Association’s procedures. “The Sumner Downtown Association was not in the habit of measuring our successes or determining what did or didn’t work when it came to events, activities or even our accomplishments when it came to board/director successes. The performance management course helped me determine the absolute necessity of documenting, monitoring and measuring our outcomes to improve our future efforts,” Miller said.

Sumner Downtown Association President Barbara Riske noted the boards well placed investment as well. “She’s been good at implementing volunteer training, it’s been a process of education and implementation to the benefit of the board and downtown association,” Riske said. From her volunteer management course Miller immediately mobilized board members and volunteers to prepare for the upcoming Rhubarb days festival. She engaged and improved her volunteers’ orientation ten-fold as she kept in mind the performance management mantra, “begin with the end in mind.” Including of course Miller’s personal touch, “the big things are in the little things, there is a big difference in being invested and vested in something.”

Awaiting Miller’s recently acquired insights are the several events and projects the downtown association has and is eager to implement such as: hanging flower baskets, mural restorations, several merchant based events, the summer Fine Arts Festival, the Halloween Street of Treats as well as their annual commitment to manage and store the Sumner community Daffodil float. Without this float, neither Bonney Lake nor Sumner High Schools could have a Daffodil princess. This contribution alone costs $16- 20,000 annually.

Last year the SDA invested approximately $127,000 into the Sumner community including all events and community development projects they initiated. Even though it is only halfway through the year, projections indicate that improvement based investments have reached far above $50,000. This cost is due in part to the costs of promoting and bringing events to town, as well as an upcoming eight speaker public announcement system that will be used during the holiday season by store owners.

“People can often become complacent in the nonprofit industry, and that’s why it’s so important to always try to develop skills with continuing education,” Miller said. “As a non-profit professional, who has worked in nonprofit for over 10 years, I was surprised to learn that with all my experience I didn’t really know everything about this industry or my role as a director. In fact, most of what was learned and applied helped me improve my knowledge of board development and their roles, establish our volunteer and board orientations, educate me on stronger financial management and especially a stronger performance measurement evaluation.”

For more information on the Sumner Downtown Association please call or visit: (253) 891.4260 906 Kincaid Avenue Sumner Washington 98390