The Dean of Giving

Nancy Pace discusses the importance of volunteerism

May, 2007

In 2001, Nancy Pace took her 11- and 13-year-old children to Thailand to do some volunteer work in Thai prisons and its remote villages. It was the kids’ first time on one of “mom’s trips,” but volunteer travel is hardly a foreign concept to Nancy, a doctor, whose work has led her all over the world, from Africa to the Philippines. Whether it’s abroad, or right here in Hawaii, where Nancy provides consulting services to local nonprofits, she says it’s never too early—or too late—to start giving back.

Nancy Pace on volunteerism
I think there’s no age that’s too young to be involved in volunteerism, even if it’s teaching your kids to pick up trash off the ground. It’s also really important to have them actually do it, because you can tell them they’ll feel better about themselves if they volunteer, but they begin to really understand it when they do it themselves. My daughter and I went to Africa this past summer and did a medical mission, and it made an incredible impression on her life. One night, she said to me, “Mom, these people have nothing. They have no food, no running water, no electricity. They have dengue fever and malaria and they’ve got AIDS – and yet they’re the happiest people I’ve ever seen. Americans have everything, and they’re miserable.” That’s the kind of lesson you want your kids to learn, I think.

On becoming a nonprofit consultant
When my husband [Mel Kaneshige] and I had kids, I got involved with the Junior League of Honolulu and learned professional volunteerism. I learned to read budgets, speak in public, create projects and make sure the projects succeeded and had funding. I did their first fund-raiser back in 1990. That’s how I learned fund-raisers. Then I started consulting around ’96 and began to teach other people how to run boards and nonprofits more effectively, whether it be through communication styles, fiscal setup, fund raising, board management or strategic planning. It isn’t all glamourous, but it’s important because nonprofits are just a sector we can’t do without.

On being a working mom
It is really a challenge in terms of priority setting. And I’ve got a working husband also. But our philosophy is that God is No. 1 in our life, family is No. 2 and work is No. 3. Sometimes when that gets out of order, we can feel it right away. Once I was on seven or eight boards and my kids were 3 and 5. I remember writing down what I was doing for my kids and what I was doing for the community and I thought, ‘Something’s wrong here.’ I had to learn how to discipline myself to stay home with the kids when they’re at home – and for me, that’s really hard, because I love to work. And my husband’s the same way. He loves to work. So our challenge is disciplining ourselves to stay home and be with the kids and take care of them first.

On the elderly
I think we don’t pay enough attention to the elderly. In Europe and in other countries, the elders are revered for their wisdom and experience. And I think oftentimes we really ignore them. Elderly can be involved in volunteerism in so many different ways. Reading to kids, for example. Everybody remembers grandma and grandpa being really sweet and kind, and climbing into their laps for a story. I would also get them involved with speaking, just talking story about their lives. There are so many stories that we’re losing because we’re not listening. If we can offer our elderly those possibilities – even transportation to and from – it not only enhances their lives, but it enhances the lives of the kids or anyone they’re involved with. What a great generational bridge.

On overcrowding
There was a study done many years ago about rats in a maze. The more rats you put in, the more chaotic the behavior becomes. That concerns me a lot with Hawaii. Coming back from a meeting this morning at 8:30, the freeway was still like a parking lot. That’s very concerning to me. Because I think the more people we get here, combined with the hot weather and other social elements, all those things add up to a deep sense of frustration. And if we don’t address these issues, I think we’re in for some big challenges.

On leadership vs. management
There’s a very, very large difference between leadership and management, and I think we have the two confused in our society. Management is putting the square peg in the square hole and the round peg in the round hole. Just moving forward very logically. Leadership is not about directing or managing people. It’s about being charismatic and inspiring and getting others to follow you because they believe in your ideas. Leadership is also having the vision and taking the bold step to be able to change something even if it may not be the popular thing to do. Very often, managers are thought of as leaders, and that’s where we get into trouble and why companies get into ruts.

On generation gaps
[Baby Boomers] are typically very loyal to an organization. Gen X and Gen Y would like to have more immediate, tangible results. They want to volunteer and get out. Nonprofit organizations have to realize it’s time to turn on the dime or you’re going to lose your membership. For example, our church has taken a whole new approach to youth. Our pastor went way out on a limb and said we were going to have a youth pastor and a totally different service with music that attracts young people. My pastor said he was getting some complaints, but I told him this is the best thing he could do. We need Gen X and Gen Y if we’re going to sustain the organization for the next 20, 30, 40 years. I think that is probably one of our generation’s major mistakes – we’re not looking at how to engage the younger people in what we do. And not engage them with what we want them to do but engage them with what they want to do.


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