Susan Gurley, executive director of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), is an attorney and non-profit leadership and strategic planning expert from Washington, DC. She has senior leadership experience in international development and higher education administration, and has worked in 30 countries. She is the executive director of an international non-profit that addresses mental illness.
In 2015, Susan volunteered on an USAID-funded project to advise the leadership team of a Cambodian women’s health organization to bring its administrative, operational and compliance practices up to standards required to program U.S. Government funds to help the organization become eligible to receive USAID funding.
Her larger goal was to help it develop a fundraising strategy to remain viable even in the absence of donor funding. Over 2 one-month assignments, she mentored and led the team through changes related to board governance and management of human resources, operational and financial systems and communications. Her experience as a non-profit executive director, understanding the complexity of juggling multiple donors’ requirements, helped her demonstrate the advantage of setting up systems to better track compliance. Volunteers willing to spend a month helping an organization are also willing to go the extra mile, Susan says. “We are not on the clock and will work as long as it takes to get the job done.”
She recommended policy changes, but worked to make sure the changes were a good fit culturally. Female executive directors in Cambodia have few peers they can talk to for guidance, and Susan quickly became that peer, finding there are commonalities to the job no matter the country. That peer relationship has lasted long past her assignment, and she continues to talk with the Cambodian executive director regularly, both to offer advice and as friends. Her interaction with her Cambodian counterparts has given her a different perspective and taught her how to be a better leader.
I think volunteering is key to a professional person’s experience. I believe my being a volunteer has helped my counterparts in Cambodia embrace volunteerism [and] I am hopeful that it has attracted my professional friends to become volunteers.
– Susan Gurley, volunteer