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June 24, 2013 Shop Talk

Q&A With Angela Bovill Of Lutheran Social Services

Angela Bovill, President and CEO, Lutheran Social Services

Five years ago, Angela Bovill made a critical career decision to leave the more lucrative corporate world for that of nonprofits, where mission tends to matter more than salary. After 17 years at IDEXX Laboratories, she moved to Lutheran Social Services as its CFO. This year, she ascended to the role of CEO of the Worcester-based social services organization.

You made a big career change from a profit to a nonprofit in 2008. What drove that decision?

Sometimes at the end of the day, when you try to figure out who benefited from all this, you ask yourself, “Are you doing anything that really matters? Did the world improve because I existed today?” So when I looked at it then, I had to say no. I had to know that the shareholders were benefiting. I'm really good at making money … but it's empty work. I loved it but what I really wanted to do was to make a difference in this world. And I have never looked back. Best decision I ever made; probably the scariest one.

How did your experience with IDEXX prepare you for this role?

This is a business. Yes it is a nonprofit, but (in) a nonprofit, it's even more critical that you understand how to manage it like it needs to be managed. We have 1,600 employees across six states. It's a very complicated business, so if you don't have the business background to run it, I'm not sure how you could succeed.

You have an MBA, and we recently published an article that addressed the need for business education for those in non-profit leadership roles. Do you advocate that from where you sit?

Absolutely! As a matter of fact (recently) I was consolidating our corporate budget. We had to make the decisions about what we were going to do and not do. I said to myself, at the end of the day: “Thank God my background is in finance and that I have a background in running operations or (I) wouldn't be able to look at all this and have any idea what you were talking about.”

Your organization tackles a lot of social issues. Which would you say are the most troubling?

I think the most troubling is the funding source for the social issues that we deal with these days … the government. The government tends to pay for part of the solution to a problem (such as homelessness) and not all of it. And what I see and what troubles me the most is it doesn't solve the problem. So, in fact, we, like many other nonprofits, become part of the problem, not a part of the solution. Because if all we're able to do is just enough to keep people where they are, then what solution is that, really? So our mission and our vision is shifting dramatically this year, to leveraging what we get from the government but adding transformational and transitional programming and innovative solutions that take people from the end of the government funding and bring them to the point where they're all the way on their feet.

There was a financial turnaround last year after two straight years of losses. Was that a function of the economy?

No, definitely not. Our financial turnaround here was actually three years in the making, from the year that I came in and we started the process … to really streamline the way we do everything. We consolidated all of our overhead operations. We stripped out all excess spending in insurance (and) our health care programs.

If there’s one social problem your organization tackles that doesn’t get sufficient attention, what is it and why?

I think it would be transition programming: helping a population long enough to make a real difference, and that could apply to a lot of different groups of people. But the ones that pop to mind — foster care and refugees and young single moms and at-risk youth — are all in that category, where the work that we do, that we all collectively think as a community is enough, isn't.


Shop Talk - Angela Bovill, Lutheran Social Services of New England

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