Faith SandlerLeadership, Words of Faith

Outgoing Board President Buron Buffkin and newly elected Board President Lauren Nash Ming, pictured at the 2019 League of Student Advocates conference

The cycle is predictable and yet seems to surprise us each three years. A beloved board president steps down and a new and heretofore lesser-known individual takes the helm. Because this board works (and works collectively), this shift in leadership always signals progress. And, because former presidents serve as honorary life directors, the change in chair does not ever fully indicate farewell. The presidency of Buff Buffkin was historic, for conditions he did not create and for responses he shaped and nurtured as leaders do. Here is his last address to our board and staff, delivered June 1 at our annual board meeting:

At our annual meeting, we celebrate the ritual of welcoming new members and say goodbye to those who are rotating off the board.  This year, the meeting marks the end of my three years as the 18th Board President of this incomparable organization.

When asked to serve, I was inclined to say no. I know my skills and competencies and made a very successful career serving in supporting roles.  But after discussing the opportunity with my husband Donn (who apparently thinks I’m capable of anything), I accepted. As it turns out, this position has been the capstone and most rewarding work of my entire career.

As I sought to find my footing, there was a vast institutional network to support me. Barb Touchette as the immediate past president was most encouraging.  Lynne Kipnis – also a past president — described with perfect precision what each of the three years would feel like. And Executive Director Faith Sandler and the incredible team of leaders she has assembled were there at every step to support, to cajole, and most importantly to encourage.

What this 100-year-old organization offers to its board members is the combination of an incredible team of experts full of passion, hope, and purpose; an equally passionate donor community; and what I describe as the “board of boards,” unmatched anywhere in the not-for-profit world. That support network is why I looked forward to every single day of these past three years. I have been challenged to live up to a level of performance I’ve never seen any other organization aspire to, much less achieve. It’s made me a better person.

The Foundation’s centennial coincided with my term as president, and the prospects were intimidating. I shouldn’t have worried. The team assembled to plan several celebratory events was seasoned and expert.  Our kick-off event on a January evening brought snow and sleet in typical St Louis fashion.  But this Scholarship Foundation community is not a timid bunch, and we turned out in numbers that well exceeded our expectations. When COVID hit our region a short two months later, this organization remained laser focused on our mission. We adapted in remarkable ways.  We cancelled celebratory events and doubled down in support of our students who were disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Future reflections of our centennial in the context of the global pandemic will not dwell on cancelled events. They will highlight the remarkable ways the staff, the board, and our donor community rallied in support of our students.

Whatever success I’ve enjoyed over these past years I attribute to my well-honed skills of getting out of the way and letting leaders lead. Those leaders include every member of the staff who wear their hearts and souls on their sleeves, and a board who has consistently showed up and stepped up. 

You may have read on social media the “Why I Serve” pieces by Foundation board members. They have inspired me as I know they’ve inspired you. But in my term as President, I have been served more than I have served; I have learned more than I have taught; and I have been gifted more than I have given.

Along with the rest of our board, I welcome Lauren Nash Ming as the 19th Board President of the Scholarship Foundation of St Louis. I know that Lauren will feel the same enveloping love and support I’ve felt these past three years. Leaders lead.  We are in very good hands.