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Supporting a Community Changemaker

Walt Zerrenner and Zak from the equine memory cafe

Walt Zerrenner makes the Fox Cities a better place to live.

Walt and his late wife Aline (pictured above) attended the first Memory Café at the Appleton Atlas Coffee Mill in 2012. They had such a positive experience that Walt joined the Fox Valley Memory Project (FVMP) Executive Coordinating Committee. Walt and the committee worked on strategic planning, growing resources, and eventually achieving 501(c)3 tax status to create the nonprofit Fox Valley Memory Project (FVMP).

As FVMP put together its board of directors, they approached Walt to be the board development chairperson. Even though Walt had a long successful career in health information systems working with large, savvy nonprofit boards filled with the highest-level CEOs in corporate America, he shared, “I really didn’t know much about small nonprofit governing boards.”

As a lifelong learner, Walt began doing research, which led him to the Nonprofit Leadership Initiative (NPLI).

NPLI’s Leadership Institute, a year-long educational program for nonprofit leaders, provided helpful information on bylaws, and board members’ roles and responsibilities. Additional research led Walt to NPLI’s Nonprofit Next, an online resource filled with tools, tips and downloadable templates, including his favorite – the Board Expectations Agreement.

Walt admits there were challenges as the FVMP board went from 18 members to six after he asked individuals to sign the Board Member Agreement and commit to the role required of board members. But it was the work he did with what is now a 13-member board which brings a broad smile to his face.

Walt with Harper Smith

“The FVMP has gone from a part-time executive director with a budget less than $100,000 to a full-time executive director, eight staff and over $800,000 in grant funding,” said Walt, who is now retired from the board.

Walt continues to access NPLI’s learning resources by participating in Board Roundtables and is a graduate of the Board Academy. “What I learned during the Board Academy session on financial leadership was very beneficial,” he said. “Boards shouldn’t focus on every detail of the finances, and the course taught us how to focus on organizational stability. If I can take away one thing that improves my organization, it is worth my time.”

Board service is a passion for Walt, and he uses the knowledge he’s gained to make a difference on the boards of the Fox Valley Veterans Council, BEAMING Inc. and Unity Recovery Services.

When asked what surprised him about his board service journey, he said, “I found out it wasn’t so hard to ask for money. I learned to say, ‘let me tell you why we do it.’ I talk about the smiles that happen because of our work and the differences we’re seeing in people. It’s so important for board members to be involved in the mission because that makes it easy to share success stories.”

Coincidentally, that is exactly the message NPLI shares in our board member fundraising courses. To learn more about becoming involved on a board and the educational support services NPLI provides, visit

Annette Look, NPLI Program and Communications Manager

The Nonprofit Leadership Initiative within the Community Foundation is a partnership of Fox Valley-area nonprofits, funders, educational institutions and businesses dedicated to providing resources needed by effective nonprofit boards and executive leaders. NPLI offers a wide range of leadership, management and technical skill-building programs, as well as peer learning circles, to the entire nonprofit sector in the Fox Valley.

We support  NPLI with a grant from the Community Vision Fund within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, one among many community partners supporting NPLI. Click here to learn more.

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