2017 has been a year of awards for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas, with the most recent award going to BBBS’ CEO Brent Fields, who was just named the Austin Business Journal’s Non-Profit CEO of the Year. In the past twelve months, BBBS of Central Texas has received recognition as an Austin Business Journal Best Place to Work, a BBBS National Gold Standard Agency award winner, a BBBS National Agency of the Year finalist, and a recipient of BBBS’ National Board of the Year award.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say that this recognition has been great,” Brent said. “We – the staff, the board, our donors, our volunteers, our families, and our community partners – have been working hard for years. We didn’t just suddenly start getting it right. We’re just fortunate that at this moment in time we are really seeing the fruit of our labor.”
“This recognition means a lot to me personally because I think for years now a number of people have been trusting me, trusting our team, and trusting our vision,” Brent continued. “I love that so many of our supporters can feel they’ve made the right investment, and that our work provides a good return on their trust and support.”
Brent became CEO of BBBS of Central Texas in 2008 at a critical time for the agency. “When I came on board the agency had been in existence for 35 years and was well respected in the community. I found there was tremendous passion for the mission and that the agency had just come through an aggressive growth period relative to the number of kids served,” Brent explained. “Unfortunately, that growth was not sustainable. It required more infrastructure than the agency could afford, so we were immediately in crisis repair mode.”
To get the agency onto stable financial ground Brent utilized what at the time he considered his greatest strength – knowing what he didn’t know. “When I came on board, I spent a lot of time listening, observing and assessing,” Brent said. “During my first days I was just trying to get my arms around the state of the organization, even bringing in an outside group to do an audit. That helped me quickly identify what our business should be, and what was most urgent in my role.”
In the decade since, the agency has evolved into a stark contrast of it’s former self. “Ten years ago we were in a building in need of repair, and now we’re in this amazing, beautiful, intentionally designed facility that not only suits our needs today, but will for decades to come,” Brent continued. “When I started, we had unpaid bills and little cash on hand. Now, we have what are considered to be best operating practices, operational reserves, and a $5 million dollar building that is paid for.
According to every metric you look at, whether related to staff, board, infrastructure, performance, morale, or programmatic outcomes, we’ve seen an amazing transformation. And this is not just because of my tenure. It’s because of all of the things that staff, donors, board members, volunteers, families and supporters have contributed to our work over the years.”
Some of Brent’s most meaningful memories at the agency revolve around those who have contributed. “I’ve been serving in some sort of leadership role for several decades, and some of the most treasured experiences I’ve had are things I’ve seen and experienced at BBBS,” Brent recalled. “I remember staff and board members and supporters enduring some really difficult days. People who hung in there with us and who showed they cared. Who believed that we would come out of the storm and that we would see better days. I remember that.”
Another memorable event occurred soon after Brent became the new CEO and decided to become a Big Brother. “I was semi turned down,” Brent laughed. “When I joined the agency I was immediately struck by the power of mentoring. So, it seemed logical that I should become a Big. I wanted to walk the talk. I told the program staff that I wanted to become a Big Brother and they said, ‘We’ll begin the process.’ In one of the enrollment interviews I noticed that the interviewer wanted to say something, but that she was uncomfortable. I finally said, ‘I feel a tension here. Could you just say what’s bothering you?’ And she said, ‘Well, Mr. Fields, I’m not sure you should be a Big Brother right now.’”
“I said, ‘Really? Could you tell me more about that?’ and she said, ‘You just became our new CEO, you’re a new dad to your third child, and you have a lot going on. Is this really the right time for you to take on a mentoring relationship with a vulnerable child who needs your full attention?’” Brent said. “And you know, the minute she uttered those words, I knew she was absolutely right. I went home that night disappointed that I shouldn’t be a Big at that time, but I’ve never been more proud of our program and of how we put kids’ needs first. That is a great example of the thought and intention that goes into what we do.”
A year or two later Brent did become a Big, when the time was right. “To this day, being a Big has been one of the most transformational experiences of my life,” Brent continued. “But it does say a lot about fit and timing. And we’re really good at figuring that out and at helping people determine when the time to volunteer is right.”
Getting it right. Making an impact in a child’s life. It’s one of the things Brent loves about BBBS. “So many non-profits define their success in terms of how big their budget is or how many clients they serve,” Brent said. “I love that we don’t just count activities and clients, but we count impact. I think it’s crucial in this day and age when there is so much need and it’s so important to use every dollar wisely, that you know what kind of impact you’re having. It’s not enough that we serve 1,000 kids a year, it’s important that we know we’re making a difference in their lives. I love that about this organization. It’s what gets me up in the morning and makes me excited about being here.”
“And I love sharing with people that at the end of the day our highest calling, our greatest obligation is to these students and their family members,” Brent concluded. “We can’t afford to get it wrong. We can’t take shortcuts. I’m really proud of that.”
“In the past year, we have moved into a new facility. We have developed some new programs and initiatives. We have a dedicated, highly skilled staff in place. Our model of mentoring provides life-changing benefits for children, families and volunteers, and our program metrics are at an all-time high. With all of these ingredients in place, our greatest challenge, and our greatest opportunity, is to raise the funds that will allow us to serve more kids.”
“We have a lot to be thankful for, and much to look forward to.”
See our video interview with Brent Fields here