Pat Potts

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Photo by Brent Fuchs

Pat Potts has a long history with nonprofit organizations. Besides cofounding the Potts Family Foundation in Oklahoma City with her husband, Ray, she also founded the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits, serving as president and CEO for more than 20 years. In addition, she was a founder of the Oklahoma Women’s Coalition and has served on many other boards in her attempt to help the community. While one of the earliest goals of the Potts Family Foundation was to help provide the support nonprofits need, the foundation has also focused on early childhood development and started the 25 by 25 program with the goal of raising Oklahoma’s ranking of early childhood well-being into the top 25 states in the country by 2025. We recently talked to Potts and got her thoughts on …

… starting the Potts Family Foundation.

I think part of starting the foundation had to do with this whole concept of paying it forward. We’ve been fortunate and really wanted to share to help others. We also wanted to share that with our kids and ultimately our grandkids, and so when we started the foundation, we set it up with that in mind. The majority of our board is community leaders, and that has really raised our game tremendously because we brought in so many outstanding leaders in our state. They have helped us expand our direction and our effectiveness.

… the 25 by 25 program.

As we had grant requests come in, we noted that we were spreading ourselves too thin and not focusing on the root cause of a lot of the problems we were trying to address. As we learned more, we came to the conclusion that we needed to focus on early childhood, and so our staff has been very involved in that over several years. I think one of the things that really pushed us in that direction was the awareness that 85 percent of the brain’s volume develops by the age of 3. The research is just overwhelming that what happens positively or negatively those first few years has a tremendous impact on outcomes later in life.

… the growth in the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits.

When [the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits] started, it had three employees and … less than $100,000 total budget. Now it has grown to where it is recognized all over the state as the premier expert in nonprofit management. They reach out to urban as well as rural nonprofits. Their membership now is well over 1,000, and I am also really proud of the fact that the Center for Nonprofits has, over the years since they’ve been offering the standards courses that certify that organizations have the policies and practices in place that should help assure their excellence, had 862 organizations statewide go through that. So the quality of the nonprofit sector has definitely been raised by the work that they’ve done.

… how any adult can help the community.

In Oklahoma, around 30 percent of our people vote. It is really among the lowest in voter engagement among all the states. I think that’s one thing people can do to be involved and make a difference. They can do more to make themselves knowledgeable about the issues and get in touch with their legislators and let them know that they care and what they’re concerned about. Democracy really depends on hearing from all walks of life.

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