Jon Gail, An Extraordinary Life

Jon Gail, An Extraordinary Life

By Harvey Gail, Jon’s older brother, given at the memorial service for Jon Gail, August 7, 2017.  Jon died of a heart attack at 10:38 pm, on July 21. His memorial service was held in Memorial Park in Wilsonville, OR on August 7 at 10 am. Over 500 people attended the service. I was one of the speakers. Here are my comments. 


On July 21, Jon’s hearth stopped and he was gone. They said his heart was simply broken. Now mine is.

I saw him one last time. As I held his hand I told him he was an amazing brother, a wonderful father and husband to Bonnie, and a friend.

Jon’s extraordinary life came to an end that night and we are all left to try to make sense of it all. So here goes.

As his brothers, we had a unique perspective. We were a product of the 1970’s, when kids just ran around outside, and did stupid stuff. Our home was the woods, the orchard, a river and our escape was on skateboards, bikes and skis.

Jon was the not quite middle kid… not the smallest, not the oldest, so he always wanted to be a part of what everyone else was doing. He always wanted others to be included, he wanted to help, not be left out.

Jon was probably envious of his older brothers. That, based on the observation that that he was always right there asking, what’s going on? Well, were washing the dog, want to help? So, 7-year-old Jon Charles Gail was given a bottle of Joy soap and a brush and sent into the kennel with the 100-pound St. Bernard. Instructions: dump on the soap and brush him off. Don’t worry, I’ll hose him off.  To keep the dog from running away and Jon from quitting, we put them both in the kennel. Eventually Jon opened the kennel door and let a giant ball of soap scamper off into the orchard to roll in the dust. Soaked and freezing, Jon enthusiastically ran to tell the housekeeper the dog was clean and could finally be allowed into the house.

When we were kids, Jon wanted to be part of our little clubs. We had a lot of clubs. One, called the roofengoat club allowed kids access to the roof at the house in Newberg (sorry Dad). Like all the clubs, there was some kind of entry fee or initiation required. So, when Andy wanted to be part of the club Riley DeBenedetti and I told him he could be in the club if he ran around the house naked and made us peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwiches. So, he did and as Andy was running around the house naked, there, about 10 yards behind and running as fast as he could was Jon Gail, also naked but not knowing why he was doing it. It just looked like fun.

I have to believe these little incidents, that only a brother could provide, added to Jon’s character. When we climbed trees and roofs, he did, and sometimes fell out.  I’m positive sending little Jon Gail out in the first wave of kids for our Annual Wolves and People game sharpened his character in some way. When we built a fort, he wanted to help.

When we played soccer so did Jon, eventually very well. He played way better than his older brothers, and was a role model for Peter growing up. Jon coached dozens of kids. He loved the Portland Timbers. Yesterday at the Timbers game, the Timbers Army paid tribute to one of their own. A salute to Jon Gail and the beautiful game.

Then, as in all families, we kids started to drift off to whatever we were doing. I went off to college at the U of O and when I came back Jon had grown up. Then our friendship began. Maybe it was during those summers when I was home. Maybe it started on that trip to USCD in La Joya. Probably on that all-nighter in TJ. I met Bonnie back then and I immediately knew they would be together forever.

Jon and I have done so many things together. Fishing in Alaska, a trip to the world cup game against Brazil at Stanford stadium, dozens of Timbers games. U of O football games, the Rose bowl, and an epic trip to the Ducks national championship game driving across the Arizona desert. Cabin trips, kids’ birthday parties… family stuff.

During all these times, after the giggling, laughs, impressions and jokes settled down, I learned about the extraordinary life Jon had. He has a beautiful family. He had an impactful career. He helped countless people own a home for the first time, including our older brother Barney. He helped build confidence in people that they could do it. He developed programs to help people. He launched a website to help people buy homes for the first time.

And here in this beautiful park, I see how Jon helped the City of Wilsonville be a home to people. That was Jon Charles Gail. Wanting to be part of something. Wanting to build family, to inspire community.

Jon’s extraordinary life came to an end two weeks ago. But his heart never really stopped, it beats in all of us. His heart lives on in his wife and sons, his family and friends, and his community. His contagious optimism and love are still present. While we are all deeply saddened by his passing, know that we will get through this day and remember Jon Gail as an example of humanity at its best.




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Seven Secrets Your Executive Director Knows

By G. Harvey Gail, MBA

Spire Management

If you are new to a board of directors, likely you have a lot of questions. Hopefully, that orientation meeting you attended answered some of them, but it’s just as likely that it created more questions than it answered. That’s not a fault of the orientation meeting. Nonprofits face complicated management challenges that often rival those of for profit businesses.

One characteristic of a great board member is they ask the right questions at the right time. You want to be a productive board member or you wouldn’t have volunteered to be on the board. SO you’re ready to ask some questions of your fellow board members.

But here’s what happens. I have seen the bewildered expression of a new board member who finally has the courage to ask a question in a board meeting but is met with blank stares from the other board members. Nobody knows the answer. So then, someone changes the subject so the question doesn’t get answered. Boy that’s frustrating.

The other thing that happens is all the eyes in the room turn to the person most likely able to answer it, the executive director. The good news is if your hired staff has been there a while those hopeful looks from board members are pointed in the right direction. Here’s the kind questions executive directors can answer:

  1. They know where your data is. How many members do we have? How many people come to our meetings? How many donors do we have?
  2. They know what your role is as a board member, or at least what others have done to be successful in your position.
  3. They know the laws that apply to your association. Can we hold that 50-50 cash raffle at our meeting? Do we need to file a formal 990 or can we e-file a report to the IRS?
  4. They know how to do the mechanics of the little things that make your events run well like registering people, taking money, and processing donations.
  5. They know how to identify a person who would make a good leader, if supported and given proper training.
  6. They likely would know if an idea has been tried before and whether it worked or not.
  7. They know how to maximize value and minimize risk with your contracts with meeting facilities. They know the little decisions that financial avoid traps related to catering and hotel room attrition.

So, as a new board member, you’ll learn to identify the kinds of questions your executive can answer and the kind that can energize and inspire your fellow board members. As an executive director of several statewide trade associations, I always feel honored when I am asked a relevant question, and occasionally I will interject an answer to a question if I know the answer.

Know that your executive has a long term perspective with decisions that the board makes. Their advice is critical to make the board doesn’t chase unproductive ideas around. They might not know the ins and outs of your job – what you do every day – but they do know what your organization does every day. And that is, after all, why you have paid staff in the first place.


Is Your Nonprofit an Advocating Organization?

By G. Harvey Gail, MBA

President, Spire Management

In the world of non-profits and associations, the term “advocacy” is a word I often hear among board members. Why? Members of nonprofit organizations almost always rank “advocacy” on the top of the list for what they want their organization to be doing, but they may not know exactly what that means. For example, in my experience, when board members use the word “advocacy,” they often use it as a synonym for lobbying. After all, it sounds way cooler to refer to our “advocacy program” rather than our lobbying program.

Also, you can see evidence of the desire for advocacy in how boards are structured. Nonprofit boards may have board members with titles like government affairs director and pro-bono chair. Since these positions likely involve advocacy at some level, it’s important for nonprofit boards to know what advocacy means and to determine if your organization doing advocacy and how these functions are funded.

Let’s start with a definition. Advocacy is “any action that speaks in favor of, recommends, argues for a cause, supports or defends, or pleads on behalf of others.” This broad definition encompasses a wide variety of activities, however, most nonprofits likely focus on one or two of these areas.

Lobbying: In my view lobbying (or governmental affairs) is more about educating law makers than it is convincing them to vote one way or another on issues. For many nonprofits, an effective way to lobby involves teaching your organization’s members about the legislative process and how they can get in contact with their legislators. So called, “grass roots” lobbying can be an effective way to handle challenges. Of course, the financial support offered by political action committees (PACs) could also be regarded as advocacy.

Serving: An example would be an organization that provides “pro bono services” for a segment of the population that is in need. Take for example the Financial Planning Association that provides pro bono financial planning services for returning veterans.

Organizing: An organization’s efforts to build a base of supporters is a central activity of an advocating organization. Organizing a base of supporters can involve hosting public meetings, organizing public rallies and organizing voter mobilization projects. It makes sense that without a base of support it’s difficult to meet the definition of “advocacy.”

Educating the public: Another effective way to advocate for a cause is to educate people in both the private and public sector about why a certain cause is important. Educating people about an issue and how can be as simple as distributing informational material or hosting formal education conferences.

Researching: If information is limited in regards to a certain issue, an organization can engage in advocacy by doing research. Researching an issue is often very helpful in directing advocacy efforts and to give your organization improved credibility. Advocacy based research can involve performing surveys or analyzing existing data collected by outside organizations.

Training: Like educating, offering training to your members or the public is a direct way to promote your organization’s cause. Take for example the Salem Fire Foundation. This nonprofit is training all 8th graders in Salem how to do hands-only CPR.

Collaborating: Organizations that actively collaborate with other nonprofits with similar philosophies are also engaged in advocacy.

Take a closer look at your organization’s activities and you will likely find you are already an advocating organization but you’re doing it in different ways. Focus on the areas of advocacy that are most important to your organization’s objectives and take the time to evaluate your programs and you will likely be successful advocate for your causes.

When Board Members Disagree

By G. Harvey Gail, MBA

Spire Management


In my experience as a nonprofit and association consultant, it’s rare that a board of 15 will agree all the time. A healthy board will express various opinions. If they agree all the time, they may be too passive or don’t want to dive deep into the issues. Your board members may be just warming a seat, and that’s not healthy for your organization.

However, the opposite can also be true. While the recent Republican debates may be entertaining television, this is not the environment you want for your board meeting. It is the board president’s job to lead a group through conflict and into a consensus with professional dignity intact. Here are some conditions that lead to conflict.

Ignoring the tough issues

If your board seems to always agree on everything, this is fertile ground for decision-making struggles down the road. They agree because important issues are always tabled, or worse, ignored. The “elephant in the boardroom” will inevitably come back to bite them.

Entering a meeting unprepared

Board meetings should be an opportunity for committees to report on their work, not conduct it. Board members often argue because they are speculating on the issue. Come to the meeting with the data. Be prepared to have an educated discussion.

Failure to follow an agenda

Your executive director can help you prepare an agenda and stick to it when the meeting seems to drift. If necessary, set a time limit for agenda items. Table a conversation if it can’t be resolved. Schedule a time to have the discussion later after doing more research and gathering opinions.

Lack of formal board procedure

As soon as groups veer from agendas and procedures, conflict begins. Often conflicts arise when people question what they voted on or if they voted on it at all. Review your organization’s bylaws and follow Robert’s Rules of Order. Motions should be very clearly stated.

Dominance by individuals

Sometimes a board meeting is dominated by certain individuals. Often, this is due to their personal style and they may not even realize they are doing it. The board president should ask for the opinions of others and politely move on from a person who is dominating the conversation.

Failure to moderate behavior

A strong leader isn’t afraid of disagreement, but never permits the working environment of the board to become hostile. When debates between board members occur, they must be moderated. Members must be asked to behave in a professional manner. This is no place for personal attacks at or after the meeting. Volunteer leaders rarely recover from public embarrassment. Also, you should expect that anything negative said “in confidence” or “written in a private email” will eventually surface, further eroding relationships among leaders. If there if one obvious trouble-maker, the president should handle this on a one-to-one basis. I’ve seen boards often flourish after a disruptive board member is removed.

So how do you have healthy disagreement?

Remember, your volunteer leaders are there because of passion. Find ways to allow their passion to be expressed with healthy outcomes for your organization. Provide a nonjudgmental environment. Follow an agenda. Deal with obvious trouble-makers early. Set the tone for a respectful exchange of ideas. If all else fails, bring in a professional moderator or trainer to help your group work within proper parameters of professional behavior.

My motto is board members should leave their board meeting with a smile. If there are more frowns than smiles it’s time to assess the situation and make some changes.




Do We Need Traditions in Our Non Profits?

By G. Harvey Gail

President, Spire Management

Several years ago I had the opportunity to attend a Knighting Ceremony for the Royal Rosarians at a Rotary convention. This exceedingly long ceremony was full of traditions. They say, “Since the Royal Rosarians were formed in 1912, we have bestowed Honorary Knighthood upon dignitaries and persons of accomplishment from around the world in an annual ceremony. Queen of Rosaria will dub nominees with her scepter. This event is rich in pageantry, history and tradition.” Truly an honor for those knighted, yet it could be a little long for those who are not.

Clearly, there is a part of us that is attracted to traditions. Baby showers, Christenings, graduations, quinceaneras and weddings fill our family calendars. If you are involved with your professional society or a nonprofit, you will attend dozens of installation banquets, awards ceremonies, annual meetings, auctions and social functions. Yet, I wonder if they are still relevant today and if they are attracting the next generation of leaders?

I see a clear distinction in those who grew up with the Internet and those who did not. One clue is many of these highly structured events don’t hit the mark on attendance. Meeting planners are having a more difficult time getting engagement in and commitment to these ceremonies from younger members. Unwillingness to RSVP, last minute cancellations and early departures are clues that these events that probably last a little too long. A keynote address or awards ceremony that drones on about the “old days” holds very little interest for people who have “planes to catch and bills to pay” and the whole world in their hands (well, smartphones, that is).

Additionally, among the millennial generation in particular, we are starting to see less and less structure in leadership requirements. No longer are people interested in “moving up the chairs” of the association to finally, after six long years, receive the gilded gavel that entitles them to hours of free labor…and the satisfaction of leading a happy group of volunteer leaders for 12-24 months until they can attend another ceremony and earn the highly coveted title of Past President and, most likely, the wood plaque with a gavel on it that comes along with it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that they don’t want to be in leadership. They just want to do that like, right now, and then be done.

So how do we create a balance that lets us hold on to our organizations’ rich traditions and history, without discouraging the upcoming generation of leaders?

First, take a serious look at your governing documents. Are there activities that were put in place in the 1920s and never changed? Do they still serve you? Make adjustments to your board policies and bylaws as necessary.

If your activities are more traditions than policies, take each one at a time. Survey your members. Do they love the “three-hour annual awards banquet” or are they there out of a sense of duty and guilt? Plan your activities strategically to meet your organization’s mission and vision. Take a year off and revamp your events.

Finally, find a logical place for your history and traditions to be preserved. Scan and place the best historical pictures on your website, record the names of your leadership and explain the traditions in a public document (for the website or sent to members) so they won’t be lost in storage. Tell your story in an exciting way and help inspire your members with your message of tradition and maybe your own organization’s knighting ceremony might be in your future.


7 Signs of a Strong and Effective Board of Directors

7 Signs of a Strong and Effective Board of Directors

By G. Harvey Gail, MBA

Spire Management

You have dedicated your valuable, free time to support your organization. As a volunteer you want to be sure your time is well spent and that your organization, whether it’s a charity or association, is on the right track. Much of the success of an organization comes from how well the board of directors conducts business. Are the meetings productive? Does the board produce tangible results?

In my years of experience working with nonprofit boards, I have identified seven characteristics of well-functioning boards.

  1. Right from the start of your board service you know your role as a board member, your term, your expectations, your authority and the state laws that relate to your service. You know the expectations for your specific board position as well as the role provided by your executive director and staff.
  2. Your board’s documents are in order. The bylaws are up to date, you have a budget, strategic plan and properly signed and executed contracts with your executive director, staff, contractors and vendors.
  3. Board meetings are scheduled in advance. Board documents, such as meeting minutes, committee reports, agendas, and financial reports, are ready to review at least one week before the meeting.
  4. Most of the work of the organization is done at the committee level. Your board meetings are reserved for reviewing committee reports, making major decisions, and monitoring the work towards meeting the goals of the strategic plan.
  5. You are on the right track when you listen to good advice. Your resources include your executive director, attorney, accountant and others with experience in nonprofit governance.
  6. Your board has a great reputation. People want to be part of something successful when your board meetings are dynamic, short, action-oriented and fun. Characteristics that contribute to your board’s reputation include a having a culture of transparency and routine two-way communication with members. Board service is not a “life sentence” and term limits are implemented. Your board is diverse and interesting because you have a recruitment process for new board members that is strategic, considers diversity, the population served and whether new board members possess leadership ability and industry expertise.
  7. Finally, you can tell from your fellow board members that their board to the board isn’t driven by their ego but by their heart. After all, you are on a board to help your organizations’ members or constituents. Every decision you and your fellow board members make must have those people in mind. Any personal issues are left at home and you come to your board ready to make our community better because of your service.

Whether you are brand new to the board, or have served for several years, look for evidence of these seven signs. No board is perfect, so if you identify an area that doesn’t seem to measure up, spend some time on it. You may need to hire a consultant, do some research or have some conversations, but it will be worth it and you’ll be setting up your organization for success.

Volunteers or Paid Staff: There’s More to Motivation than Money

By Harvey Gail, MBA President, Spire Management

If you’re on the board of a nonprofit organization or association, you know how important volunteers are to your organization. Without volunteers many nonprofit organizations could simply not exist. However, it is often difficult to recruit volunteers, so organizations feel compelled to offer at least a small wage to get people to help. As a leader, we assume that if you can get a volunteer to do something for your organization for free it’s better than having to pay them. That seems like a reasonable approach, but once money is involved people’s motivations change.

Research shows the best results come from either committed passionate and well trained volunteers or from well compensated staff. Studies show paying a very low wage in lieu of no compensation is actually less effective than if they just volunteered or if a reasonable wage is paid. That’s because once people receive a wage, they begin to calibrate their performance to the compensation they receive.

Dan Ariely, a professor in Behavioral Economics at MIT, asked several groups to do a computer task for a variety of different levels of compensation. The task was simple if not incredibly boring. Participants were asked to use their mouse to drag a circle on one side of the screen to a box on the other side of the screen as many times as possible over the course of 5 minutes. The first group was paid five dollars for the task, the second group was paid 50 cents, and the final group was paid no money at all. How did each group preform? Ariely found that the group paid five dollars moved on average 159 circles, the group paid 50 cents moved only 101 circles. More money seemed to increase their productivity. However, the third group made entirely of unpaid volunteers moved on average 168 circles, more than each of the two paid groups. While these results may seem surprising to most, Ariely was as surprised as one might think. As a behavioral economist, he understood that there were more factors at play than just a desire for money.

Ariely writes in his 2008 New York Times Bestselling novel Predictable Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, that paid participants worked only as hard as they were paid. In other words, if they received less money, they work less hard as if they were subconsciously retaliating in response to the low wage. Ariely also found that once money was removed from the test, the behavior of the participants changed. Participants who were unpaid now saw the task as an opportunity to be helpful and favorable to the researchers by working hard on the task for free. They may not have paid in money but they were paid in positive emotions and the high regards of the researchers.

In the association management and public relations business, I help run a variety of events for nonprofit organizations. One of the more common problems I hear from organization event planners are complaints that volunteers, while eager to show their support, many times don’t show up. Also, when on the job they do what they want to do, not what needs to be done. This is frustrating, so it’s tempting to offer a small wage as an attempt to improve their performance and reliability. However, according to research sited above, this may not be effective.

For most nonprofits, offering a full market wage for every event isn’t practical. So, what’s the best solution? Seek volunteers, but do this strategically. Recruit from a large pool of people devoted to your cause. Take time to define the roles of the volunteers you are recruiting. Make sure the job duties are clear. Then invite each volunteer personally and ask them to match their skills and abilities with the roles you are filling. It may take a bit longer to find people willing to help but it’s far more cost efficient to utilize volunteers over paid staff.