Steffanie Lorig, who spent 20 years running Art with Heart, has successfully left the nonprofit she founded. It’s now in Heidi Durham’s capable hands.
Editor’s Note: This is part of our Good on the Ground series, profiling entrepreneurial women who are addressing social issues in innovative and inspiring ways.
Over two decades ago, Steffanie Lorig of Seattle founded Art with Heart to help children use the power of creative expression to overcome trauma. “Growing up, I had a lot of asthma attacks, so I spent a lot of time in the hospital,” say Lorig, 51. “That was very frightening and scary for me.”
A graphic designer by trade, Lorig came up with an idea: Why not use her skills, and those of a lot of artists she knew, to create an activity book for hospitalized children?
In 2002, her nonprofit Art with Heart published the 48-page Oodles of Doddles, a therapeutic book that uses jokes, puzzles and coloring pages to help children express feelings of fear and concern. Some 100 designers donated artwork to the book, and the Seattle Children’s Hospital began using it. “Art helps kids remember to just be kids,” art therapist Rosalie Frankel, told the Seattle Times about the book. “In a world they can’t control, art is non-threatening and positive.
In the years that followed, Art with Heart published more activity books and created curriculum, workshops and training programs — helping an estimated 155,000 children. But in 2014, Lorig made a big decision. “I had always said to myself I was going to stay at Art with Heart as long as it needed me,” she says. “I started to think, ‘I think it needs somebody different. I think it needs a different skill set.’”
A Chain of Events
Lorig says the decision to leave was prompted by a few factors. One, the president of Art with Heart’s board, Linda Baker, died suddenly. “That was a devastating blow, and I started to think about sustainability,” she says.
Around that time, Art with Heart received “the largest donation we’d ever received in our entire history,” given by a benefactor who was touched by the organization’s work with survivors of the Newtown, Conn., massacre, she says. (She declined to disclose the amount, but Art with Heart lists annual revenue of about $650,000, according to public data.) Members of Art with Heart’s board began thinking about nationalizing the program.
With her art background, Lorig didn’t think she was the right person to manage hyper-growth. “It was time to bring in … somebody who had more of a strategy background, who could look at this and say, ‘This is how we’re going to do it,’” she says.
A fan of research, Lorig contacted several nonprofit leaders who had who had similarly made way for new leadership — and asked for their advice about how to handle succession well. “I didn’t want to be that founder … who can’t let go, who makes trouble, who inserts themselves,” she says. “I wanted a good ending.”
The single biggest tip, she says, came from a nonprofit leader who recommended using a change-management consultant to advise on succession planning. Corporations will typically use such consultants after mergers, though it’s less common for small nonprofits. Lorig then interviewed about seven consultants. “Only one of them mentioned grief,” she says. “And I thought, ‘you are the one.’” She hired Kathleen Hosfeld, a strategy-process expert who helps organizations manage transitions.
Seeing the Future
Lorig says Hosfeld helped her get much of her institutional knowledge about Art with Heart out of her head and into documents. The consultant also helped write a job description, advised the board on how to hire a replacement and talked to staff about preparing for a transition. “She helped me identify what would be helpful for the next person,” Lorig says. “It was so nuanced — more than just A, B, C.”
It was a lengthy, multi-year process — something Lorig says founders in a similar position should keep in mind. And there were missteps. The first person the board hired as a new CEO didn’t work out, Lorig says, and she returned in the interim.
And then, a mutual acquaintance introduced her to Heidi Durham, a former Starbucks brand strategist who was looking for a career change. During her time at Starbucks, Durham had taken an unpaid sabbatical and worked for the nonprofit youth organization Right to Play in Ethiopia. It changed her life. By the time she met Lorig, “I was looking to get to the social sector and was looking for a meaningful, purpose-driven work,” Durham says. Lorig was struck at how “smart and thoughtful” Durham is.
In September 2016, Art with Heart formally announced Lorig’s retirement. The two women worked together for 3 months, “which was lovely to have that time to learn from Steffanie, just soak it in, in a really intentional immersion, which I think is dreamy,” Durham says.
Lorig made a clean break from Art with Heart, and only speaks to Durham every few months. “I had to step away completely, mostly because it’s just such an emotional ride, otherwise,” Lorig says.
Durham, meanwhile, is working on Art with Heart’s 5-year plan, which includes becoming the “go-to resource for school counselors around the country.” In a world where things like school shootings are becoming more common, the group estimates that 35 million children are dealing with trauma.
Lorig says she is finding her “new normal” in life, which includes doing a lot of her own artwork — a hobby that the change consultant recommended, to help with letting go. “I had poured so much of myself into the organization,” Lorig says. “This time has been remarkably healing and cathartic.” She does freelance design work and expects to take a position, at some point, with an agency or corporation.
She is most happy that children who need emotional support will still receive it through Art with Heart. When it comes to founding a mission-driven company, “you need a dreamer to start it,” she says, “and a sustainer to grow it.”
Posted: April 24, 2018