Michael Senneff of Sonoma County Family YMCA wins Nonprofit Leadership Award

Michael D. Senneff, board member, Sonoma County Family YMCA


Michael Senneff of Santa Rosa’s Sonoma County Family YMCA has won one of North Bay Business Journal’s Nonprofit Leadership Awards

Describe your organization

The nature of my law practice has varied through the years. It has always had a general practice element handling everything from negotiating and drafting agreements, real estate transactions, family law issues, partnership issues, corporate issues to estate issues. Its focus has always been a trial practice, principally civil, both jury and non-jury, in the state and federal courts with a strong emphasis on employment issues, civil rights issues, professional negligence, and construction disputes.

The YMCA is a private non-profit charitable organization focused on providing programs, services and initiatives improving the health and well-being of our youth, our seniors, our families and our community. It is the largest private provider of day care in our community. It is multi-cultural, encouraging strength in ethnic and age diversity. It is open to all regardless of financial or economic circumstances.

At the YMCA, the number of staff is always fluctuating depending on the time of year. While the YMCA has a very strong core of full-time staff, it also has a very large part-time staff. Our staff, whether full or part-time, consider themselves a part of the YMCA family and are typically long-term loyal employees

Tell us a little bit about yourself

I am a trial lawyer who, with my recent cutback to semi-retirement status, is expanding to provide services for mediations and arbitrations. I have tried scores of jury trials to verdict in both the state and federal courts in Northern California.

With the recent change in my employment status, I have no staff. The staff in my law practice varied from six to 50.

At the same time, I have always been active in our community. I served on the City of Santa Rosa Planning Commission, as a member and chair; on its former Recreation and Parks Commission; chaired, at ten year intervals, its three Charter Review/Revision Committees (each a 10 to 12 month bi-weekly then weekly task); served as a member of and vice chair of the Sonoma County Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Adjustments; served as a Board member and Chair of Becoming Independent; served as a Board member and twice Chair of the Sonoma County Family YMCA for 41 years, now a member of its Emeritus Board; co-chaired the Sonoma County Open Space Reauthorization campaign; chaired the two gubernatorial campaigns of Governor George Deukmejian; and co-chaired the Ronald Reagan gubernatorial campaign

What is your role in the organization?

I was a founding member of my law firm and have been a managing member of it and its predecessor firms. In addition to being a member and chair of the YMCA board, I have co-chaired and then chaired its two successful capital campaigns for the expansion of its facilities and its programs.

What achievement are you most proud of?

In my practice, I have had many individual successes (with my share of disappointments) and am proud of the experiences and relationships that I developed. I take pride in my long-term relationships with my former principal partners Bonnie Hamilton (formerly Freeman), Marshall Bluestone, Pat Emery, Phil Kelly, Julie Kimelman and Larry Bernheim. I am very proud of having been inducted as a Fellow of both the American College of Trial Lawyers and of the American Board of Trial Advocates, and of serving as a Master of the American Inns of Court.

I was honored in 2005 to be recognized by my peers for having achieved a Career of Distinction; and, more recently, was honored again by my peers by my selection for the Michael O’Donnell Civility Award. I am most proud of the long-term relationships that I have enjoyed with the County of Sonoma, the County of Lake, the City of Santa Rosa, and the various school Districts served. I look back with pride on the successful Open Space Reauthorization, three challenging Charter Revisions, the two successful YMCA capital campaigns and the huge impact that the YMCA programs have had in our community.

What is your biggest challenge today?

Today my biggest challenge is focusing my energy forward with the very recent change in my employment circumstances. What is the next major project either under way or on the horizon?.

At the YMCA, we have acquired a large property (the adjoining old Bekins Van And Storage) and are evaluating how best to move forward with that property for the benefit of our programs and the community.

What motivates you to volunteer your time and talent?

I strongly believe that citizenship involves giving back to the community in which you live. This beautiful community has been very good to me, and I enjoy being an active part

How do you think the role of the board member will change in the next five years?

You cannot afford to be just a “board sitter” but must be very actively involved in the responsibility that you take on with your board membership

Most admired businessperson outside your organization

There are three people about whom I would like to do a “shout out.’ One is Reg Bayley, the long-time CFO of the Codding interests who quietly and unobtrusively has guided the YMCA through many years keeping it on the right financial course and building a foundation for the future. The second is Bill Schrader, the current Board Chair and former CEO of the Exchange Bank who quietly gives great direction to a number of non-profits, and has long served the YMCA. The third is Vick Trione who, like his father the late Henry, quietly and unobtrusively gives so much to this community

Current reading

I regularly have a short stack of books on my night stand from which I read, depending on my mood. Most recently, I have been reading Chernow’s biography “Alexander Hamilton” and Stanton’s “In Harm’s Way,” about the Japanese sinking of the Indianapolis during World War II.

Most want to meet: The articulate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer or the bold Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Stress relievers: Daily exercise

Favorite hobbies: Daily exercise.

Social media you most use: My family teases me for being a bit of a technical Luddite, so I do not have any “must use” social media.

Buzzword from your industry you hate the most: Shyster

Words that best describe you: Hard-working, thorough, conscientious, honest and dependable.