Jack Tibbets of Santa Rosa’s St. Vincent de Paul wins Nonprofit Leadership Award

Jack Tibbetts, executive director, Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Rohnert Park


Jack Tibbets of Santa Rosa’s St. Vincent de Paul has won one of North Bay Business Journal’s Nonprofit Leadership Awards.

Describe your organization

Our mission is to end systemic poverty and help lift people into sustainable, fulfilling lives. We run the dining room in downtown Santa Rosa, which serves over 60,000 hot meals every year. We also have job-training and job-placement programs, as well as rental assistance, utility-bill assistance and localized food pantry programs among our 15 conferences throughout Sonoma and Lake counties.

Tell us a little bit about yourself

I try to always be a good guy and go the extra mile no matter how tired I am. I always try to squeeze the most out of every single day, and to get the job done that day. I operate on the belief that our own success is directly tied to helping others achieve their own success. As a result, if we want to achieve success ourselves, we’d better make sure we spend our time helping everyone else achieve their own success. To me, true success is always a shared experience.

What is your role in the organization?

I am the executive director for SVdP. That entails everything from plumber, case manager, preliminary legal counsel, and staff chef during Staff Steak Days.

What achievement are you most proud of?

Increasing sales by 13 percent this year through the implementation of significant changes to our operation, in addition to increasing the number of donations that have come through to support our community dining room. This couldn’t have happened without the leadership of our director of operations, Lonnie Rivas, and his staff.

What is your biggest challenge today?

Our problem is a good problem. Like most nonprofits, we are cost centers that provide a free service, and we use donations to backfill our deficit to balance our budgets. Given SVdP’s background in sales, our real property assets, and our board’s strong background in business, we are beginning to roll out a plan that harnesses all of these strengths.

Once fully implemented, we anticipate that we will have a balanced budget from our business enterprises alone, which will allow us to focus all of our donor dollars into greatly expanding services to low-income communities in Sonoma and Lake counties.

What is the next major project either under way or on the horizon?

My hope for the organization is to expand into housing. I see it as critically important when addressing homelessness. Once implemented, we will be able to provide a fully integrative program that begins with food provision. That is, drawing someone into our sphere of services via our community dining room, place them into one of our housing units, then provide them with a job and job training.

We also hope to base our housing model on buying up and inheriting market-rate housing through estate-planning, then converting them back into affordable housing for needy families.

What product or service is helping you do your job more effectively?: QuickBooks and Gmail.

How do you think your profession will change in the next five years?

My belief is that nonprofits like ours will have to develop and adapt to housing-focused strategies. Looking back at our organization’s history, we have spent millions of dollars feeding people – a much-needed service that has brought about a lot of good – but that particular service has done little to actually end someone’s homelessness.

I also believe that nonprofits need to stop thinking about the quantity or “quotas,” such as “over 10,000 people served last year,” and focus more on the quality of the service being provided. Now that outcomes are being tracked longer through the Health Management Information System, I believe nonprofits will have to shift their focus to this line of thinking to meet future grant-making requirements.

Most admired businessperson outside your organization

I am sure there are a million great examples, but I have to say that the person who comes to mind first is former Santa Rosa Mayor Dave Berto. The reason why I have to choose Dave is not only his business acumen as a business owner but also his sense of compassion and humor and how he mixes the two with business.

I recently read a Press Democrat article on how he is providing homeless people with a secure place to sleep at his business. Specifically, he’s allowing people to stay the night in their cars after the dissolution of the Safe Parking Program, as well as in wooden “HUTs,” which far from meeting the city’s strict housing code.

When asked by the reporter, Kevin McCallum, how he got the city to approve the HUTs, Dave’s reply was: “A couple of people have asked me, ‘What was it like to go through the city?’ and I say, ‘I didn’t go through the city!’”

It’s really refreshing to see a businessman have that level of compassion and desire help others in-need, mixed with a bit of a cowboy attitude. That’s the guy I want to be. Get the job done, learn from your mistakes along the way, don’t repeat them. Help somebody, do a good job helping them, and ask for forgiveness later if you have to. But don’t be quick to succumb to process in exchange for making a meaningful impact.

Sometimes you have to move forward with your goals in order to draw attention to obstacles that inhibit achievement and impact. I realize most of us do not do that, and I realize that we cannot do that with donor or investor capital. But people like Dave are change-makers because they march to the beat of their own drum.

Current reading: Santa Rosa City Council Oct. 3 meeting packet. When not reading staff reports, I’m usually getting caught up on last week’s The Economist.

Most want to meet: Definitely Johnny Cash, but if it’s someone alive today, I’d have to pick Elon Musk.

Stress-relievers: Anything with a good adrenaline dump.

Social media you most use: Facebook.

Favorite hobbies: Sailing, rock climbing, flying, mountain biking.

Industry catchphrase you hate the most: “You got to go slow to go fast.” It’s frustrating, but I’m learning that it’s true.

Typical day at the office

Breakfast meeting with a donor, client, or concerned community member. Then arrive at the Thrift Store in Rohnert Park where my office is located. Check in with everyone. Sign any invoice or forms that need to be signed before I leave and forget to sign later. Then sit down at my computer and respond to emails.

Keep the door open for anyone wishing to talk. Usually at least one person will walk in every day. One staff member, Miranda, will always remind me that it’s “Marvelous Monday, Tubular Tuesday, or Wonderful Wednesday,” etc.. It’s impossible to feel bad after talking to her.

If it’s Monday, I then head to the dining room to participate in Burrito Day — the best day to eat at the Dining Room, and speak with our visiting patrons to learn about what’s going on in Santa Rosa, what the needs are, where we can improve service, etc. I also check in with our Dining Room Staff to see what their needs are.

I usually then return to my Thrift Store Office to chip away at the week’s project. One volunteer, John, will pop in and out, leaving slender, goofy-looking stuffed animals on my desk and tell me that I look like them. He gets a massive kick out of making fun of me.

Around 3 p.m., my ADD kicks into high gear, and I get up and walk the store to see how things are going, talk to customers, and look at inventory for my personal furniture needs at home. Around 4 p.m., I take off for any afternoon and evening meetings or events.

Best place to work outside of the office: The Trailhouse in Santa Rosa

Words that best describe you: Hard-working, caring, stubborn but willing to compromise.