Learning from Loss in Your Nonprofit Family: Finding a Way from Ordinary to Extraordinary

Tim Nelson
May 13, 1953 – August 11, 2011

The following blog is by Bridget Ulrich.

In my experience, working for a nonprofit is a lot like being part of a family. The people you are surrounded with go beyond the average coworker. I believe this is because you are bonded by the reality of working towards a common good instead of a common goal. So what happens when a tragic loss shakes your work family to the core? I recently had the unfortunate experience of finding out.

This past August, Hammer Residences, Inc. lost our CEO, Tim Nelson. Tim, 58, passed away of a heart attack while on vacation with his wife in Colorado. The news came as a complete shock to everyone and left us feeling like the ground we stood on had been pulled out from under us.

Tim was so deeply rooted in Hammer’s mission that it was hard to imagine our office was still standing. He had worked at Hammer for 34 years and during that time brought our organization to new heights. This included being named in the “50 Best Nonprofits to Work For ” (PDF link) by the Nonprofit Times and “Top 100 Best Workplaces in the Twin Cities” by the Star Tribune in 2010 and 2011.

In the aftermath of his death, while many were able to take time to reflect on what happened, I was instead thrown into work I never imagined doing. This included composing the press release about his life, writing the Facebook post about his passing, and responding to countless tweets. As challenging as that work was, I was grateful to be able to share Tim’s legacy. It also allowed me to be the frontrunner on the receiving end of an incredible outpouring of support from our community.

Through the comments, tweets, and local/national press, it became very clear that Tim was an ordinary man who led an extraordinary life. He started off from humble beginnings at an entry level job and worked his way to the top. As a young nonprofit employee, I began to wonder how many seemingly “ordinary” young professionals were out there, waiting to lead an extraordinary life.

But how do you make the leap? It starts by looking inward at how you view yourself and ends by looking outward at how other people perceive you. Tim built a bridge to extraordinary because his self-awareness matched how other individuals, including myself, viewed him.

  • Passionate. Tim’s passion was making our world a better place, and he spent his life chasing it. We should all be chasing our own passions each and every day.
  • Visionary. Tim was a trailblazer. He saw the potential of tomorrow and was not afraid to try and make it better than today.
  • Compassionate. Tim understood that his employees are people first, and he spent his time treating us just like that.
  • Humble. Tim understood that “Leaders with humility recognize that they are no better or worse than other members of the team.
  • Inspirational. A great leader not only surrounds himself with great people but also inspires them to do their best work.  

These five traits are a legacy that a great leader left to me. My hope is by sharing them with you that they help you take your life to new levels of extraordinary.

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