Greg Elfers: The man with the plan

As National Volunteer Appreciation Week comes to a close, I’d like to introduce a final figure who has a comprehensive view of the American Diabetes Association, from the national executive board to the day-of-event volunteers. Greg Elfers is Chief Field Development Officer of the American Diabetes Association, which means he provides senior leadership and strategic direction for the Association’s field operations, special events, program outreach execution and volunteer development.

During his 30-plus years with nonprofit organizations, he has held senior-level positions at all levels of operations, including chapter, field, and national positions. Better yet? His nonprofit career was launched by accident – but I’ll let him tell that story…

What brought you to the American Diabetes Association?

My first job out of college was teaching high school.  Some of the things I learned in the education field have been helpful in my job because so much of what we do is education and training. I wanted to be a teacher and a coach since grade school and I am glad that I had that opportunity.  Then one year, I took a summer job working with the March of Dimes, and decided to take a year off from teaching to work for them – and 30 years later I’m still doing this, with no regrets!

During my nonprofit career, I’ve had the chance to meet some great people and work with some great volunteers. When CEO Larry Hausner offered me the chance to work with the American Diabetes Association, I jumped at the opportunity.  I have always been impressed with the organization,  but it was his excitement  –  in terms of the importance of the mission, the dedication of the  staff  and enthusiasm of the volunteers – that convinced me that this was the place for me.

I also have some personal connections, too. My mother has type 2 diabetes and although she’s very healthy (and checks her blood glucose every day), she’s not the best role model for people with diabetes, and at the age of 88 she feels like she has earned the right to do what she wants when it comes to diet and exercise, but we keep working on her.

When I was very young I also had a cousin who suffered serious diabetes-related complications, resulting in series of amputations and an early death. I didn’t realize at the time that type 1 diabetes was the root cause of the problems. It wasn’t until I came to work at the Association and began to ask family members about the situation that this came to light.

Since working here, it seems as though everywhere I go, I meet someone who either has a direct or indirect connection to the disease – and I think that’s the case for everyone, whether they realize it or not.

You’re involved in so many different areas of the Association’s work. What’s your favorite part of the job?

I really enjoy working with the field staff and volunteers – they  the front line in our battle to Stop Diabetes®. I’ve had the opportunity to work with the field throughout my nonprofit career, as a campaign director, executive director, division director, and as a Home Office senior staff member.  I feel very fortunate to have this broad base of experience, and it has helped me understand field operations from the perspective of local market staff and volunteers. I’ve been there, so I can feel their pain and share the excitement that comes with being on the ground and fighting the disease.

Of all the things I do, working in and with the field with the local staff and volunteers is the most exciting part for me. This aspect of my job really brings our mission into focus when it comes to why we do what we do.

Events like Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes and Tour de Cure are dependent on the help and support of so many volunteers. What do you think inspires people to volunteer?

The volunteers at any health organization are a critical part of mission achievement, but I think this is especially the case at the American Diabetes Association due to the magnitude of the impact of the disease. I feel very blessed because I have the opportunity and the privilege to work with national volunteers, like the board of trustees and executive committee members, but I also get to work with volunteers locally and see the impact that a strong staff and volunteer team can have in a local market.

One thing we’ve stressed  over the past several years is that we, as staff, can’t do it alone. But as a strong and dynamic staff and volunteer team, we can accomplish a lot of things. So there is a high level of importance on developing local volunteers in the field. This includes both leadership volunteers and day-of-event volunteers, who come in to help with mailings or to hand out water at an event. We’re a large organization, but we’re also a fairly lean one, so we cannot do what we do without the help of our volunteers.

Do you do any volunteering yourself?

Not as much as I should, I’m sure! But I have been a longstanding member of my local Kiwanis Club Denotes external link. Please see our Linking Policy and Disclaimer of Link Endorsement.. Ironically, my role there gravitated toward the fundraising aspect and for several years I would head up the sponsorship development for our major golf outing. I learned that it’s one thing to do this as a staff person and something else entirely to do it as a volunteer! It was quite a learning experience, but I was pleased to be able to apply what I’d been asking of volunteers over the years.

If you could say one thing about diabetes, what would it be?

Diabetes truly does affect everybody, either directly or indirectly. I’ve come to better understand the magnitude of this disease on the country and on the world. We think about the personal challenges people face having diabetes in the family, we look at what it does to the economy in terms of the cost of health care, and what it means in terms of people’s lives being changed. I personally think it would be hard to find someone out there who was not, in one way or another, touched by diabetes.

I think our role here is to make sure that people don’t lose sight of the fact of the devastation of the disease and the impact of the disease. That’s what the Stop Diabetes movement is all about. In fact, I think we’re in a position to be a change agent – we cannot do this alone, but we can be a key player and a leader in changing the course of diabetes. I think that’s the most important job that we all have as staff and volunteers.

Thanks to Greg for sharing his own story and his thoughts on the value volunteers have at the American Diabetes Association. Be sure to check out volunteer opportunities with the Association!

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