Talking with Doug Pileri

Earlier this year, we sat down with our board president to discuss his take on what 2021 has in store for OrphanWise. Read on to get his thoughts on what went well in 2020 and what OrphanWise will do to remain competitive in the year ahead.

How would you evaluate OrphanWise’s progress in 2020?

Doug: They’re playing well above their weight. To be successful over the long term, every organization needs to return value to its supporters. OrphanWise can’t just “do good” . . . they have to be able to quantify the results of the good they do. With just two years of experience working with foster and adoptive parents, children’s home staff, social workers, and others––they’re making a measurable impact. They have the data to show the training OrphanWise does can play a role in  reducing foster parent turnover; lowering the cost of healing children who’ve been abandoned or abused; reducing the number of referrals for youth violence––and youth incarcerations; and reducing the public cost burden of risky sexual behavior in teens.

A year or so ago, you presented OrphanWise with an INDY award for Special Achievement. What was that all about?

Doug: For the past ten or eleven years, around the time of the Oscars, my wife Debby and I have invited a number of friends in to celebrate the magic of the movies. During the celebration, we gave out awards called INDYs to recognize friends’ achievements in movie-related pictures. Because we’re in Indiana, INDYs are our version of the Oscars. At last February’s party, we decided that––just like the Motion Picture Academy gives out special awards to those who make a long-term difference in their industry––we’d recognize people who make a difference in our world. The previous year, one of the highly celebrated movies was Judy, which depicted the abused childhood of Judy Garland. Of course, Hollywood isn’t the only place where vulnerable children get caught in a foster care system, a judicial system, or some other system where well-meaning people can do them harm. And in many cases, the scars last a lifetime. We realized Katie Rinaudo and OrphanWise were doing something very tangible about that.  Even with limited resources, they were giving at-risk kids the hope they need to change their lives. And we decided that was worth special recognition––so Katie is the proud recipient of an award shaped like the fedora of Indiana Jones, another hero who never let insurmountable odds stand in his way.

You said when you accepted the position as President of the Board, you would be “teacher and student.” What have you learned?

Doug: This pandemic we’ve been living in has put enormous stress on all parents––I could hardly imagine the added burdens it’s put on parents of foster children. Having experienced OrphanWise’s training myself, I’ve found the experience to be both practical and inspiring.

OrphanWise has a great product––an approach to foster parenting that works. The class reinforced for me what good parenting looks like––how building trust can change lives; and the engagement of the students taught me the power of the vocation of foster parenting.

What was OrphanWise’s biggest achievement in the past year?

Doug: 2020 was a year to put the fundamentals in place. The Board is small and foundational right now––so each of us took on multiple roles because, for a nonprofit, a fully-energ ized Board of Directors is absolutely critical. Our role has been to provide leadership––to invest our time and apply our experience to help build organizational strength for the long term. Together, we worked to help them articulate their value proposition and develop their strategy. Our goal in the past year was to make sure OrphanWise has a strong foundation on which to build for the future and, of course, that’s an on-going process.

What do you see as the Board’s main goals in the year ahead?

Doug: Our country––and our world––are caught in an unsettling time and OrphanWise, like every organization, is not immune to what goes on around them. They have a great product––and meet an essential need––but if they are to grow long term and come out of these times stronger and more ready to serve, they need to scale themselves for success. From the Board’s perspective, we need to help them strengthen the organization and focus. The need to be clear about their brand values––and have the staff and structure to deliver them. And, in a very competitive funding environment, we need to help them develop a long-term financing plan for their organization. But OrphanWise is funded by a combination of donations and earned income––and they serve a complex market of foster parents, judges, health care providers, social workers, and others. All of that makes a scalable business model a bit of a challenge––so there is plenty of work for the Board in the year ahead.

What do you find most gratifying in working with OrphanWise?

Doug: They’re an organization that has a positive and enduring impact on the lives of children and I find that not only essential, but inspiring.  What they do is good for society. And they’re resilient and adaptable in the way they do it. One example: COVID forced them to pivot to deliver its training on-line. They did this easily and seamlessly. I’m always thrilled to see organizations use technology smartly––and they’re doing that.  So, in spite of 2020’s challenges, they also took the year to keep serving their customers––while putting financial and other systems in place––and improving their understanding of the market they serve. Although the organization is small, their strengths are in their smart and energized staff, their practical and effective training programs, and their clear and helpful communication materials that make sense to their customers––and a difference in the lives of the next generation.

The market need is there and it’s clear to me that OrphanWise’s approach is innovative, practical and impactful in the foster care world. The impact of their work changes the lives of children and families––and the attitude and effectiveness of those who work with them. In one year, they have more than doubled the number of children whose lives they’ve impacted. But, like every non-profit, their future will be defined by their ability to raise the money they need to do the work they do. That comes from a combination of earned income and donations––which brings us back to where this conversation started. Their future incomes––and their enduring growth––require them to be able to prove they provide a return on investment. My role is to help provide the guidance to help them continue to do that.


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