On a fairly regular basis, I am urged by a well-meaning friend or supporter of Preble Street to run the agency “more like a business.” And from conversations with other nonprofit executives, I’m quite certain I’m not the only one getting that advice.

It drives me crazy to hear that. Of course we run the agency like a business! But we do so within the framework of a nonprofit business, which is decidedly different. Not better or worse, but different. Preble Street’s business model has different realities, different complexities, different challenges and different opportunities from those of a local restaurant, or clothing store, or high-tech company.

The key is not to “operate like a business,” but to operate like a good business: being strategic and nimble, working harder than others, always staying true to your core competencies and goals (which, for a nonprofit, is our mission statement), and hiring and retaining the very best people.

This last piece is key – hiring and retaining the very best people.

One of the very, very best people I’ve ever hired is Jon Bradley, associate director of Preble Street. After 18 years with this agency, Jon is retiring this month. We will miss him dearly. I will miss him dearly.

Like so many other associate directors at other organizations (or assistant directors, or vice presidents of programs, or similarly titled second-in-command positions), Jon has been instrumental in the success of Preble Street and the key architect of most of the programs here that have touched so many lives. And before coming to Preble Street, Jon was the longtime second-in-command at Ingraham, where he played a similar role in building strong and effective programs and services.

Jon has been responsible for an enormous amount of good in this community. In truth, it’s difficult for me to even imagine Portland as it currently exists without Jon’s fingerprints all over it. Fundamental to the caring, diverse, inclusive, vibrant city and state we are becoming is the work that people like Jon do.

Executive directors usually get more press and win more awards, but it is the associate directors who roll up their sleeves and get the work done. Whatever is needed. Maine has been blessed by many, many nonprofit professionals who, while not in the role of executive director or CEO, have made their organizations great and done tremendous good for all of us who live and work here. And too many of them go unnoticed (although that is exactly how many of them like to do their work – behind the scenes).

Well, I’ve noticed, as have others in the nonprofit community. We’ve worked with them, learned from them and relied on them in our efforts to fully realize our missions.

People like Jane Prouty, who, for so many years at the old YWCA, was a steady and strong second in command, through thick and thin. Gloria Melnick did inspiring work developing and running programs at Youth Alternatives until her retirement. Peter Stuckey at PROP worked tirelessly and passionately for decades on behalf of poor people.

Besides Jon Bradley retiring this month, Mary Ruchinskas of New Beginnings is also retiring after three decades of extraordinary work serving homeless and runaway youth. And this fall, Ed Blanchard of Shalom House will join them in retirement after a lifetime of quiet but great accomplishments in creating housing and services for people with mental illness.

Others are still at it, thank God, working long hours in the ever-changing and struggling nonprofit environment: Peter Rand at Community Partners, Inc; Giff Jamison at Tedford Housing; Lisa Munderback at Day One; Jane Driscoll at Goodwill; Greg Payne at Avesta Housing; Jan Bosse at the Portland Housing Authority; Tom Kane at LearningWorks; Don Harden at Catholic Charities, and Mary Swann (my personal favorite, of course) at the Kids First Center.

In lifetime pursuit of social and economic justice, they have all earned our respect and admiration, and we owe them our thanks.

Maine is a far, far better place because of these nonprofit professionals, people like Jon Bradley, Preble Street’s associate director, who have made their lives full and meaningful by combining their personal values with their professional expertise. Thank you, Jon.