…Become a storyteller. Be prepared to tell your story 10,000+ times and learn to quickly recognize when your listener doesn’t care. Your story as Founder means everything in the early days. You know more about the issue and care more about the issue than anyone else. You will have to share why your cause is so important to literally everyone you meet and you’ll have to learn not to take it personally when someone doesn’t care (which is so hard to do when you’ve devoted your life to this cause). Years ago, I was talking to a friend of my dad’s at a dinner about our mission. The goal wasn’t to ask for any money, but in the early days, it was a matter of sharing what we were doing. It took me 30 minutes to realize that he really didn’t care, but just asked the “So what do you do?” question because of obligation (having no idea the rabbit hole he got himself into). People get the cause or they don’t. The quicker you can figure that out, the better.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Buuck.
David Buuck is the Founder and Executive Director of CASS Housing in Fort Wayne, IN, which provides Customizable, Affordable, Sustainable, and Safe living arrangements for adults with developmental disabilities. Founded in 2015, the nonprofit has grown to four houses, 12 residents (Core Members), and nine staff members and is where Buuck, his wife, and their three children live alongside three Core Members in the first CASS home. Growing up in Fort Wayne, Buuck decided to put down roots in Northeast Indiana and start CASS Housing in a region that supports innovation and entrepreneurship to the benefit of the entire community.
Thank you so much for doing this with us. Before we begin our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”?
Growing up, I thought I wanted to be a teacher or a pastor. After doing classroom observation in college, I learned that I was not meant to be a teacher and quickly realized that I was not cut out to handle church politics. I always wanted to “help people” but had no idea what that could mean or even look like. I ended up graduating in December 2008 with a Theology degree and had no real direction beyond that. And so, I did what many good students often do and just stayed in school. I started a Masters program in Human Services and also earned a certificate in non-for-profit management. As part of that program, my wife Amy and I moved into a residential community for adults with intellectual disabilities called Share Foundation in Northwest Indiana. Share was a remarkable place that changed our lives forever. We moved in with two older gentlemen with Down syndrome, one of whom was nonverbal. This was our first experience interacting with adults with intellectual disabilities. They showed us what love truly looks like and what really matters in life. Our time at Share really set the stage for our next decade of life.
Can you tell us the story behind why you decided to start your non nonprofit?
In 2012, the State of Indiana changed how they provide funding for people with intellectual disabilities. Before this time, families needed to wait about 10 years before their child could receive funding to move into a 24/7 residential setting. One family I knew waited 27 years due to a mishap involving lost paperwork. In 2012, the entire system changed. Now, for the vast majority of families, the parents of the adult child with a disability must turn 80 years old or pass away before their loved one can receive the necessary funding to move into a Medicaid waiver home. I was only able to hear distraught parents ask, “What’s going to happen to my child when I can no longer care for them or when I die?” so many times before realizing something had to be done. CASS Housing was born out of that place.
Can you describe how you or your organization aims to make a significant social impact?
CASS wants people to drive the decision-making process that best fits their own family situation. Medicaid waiver providers are stuck with what is developed and funded by the state, so we have always been intentional about not receiving waiver funding. We are not competitors with them, rather, we aim for partnerships with Medicaid waiver providers in our region and state. While it is difficult to fundraise through private sources, we need this flexibility to offer a variety of options and support our Core Members (residents) and their families. At CASS, it all comes down to choice. Core Members are able to choose their house, choose their housemates, and choose their support staff. This process can take some time but is absolutely essential when it comes to successfully launching new homes.
Without saying any names, can you share a story about an individual who was helped by your idea so far?
While every Core Member and family has a story worth sharing, we were recently able to help an older gentleman whose parents are in their 80s transition into his first apartment. His family had been seeking a solution for over 30 years and was never able to find anything that fit what their son needed to live successfully on his own. Today, he’s so excited to have his own place!
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Politicians need to double Medicaid reimbursement rates so direct support staff can be paid proper wages. 2. The Medicaid waiver system must be rebuilt from the bottom up so that people with intellectual disabilities can get the proper support they need when they need it. 3. While our City of Fort Wayne Planning Department has been incredibly helpful, city zoning ordinances across the nation need to be revised to allow for congregate living and live-in caregivers.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is putting in the work to make “it” better. At the end of the day, you have to get beyond just talking about something and actually doing it. If something matters, put the necessary resources behind it to show others how important it is. This doesn’t only apply to life at the office. It could be the CEO adhering to a tight schedule so she can wake up in the morning for exercise or getting home in time to spend the evening with her family. It could be the employee who works hard during the week so he can shut his phone off for the weekend. It could be a mom or dad who packs their kids’ lunches because that’s how they show their children they are loved. Whatever the “it” is, it all comes down to doing the work.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 things a person should know before they decide to start a non profit”. Please share a story or example for each.
1 . A nonprofit is a business. You still have to make a profit- there just aren’t any shareholders.
2008 and COVID-19 have certainly exposed this key concept. If the yearly goal is to just break even, when a downturn occurs and program revenue/donations dry up for a season, the reserves simply won’t be there to weather the storm.
The purpose of a nonprofit is the advancement of the mission, but you still need money to run the ship. I believe that nonprofits could benefit from looking at the tech startup world in this regard. Raising a seed round or Series A is common practice for startup organizations. Know what your burn rate is, what your runway is, what programs are going to generate revenue, and figure out how to get to that place as quickly as possible.
2 . Choose wisely. You have to decide if you want to sit on the Board or be the Executive Director/CEO.
I founded CASS in the Summer of 2015 and served as the volunteer Executive Director for the organization. I never held a board seat. At a very, very early juncture, there was a significant hurdle/disagreement that almost led to me leaving the organization. Founders need to know that once nonprofit status is granted, it’s no longer “your” organization, it’s the community’s. The Board of Directors has the responsibility to oversee the fulfillment of the mission, raise funds, and provide proper governance. The Executive Director is there to “execute” the plan. The founder must decide what role they want to play in the long run.
3 . Accept your new role(s). You probably won’t be able to do the things that got you into the game in the first place.
It was the families who I got to know that made me want to start CASS. Their stories and those relationships changed my life and the direction of my own family. However, as the organization has grown, I no longer have that regular personal contact. I simply don’t have the time. I’ve come to accept that my role as Executive Director is to network (spread the mission), raise capital dollars (for our homes and other large program expansion), and work with the rest of the team to make sure all cylinders are firing together.
4 . Become a storyteller. Be prepared to tell your story 10,000+ times and learn to quickly recognize when your listener doesn’t care.
Your story as Founder means everything in the early days. You know more about the issue and care more about the issue than anyone else. You will have to share why your cause is so important to literally everyone you meet and you’ll have to learn not to take it personally when someone doesn’t care (which is so hard to do when you’ve devoted your life to this cause). Years ago, I was talking to a friend of my dad’s at a dinner about our mission. The goal wasn’t to ask for any money, but in the early days, it was a matter of sharing what we were doing. It took me 30 minutes to realize that he really didn’t care, but just asked the “So what do you do?” question because of obligation (having no idea the rabbit hole he got himself into). People get the cause or they don’t. The quicker you can figure that out, the better.
5 . Understand human psychology. People will feel territorial even if you do not see yourself as a competitor (even if you’re in different industries!).
Starting off, it feels like the sky is the limit when it comes to possible partnerships. Unfortunately, others in the nonprofit space may be intimidated or turned off by your organization if they feel if it’s a duplication of services. Additionally, others feel that community donations are a “zero-sum” game where if someone donates money to you, that’s money that they otherwise could have gotten. In my experience, philanthropic people are remarkably generous as they are able to. Learn to know who your partners are and go do something special!
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non profit? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Satya Nadella, father to Zain and Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft; MacKenzie Scott, philanthropist who is singlehandedly changing how people think of donating money during their lifetime ; and Reid Hoffman, venture capitalist and blitzscaler extraordinaire.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson” Quote? How is that relevant to you in your life?
“Often when we’re talking about what we’re going to give our lives to, we ask the question of ourselves and those around us, ‘What do you love? What is it that when you do it, you feel alive.’ You think, ‘Man, I could do this forever. I was made for this.’ So, when we’re talking about calling, and mission, and vocation, and purpose, what we’re going to give our life to, one of the questions we often ask is, ‘What do you love?’ But there’s another question we can ask: What makes you angry? What is it that when you see it, you think, ‘That’s wrong! Someone should do something about it!’ What is it that when you see it, it stirs something within you that ‘Somebody should devote themselves to that! Somebody should make a difference there! Somebody should help them!’
“Maybe that someone is you.” -Rob Bell
It made me angry to see all of the families whom I loved have no good options for their children. I simply had to do something about it. It was a fire that burned hotter and stronger than anything I had ever experienced before.
How can our readers follow you online?
casshousing.org, facebook.com/casshousing, David Buuck on LinkedIn
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your mission.