A Conversation with Leslie Petak: a Standards for Excellence Peer Reviewer Volunteer

May 27, 2020

In celebration of our amazing volunteers at Maryland, we sat down (virtually!) with long time Maryland Nonprofits Standards for Excellence volunteer peer reviewer, Leslie Petak on May 1, 2020. Thank you, Leslie, for sharing your story and for your service to nonprofits throughout the country.

How long have you been involved?
Leslie began her work as a Standards for Excellence Peer Reviewer in June 2005.

When did you get involved with SFX what attracted you to SFX?

Leslie is a trained clinical social worker and supervisor who has worked in myriad settings such as hospitals, community mental health centers, and private practice. Leslie’s wide-ranging nonprofit experience includes having designed and run programs, and expertise in assessment and evaluation.

As a social worker, Leslie is “inclined to be a helper” and wants to give back to the community. Volunteering as a Standard for Excellence peer reviewer was especially appealing to her because she could use her clinical, evaluation, and assessment skills.

Leslie has been a Standards for Excellence peer reviewer for 15 years. She has enjoyed helping to support many organizations – all types and sizes – direct service providers, nonprofits focused on the environment, and the creative arts — the gamut, and she appreciates learning more about nonprofits with each review.

In your opinion, what is the most important work that this organization does?
The Standards for Excellence gives organizations a roadmap and template for running their nonprofits. This template provides “an excellent service” since running an organization can be overwhelming “if they want to do it right.” As a reviewer, you need to keep in mind that each applying organization is desirous of meeting the Standards.

Leslie volunteers with other organizations and often recommends the Standards for Excellence program to them –suggesting they use the Standards for Excellence templates on different areas of organizational governance.

Why do you volunteer? What motivates you to stay involved?
One of the things Leslie enjoys most about volunteering as a peer reviewer is an exposure she gets to an eclectic group of organizations. She enjoys looking at the organizations’ use of assessments and evaluations which allows her to use her professional skills in these areas.

Leslie sees her work as a peer reviewer as giving back and getting back. Doing reviews of nonprofits for Standards for Excellence enables her to “go under the hood of the organization” and “expand her knowledge” about topics outside her usual areas of expertise such as governance, development, finance, and legal aspects of nonprofit management. As a clinical social worker, she sees her role as a wonderful opportunity to view an organization through the perspective of executive directors, accountants, and lawyers.

Additionally, Leslie is impressed with the way the Standards for Excellence Institute has adjusted the accreditation process over the years to support nonprofits such as with the introduction of program tiers, Basics and Basics Enhanced. The Standards for Excellence team has also shown a willingness to make changes to the program based on their respect for peer reviewer feedback.

Over the years, the Standards team has asked her at times to help provide feedback on the redesign of Standards for Excellence, which she saw as a “real opportunity and was pleased to be able to join in and provide feedback.”

Of what contribution or achievement are you most proud of?
Leslie is most proud of “doing the work [the accreditation reviews] and having it provide a meaningful impact on the organizations. Contributing to the improvement of an organization through the review process.”

What do you hope the organization will achieve soon? In the long term?

Leslie hopes the Standards for Excellence program will continue to do what they are doing – fine-tuning and evaluating an already effective process.

Now with the pandemic, grant money is disappearing and there may need to be another “branch” to the process/program that takes this into consideration, such as guidance on umbrella organizations, partnerships, mergers, etc. The program and its approach to organizational governance should be in line with what is happening in the social and economic environment.

Do you have an anecdote about this cause/organization that really moved you?
Leslie is “really impressed when people go above and beyond what they are required to do.” She finds it especially so when small organizations with limited resources accomplish more than larger organizations with more bandwidth. She is also very pleased to give an organization a commendation.

What other organizations or causes do you support? Leslie also dedicates her time and considerable talent to HoCoAGAST (Advocacy Group Against Slavery and Trafficking) and Howard County Indivisible Immigration Action Team.

How has the program or your role changed over the years?
“There is a great difference between what we do now and when I began in 2005. We were mailed large binders which were often so filled with hundreds of pages of documentation the paper sometimes spilled out of the binders. We also had three-hour in-person meetings at the old Ostend Street location. Now the peer reviews are done online, are shorter, and more efficient.”

Do you have anything else you would like to share?
I look forward to continuing to serve as a Peer Reviewer.