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The heart of College Guild

By Mary Malia

CG Executive Director

College Guild is a tiny diamond hiding on the outskirts of Brunswick, Maine that quietly reaches out to prisoners across the 50 states, Guam, and Puerto Rico. Its 18-year history and its size bely the impact of an organization that succeeds because of a culture of volunteerism, respect, and justice for all and the giant heart and quiet fortitude of its founder and biggest volunteer, Julie Zimmerman.

I started work here in June of 2018, immediately impressed with what a clear process was in place for running an education program that has reached upwards of 7000 prisoners in 18 years. In the lifespan of a nonprofit organization, College Guild has held its own as a start-up for many years. In 2017, as Julie started to feel the need to carry less of the burden of running the organization, the board did its work to develop a job description for an executive director, and that’s how I met College Guild.

As an executive director, what I really enjoy is developing the systems that ensure an organization can grow and sustain that growth. Every organization goes through growth stages. It can be a for-profit or nonprofit, but each stage of growth must be actively managed and understood to know what the challenges and opportunities are. College Guild is moving from being a start-up organization to a growth-focused organization. This transition looks like: hiring professional staff; upgrading fundraising processes; starting to work with data, assessment and evaluation processes; and creating partnerships that progress the mission in new ways.

One of the significant problems that can occur at the junction of a founder stepping back and a new executive director coming on board is the chance for conflict between the two. Founders can have a hard time letting go of their baby and a new executive director can come in like a steamroller pushing changes, shifting focus, and seemingly breaking everything. These are extremes of what can happen. At College Guild, I’m very happy to say that I’ve found a great working partner in Julie and I think she feels the same about me. We don’t always agree, but there’s an unspoken agreement at this point that we are both looking at what’s best for College Guild, the volunteers, and students we serve.

If you’re reading this to learn more about College Guild, I encourage you to spend time on the website to look at our materials. Our courses are here in all their glory. This is the coursework that is mailed to our students. They do their work and snail-mail it back, then it’s sent out to volunteer readers by email. Readers can do their volunteer work from anywhere in the world with an internet connection and a computer by coming to the website to access the same course, review the homework, and provide feedback to students. That feedback is sent back to the office by email, then snail-mailed out to the student. It’s a simple but very powerful process that becomes life changing for both students and volunteer readers.

I’ve had the privilege of working as an executive director at four nonprofits now, both local grassroots and national organizations. I love working locally and engaging community in the opportunity to make big changes in people’s lives. College Guild is that scrappy, grassroots organization and I invite you to keep track of our impact in 2019. This is life changing work. It’s “feel-good” work.

If you’re looking for a chance to feel good, then with Julie, I invite you to join us as a reader to work with inmates across the country or join one of our committees working on Courses, Technology, Fundraising and Events, and more. You are wanted here. Join your heart with ours to reach out to lost and forgotten prisoners and discover the joy of being the change you seek to see in the world.

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