Bidding Adieu Attorney retires as director of Community House

00By Mike Scott

Legal News

Shelley Roberts never dreamed that her legal career would eventually lead her to the nonprofit sector and in charge of one of the best known organizations of its kind in Oakland County.

And now Roberts isn't sure where her next step will take her. But after 13 years, the former Dickinson Wright attorney has retired from her position as president and CEO of The Community House in Birmingham. The association was founded in 1923 and exists to help build a strong community throughout the southeastern Michigan region by providing educational, social, and cultural opportunities for people of all ages, interests, and backgrounds.

Roberts, 62, want to spend more time visiting with her children and grandchildren, who live out of state. And she is looking forward to a schedule where she can make her own decisions on where to volunteer without having to run the day-to-day operations of the not-for-profit venture.

She hadn't anticipated taking over the top position at a not-for-profit 13 years ago. But she had been heavily involved in volunteer efforts and as a member of the association's board of directors. Ultimately she decided to take the position.

"At first I wasn't interested in a full-time position," said Roberts. "It took a bit of convincing."

But as someone who had become active with many not-for-profits such as The Community House, Common Ground, the local chapter of the Alzheimer's Association and more, Roberts found that a love for the not-for-profit world had seeped into her blood.

Roberts, a Birmingham resident, is leaving The Community House in a strong position financially and operationally after a very successful 2010 campaign. The nonprofit exceeded its annual fund-raising goals, bringing in $253,000 last year.

"I have thought carefully about timing my retirement in the best interest of The Community House," Roberts said. "I just felt that now was the time for a new leader with fresh ideas and insight. You can stay for too long at times and you need to know when to step down. I'm fortunate because I was in the perfect job."

Roberts used her legal background in several ways to help achieve many goals at The Community House. A graduate of Wayne State University Law School, Roberts specialized in real estate law, banking, and various business matters during her legal career. She practiced at Dickinson Wright for more than a decade until her second child was born. By then, she had already been heavily involved in charitable organizations.

"It was something we were encouraged to do by the partners and the legal field is a great one to enter if you also want to be a part of a nonprofit board," Roberts said.

From her experience in the nonprofit world, she quickly learned how to be successful in fund-raising, a skill that requires practice and tact. She also learned how to draft by-laws and articles of incorporation. After a two-year career break, Roberts became actively involved as head of development for Orchard's Children's Services in Southfield with fellow lawyer Helen Katz. They later left to job share for the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit in a development role.

Soon afterward the job for The Community House opened. And she eventually was convinced to take the position. Once she did, Roberts found that her legal background served her well in many capacities. She was personally able to review various contracts that The Community House entered into, saving the organization a significant amount of money along the way given her background in transactional law.

Roberts also was able to effectively negotiate with vendors, new employees and even corporate donors, and engaged in persuasive communications, similar to the way she may have argued a brief in her law practice.

"It was similar to working with a client given some of the responsibilities that I had as (president and CEO)," Roberts said. "But in that position those are skills that you have to learn. I was fortunate to learn them in the legal practice."

As a finance lawyer, Roberts was able to prepare and review financial statements, complete accurate forecasting projects, and even used her expertise of proofreading. And she brought a very business-centric approach to the Community House.

"You have to run (nonprofits) like a business today," she said. "But even as a business, it was still great coming to work knowing that even with all the (responsibilities) I had that I was part of a great team helping to improve our community."

Among the many accomplishments that Roberts and her staff achieved was a capital improvement campaign to renovate the organization's headquarters on South Bates Street. She also led an effort to communicate to the public that The Community House served the entire region, not just the Birmingham area.

And the number of programs offered by the association expanded under Roberts' leadership, to more than 800 last year.

"I'm not going anywhere and I will continue to be in this region and will be an active volunteer," Roberts said.

She will stay on as president and CEO until a replacement is named, likely by March 31.

Published: Tue, Feb 22, 2011