In one of her first jobs, Pat Ellis worked for a nonprofit in Wisconsin, helping adults with disabilities. After moving to Colorado Springs, she parlayed that experience into work for Cheyenne Village, a nonprofit agency that houses adults with developmental disabilities, and then as executive director of TESSA, which fights domestic violence. She then moved to the corporate world, managing call centers, among other jobs. For the past four years, she’s worked as executive director of Silver Key Senior Services, a nonprofit that assists the growing population of seniors in the Pikes Peak region.

Tell us about Silver Key.

Silver Key’s been around since 1971. Many people associate Silver Key with Mikki Kraushaar, the executive director for 30 years. She really established a great legacy for this community. We continue to provide the services established in 1971 — transportation, Meals on Wheels and case management. We’ve expanded a little bit, but tend to stay in those arenas, providing basic needs. Our annual budget is $4.1 million. With that, we provide 55,000 rides and close to 70,000 Meals on Wheels. Every day, we touch about 1,300 people in the community. During the year, it’s about 7,000.

What’s new at Silver Key?

In January, we worked with the [Colorado Springs] Housing Authority and decided it would be a good thing to merge Meals on Wheels with the Golden Circle Nutrition Program, congregate meal sites throughout the community where people can go have meals with friends in the community. It’s really addressing socialization, which is a huge issue for people as they age. Also, Silver Key purchased a new building in the past year. We don’t live there yet, but we did finish a commercial kitchen there. A couple weeks ago, we put out 1,200 meals for Thanksgiving.

Tell us about the new building. 

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It’s on South Murray, half a block from Fountain in a business park. It’s a wonderful building, all one level, 68,000 square feet — much more than we need, but some of it is leased. There’s a space for dining and there is a space for social activities. It will just make things much easier for our clients. Our whole operation will move there, but we won’t until we’re finished raising the funds. Silver Key has never had debt and we don’t budget for debt service. We budget for services to our clients. We need just under $3 million more. We hope to hit the halfway point by the end of this year. The entire campaign is $5.5 million.

How do you use knowledge gained in the corporate world to work at Silver Key?

I think it’s important for nonprofit directors to look at their agencies as businesses, in that we have to be as cost-effective as we can. We have to be accountable to our donors, to use their money wisely. We also have to keep a focus on how to ensure sustainability going forward. I’m a real strong believer in collaboration. It needs to be more than just having someone’s link on your website. We work very closely with Care and Share [Food Bank]. And we work with Goodwill. We have volunteers from Cheyenne Village. There are so many ways to connect with other agencies.

What else?

Sometimes, in many organizations, you do things just because that’s the way they’ve always been done. [Here], we focused a lot on process. Also, it helped me understand the areas where we don’t always give the nonprofit staff opportunities to develop — to learn they have accountability for budget. In order to continue to get funding and run programs, we’ve got to have a business aspect to it, an awareness — how do we get funded? Who pays for this?

What advice would you give other leaders in your industry sector? 

It goes back to that collaboration piece … focusing on accountability and using donors’ funds wisely, and also looking for partners in the community so we can all leverage the donations.

What is your biggest challenge?

The largest challenge is meeting the needs of the growing population. They’re growing and changing. As Baby Boomers age, their expectations are different. We’ll probably have more challenges with the … food, because that’s not necessarily how they want to eat. Our meals have to meet the nutritional requirements of a 72-year-old male. That means very low sodium. We’re trying to be more creative with our menus. More and more, seniors are enjoying more ethnic food. We’re trying to change our transportation fleet, so that they feel more inconspicuous. People don’t want everybody to identify with the fact that they may need help. I think Baby Boomers are even worse. Going forward, our biggest challenge is to continue to be able to recruit and retain volunteers at the rate we do, because they are such a huge part of what we do.