Wednesday, September 15, 2010

SVAS director says itís time to move on

Tom Iselin relocates to California

Express Staff Writer

Tom Iselin

Executive Director Tom Iselin resigned from Sun Valley Adaptive Sports last week, the decision coming within two weeks of the nonprofit's failed plan to buy a Ketchum hotel for its wounded-veterans program Higher Ground.

Iselin was leading the fundraising effort to raise $10 million to buy the Knob Hill Inn and cover the costs of renovating it, building a conference center, adding disabled accessibility improvements and running the program for its initial year. Iselin declined to reveal the total amount of pledges but said it was short of the goal.

When asked if the failed acquisition affected his decision to resign after five years, Iselin said, "The truth of the matter is there's a connection."

"Trying to raise $10 million in 90 days, this is a Herculean task," he said. "It felt like soloing Everest with a sandbag on my back."

However, board Chair Hayward Sawyer said, Iselin said in the first Adaptive Sports board meeting that he would lead the nonprofit for three to five years.

"I'm a builder of nonprofits. That's what I do," Iselin said, referring to his past involvement with helping build Drug Free Wave and the Blaine County Hunger Coalition.

Iselin said that in his five years with Sun Valley Adaptive Sports, about 30 percent more money was raised than the budget required, the donor base grew from 50 to 800, the budget grew from $150,000 to $1.9 million, and the staff went from three to 20.

"My God-given business skills are best served by rescuing failing nonprofits and growing new ones," Iselin said. "It's been a thrill of a lifetime, but now that SVAS is self-sustaining, it's time to help another noble cause."

Sawyer said it would take six months to a year to hire Iselin's replacement.

"We're not going to rush to just put somebody in there," Sawyer said, adding that the staff is fully capable of running the nonprofit.

Sawyer said the resignation also didn't take the nonprofit by surprise, seeing that Iselin has been in a transition to La Jolla, Calif., spending half his time there with his family. Iselin said he's now moving there to spend more time with his children, work on his nonprofit book called "First Things First," coming out next spring, and surfing. As for his next big project, Iselin said he's interested in the issue of veterans' high suicide rate, helping wounded veterans adjust to life back home and the health of aging Baby Boomers.

"I've been asked, 'What's next?'" Iselin said. "What's next is to learn to sleep again."

Iselin admits the job was exhausting, saying he worked an average of 70 hours per week.

"The whole experience, as exhausting as it was for years on end, was the most fulfilling nonprofit experience I ever had," he said.

Meanwhile, the Knob Hill Inn remains open for business.

Trevon Milliard:

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