Michael McGough: He does it all

By Abbey Joris

In a small office with three desks pushed together in the center of the room nestled in the basement of the Athens Land Trust, it is clear that Michael McGough’s plate is full; he does it all.

“He is kind of a jack-of-all-trades,” said Bob Sleppy, the executive director of Nuci’s Space where McGough worked as an intern after graduate school.

McGough is the first full-time executive director of the Stable Foundation, a local non- profit organization that works to provide housing for families facing homelessness. He tries to find a balance between responsibilities at work and his life outside the job, a feat he says many in the industry struggle with.

“I have to be disciplined to get away from the office, not look at emails on the weekends,” McGough said. “Burnout is high among people in the social services field, so it’s something I have to watch out for both for myself, and our staff.”

Dr. Thomas Holland, a professor who taught McGough in graduate school, said that burnout is common because workers tend to prioritize work first.

“People really care about the clients that they serve and they tend to work extraordinarily long hours above and beyond the call of duty because their hearts are in it,” said Holland. He didn’t have an exact figure but said he thought it was probably around one-third of those in the industry.

McGough said one of the best things about his job is his wide range of responsibilities, despite the threat of burnout. He said working at the Stable Foundation allows him to put all of his skills to the test, not just a few.

“In previous jobs I was in position to focus on one thing or one task,” said McGough. “Now I have a much broader responsibility. This is the first position that matches what my graduate studies prepared me for.”

McGough said the ability to use all his skills for one job is a personal milestone for him. He said he enjoys the possibility that he can be with clients one minute, and the next he’s with a contributor or the mayor.

Paul Lazzari, who is one of McGough’s bosses, said that McGough’s responsibilities include “day-to-day operations.” Lazzari is the co-founder of the organization and the board chair who hired McGough.

Lazzari said that the board is on the visionary side of the job and thinks about the long-term aspects of the organization, while McGough is “doing bookkeeping, client coordination, really all the decision-making that happens on a day-to-day basis.”

McGough is in charge of the staff and reports to the board monthly, along with daily operations, said Lazzari.

McGough’s ability to be more than one position for the foundation is one of the reasons he got the job.

“He had the right credentials,” said Lazzari. “We needed somebody strong in the administrative and operational side.”

Lazzari said that the organization decided on a full-time executive director because it made the foundation look more professional. He also said it provided them with the ability to better serve the clients in the community. The organization ran entirely on volunteer support before McGough was hired.

McGough ensured stability and professionalism for the organization by getting IRS 501 (c)3 tax exemption status, which the organization received “just last week,” he said.

Lazzari said this was McGough’s biggest accomplishment thus far, and McGough agrees that achieving this was a big step for the organization.

“For the past three years we’ve been operating under the Community Connection of Northeast Georgia,” said McGough, “which means they take responsibility for us.”

McGough said that the 501(c)3 status will provide the organization with more funding possibilities, as well as the ability to file their own IRS Form 990. The organization’s current 990 information is filed under the Community Connection of Northeast Georgia. This form did not clearly separate the operations of the Stable Foundation and McGough looks forward to what filing independently means for the organization.

“It really enables us to grow and serve more families and more people,” said McGough. “Before people wouldn’t sponsor us. Now we can apply for funds from more places.”

While McGough’s multitasking skills provide him with the ability to do the job, he said that he did have a few things to learn when he first started.

“It’s been kind of crazy because this is the first time I’ve worked directly with the homeless population,” said McGough. “And I’ve had a ton I’ve had to learn just about what is being done, what are the best things being done and are there changes that need to be done.”

One thing that McGough is learning is that not all the people who receive help do the right things with it, said Keri Bunting, case manager for the organization. She said he sometimes struggles to understand the basis for a client’s “bad” decision, which she said could be “not paying rent but having a new PlayStation.”

“I usually deal with those situations, and that’s my job,” said Bunting. “He still gets upset about it. He gets really frustrated.”

Despite that struggle, Bunting said that McGough “is never willing to give up,” even on the people whose priorities seem mixed up.

Those stressful situations don’t turn into a stressful work environment said Bunting. She said McGough helps her turn them into production with his encouraging and helpful attitude.

“He challenges me to think outside of the box,” she said. “He never says do this, or do that; I am the case manager. He leaves it up to me.”

His background as a church music minister and previous non-profit jobs provided him with enough experience to make an impression as a first time executive director.

“He isn’t a greenhorn at all,” said Holland. “He’s quite knowledgeable. Mike has an extra advantage since he worked in the field before he came to school.”

McGough’s work and abilities make his bosses happy and Lazzari says that McGough “has really risen to that task and done a great job.”

McGough said that there is always work to be done, despite reaching personal milestones and program accomplishments.

McGough’s goals for the Stable Foundation include growth both in the community and in building size, with hopes of finding their own property to use as rental housing for their clients.

“I constantly feel like I should be doing more,” said McGough.

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