A Life Lived in Service & Lutheran Social Ministry

Profile of Mark Pile, Diakon Lutheran Social Ministries
Thursday, February 19, 2015

Mark PileHow does a Lutheran organization founded in 1868 remain true to its heritage while serving the needs of its current – and future – communities? From adoption and foster care to an alternative high school … to memory care and assisted living... to meals on wheels and disaster response services … to a program that acts as a clearinghouse for corporate donations and impacts over one million people a year – Diakon Lutheran Social Ministries is evocative of the great diversity we find within the Lutheran Services in America network.

At its helm is a versatile leader, Mark Pile, who just celebrated his fifth anniversary as President and CEO of the organization. Last year, he tackled the sizable challenge of splitting Diakon into two divisions, each with its own Board of Directors – one to focus on senior services, and one for child, family and community programs. Read on to learn more about Mark’s approach to leadership and how he leads by example within our network.

Mark Pile became President and CEO of the Pennsylvania-based Diakon Lutheran Social Ministries, a member of Lutheran Services in America, in January 2010. Previously, he served as Diakon's chief operating officer, one of the older Lutheran social ministry organizations, dating to 1868, and when the former president/CEO announced his retirement for the end of 2009, Mark was the unanimous choice of the Diakon and Diakon Lutheran Social Ministries boards of directors to succeed him.

He describes his leadership style as inclusive, mission-focused and designed to gather input from a wide group of people. "For example, we've used that approach in our annual strategic planning sessions," said Mark. "For these sessions, we bring together our leadership council, which we've expanded somewhat in the last year to include more staff members to widen our scope of iteration and information, particularly from those responsible for some of our important initiatives. We then work as a group to fine-tune all of that input into prioritized initiatives for the next year."

"That approach is undoubtedly even more critical this year because in 2014 we ‘split' the organization into two program-based divisions, each with its own board of directors—Diakon Lutheran Social Ministries (essentially Diakon Senior Living Services) and Diakon Child, Family & Community Ministries. While there are many benefits to this change, including grant opportunities and the ability to focus each board on the specific challenges and opportunities of those two fields, the change requires increased focus on board stewardship and development, fundraising, and expansion efforts."

Mark has also showed his support of the work of the Lutheran social ministry network through his participation in the Lutheran Services in America LSA 20-500 Fund. This Fund supports the strategic vision to expand the reach of Lutheran social ministry and help secure the future of our network – more than 300 health care and social services organizations that serve thousands of communities throughout the U.S. and the Caribbean with life-changing programs and support.

The LSA 20-500 Fund is lighting the path forward for a network of strong, connected, and thriving Lutheran social ministries, and the funding is supporting efforts to build a sustainable future for Lutheran social ministry so it can continue to grow and thrive as a collective network.

Mark was the Founding Member and first person to come forward and commit funding to the effort. The Fund would not have been possible without this initial support, and today after less than a year, we are more than halfway to our three-year goal of raising $500,000.  

In addition to his role leading the multi-state Diakon organization that employs 2000 people, Mark is active within the Lutheran Services in America network. He is participating in the LSA Post-Acute Care group that is working on a joint project regarding senior services and addressing the many changes facing the way services are delivered and seniors are cared for. Under his guidance, Diakon is also a long-time participant in the Lutheran Healthcare Mission Leaders Group.

Said Mark of the LSA Post-Acute Care group: "It's critical that we are ‘at the table' in health care reform. That means we have to analyze each market to determine how we fit with key organizations such as hospitals and other referral sources in those areas and develop or expand competencies in certain fields. We also have to focus on making certain our key indicators (quality, electronic medical records, readmission rates, and so on) are at or better than those of our competitors. We have to develop seamless 24/7 systems for admissions and communication about the outcomes of those admissions. Further, we have to look at any niche markets we can serve, make sure we have a broad range of home-focused care models in light of the national push to use the least-restrictive level of care, and be willing to partner with other where it makes sense to do so."

The LSA Post-Acute Care group met during a recent CEO event to advance their joint project, and will meet again during the upcoming Annual Conference in San Antonio in late April. Also meeting at the Annual Conference will be the recently launched LSA Disaster Network, of which Mark and Diakon are also a member. Mark spoke at a very popular session during the LSA 2014 Annual Conference in Omaha, on the topic of Sustainable Revenue for Nonprofits, focusing on relevant issues for health and human services organizations such as how to adapt to changing business models and knowing when to retire programs.

"The LSA Annual Conference continues to work towards increasing our competence and working toward educational offerings that enhance the ministries we do," said Mark. "The networking piece is very important as well."

This year, a senior staff member of Diakon is a member of the 2015 Annual Conference Advisory Committee to help shape the agenda and content of our largest annual gathering. Diakon's own Scott Habecker, Chief Operating Officer & Chief Financial Officer, is also leading a session at the 2015 Lutheran Leadership Summit. In short, Mark has fully engaged not only himself but his leadership staff in the national network of Lutheran social ministry organizations, with the desire to act collectively and support the vision and mission of LSA.

"It's critical that Lutheran social ministry organizations have a strong voice on the national scene," said Mark, "particularly when you consider we collectively serve one in 50 Americans. We need to be recognized for that pivotal role we play in serving people across the country. As our nation continues to face numerous challenges, our voice collectively will become even more important. We are proud to be part of such a network and believe strongly in sustaining that network and in promoting it every way we can."

Diakon Lutheran Social Ministries offers a continuum of senior lifestyle and health services, including senior living accommodations, health-care services, community-based programs, and a range of services for children, youths, families, and communities in Pennsylvania and Maryland. [See more below on the "Diakon Kathryn's Kloset" program based in Baltimore, a ministry of Diakon which partners with corporations to help other nonprofit organizations.]

When his appointment to President and CEO was announced, Mark said, "Diakon is staffed by a tremendous group of employees and supported by dedicated board members, all of whom are committed to ensuring that the organization continues to provide quality services that make a real difference in peoples' lives. Together, we will escort Diakon into the future, addressing the challenges and embracing the opportunities ahead."

Five years later, it's clear that Mark and his team are fulfilling their mission and strengthening the future of Diakon for the tens of thousands of people they serve – between 50,000 and 60,000 people a year. According to Mark, "Key initiatives for this year include developing an overall strategic plan for our child and family programs, including a variety of growth or marketing opportunities, maintaining a focus on 'caring' for our valued staff (for example, we've been able to keep health care premium increases to a minimum for many years), completing major capital upgrades and expansions at our senior living communities, and developing a wide range of emphases around health care reform." 

On behalf of the Lutheran Services in America network, thank you Mark for all your contributions and for helping to light the path for the bright future of Lutheran social ministry.

Diakon Kathryn's Kloset – Unique Diakon Ministry Provides Nonprofits with Everything from Deodorant to Desks

"In service to those who serve the needs of our community" describes the work of Diakon Kathryn's Kloset, a unique Diakon program based in Baltimore, Maryland, that partners with corporations that wish to donate large quantities of new items – everything from personal care items such as deodorant and toothpaste to shoes, furniture and appliances. As a conduit for in-kind donations, the ministry  warehouses the donated items and then distributes them to nonprofit organizations and programs that in turn provide them free of charge to people in need in their communities.

"Diakon Kathryn's Kloset is unique among our programs and certainly among most nonprofits," says Mark. "Essentially, the program solicits and stores corporately donated personal care and similar products and makes them available to nonprofits (shelter and center-type programs) to distribute to people in need in their communities, free of charge to the end-recipient."

The ministry is named for Kathryn Sophia Beasley Hall, "a mother who responded to the needs of everyone in her neighborhood." Her mission and generosity has prospered into a program with a regional, national and international reach that touches the lives of more than one million people a year. Diakon Kathryn's Kloset is a unique example of the breadth of Lutheran social ministry and the ways in which our members serve.

Learn more and watch the video here: http://www.diakon.org/kathrynskloset/