Longtime nonprofit professional finds triumphs in past and hope in opportunities for tomorrow
With the Matterhorn standing tall in the background, Cynder Sinclair pauses for a photo opportunity during a Summit for Danny trip to the Swiss Alps. “I feel very blessed to have this wonderful life,” she says. “I feel pretty darn lucky.” (Sinclair family photo)
Cynder Sinclair has never been one to let adventure pass her by. From finding her long-lost birth father to nearly getting arrested for kayaking in protected waters, she has embraced every moment of her “wild and precious life.”
Finally, after many years, Sinclair has decided to record her own journey in a memoir.
“Writing a book has always been at the top of my bucket list,” she told Noozhawk.
The finished book, My Wild and Precious Life, is more than 400 pages, including 100 pages of color photos documenting her journey.
Although Sinclair has always wanted to write a book, she recalls that beginning to write My Wild and Precious Life wasn’t easy. Her editor recommended that she start with an accomplishment she’s proud of, so she wrote about several successful nonprofit organizations that she founded in the 1970s and ’80s.
Two of these nonprofits, Kingsburg Community Assistance Program in Kingsburg and Highway City Ministries in Fresno, received Mustard Seed Awards from World Vision for the most enterprising ministries to the poor in the United States.
After telling the stories of these nonprofits, Sinclair then moved back in time to narrate her childhood and found she remembered more than she expected.
“A person’s brain, their memory, is pretty surprising at times,” she said.
As her confidence in writing grew, she recalled names of people she hadn’t spoken to in decades.
After a hesitant start, Sinclair fell into a natural rhythm of writing.
Cynder Sinclair has a new book, My Wild and Precious Life, that describes her life and her career in the nonprofit sector.
“It consumed my time and interest; I was really just like a magnet drawn to the writing itself,” she remembered.
Sinclair went on to tell other stories: bouncing around from state to state as a child, starting more nonprofits, losing her son to drugs and cancer, and traveling the world with her soulmate.
“I think that there’s something for everybody there,” she said. “There’s adventure, excitement, daring deeds … there’s inspiration, and there’s lots of grief.”
Sinclair hopes that, after finishing her book, readers will “really get a picture of resilience and why it’s so important,” and that her own stories of adventure will give her readers the “extra oomph” to accomplish their own goals in life.
She ends her book with 10 lessons that she’s learned throughout her life. She highlights No. 3 — “find others’ unique gifts” — as the most important lesson she’s learned.
“I believe that each of us has distinct, inherent gifts,” Sinclair shared, “but a lot of the time, we don’t know what those gifts are because they’re part of us — they’re part of our DNA. But other people can see it.
“So I think it’s always important to acknowledge those in others … noticing the special, unique gifts of each person we meet along the way.”
One of Sinclair’s unique gifts is discerning insight and stellar strategy in the world of nonprofit organizations. She holds a doctorate in organizational leadership from the University of Phoenix, and has served as CEO of Girl Scouts of California’s Central Coast, Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics and Community Action of Ventura County, among others.
Although she officially retired in 2019, she still works as CEO of Nonprofit Kinect, a consulting firm that provides “superior leadership tools and resources so nonprofit leaders and board members can make viable decisions that move organizations forward to a sustainable and vibrant future.” She also writes about nonprofit issues as a Noozhawk columnist.
She loves nonprofit work, saying, “I really enjoy helping each nonprofit be the best it can be through a really well-trained board and inspired staff.”
Sinclair has had her work cut out for her during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has radically changed how nonprofits operate. She acknowledges the many challenges they have faced over the last year.
“It’s difficult to keep in close contact with donors and the community when you don’t have your normal ways of doing that,” she said. “Costs are skyrocketing because there’s so much more need for their services.”
While many nonprofits have seen an uptick in donations, sometimes that increased revenue isn’t enough to offset their rising costs.
Still, Sinclair believes that the pandemic has given nonprofits some important opportunities to “step back, reassess, reimagine what they can be.” During the public health and economic crisis, “a lot of nonprofits have discovered new ways of service and new aspects to the work that they have to do.”
She suggests that nonprofits ask the five questions posed by renowned management guru Peter Drucker: What is our mission? Who are our customers? What do they value? How are we doing? What is our plan? Considering these questions could allow nonprofits to “focus on what’s always been important but be open to new ways of thinking and delivering service.”
Summarizing her advice for nonprofits in the age of the coronavirus, Sinclair remarks that organizations must “keep their focus on their mission, on the impact they’re having in the community, on the well-being of their staff, and just communicating the best they can to the community and donors.”
During the pandemic, Sinclair herself has spent her free time bicycling, hiking, snow skiing and kayaking. When possible, she travels, whether that means driving to national parks or biking in the Santa Ynez Valley. She has no intention of letting COVID-19 put her adventures on pause.
“I feel very blessed to have this wonderful life,” she said. “I feel pretty darn lucky.”
Click here to order My Wild and Precious Life.