Debbie Mason has worked for corporate and non-profit clients in the fields of governance, strategic planning, development, marketing and public relations. Her career has spanned the corporate sector as well as philanthropy and consulting, but after missing the non-profit sector, she became a consultant for the United Way worldwide—and has been part of the team since.
The United Way is an international non-profit organization that works at the local level to improve communities through charitable organizations. After a year as the local United Way’s President and CEO, this University of Florida public relations graduate is a self-titled “Master Mixologist.” She matches community needs with donor resources as well as with the knowledge, skills and resources available to the United Way. (A devoted reader, she’s currently working on a campaign that matches adult reading buddies with 2nd and 3rd graders.)
Considered a “smaller” United Way, the United Way of North Central Florida continues to win grants and honors on a national level. Debbie credits much of this success to both strong internal and external partnerships. Here’s what works for her.
What is the best, and worst, advice you received?
Best: “Success comes to those who are prepared.” So I am prepared to seize the opportunities or make them.
Worst: “Do nothing and the problem will go away.” I find that is rarely the case; at best it is wishful thinking and at worse it is negligence. Usually, you have to constructively address problems or they fester and eventually erupt out of hand.
What gadget is most valuable to you at work?
My iPhone. It lets me manage hundreds of emails in between appointments when I am not at my desk.
What’s your best tip for staying organized?
Discipline and time. I make the time to do it.
I carve out time every week to look forward on my calendar to see what’s coming, what needs more time, how my team is progressing with projects, etc. I do that monthly and quarterly looking at the entire year, as well, to stay on target. I do that with my senior team, too, so we all stay connected, as we are managing some major projects for the community with lots of moving pieces.
I keep my organizational and personal metrics in front of me at all times so I can discern what’s really important and then can prioritize my time accordingly. I’m a big list and calendar person. I break giant tasks down into steps, and I try to work ahead of deadlines rather than procrastinate.
What sources do you use to get your news?
For local news, The Gainesville Sun, TV20, The Business Report, Gainesville Magazine, Home Magazine, etc. For national news, The New York Times. I subscribe to about a dozen work-related magazines, ranging from Harvard Business, Inc., Fast Company to several nonprofit journals on management, communications and fundraising.
I am a prolific reader, so I subscribe to about a dozen magazines focused on interior design, gardening, travel, yoga. I read about three books a week, ranging from business management to inspiration and fiction. And, I love KTK, WUFT and SKY radio.
Which books do you recommend?
Several. My friend, John Spence, wrote a great little book, Awesomely Simple: Essential Business Strategies for Turning Ideas Into Action. It’s short but packed with good advice, no matter what sector in which you work. I love books by Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin and I still love good old Tom Peters, too. I periodically reread the books by all of those guys.
What is your daily schedule like?
I wake up between 5:30 and 6am and either walk or do some yoga. I read the paper, feed my dog and then hop in the shower. After that it is full guns a-blazing! I get to the office or my first appointment between 8:00 and 8:30, usually after working some from home. (A lot of my mornings start with 7:30am meetings, which I find dreadful, but I do them.)
My calendar is typically booked minute-to-minute in meetings. I can’t really skip meals, so lunch is usually my biggest meal, and the closer to noon the better for me.
On a rare day, I can carve out some strategic thinking time during the workday, but usually that happens after 5pm. I get home between 7:00 and 8pm probably three to four days a week, after either working late at the office or attending a work function, or sometimes after meeting friends. Then, I take a walk with my dog and do some reading. I do a last round of emails before climbing into bed, so I can land in bed with a clear mind. I go to bed about 11 or 11:30pm most nights.
Weekends are my decompression time. I try to limit work to only a few hours over the weekend. I try to say “no” to work events on Sundays to keep that as the one day a week for some spiritual time and respite.
What excites you about the future?
The growth of this United Way and our ability to serve Alachua and our five neighboring counties at an even greater level. We are building from a $3 million United Way to a $7 million United Way in the next decade. Our ability to create long-term change in educational improvements, in partnership with the school board and others, will truly change the economic landscape of our region.
We are bringing amazing grant dollars to our community to invest in strategies to improve families’ financial stability and to answer immediate needs like food and shelter and others. We’re developing terrific volunteer opportunities for seniors, for working professionals and for families to harness their desire to serve in a way that can fold into the strategies we need for solving community problems.
Sometimes it’s hard to sleep because there is so much work to do and I am so excited about our ability to serve. We have the right team in place to achieve some significant advances for our community.
Did you have a moment when you thought you’d “made it?”
Yes. When I learned to celebrate life every day. When I learned to just enjoy being me, quirks and all. When I learned to literally stop and see what was around me. I enjoy my garden every day, particularly now when almost every morning a new glorious flower is blooming. I’m in a peaceful state of mind that creates health and well-being for me and for those around me. My continued work area is to balance my enthusiasm and drive for achieving my goals with my need for peace.
What’s your favorite thing to do in Gainesville?
Something social like dinner parties at my house or dinner at a great restaurant—we’re blessed to have quite a few great ones now. Gator games, long walks or bike rides around my neighborhood. I love the fall outdoor concerts downtown, and of course, our United Downtown series that plugs into all the energy of the city and downtown.
I use my vacation time to get away to the beach to get out of my head and do physical things like biking, swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing. I need to have regular time on a body of water, so I’ve learned to schedule it so it happens.
What’s your favorite hidden gem?
For dining it would be Mildred’s Big City Food, Civilization, Sisters Restaurant, Vellos Brick Street Grill, Dragonfly Sushi, Sabore, or Emiliano’s Cafe. For an out-of-the-ordinary beer, Tall Paul’s Brew House, and for wine or champagne, Half Cork’d. For shopping it would be Pinner’s Fine Shoes or Kitchen & Spice. For inspirational hanging out, you can’t beat the butterfly area at the Florida Museum of Natural History, Kanapaha Botanical Gardens or the Harn Museum. And, of course for arts, we are really blessed—too many to mention!