Strategic planning for nonprofits with Don St. Clair

Lee chats with Don St. Clair, an expert in nonprofit marketing, strategy creation, execution, and leadership development, about the key elements of making an impact in your community. If you’re a nonprofit, you don’t want to miss this!

Don St. Clair:

So, it’s all about reliability and impact. Do you do what you say you’re going to do and do you affect enough people to make a difference.

Lee Wochner:

Today with our guest Don St. Clair, we will be discussing marketing for municipalities, how to provide valuable insights and guidance as a facilitator, and what he is optimistic for the future.

Jaclyn: Welcome to the podcast that lightens the tension when things sort of get hard… That’s What C! Said, the Counterintuity podcast, featuring interviews with leaders and doers who have helped to make our world a better place through their actions — and especially through marketing, communications, and embracing change. Here’s our host Lee Wochner.

Lee Wochner: We’re joined today by Don St. Clair, partner of MacIntyre and St. Clair, a strategy leadership and communication consultancy. Don works with nonprofits, government, and small businesses with expertise in strategy creation, execution, leadership development, nonprofit capacity building, innovation, and full disclosure. I have seen him excel in these areas in more than one venue. So it’s nice to have him here today.

Lee Wochner: All of his incredible qualifications and experiences qualify him to be here today. He has served in senior executive posts at universities in Indiana, Illinois, California. His career in higher education included significant work in Asia, Europe, South America, the Middle East, and the US. He was a founding faculty member of the organizational leadership department at Woodbury University, where I am joining from. And his leadership role in Los Angeles included serving as board chair of the Los Angeles Business Federation, an alliance of 145 business groups representing 250,000-plus employers. He was also board chair of Valley Economic Development Council, chair of the board of the Nevada Micro Enterprise Institute Initiative, and served on the board of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association. He is the past chair of the board of the Burbank Chamber of Commerce, where I got to meet Don almost 20 years ago. He holds a doctorate in organizational leadership from Pepperdine University. Don, thanks for joining us.

Don St. Clair: Thank you, Lee, and thank you for the wonderful introduction. You make me sound very important.

Lee Wochner: And it all seems to be legitimate and true. How about that?

Don St. Clair: Thank you so much. I’m happy to be here.

Lee Wochner: Oh, it’s nice to see you. You and I go way back and have worked on a number of things together. It’s always been a great pleasure. So let’s talk about your consultancy first. For the benefit of our listeners, can you please tell us what McIntyre St. Clair does?

Don St. Clair: Lee, we do basically three things. We do strategic planning for city government primarily, nonprofit organizations, and some county government organizations. We also provide leadership training and development, working with executive teams or mid-manager teams to improve their ability to lead their organizations and work together, enhancing their quality of life at work. The third aspect of our work is research, where we engage in community engagement assessments for nonprofits in central and northern California. These assessments help them reassess their operations and community needs to align their mission with the community. Those are the three primary areas we focus on. Additionally, my partner, Jenna McIntyre, specializes in healthcare communications, data research, and also provides executive and employee coaching.

Lee Wochner: I know Janet as well, and she’s a terrific writer. I’m picky about writing, and she’s very good.

Don St. Clair: She is indeed. Her career started as a newspaper reporter, and her writing skills emerged from that background. Over the years, she has become a top-notch researcher, especially in healthcare.

Lee Wochner: What led you and your partner to launch this consultancy? How did it come about, and how long have you been doing this?

Don St. Clair: Well, it goes back 25 years, and the missing piece of the puzzle is that we are not only business partners but also married. In 1998, I was recruited from Chicago to a university in Southern California, and Janet quit her job in Chicago to join me here. She started her own communications work primarily with the healthcare industry, along with some higher education work. In 2014-2016, as my career in higher education was ending after 28 years, we took a summer off to reflect on our lives and future plans. In the fall of 2014, we sat down and decided to join forces and work together. We had previously collaborated on leadership development and strategic planning, so it made sense to combine our expertise. We had been in LA for about 18 years, our children were born here, and we didn’t want to leave. We made the leap of faith, and here we are.

Lee Wochner: Interestingly, Counterintuity has a similar origin story. After taking a break, I merged my business with Amy Kramer, my partner, who had her own firm. It seemed like the better route to go. It’s interesting how these decisions align. I remember when you and Janet made this leap, and I’ll compliment you later on our work together. Now, let’s talk about nonprofits. We primarily work with nonprofits and public agencies. So, I’ll play dumb and ask you, what do nonprofits come to McIntyre St. Clair for? What are their pressing issues, and how do you help?

Don St. Clair: I believe nonprofits seek an outside perspective to help them determine their future direction. When we engage with nonprofits for strategic planning or community assessments, our goal is not to dictate how they should run their organizations, define their mission, or tell them what to do. Instead, we facilitate the nonprofit leadership, both the board and organization’s

leaders, to find their own best way forward. Nonprofit boardrooms can be challenging, and it’s hard for members to have an objective view due to dynamics and personal biases. As strategic planning consultants, we ask probing questions, guiding them through the process of reflection and helping them understand their identity, goals, and strategies to achieve them.

Lee Wochner: This aligns with our approach in marketing. We don’t invent a client’s story but rather work with them to uncover and articulate what they already know. We help them communicate their identity, purpose, and target audience effectively because they understand their business better than anyone else. Similarly, your work with nonprofits reveals their path rather than imposing directions or decisions.

Don St. Clair: Absolutely. We do a considerable amount of strategic planning in city government. We can facilitate the city council and leadership team to have conversations that expose the issues, challenges, and strengths so they can chart their own course.

Lee Wochner: OpenSpace, a facilitation strategy from the 90s, aimed to bring people together to share their existing solutions and insights. Similarly, when we convene people, we strive to improve communication and uncover ideas that may not have been expressed before.

Don St. Clair: It’s about effective communication within a group. As facilitators, we ensure that everyone has a chance to speak, including those who may be hesitant or displaying discomfort. We encourage people to share their thoughts honestly and create a safe and comfortable environment for them to do so. Often, unspoken insights can be crucial to the organization’s future.

Lee Wochner: Absolutely. Facilitators play a vital role in encouraging those who aren’t sharing to contribute their perspectives. They help create a safe space for open and honest discussions about the organization’s future. Additionally, as consultants, we can offer perspectives and ask questions that may not be voiced if left to the group alone.

Don St. Clair: That’s correct. As consultants, we can speak more freely because we can leave the room and go home afterward. If someone wants to be mad at the consultant, that’s acceptable, unlike within the organization where relationships can be strained. Our goal is to provide valuable insights and guidance without fear of negative repercussions.

Lee Wochner: Exactly. We can offer a fresh perspective and ask critical questions that may not be asked otherwise. We come and go, while the organization continues to operate. Ultimately, our aim is to contribute to improving the working environment and the impact the organization has on people’s lives.

Don St. Clair: Lee, this reminds me of a funny story. We were interviewing for our first municipal strategic planning project. I had previously facilitated an executive team retreat for this city, a small city in the San Gabriel Valley of Los Angeles County. During the interview with three city council members, I asked a particular question. One council member had a funny look on his face and admitted that he was indeed thinking about a specific person. The next day, the city manager called to inform us that we had been hired. He explained that the council member wanted to hire us because we weren’t afraid to speak truth to power. It was accidental, but it taught me a valuable lesson early in my consulting career. I learned to be unafraid of expressing my truth, regardless of whether it aligned with the client’s perspective.

Lee Wochner: That resonates with one of our core values at Counterintuity: commitment. We commit to improving things for the client, being truthful, and speaking our minds, even if it means disagreeing. There was a similar instance in the past when we were engaged by another municipality. I naturally enjoy listening to people and hearing them out. One council member appreciated being heard and recommended our services to the city manager. Sometimes, people just want to be listened to.

Don St. Clair: That’s a very important aspect, and it should be a part of the history and fabric of the United States. It’s important to value and respect everyone’s voice. Yeah, absolutely. It’s not always about being right; it’s about creating an environment where everyone’s perspective is heard and considered.

Don St. Clair: Well, it’s not always about getting your way, but it’s important to be heard and understood.

Lee Wochner: Let’s shift our focus back to nonprofits for a moment. How can we determine if a nonprofit is performing well? We work with various nonprofits, and we genuinely want them all to succeed. So, what are the indicators of a functioning and successful nonprofit?

Don St. Clair: Alright, let’s set aside the obvious answer that everyone gives you. Checking their financial health, such as their books, operating margins, and solvency, is essential but considered a baseline. We assess nonprofits’ performance using a two-dimensional approach. I have a simple grid, a four-square model that I personally use because you have to develop your own model to be valuable, right?

Lee Wochner: Ha ha ha.

Don St. Clair: So, I call it the reliability and impact model. It’s straightforward. First, does the nonprofit deliver on its stated mission? Are they reliable in doing what they say they will? Second, what is the impact? Does their work truly matter? Are they making a difference in people’s lives? This realization came to me later in my career in higher education. I experienced instances where people questioned why someone like Steven Spielberg would donate $10 million to USC instead of a lesser-known university. It gradually dawned on me that he did it because he believed USC would make a significant impact with that money. USC had a global presence and was considered a major player, whereas a lesser-known institution may not have the same influence.

Lee Wochner: Hmm.

Don St. Clair: So, it all boils down to reliability and impact. Do you walk the talk, and does your work truly matter? For smaller nonprofits, they may find this model challenging because they consider themselves small and think they can’t make a significant impact. However, it’s about making a difference within their sphere, leaving a positive footprint. The key is, do they matter?

Lee Wochner: Yeah, if your big, audacious goal was to put a person on the moon in 10 years, success or failure would be evident, right? We would know if there’s a person on the moon. And of course, it should be a person, not just a man. That’s how it should be.

Don St. Clair: Thank you. Thank you.

Lee Wochner: Don, I remember you as an outstanding board chair during our time serving on the board together. I’ve mentioned it to you multiple times. So, what qualities make a good board member?

Don St. Clair: The first thing that comes to mind for me, Lee, is a recognition that board service isn’t about you. It’s not about me. Now, I would particularly assign this to the role of board chair.

Lee Wochner: Yeah.

Don St. Clair: And that particular organization was my first board chairmanship.

Lee Wochner: Really?

Don St. Clair: There have been several since. But that was my first board chairmanship. And I remember that board. That was a raucous bunch of people. That was an opinionated room. That was an opinionated room, okay? And so the first thing you have to do is go, hey, this is not about me.

Lee Wochner: Mm-hmm.

Don St. Clair: This is about what the mission of this organization is. Now, let’s be honest. We join boards for many reasons. We join boards because we want to do good work, and that’s what we say. But we join boards because of ego. We join boards because sometimes it leverages our business, social connection, and camaraderie. Those are all good reasons. The predominant reason needs to be, though, that I want to help this organization do the work it does. And then if all those self-interest things line up, that’s awesome. That’s terrific. But the first thing has to be, I want to help this organization be the best it can be. The second lesson of board involvement for me is don’t sign up for something that you don’t care about. So I have declined board invitations. And I’ve had to say to people, I have to tell you, I admire your work. It doesn’t move me, though. It doesn’t resonate in my heart. My board service is going to be very, very utilitarian to you because I’m going to be going through the motions.

Lee Wochner: Yeah.

Don St. Clair: And I took a couple of those until I realized that’s not good. The third thing is be present intellectually and physically. Boards have meetings for a reason, show up. Boards have events for a reason, show up.

Lee Wochner: And when you show up at a board, put your phone down, don’t be reading your email,

Don St. Clair: Thanks for watching!

Lee Wochner: pay attention and be engaged. It’s a really simple formula, yet it’s hard to do sometimes.

Lee Wochner: You know, when I got on that board, that was your first board chairmanship.

Don St. Clair: Thank you.

Lee Wochner: And I had sat on other boards. But I had not been, and I did wind up becoming chair of that organization years after you.

Don St. Clair: You did.

Lee Wochner: I’ve got a little thank you plaque on the wall here.

Don St. Clair: Thanks for watching!

Lee Wochner: My first thought after getting into that was, oh, no, what have I gotten myself into? What’s going on here? And who are these people? And how is this going to be? And there was an element of good old boyism. And, you know, we’ll just leave it at that. And actually what happened was, I went up friends with all those guys, and it was terrific, even when I didn’t agree, and I’ve made great friends in my life from that board service, and then new people and new sorts of people started to come onto that board. And it’s been very fulfilling, and I know the impact that we’ve made in the community on that board. And I learned a lot about sharing a board from you, Don. So hats off to you.

Don St. Clair: You more than once, there would be an issue and you would say, you know, I’m not sure that we made the right decision or we tackled that right or, you know, maybe we shut down the conversation too quickly. Could we talk about that some more? And not everyone would have done that. I remember you doing that.

Don St. Clair: Yeah. Yeah, it goes back to what we said earlier, people want to be heard. And when you’re in a board setting like that, you have different personalities, you have dominant personalities and you have personalities that are less dominant. And it’s easy for those dominant personalities to take over that board experience. And then I chaired, I’ve chaired several boards since then, but I chaired a subsequent board, and you were not on that board, but you and I worked together because Counterintuity was working with that organization.

Lee Wochner: Mm-hmm.

Don St. Clair: for a while. That was a very rambunctious board, way more than the one we served together on. And you have to learn that you gotta make sure that everybody has a voice and that everybody has the opportunity to participate and be heard. And that’s really your job. It’s like facilitating strategic planning. I look at board chairmanship not as being the boss, but as being the lead facilitator. My job is not to make decisions. My job is to facilitate the process of making decisions.

Lee Wochner: So in terms of facilitating process that makes decisions, recently we had the artistic director of my theater company, Moving Arts, on this show. And speaking with you reminds me that you were a consultant for Moving Arts.

Don St. Clair: It works.

Lee Wochner: yes, and we are this boutique little theater company, about $200,000 in annual revenue. And you really laid out a plan of action for us with major objectives. And thank you for that, by the way. And then a year and a half later, we had actually done all of it. And some of those things may have been on that to-do list for 10, 20 years, maybe 30. So clearly you succeeded in helping us. Why do you think we couldn’t just do it on our own? Because we’ve got smart, capable people, and we always have. What is it that you think that you brought to that process that helped? Because we were determined to do what you said.

Don St. Clair: I remember those two stints with you and Moving Arts. I remember… the second one wasn’t so long ago.

Lee Wochner: Mm-hmm.

Don St. Clair: And I’m gonna say this in tongue and cheek, take it as it’s intended. It was one of the most fun and the worst paid gigs I’ve ever had.

Lee Wochner: Well, you’re welcome. Well, you know, when you work in the arts, Don, get used to it.

Don St. Clair: But I had a ball because it was so outside my element. It allowed me to use my skills in a different way. And honestly, you probably shouldn’t have paid me because I gained more from it than you guys did. But coming in, especially with Moving Arts, where I had no knowledge of theater administration, it was a valuable experience for me to bring my business and strategy skills into an arena where some people understood it, but others didn’t. It was about asking challenging questions, not accepting answers without further exploration. I questioned the feasibility of big dreams and pushed for thinking bigger. As an outsider, I brought a fresh perspective, unaffected by the organization’s culture and norms. I had the privilege of working with smart, creative individuals who were passionate about theater. Looking back, I don’t feel like I did anything special. I simply gave you permission to pursue your goals and provided a green light.

Lee Wochner: And we’ve been moving full speed ahead since then. Now, if someone is representing a nonprofit organization and they feel stuck, what steps should they take to get unstuck?

Don St. Clair: First, they need to step back and reassess their purpose. Leaders must ask themselves difficult questions, such as whether it’s time to move on and pass the baton to someone with renewed energy. Once the leadership is committed to staying and reenergizing, they should identify the essential tasks and let go of nonessential ones. Strategic planning is not just about adding new ideas, but also about eliminating what doesn’t align with the core mission. Many nonprofits, especially smaller ones, get overwhelmed by taking on too much, which drains their energy. It’s crucial to prioritize the few key things they should be doing. Additionally, cultivating a positive and enjoyable work culture is vital. Work should be fulfilling, and the focus should be on making a difference rather than just a paycheck. When the day-to-day grind obscures the impact, regrouping and refocusing on the important aspects can reignite the passion.

Lee Wochner: That’s excellent advice. Now, let’s take a short break for a special announcement, and we’ll be back to discuss civic institutions, lessons learned, and more ways to make a difference.

Jaclyn: Hi, this is Jaclyn with Counterintuity.  Are you still using the old version of Google Analytics? If so, you need to switch to Google Analytics 4… and you need to do it NOW!

Let’s back up. If you’re wondering what this is all about, Google Analytics is a powerful tool that helps you understand your website’s performance. It’s free, and it can tell you all sorts of useful things about how people are using your site, how many visitors you get, how long they stay on the site, how they got there in the first place, and more.

Lee Wochner: Welcome back! We’re here with our guest, Don St. Clair. Don, you’re involved in strategic planning for cities. How have cities changed in recent years?

Don St. Clair: The landscape of cities has indeed transformed, particularly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Before 2020, cities operated differently. However, when the pandemic hit, they were forced to adapt their methods completely. Remote work became the norm, and the initial panic about declining revenue was eased by government funding. This influx of resources enabled cities to undertake projects and initiatives they couldn’t previously due to financial constraints or resistance to change. They embraced technological advancements and required people to engage with the city digitally. Employee well-being also became a priority as physical and mental health concerns grew. The pandemic redefined how cities approached their work, and they had to constantly reassess and innovate to navigate the challenges.

Lee Wochner: That’s a significant shift indeed. Thank you for sharing your insights.


Don St. Clair: They began to pay more attention to the mental health of their cities, of their employees. They began to pay attention in different ways to social issues that were exacerbated by the pandemic, most notably homelessness. All of those things, like for most of us, Lee, even in our personal lives, that pandemic was a real wake-up. It was a real wake-up. I mean, everything changed for us in so many ways. So it changed the way those cities worked. Here’s what I found. And I found this to accelerate during the pandemic, and I found it to be very true now post-pandemic. And by the way, during the early year of the pandemic, our work went completely dead.

Lee Wochner: Hmm.

Don St. Clair: We were hardly working at all. But when things started to open back up, we came back to work really quickly. There was this pent-up demand.

Lee Wochner: Thanks for watching!

Don St. Clair: And you see cities now paying more attention to their workforce. You see cities now understanding the value of their human capital. You see cities now understanding that they really have to engage their communities in different ways to achieve the things that they want to achieve. I’m a contrarian about city government. It’s popular. I mean, let’s just be clear. Our country was founded on a distrust of government.

Lee Wochner: Mm-hmm.

Don St. Clair: That’s where our country was founded on. And that distrust of government is endemic. It absolutely permeates everything we do in our interactions with government. I’m a contrarian on that. To my surprise, in the eight years that I’ve been doing significant work with city governments in Southern California, I have been overwhelmingly impressed with them.

Lee Wochner: Hmm.

Don St. Clair: I’ve been impressed by the commitment, by the work they do, the hours that they work. I’ve been impressed by their ability to constantly endure criticism. I’ve been impressed by a lot of things. Now, do I know city officials or city employees individually who I may not find impressive? Absolutely. Of course I do. But on the whole, I have an entirely different attitude about city government than I did 10 years ago because I’ve been there with them. We’ve been there with them and worked with them, and we really see the strength of those people. Funding has ended and things are going kind of more back to normal. You’re going to see the cities again, though, begin to struggle with priorities, begin to struggle with priorities. Housing is huge. Housing is a huge problem in California, as you know. And it’s city to city. Some cities are being very aggressive with things like ADU construction and multifamily construction, increasing density because they believe that that’s the answer to the housing issues in California. Other cities are being super resistant to those things, and they’re still trying to live in the ’80s. They’re still trying to live in a bygone era. Some things are better. The pension crisis that we heard about for so long, it’s not completely fixed, but it’s significantly better. Cities are able to fund their pensions, and that has relieved an enormous amount of budget pressure on them. They do resent what they consider to be interference from Sacramento. The legislation, the housing-related legislation that’s come down from Sacramento has been particularly irritating to city officials in many cities. There’s a significant shift in the demographics of city leadership. City managers used to be all males. They used to be all men. Not anymore. Not anymore. There’s an increasing number of women leading cities at the city manager position. It’s

not just increasing, it’s significant. It’s through a transition of retirements where veterans are going to be leaving, and newer, younger people are going to be moving up. And that’s going to impact the way those cities do business because when younger people come up through the ranks, they bring new ideas with them. So I think those answers are a little general, but my particular attitude about the state of city government in Southern California is oddly positive. You know that board that we were talking about that you and I both served on?

Don St. Clair: That would not be an optimistic view that the members of that board at that time would have shared. Where you know the government’s always bad, the government messes everything up.

Don St. Clair: That’s not the government. Those are not the city governments that I see. I see city governments where people are honestly trying to do the best work they can. And are some of them well-paid? Sure they are, and they… If you’re the city manager of a city with a $500 million budget, that’s a big enterprise. That’s a big enterprise. And you’re making a fraction of what a CEO of a similar-sized private sector company would make. The final thing I would say is that there is a recognition, I think, in city governments that you can run your city using good business principles, but you don’t run your city like a business. A business has one primary objective, and that’s to make money. City government, that’s not their objective. Their objective is to spend money wisely, and it’s an entirely different mission.

Lee Wochner: Many years ago, when a candidate was up to run the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, she had been running a small theater in Van Nuys or North Hollywood. And so I think it was Supervisor Ed Edelman at the time who was interviewing her for this position. And he said, “When will the John Anson Ford Amphitheater make money? When will it break even?” Which is one of the county’s performance venues. And she said, “Never. When will the bridge make any money?” And he said, “Oh, okay, just wanted to know.”

Don St. Clair: Yeah.

Lee Wochner: And then she got hired, and they gave up on the idea that it should ever break even, which of course, like almost no arts facility breaks even. I mean, unless you’re programming Taylor Swift.

Don St. Clair: Well, and that’s an excellent example, by the way, of not accepting the premise of the question. The premise of that question is that theater should make money.

Lee Wochner: Yeah.

Don St. Clair: No, don’t accept the premise of the question. Don’t accept the premise of the question at all.

Lee Wochner: You know, you talk about the endemic distaste for government, and I’m a purveyor of science fiction, right? I’ll read some science fiction, I’ll watch science fiction, and listen to how it’s changed in our lifetime. So when I was a kid, 1984, the book and the movie versions were horrific, and same with Fahrenheit 451, and those are both about rampaging government control and what government’s going to do to you. It’s The Last of Us and The Walking Dead, and

God forbid the government falls apart and can’t save us and we can’t do anything, and…

There’s a catastrophe. The government was ill-equipped, and now we’re back to anarchy, and I don’t like either one of these visions. But the second vision seems a little more helpful, at least in terms of a reality check that we need the government.

Don St. Clair: Absolutely, absolutely. My life politically has been weird. I grew up in deep red rural northern Indiana, an incredibly conservative culture. Then I went to a progressive college and started my career in higher education. So I’ve always been stuck in the middle, not the conservative I would have been if I stayed where I grew up. I’m pretty centrist left. I feel like there’s no spot for us today, yet most of us are centrist and moderate.

Lee Wochner: I agree. Earlier today, I had a conversation with someone well-placed in educating the next generation, and they said the same thing.

Lee Wochner: Keep the flame. Don’t give up on that.

Don St. Clair: Thank you.

Lee Wochner: Let’s talk about image and marketing for municipalities. Ukraine has done a branding campaign about their national identity due to the invasion. I Love New York is a long-standing marketing campaign. Is it important for municipalities to market themselves, differentiate, and get the word out?

Don St. Clair: Yes, it is. Most municipalities know that. The hard thing is when you have 87 cities around Los Angeles. Each city having its own identity is hard. Craft their identity around quality of life issues. Smaller cities can highlight diversity, generational roots, and civic pride. In our region, Burbank, Glendale, and Pasadena each think they’re better than the other two cities.

Lee Wochner: Ha ha ha ha!

Don St. Clair: But they all agree all three of them are better than Los Angeles.

Lee Wochner: Hahaha

Don St. Clair: This they agree on, okay? So sometimes having your own identity is as much about what you aren’t as it is about what you are. And those cities struggle sometimes to carve out that identity. Because again, in some areas of the county, you honestly can’t tell what city you’re in. They look the same, they feel the same, but they’re not the same.

Lee Wochner: It’s funny that in my mind, Burbank, Glendale, and Pasadena have distinct personalities. It’s like I could pick them out at a party, right?

Don St. Clair: Very distinct.

Lee Wochner: But somehow or other, to your point, and Pacoima does, Pacoima’s part of City of LA, Pacoima has an identity to me, and I think you kind of touched on it a little bit ago about

the community there. And yet places like Encino and Van Nuys and Paramount City, which I think is its own city, kind of don’t. Like, I don’t really know what they’re about.

Don St. Clair: Yeah. Yeah. Well, and again, you have the cities like Van Nuys, which is where I live in Toluca Lake. We’re not a city. We’re a neighborhood. We’re a district of Los Angeles. But there’s 87 standalone cities.

Don St. Clair: They’re very, very different. San Gabriel is entirely different than Pico Rivera.

Southgate is entirely different than Montebello. They’re just entirely different cities. But they have difficulty with that. They have difficulty really articulating what they, they have difficulty articulating who they are and why they’re different.

Lee Wochner: So you work with all these municipalities and nonprofits. Is there, let’s talk about the future a little bit here. Are there things coming that the civic community is especially concerned about or eager about, things that you’re being called in to work on in particular about the future?

Don St. Clair: You know, we are finishing right now two projects. These happen to be, these happen to not be in Southern California. And I don’t think this answer is going to be something new. In fact, I think this answer is going to be something old. What we know now, what we think we know coming out of the pandemic is that things are returning to kind of something that’s more similar to the before times. It’s not exactly the same, but it’s more similar. And right now, just finished a project yesterday in a community in Northern California, a two county region in Northern California. And the two critical issues still facing those areas is housing and healthcare. But what we’re realizing is, I think what there’s a growing recognition of is that that’s like seven issues because housing is a question of affordable housing. It’s a question of homeless, homeless, of unhoused, homeless or unhoused and mitigating that. It’s a question of what do you do with encampments? It’s a question of how do you deal with zoning issues and public affordable housing of that nature. It’s workforce housing. The two counties that I’m referring to right now happen to be very, very rural. And they can’t get firefighters and doctors and police officers and teachers in their counties because there’s no place for those people to live. They don’t have enough housing stock. And the only people coming in to build houses are developers who are building second homes. So those fundamental issues of workplace housing and affordable housing aren’t being dealt with. It’s not a new problem, but it’s nowhere near solved. We’re not even at the cusp of solutions on those problems. The other thing is healthcare. There is a growing understanding that healthcare is not physical health. It’s not my body. It’s not my elbow hurts or my shoulder hurts or I’ve got a heart condition or my breathing’s not good or what have you. There is physical health, it’s mental health, it’s substance abuse, it’s domestic violence, it’s the absolute epidemic of gun violence in this country. Those are all things that are coming under the guise of healthcare. So I think that there’s a growing understanding of the complexity of these problems. The complexity of the problems drags us away from our traditional one size fits all solution. And that’s what I’m hoping to see.

Lee Wochner: Yeah, there’s an old saying for every problem, there’s a solution that’s simple, easy and wrong.

Lee Wochner: So last question, and thank you for your time. It’s really been a treat to spend some time with you. You have a daughter in college and two more teens still at home. And I saw yesterday on Facebook that your daughter got her driver’s license, the one at home. So that was exciting.

Don St. Clair: yes, yes, our second child, our youngest daughter, the youngest of the two daughters. I spent the entire morning at the Glendale DMV. It was wonderful.

Lee Wochner: Yeah, and she looked very excited about it. And I’ve been there with three kids of my own. So you’ve got three kids, I’ve got three kids. What do you tell your kids about the future? What do you tell them about?

Don St. Clair: Oh, Lee, I tell them it’s going to be awesome. I tell them it’sawesome. I do, I do. I’m going to answer this question two ways for you. You know, I’m an older father. This is a podcast so nobody can see my gray hair. device, but the opportunities in front of these kids, they’re so plentiful. And it’s so easy for us in the moment, the national moment we’re in, it’s so easy for us to be cynical, it’s so easy for us to be negative, it’s so easy for us to be dubious, and it’s so unnecessary. There’s so many beautiful things in the world, so many things that they’re gonna have, opportunity to experience and encounter. And you know the teen years are so difficult. They’re so hard and it’s not been any easier. The pandemic sure as hell didn’t help, right?

Lee Wochner: Yeah.

Don St. Clair: It’s not been any easier. But they’re gonna have so much opportunity in the future and I’m excited for them and I think they’re excited for themselves. I want to flip that the other way though.

Lee Wochner: Mm-hmm.

Don St. Clair: Here’s one of my pet peeves. When I hear somebody say, oh kids these days, they do this. I literally want to scream because here’s my experience with kids these days. The kids that the young people that I worked with, that I worked with when I was still in university work, and my own children and their friends. These kids are smarter, more intuitive, better informed, more willing to be open, and more willing to explore than any end of the story. So I’m not only optimistic for the kids, I’m optimistic for us too. I’m optimistic for us too because this difficult moment that we’ve been in, and the difficult moment didn’t start in 2016, it predates that. The difficult moment that we’ve been in will pass. It will pass. And these kids are going to make it pass. And they’re going to make They’re going to make our society better. They’re going to make our society better. I’m a big fan of the historian John Meacham. And he says this all the time, that this is cyclical and we’re going to come through this and we’re going to be stronger. And I believe that. And it’s what helps me sleep at night and get up in the morning.

Lee Wochner: I agree with you utterly, and I could not have said it any better. And it’s interesting to have two conversations in one day in which both times John Meacham and his book are brought up. So that’s very interesting. There is something in the air here, my friend. And I applaud you for your optimism. And guys like you and you and I and our friends need to get that word out a little more. Don, if people want to learn more about McIntyre St. Clair or get in touch with you, how should they do that?

Don St. Clair: They can find our website at They can email me at don at They can email me at info at They can contact you and you can give them my phone number.

Lee Wochner: I live to serve, so I’m happy to do that, of course. And we’ll put all that information in the show notes. Hey, Don, it’s been a real pleasure, and you and I should get together for a drink sometime soon.

Don St. Clair: I’ve got a 3.30 meeting, but I’m free right after that.

Lee Wochner: All right. Hey, thanks so much.

Don St. Clair: Seriously, thank you, my friend.

Jaclyn: Thanks for listening! We’re glad you came. That’s What C! Said is produced by Lisa Pham and engineered by Joe Curet. It’s available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts. Please like and follow the show. Visit to sign up and learn more.

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