The Nonprofit Technology Community Remembers Dan Scharfman

All of us here at NTEN and in the greater nonprofit technology community were deeply saddened to hear of the sudden and tragic loss of Dan Scharfman, a long-time prominent member of the nonprofit technology community. His loss will be greatly missed by all those who have known him and benefitted from his work. In honor of Dan, we’d like to share this moving remembrance from his friend and colleague, Deborah Elizabeth Finn.

A Tribute to Dan Scharfman

Along with many other colleagues, clients, and members of the community, I was shocked and grief-stricken by Dan Scharfman‘s sudden illness and death. Dan, a much-loved colleague and friend, suffered a very serious heart attack on January 15th, and was immediately placed in a medically induced coma at Mount Auburn Hospital. On the night of January 20th, he died without regaining consciousness.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Dan’s wife, Merle Kummer, and to their children, Jacob and Rachel, and to all his loved ones.

Dan was a revered figure in the New England community of mission-based organizations and nonprofit technology assistance providers – a consultant’s consultant. He served as Vice President of Information Solutions at Baird Associates, and as a member of the board of the Belmont School Committee. He was an inveterate punster, a classicist, a devoted family man, an avid long distance runner, and a brilliant practitioner in the field of nonprofit technology. It’s extremely unusual to find a colleague who is as at home under a client’s desk, trouble-shooting a PC that has crashed, as he is addressing the distraught, technophobic board of a nonprofit that is facing a major information systems implementation. But Dan did that, and more.

After his heart attack, I spoke at length to Dan’s close colleague and friend, Doug Baird of Baird Associates, about Dan’s condition. There wasn’t much news to report; nothing was known about Dan’s prognosis. However, there was much material for reflection. Doug and I found ourselves musing on the inherent injustice of a universe in which Dan, who was not only a exemplary human being, but also a fitness fanatic who trained for 100 mile races for fun, should be stricken with a heart attack.

Well, this isn’t a fair universe – at least, not yet. We don’t know why someone like Dan had to suffer a heart attack and premature death, and we may never know. On both a medical level and a metaphysical level, it doesn’t make any sense. We are obliged to go on without him. We can never replace him; we can only do our best to emulate him, and to be there for others who also miss him.

Dan’s funeral was an astounding experience. I knew that Dan had an unusually wide range of friends and fans, but it was a revelation to be the same room with hundreds of people, each of whom was deeply grieved, because he or she not only considered Dan to be an extraordinary man, but also felt that he or she had 100% of Dan’s concern and attention whenever it was needed. He must have been operating in previously undiscovered dimensions, or doing entirely without sleep, to be so fully present to so many people. Dan’s life was an improbably rich one of accomplishment, love, and service.

At the funeral, a number of his loved ones and friends spoke about Dan. Beth Ann Strollo, Executive Director of the Quincy Community Action Programs and a long time client, spoke very movingly on behalf of Dan’s clients, colleagues, and admirers in the nonprofit sector. Many thanks are due to Beth Ann for permission to quote her here, and to another of Dan’s esteemed colleagues, Tom Mendelsohn, who contributed some thoughts and memories.

Beth Ann Strollo:

I have had the pleasure of knowing Dan for over 20 years. It is hard to sum up in just a few minutes what Dan means to so many of us here and what an incredible loss this is for us. In the past few days my co-workers at Quincy Community Action and my colleagues in the non profit community – like all of you – have been overwhelmed with shock and sadness at the loss of Dan – and there has been an outpouring of the most wonderful sentiments about him -that’s because Dan was such a truly remarkable person – he really was a renaissance man – but more importantly he was kind, he was caring, he was intelligent – he was the kind of person you just immediately connected with – he was unassuming – he was always positive – always diplomatic in the old fashioned, admirable sense of that word.

He was truly a “gentle man”.

In the non profit sector – we benefited from all of those remarkable qualities. Many years ago Dan made a decision to share his knowledge and skills with the non profit community. I’m sure he could have worked for any growing industry in the 80’s – but he chose a less glamorous and certainly a less financially rewarding path – because he was committed to helping organizations that cared for the less fortunate, the environment, the arts. He really was ahead of his time – there were very few people with his skill and background that understood how much this work was needed in the non profit world and who had the commitment to helping us do our work better and help our clients more effectively.

He did that work with total dedication and enthusiasm – as his colleague and friend Tom Mendelsohn said:

“It was not unusual to find Dan at any hour of day or night troubleshooting a network or crimping his own cable to make a printer work because that is what the organization needed and could afford”.

My colleagues and I saw that dedication all the time. Dan was able to go between high level strategic thinking for an agency, to “moshing a database”, to teaching our staff how to use a software program for the 1st time (including opening his home for staff trainings). And he always did it with such patience, such humility and with a smile on his face. Actually, he’d give more than a smile. Att the beginning of each meeting, he would tell you one of his “punny” jokes. And as his friend Tom says “You would laugh (or groan) under the weight of his relentless, clever wordplay and humor.”

But we were thrilled to be subject to Dan’s jokes because he brought so much to our work. He guided us; he made everyone feel like their questions were important, and he had incredible empathy for your situation. Whether it was a technology dilemma or a family challenge, he was there for you to calm your fears, listen to you commiserate, and to help you find the best way through the problem.

There is no way to reconcile that Dan is no longer with us, but all of us here will be comforted by remembering Dan in the middle of our day. As we struggle with that vexing problem or when we are trying to determine the best path to take, we will think of Dan and ask ourselves “What would Dan say? What would he suggest we do?” We will all be better at the end of that day if we take his advice.

Below are two videos with words from Dan’s friends at the January 2013 Tech Club event: