Often, we are happy just to see dishes being placed in the sink. Getting the dirty dishes into the dishwasher is another level of commitment. Clearing the table highlights the 80-20 Rule (80% of the work completed by 20% of the people). Many organizations create board and staff expectation statements that are the equivalent of getting dishes to the sink. Then we hear grumblings about why only one or two people fill the dishwasher. We request names of prospective members and donors but only a few people follow-up by contacting the names on the list. We ask for volunteers to attend a program and the same few individuals offer their time. We ask for network connections and are displeased when only one person offers a suggestion.
We need to write better expectation statements or get comfortable assigning the final actions to complete a task. It is up to us to define the scope of work, why act hostile towards those who thought clearing the table stopped at the sink? We are at our best when we set people up for success.
A nonprofit debated keeping their Form 990 tax return private and sharing it only with the Executive Director and Executive Committee. The well-intended conversation was based around the financial disclosures that might cause concern to individuals who reviewed the form without appropriate context. Eventually, the board reached the realization that Form 990 was a public document, viewable on a number of public websites. Secondly, a board member made a compelling argument that the organization should use the Annual Report as a way to put the programs and numbers in context. Lastly, the Treasurer and Finance Chair walked the board through the return, stumbling upon Part VI, Section B, Question 11a, “Has the organization provided a complete copy of their Form 990 to all members of its governing body before filing the form?” The board discussion turned into an act of governance.
The question of which documents must be made public and which may remain confidential causes confusion. Many social sector enterprises invest significant time and energy into debating this topic. BoarSource provides a one-page overview that may be especially helpful as a starting point. I encourage sharing this resource so more time can be spent on the work that matters.
When an airline drags a passengers off a plane and bloodies them because it wants to put employees on a flight, humanity is lost. The hard work is recognizing the human element to every interaction. It takes empathy and curiosity to negotiate challenging moments. The easy work is enforcing policies. The work that matters is seeing each individual in the crowd. When we ask better questions, we get remarkable results. When we look at people as a way to manage the numbers we settle for the lowest common denominator. Be brave, state your vision. Show how humanity is being served. Sometimes is just means keeping your promise.
Here is a conversation that may find its way to your boardroom in the next year. Do nonprofits need to pay nonprofit board members? The National Association of Nonprofit Organizations and Executives (NANOE) is advocating a change to the role of a board member and nonprofit executive. The headline grabber is NANOE’s belief that nonprofit board members should receive an honorarium for their service, and a strong CEO focus on money over mission. The Chronicle of Philanthropy provides a in-depth look at the movement.
The ascension of this discussion brings a conversation opportunity to the board room. What does your organization stand for? How does its behaviors match the stated values? What actions would constitute a breach? What is essential to the serving the board?
Would your organization pay for performance?
Any of us can make a promise, take a reservation, offer a guarantee. That is not the work that matters. How we perform when circumstances cause us to deviate from our promise reveals our real value. How we respond to missing expectations is what makes us memorable.
People come for interactions that they consider remarkable. They want to hear/see/interact with your greatest hits along with the new project that you are working on. Sometimes it feels routine to use your super power to fuel your journey. But we can only make sense of something new when we start from a place we understand. When in Swiss Alps, one expects to here mountain folk music before a new piece is introduced. It provides a point of connection. This is why instructors inquire about our prior experiences before starting their instruction. They wish to create a foundation from where we are, not from some abstract platform that we cannot access. What you are known for may be the very best place to start a new relationship.
Anyone can hire a pair of searchlights to illuminate the night sky and draw the curious. Same with fireworks. Swirling and screaming beams of light and loud unexpected explosions call attention to your location. The real questions is what do you have to offer once everyone assembles. Too often we look for followers without thinking about what we can give. Be remarkable for your service and the value you add to other people’s journey. The followers will come if the work you do matters. Otherwise, make it known that you are in the entertainment business.