The route is not always certain but sometimes we reach a junction. It may be obvious or obscure. The opportunity, if we choose is to assess our choices and leave details for those who follow. If we embrace values that include helping others then these moments of intersection are opportunities for action. Our own journey is greatly enhanced by those that have gone before us, even if we are traveling in another direction.
Too often we witness overwhelmed by the number of options or frustration by the lack of choice. The boldest step is to pick one route and let the adventure unfold. It is too easy to sit in front of a departure board and look at all the possible destinations. What if we commit to a preferred location and then sort out the details? Trusting our navigational abilities is inherent in our remarkable wayfinding skills. Orient ourselves towards what matters and then embark on the journey.
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.