Lions and Longevity

Most of the time, change making isn’t a one time event.

It was said to hear the news announcing Senator Ted Kennedy’s brain tumor. Regardless of your political philosophy, I think we can agree that anyone facing a life-threatening disease deserves our compassion.

This announcement rekindled a conversation I’ve been having with myself about the role of longevity and steadfastness in organizational change.

The pros and cons of term limits

Not just in politics, but within our nonprofit organizations, there is strong support for term limits. Though I can wax eloquent on all the reasons for limiting the term of board members, and often do, I also know that our organizations (and our government) benefit greatly from the ability to craft deep and lasting relationships.

In the Senate, longevity matters. Senator Kennedy has spent 45 years representing Massachusetts. 45 years. In that time, he has learned an enormous amount about the workings of our government. He has mastered the arcane rules of parliamentary procedure which can thwart the best intentions of any novice politician. Just today President Bush signed into law the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act which Sen. Kennedy spent 10 years working to bring to passage.

To hear Senator Orin Hatch, from the opposite end of the political spectrum, say “I love him like a brother” is a testimony to the extraordinary power of relationships that can only be built over years of working together.

Lasting relationships built on trust, mutual concern, and a commitment to community improvement are critical to the work of our charitable nonprofits. It takes years to get some doors opened. Years to bring to fruition an ultimate gift or bequest. Years to develop trusting relationships with elected officials and strategic alliances with NGO partners.

The work of our sector is to transform our communities — that isn’t about a quick fix, a fast result.

None of us have have relationships with organizations. We have relationships with and developed by the people who work or volunteer in those organizations, the living beings that serve as the face of the issues that we care about.

We hope that our staff, especially our Executive Directors, stay around for a while so that they can forge the relationships that are critical elements of our success.

But what if your organization doesn’t have staff? What if your staff leadership has turned over fairly frequently lately?

Someone has to carry forward the relationships, the commitment to the mission and the founding vision of the organization.

So perhaps as we design our board and management structures, we need to be more intentional about ensuring the durability of relationships.

What do you think?


P.S. Our healing thoughts go out to the Senator and his family. It hits close to home: we both have roots in Massachusetts, the Senator has been the legislative champion for many of the issues we believe in, and his son Patrick is my US Congressional Representative. I can empathize with his pain. Our wishes are with the Congressman as well.

Leave a reply

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.