Tuesday night (this post is republished from May 2017), I started the board retreat with a reflective dialogue based on reading the children’s classic Who Took the Farmer’s Hat?
I sent the book around the room, with a different board member reading each page. The reading took about five minutes.
Then I asked this question:
Why would a board consultant ask you to read this book?
After a brief pause and a few blank looks, one board member launched in which started the conversation:
- “One theme is the need to incorporate different perspectives as different people (er, animals) see the same thing in different ways.”
- “Reacting to change you can’t control or anticipate is another theme.”
- ” ‘The farmer ran fast, but the wind went faster’ describes so many of the changes we encounter and the need to be extremely adaptive”
- “Sometimes you just have to let go of those things you’ve always done and the way you’ve done them”
And so it went. We spent about 20 minutes discussing and applying themes to the board’s role, getting deeper into the themes as we went along.
Using reflective dialogue to spark deeper thinking
As often as I can, I try to incorporate reflective dialogue into my work with organizations, especially boards or work groups.
Brain research tells us that we can’t scold, argue or out-fact our way to change in others. But we can open the door to it by helping to spark moments of insight. In my selection of materials, I’m hoping not only to spark discussion but also to open minds to new ideas, to new possibilities.
As the conversation facilitator, my role is to create a safe space for participants to share their ideas, to pursue concepts that might not be fully formed or are even a bit contrarian. I also come equipped with questions to help spark reflection and move conversation forward. A good resource for questions you can use is Making Questions Work by Dorothy Strachan.
Reflective dialogue for team building
I sometimes get push back from groups when I select adding a poem with discussion into their board meeting or retreat. Yet, those same groups are wondering how to develop stronger personal relationships among their board members.
I’m all for physical bonding exercises at the right place and time. But I have a deep love for these reflective discussions that allow board members to enter a topic through a different frame. We tend to compartmentalize our board members based on their professions, failing to create space for them to share their many gifts and knowledge from other aspects of their lives. My clients are always pleasantly surprised that their retired banker taught philosophy in his youth, or that lawyer was a race car driver.
Since a great workshop I attended given by Adam Davis, executive director of Oregon Humanities and former director of the Center For Civic Reflection, I’ve added A Bed for The Night, by Bertolt Brecht into my work with so many nonprofits. And I regularly assign Adam’s provocative essay What we don’t talk about when we don’t talk about service to my graduate students before we jump into any community projects or service learning.
Sometimes I use a poem, a video or short story like the one above. TED talks can be great reflection starters or a reading from the relevant organization development literature. Other times we might reflect on a research report. Many of my colleagues have used movie clips.
The Center for Civic Reflection has a list of resources on different topics that you might consider as well as questions for you to use. For example, you might want to read Maimonides From Laws Concerning Gifts to the Poor to start your next fundraising discussion.
I’d also like to give a shout out to my colleagues at Creating the Future, who have launched a worldwide experiment “to determine how much more humane the world could be if the questions we ask in our day to day lives are bringing out the best in each other.”
What have you found helpful to get meaningful conversation flowing?
On this day of giving thanks, I’m resharing this post from 2018 about true donor gratitude, from a heart filled with love.
All my best to all of you and your loved ones for this Thanksgiving.
You might want to read about the history and myth of Thanksgiving while you are waiting for the turkey to roast.
We talk a lot in fundraising circles about gratitude. We hear over and over again how we need to honor all of our donors.
But then organizations revert to form by tiering their gratitude to the size of the gift. The biggest gifts get the most personalized thank yous. The biggest donors get priority mention in the annual report. Big givers get their names at the top of the donor wall. They are forever fixed in our minds, remembered by name and amount.
The little gift donor barely registers.
Yet that small gift may be a much bigger act of philanthropy. How often do you celebrate that small gift? Do you stop to think what kind of sacrifice might come with that gift? Someone of limited means or on a fixed income may have reached deep to send their donation.
So when I saw this message bubbling with gratitude on Facebook, I knew I had to share it with you.
With the permission of its author, Henrietta White-Holder, founder and CEO of Higher Ground International, I bring you a close-up, truly authentic example of loving your donor for their act of generosity:
“Lounging around and I received a notification on my phone that someone had made a donation to HGI via our website.
“I checked, and there it was – a wonderful woman had donated $10.00 (ten dollars).
“I found it very significant and heartwarming that she would think of us in such a loving and kind way to donate what she could. It is not the amount that matter[s] but the fact that she contributed in such a thoughtful way means a LOT to us.
“Now, her generous gift of $10.00 is going to help purchase ice melt to help keep the premises of the HGI’S Rukiya Center safe!
“Oh, Happy Day! ❤”
Thank you so much, Henrie, for reminding each of us that donor love starts within our own hearts.
More on donor gratitude
Since the full force of the Covid 19 shutdown took place a few weeks ago, Jon, Alex and I have had to rapidly adjust how we work. Yes, this older dog is sharing and learning new tricks in this video age just as fast as she can.
Ironically, I’ve been working from a home office for 26 years since the founding of Cause & Effect Inc. For at least the last five, I’ve been enjoying videoconferencing with colleagues across the US and Canada through the wonders of Zoom. I have been singing its praises. We even opened Christmas presents with the sons, spouse, fiance and my LA based daughter and my son-in-law over a few hours. It was a lot of fun.
I’ve been promoting videoconferencing as an essential skill of the 21st century board.
I never imagined that videoconferencing would be the only realistic way to connect with the nonprofit teams I work with.
And I’m sure that those directors, staff and volunteers never imagined it either. If you’ve already have a geographically disperse universe, you are likely an old hand. But most of our clients are within driving distance and they have had an abrupt learning curve. Read more
An essential part of any strategic plan or fundraising plan that we are working on are the community interviews.
There are benefits to doing community interviews yourself.
You don’t have to have your consultant do all of the community interviews. While our team is very proficient at interviewing, we still insist that our client’s board and staff members conduct most of those conversations.
Here are a few of the benefits that I have seen:
- These are your relationships, not mine. You need to strengthen those relationships, not me.
- You can respond to opportunities or requests immediately… and you assume personal accountability to the asker. If I pass the request along, it’s too easy for you to ignore it.
- Board members are often too myopic, wrapped in your organization’s bubble. A view from the outside is a nice breeze of fresh air.
- For board members reluctant to talk to other people, structured questions are a safe way to exercise the schmooze muscle.
- People tend to remember what they hear directly rather than what they read or heard in a report.
- Community members or donors like to hear from board members, or our executive director, or even other staff members, depending on who they are.
- There is a lot of wisdom out there you are likely missing if you don’t ask for it.
I am ever so thankful for a donor moment of insight.
When I’m working with a client on a strategic planning project, with their board and staff we routinely interview a selected group of stakeholders. They might be colleagues, political or government leaders, relevant businesses, funders, donors, volunteers … anyone with special insight. And it’s super great when two or more of those categories overlap.
A few days after a recent interview, I received a follow up email from a community leader-donor. They remembered something else they wanted me to share.
The donor had received the latest annual report. Like most of these reports, it included a list of donors. In this list, the organization had made a special effort to note donors who had given continuously.
Unfortunately, what was recognition for some was a rebuke for another. My donor felt hurt by not being included in this list. You see, this donor had been a donor for many long years. But, due to a few years of tight finances, there was a gap in their giving.
They were no less loyal. They started giving again when their finances improved. But that didn’t seem to matter. And now they were reconsidering future giving.
I completely sympathized. I feel this way whenever my college sends out its annual report with the same listing. Though I’ve been giving for many many years, I’ve missed a few now and then. Once I gave two gifts in the same fiscal year which knocked me out of the continuous recognition.
Think! What are you trying to accomplish with that public list of donors?
In this case, the intent was to reward some donors and inspire others to similar continuity. But it unexpectedly caused hurt feelings on the part of another long time donor.
Penelope Burk documents a number of concerns learned from donor research in her book Donor-Centered Fundraising. One that stands out are listings by gift range. A small donor might be making a huge stretch to give what they do. Yet they will never seem as valuable as those big donors for whom the gift that got them top recognition might be a drop in the bucket.
As the folks who care most about our donors, we’ll do better if we set aside convention and think of more creative ways to recognize and acknowledge our donors. The Audubon Society of Rhode Island’s complimentary membership is a good illustration of the return when you put donor needs first.
So, using that donor moment of insight shared above, here’s a simple solution:
When I’m trying to get my head around the complexity of an issue, I’ll often use the graphic note taking technique known as Mind Mapping.
I first learned about mind mapping in graduate school when I was introduced to this technique credited to Tony Buzan. One of my fellow graduate students took all of his class notes this way. Jack carried a large pad and many colored pencils to class with him. I was intrigued.
The big idea behind mind mapping is that it aligns with the way our brain works, making it easier to scan and memorize a lot of data. It is also a great way to organize thoughts that you can then see at a glance.
The technique is relatively simple. Key concepts radiate out from a central topic.
I drew the map you see here when I was starting strategic planning with a tourism council. By creating the map, I was able to capture my understanding of the tourism ecosystem or tourism landscape and check that out with my client. I developed this map for a particular geographic region. Your tourism map might look slightly different depending on where you live. With the map as a guide, I was able to help my team evolve a list of key informants for community interviews and to help drive data collection.
Mind maps use this radiating approach, with color and lines showing connections. If I had more artistic talent, I might put images into my map to make them even more memorable.
You can find software to create mind maps for yourself and to share with your colleagues. I use those now and then. But sometimes, just getting out the pens and colored markers are quite enough to organize my thoughts.
Mind mapping calls to me in part because it reminds me of the sentence diagramming I was taught to do in junior high school. (I admit it. I was such a geek).
Do you use mind mapping? For what purposes? Do you have software you’d recommend?
I’d love to hear from you.
Jon and I just finished binge watching the first two seasons of Mozart in the Jungle on Amazon.
The cast includes Bernadette Peters, Malcolm McDowell and Gael Garcia Bernal who just won a Golden Globe for best TV actor in a comedy or musical.
It’s rare that any TV show brings us into the wacky and soul-fulfilling world in which we spend our days and many nights. This charming romantic comedy touches so many themes many of us have confronted.
Spoiler Alert — sharing some content
What’s not to love:
- Crazy charismatic but unpredictable new artistic director
- New artistic director succeeds long time and beloved director
- Board infighting
- An Interim Managing Director who is also the Board Chair
- Fundraising, fundraising, fundraising challenges
- Nurturing wealthy donors
- Traditional classical arts program grappling with cultural changes
- Staff-management relations (and relationships! not advised)
- Vision/mission/ values conflicts
- And many more
You’ve heard me preach that you need to create transforming emotional experiences for your donors and your board members. Without getting into the details, the fundraising scene in Episode 4, Season 1 is priceless.
It’s worth dissecting that one scene with your fundraising staff and board volunteers. For what works, and what doesn’t.
While I’m not recommending that your nonprofit conduct itself as the NY Symphony does in this show, I think you’ll find yourself relating to some of the challenges they face.
Are you already a fan? Why?
If not, let me know what you think.
P.S. My musical friends tell me not to get all crazy about whether the musicians are playing their instruments correctly. And for those who abstain from watching shows with some nudity and drug use, not for you.
“The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names.”
Moving from scarcity to abundance means we need to reframe how we see and think about our communities.
I worked at City Year many years ago. City Year’s founders embodied the abundance mindset. To instill that point of view in others, they skillfully deployed two powerful motivators: story and symbolism.
At City Year, what things were named really mattered – from programs to positions. And each implied a story.
For example, the middle school program that our corps members ran back then could have been called the “middle school afterschool program.” Or City Year’s middle school program.
Instead, it was called Young Heroes.
See the difference? If you were a tween or a potential sponsor, wouldn’t you consider signing up?
Recently I was working on the agenda for a board retreat designed to roll out the newly approved strategic plan. The CEO was eager to redo the committees during the retreat.
As we talked about how to do this, a light bulb went off in my head.
What if we gave our board committees new names. Names that captured the essence of the strategic plan goals.
Here’s what we came up with:
At first skeptical, board members soon warmed to the idea of new board committee names.
Why not. The particularly problematic Fundraising Committee lacked for members – fear of asking for money kept people away.
More folks could envision themselves serving on the “Inspiring our Community” Committee. They could see the work differently. They could even feel they could invite others to join.
With more volunteers, more focus on what they could do, they were inspired to reach out. An abundance mindset.
I’ll let you know how it goes. But from now on, I’m definitely recommending name changes.
P.S. If you’ve developed more engaging board committee names, please send them along. I know we are all interested in how this may have influenced their work.
Note: The quote which begins this post is usually attributed to Confucius. The actual saying by Confucius may be “If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things.” (Zi Lu, 3)
I’m on the board of WaterFire Providence.
At our meeting last week, I got a good chuckle out of the name tag fellow board member Peter Van Erp was wearing.
An architect, it wasn’t surprising that Peter designed his own custom tag.
Knowing him as I do, I guessed immediately Peter’s board commitments — WaterFire Providence and Habitat for Humanity of Greater Providence are on the ends. Can you guess the organization in the middle?
I can’t begin to count how many name tags I end up disposing of and feeling terribly guilty about. I try to give them back when the organization wants them. I even own one of those long permanent pin-on name tags from a peace trip I went on to the Soviet Union back in 1981 — I think I know where it is but I always forget to bring it with me.
I thought Peter’s name tag was a commendable example of efficient reuse.
He said I could share it with you.
Do you think maybe I’ve been in this business too long… getting excited or irritable about name tags? This is my second post. My first Preparing name tags – a facilitator’s lament was about how crazy I get when the name on the name tag is so tiny it’s basically invisible.
Reminds me of the long conversation on a facilitator’s list serve a few years ago about what flip chart markers people used. It was one of the most engaged discussions I remember on that list.
How to infuriate your Executive Director
Don’t answer me!
Ignore my emails.
Don’t return my phone calls.
It seems there is a rash of this going on these days. In the last few weeks, this has been at the top of the frustration list among executive directors I’ve been working with.
What work gets stymied?
- Can’t get a meeting date arranged.
- Can’t get some input on an important decision.
- Won’t confirm their pledge or the date they are sending it.
I hear the lament… ” I simply can’t get them to call me back.”
Doesn’t make you feel very important, does it.
How many phone calls and emails are enough to make you respond?
Having just spent hours trying to arrange three committee meetings myself, I so totally understand this frustration. And that was using a Doodle meeting set up helper. I even ended up texting.
I don’t have a strategy for this. I do have an answer… stop dodging the question.
Of course, I understand that in some cases the Executive Director is hounding board members and they might be trying to avoid him or her.
But really, a better strategy would be to tell your executive director why you feel like he/she is hounding you. Then arrange a better way to communicate.
What do you think?