Where there is no gratitude, there is no meaningful movement; human affairs become rocky, painful, coldly indifferent, unpleasant, and finally break off altogether. The social ‘machinery’ grinds along and soon seizes up.
Thanksgiving is an obvious time to write about being thankful, and it’s nice to have a time to stop and consider all that we have to be grateful for. We think about our friends, our family, our health.
It’s also not such a bad time to stop and contemplate how awesome your board is, and how much they’ve contributed to the well being of your organization.
When was the last time you thanked your board members? They’re each making your agency a priority in their lives, giving time, talent and treasure. They could be giving it somewhere else. They could also NOT be giving. But there they are, week after week, month after month, making difficult decisions, acting as cheerleaders, supporting your work, being ambassadors for your agency.
Each board member is the equivalent of a major donor. Whether or not the dollars are substantial, she has the capacity to make your life easier, introduce you to supporters, provoke new ideas, stabilize a situation. She should be told how much she means to you.
Here’s a simple exercise. If you’re the Executive Director, the next time you write a thank you note to a donor, also write one to a board member. Do that until you’ve written one to every member of your board. If you’re the board president, sit down and hand write a thank you note to each board member. If you can, name a specific action for which you are grateful.
Do you want to cultivate an attitude of gratitude within the board? At each meeting, assign one or two board members to offer a very brief statement of gratitude around the organization. It might be why they are grateful the organization exists. It might be what they appreciate about a staff member. It might be what committee they are particularly grateful to.
In many faith traditions, there is the concept “do not withhold the wages of the laborer.” It’s obvious how that applies to staff, but the wages of a volunteer are less obvious.
The wages of a volunteer – the wages of your board members – are the thanks he receives for his work.
The psychology of gratitude and its benefits are being researched throughout the fields of education, and migrating to the business world. Some readings on gratitude can be found at gratefulness.org.
Visionary strategic planning is easier when board members are comfortable with each other. Exercises in gratitude are one way to facilitate this trust. For more about strategic planning and facilitating retreats, please contact me at email@example.com or www.detwiler.com.
It’s human nature to group people and stick a label on them. We segment out individuals who are donors as being different from other people. We talk about ‘donor relations’ as if that’s distinct from building a relationship with everyone, regardless of who they are. Too often, though, we forget that this is just shorthand for real people.
Recently, Harvard Business Review blogger John Michel did an excellent job of explaining the positive impact of focusing on people and not their roles, in his post A Military Leader’s Approach to Dealing with Complexity. It made me revisit a post of my own, C’mon People It’s Not Donor Relations, and consider implications for board leaders.
Donor relations are people relations. Just like employee relations are people relations, volunteer relations are people relations, and board relations are people relations. Any time we interact with another individual we are in relationship with that person.
Michel’s post includes two gems that strongly correlate with board leadership, and the impact of the relationship between people who serve on nonprofit boards and people who are on the frontline of delivering the nonprofit’s mission.
First, if you focus on people instead of their roles, it promotes their inclusion when you craft your vision.
Or, as Michel writes:
“Making inclusivity a priority will increase ownership, enhance motivation, improve information sharing, and result in leaders making wiser, more informed choices.”
We’re all aware of trustees who operate in an ivory tower and create strategic plans without involving the people who are actually charged with executing that plan. Remembering that employees are people with their own ideas and thoughts makes it easier to bring them into the process.
Build your vision in pencil, instead of ink, so you can be flexible enough to hear and incorporate the ideas of staff and increase the buy-in of everyone involved. Increased buy-in leads to increased success.
Second, remember that every single interaction has an impact. Every spoken or written word and every non-verbal communication becomes a part of the whole image of who you are. Relationships are a result of both conscious communications AND unconscious communications. Every time a member of the board speaks to the person on the frontline, that conversation has an impact. All the more so when the communication is nonverbal. That’s when the leader is less conscious of what she is ‘saying.’
As Michel writes:
“Effective leaders understand that every interaction is a potentially powerful means of nurturing a relationship, eliminating an obstruction to progress, or reinforcing trust.”
John Michel based his observations on his experience in the military, relaying the impact of interpersonal relationships when confronting complexity. The situations and scale may differ but the principle is the same. People matter. Relationships matter.
Building relationships is a fundamental tool to make sure that when you lead, others will follow.
Have you seen the impact of leaders who build relationships? Or the impact of those who don’t build relationships? Let me know!
And I’d love to have a conversation about how your strategic planning can successfully include staff, board, volunteers and community. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.