Egg salad vs tuna fish is my mother’s opinion of committees. She once was asked to serve on a committee for a local women’s group. Spent one meeting listening to an insanely long debate over which would be better to serve: egg salad or tuna fish, and effectively ended her volunteer service.
To be fair, the corporate sector is no better. Evidenced by one excruciating meeting at Colgate Palmolive with no less than a dozen suits in the room debating the intricacies of bubbles for a TV commercial I was producing, I think it is more about having input to contribute than it is about moving the project along. It is just that in the corporate environment, leadership is about gathering all the input and decision making, usually by the highest ranking people in the room when they’ve had enough. Done. Next.
A few days ago, the new ED let me know that one board member was offended by my strong opinions and being so direct about it. Perhaps I could soften things a bit. Really? I’ve pissed someone off by offering my opinion when asked? I didn’t call anyone out or anything. I don’t even know what was so offensive except that I had an opinion.
I decided at last night’s meeting that I was going to take a back seat and observe. Let the committee unfold. The committee consists of 5 board members because they couldn’t get anyone else; all women, retired, teachers, or low level administrative people, not a decision maker for miles. And a new ED who is into conflict resolution. Tonight the committee was taking on the challenge of resolving to whom should we send the event solicitation I designed specifically directed at businesses. I hate to restate the obvious but this was a 90 minute meeting and the question to be resolved is a bit like who is buried in Grant’s tomb?
Two board members who actually made the effort to show up remarked that our breakfast event was so professional. I’m not sure how to take that. Is it a compliment? Or commentary on past events?
The slide show set a great tone. Colorful little infographs on our various programs stood proudly in front of overpriced kosher bagel and fruit plates. The video was great. Although the table hosts invited relatively few actual donor potentials, I was able to round up enough bodies and the room was filled to capacity. The food was good. I even refrained from snarling and plastered a smile on my face as I added more chairs for all the non RSVP people who showed up with a +1.
I wrote 3 scripts for 3 people, all of whom loved the text and vowed to deliver. “It’s better than anything I could come up with” said one and “just tell me what you want me to say” said the other. This is what I want you to say. In 4 minutes. Just like we practiced.
Something happens when you put a mike in someone’s hand. It’s like all bets are off. I’m hearing stories. I’m hearing jokes. Jokes? People are supposed to be moved to tears and guided through the pledge card, not entertained and told to fill out a form. One step forward, two steps backward.
At 5:05, why does this always happen at 5:05, I get called into a last minute meeting to assess a situation the Board President has presented the new ED. One of our therapists, a consultant, offered to do fundraising for a program, established in collaboration with another agency, that lost funding, and hence, her job. The fundraising consisted of writing letters to celebrities and athletes sympathetic to the issue. What did I think of it they wanted to know. And then proceeded to discuss who should write and sign letters. How much should we ask for. And maybe we should discuss this at the board meeting.
What did I think? Forget that direct mail gets a 1-3% return at best. Forget that celebrities and athletes are constantly asked for handouts. Forget that I work part time and have no interest in including supervisor in my job description. Forget she wanted to be paid a higher hourly wage than I make. What did I think? I think it is ridiculous.
First of all this was a collaborative program for which our partner is actively working to reestablish funding. How politically incorrect would it be to side step this agency under which we subcontracted but ask them to keep the referrals coming? It’s all for the greater good, so that makes it ok?
How politically incorrect is it for a consultant to propose a contractual work arrangement with the Board President bypassing the agency administration including the Executive Director, Director of Development, Program Director, and HR/Office Manager?
How politically incorrect is it for the board president to waste time with this half baked scheme at the next board meeting? If the board is going to mull over every bit of minutia that flows through the organization, including administrative issues they have no business in, they will never focus on anything that really matters.
I think it is absolutely ridiculous on so many levels. But I didn’t say that. I didn’t say that because no one was listening. All they could think was someone who wants to help raise money and were blind to the rest.
My immediate recommendation was to talk to our partner agency, introduce the new ED, and get an update on where the program funding stands. Sound, non committal. And log in to linkedin.
My interim month as executive director has come to an end. Some petty stuff to settle like mileage policy (okayed flexibility to googling exact mileage as opposed to the generic chart of approximate miles) and deferred bigger issues (impending removal of 4 poor performers in one program area) to new ED. Who has arrived! Very nice but a little deer in the headlights. Results on job prospects–looking elsewhere for a good fit and a place that can pay me full time, but no rush. Finishing video (which is killer makes me well up every time), details, and scripts on our upcoming breakfast fundraiser. Big push getting the board on board that fundraising is an important part of being on a board. That I am even having this conversation is astounding to me. I don’t get it. What do people think is expected of them when joining a board?
Right after our staff meeting which I got to end before noon, a record, the board president came rushing in all excited with the good news that they hired a new executive director. And she was coming to meet us. Any minute. Thanks for the heads up.
She gives us a rundown of the resume, conspicuous lack of business experience or fundraising, lots of created a psychodrama theater group and the like, adjunct professor at local college, psych hospital, etc. And right on cue, the doorbell rings. Lo and behold, our new executive director– who looks exactly like a younger version of our board president, a very lovely woman of indeterminate age probably somewhere in her 60’s, grandmotherly, a former 2nd grade teacher with a penchant for sensible shoes.
We have an organization which is an administrative mashup, underfunded, and overextended from committing to grant funding then creating the programming to fit. We are hardly visible to the public and have a minuscule, although growing, individual donor base to provide the unrestricted funds which fill in where the grants leave off. Too many administrative necessities are destined for the wish list. The staff got a 1.5% cost of living increase after 4 years of nothing and everyone works part time so no health insurance.
And how does this make me feel? Like I will be job hunting in a few months!
I get 10 extra hours a week allocated to the interim executive director’s job. So far they have all been spent sitting in meetings where people talk in initials. When I’m not sitting in a meeting, I am trying to find the meeting. The last two were at places no longer on the map and sent my GPS into terminal search mode. Today’s meeting was at a former residential facility circa “insane asylum” and ” mentally retarded” long before “developmentally delayed” or even the current “intellectually challenged.” Regardless, the place is a large campus of identical decaying, boarded up buildings and just plain creepy. But I found it even though the road I was supposed to take to get there was closed off.Yesterday was another story. I was directed to a former mental hospital complex where isolated buildings still housed some drug rehab services. Also a boarded up decaying mess. I was driving around following the signs to the organization I was looking for but didn’t seem to exist, when I spotted another car doing the same thing. We were obviously lost together. When I caught up to her, she turned out to be the grant writer from an organization with whom we are partnering on a project. Not so bad. We were so late, we just went for coffee instead and compared notes.
Unlike me, Rachel is totally entertained by the touchy feely nature of meetings in the social service world. I don’t mind but they do seem to go on forever. She agreed citing a hurt feeling could set you back 40 minutes while everyone dealt with it. I loved her meeting story when some actually replied to her suggestion, “Let me unpack that and get back to you.”