Egg Salad vs Tuna Fish

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?

Elephant in the Room

English: Elephant in the room

English: Elephant in the room (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I brought the program director to a pitch meeting, the first words out of her mouth were, “We’re not a religious organization, we’re a social service agency” and you could almost hear a giant sigh of relief. The elephant in the room left.

Last night’s board meeting was a total puzzlement. 180° from “Our doors are open to everyone.”  It appears that now we are not Jewish enough. Talk that we are an “arm” of another Jewish organization (and a bully if you ask me) because “they gave birth to us.” I have teenagers.  Spare me the maternal metaphors. Funding our organization fulfills their mission. There is no other local Jewish social service agency in the county and seeing we’re the only game in town, why can’t we create a more symbiotic relationship. I’m far from confrontational, but I’m not exactly a go with the flow kind of girl either. I am looking for clarity. It is hard to craft and deliver a convincing, coherent message without it.  I see the conflict as an opportunity to define our organization’s  purpose and intention to strengthen our collaborations with our community partners.

Yesterday, I attended a lunch where Gloria Feldt, former CEO of Planned Parenthood, was the guest speaker, all decked out in red talking about power. My organization, like Planned Parenthood, is mostly women sans the activism. And we are wimps. Teachers, social workers, people who like consensus, people who don’t like to make waves, people who focus on minutia, and people with no business experience at the helm. Gloria says, “carpe the chaos.” I totally see the opportunity, but this is going to take a lot of energy and I’m not sure how committed I am to the cause. Not enough to go it alone. That’s for sure. Leadership requires fire. I’m not paid enough for fire.

“It’s so professional!”

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.

What’s wrong with this picture

Mismatched Socks Solidarity Day

(Photo credit: rikomatic)

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.

Deer in the Headlights

Deer in headlights

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?

Holy Birkenstocks, Batman!

Deutsch: Birkenstockschuhe. Español: Zapatos B...

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!

Navigating the waters


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.”

I have a sculpture for you

I’m not quite sure how it happened. One moment, I was at this touchy feely staff retreat complete with a yogaesque mirroring exercise and the next,  I was in charge of the LGBTQ  initiative (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, & Questioning or Queer depending on who you ask). I do PR, raise money, event planning, write copy, acknowledge donors, you know, all the things crammed under development in a small organization. My involvement with program is usually limited to talking about how exciting our work is and why you should fund it. The culprit is a wacky grant I am supposed to steward till I can dump it in someone else’s lap.

Our area barely acknowledges LGBTQ issues and we have a grant to raise awareness, help kids, stop bullying, all good. So far we have established a PFLAG group (Parents Families & Friends of Lesbian and Gays). Excellent! We have held community discussions for school districts to help kids. Awesome! We have established a horrible website that no self respecting teen will visit. There are 18 people with usernames. I assume the 18 are staff members or teens we know well enough to coerce, like offspring. It is bad. And useless. Our meeting with an established LGBTQ group in a neighboring county is going swimmingly with lots of plans in the works until the program director announces she has a sculpture for me. A sculpture created by a high school class for NoName Calling Day. It represents what it feels like to be bullied, an albatross around your heart. Kind of looks like a papier mache corpse with glitter. I am supposed to find a home for it. A public home willing to display it. And there is a poem. And there are bags of food.  All of this is in her car. Now on the floor of my office, which doubles a a counseling room.

A local food bank declared us LGBTQ friendly so we are the recipient of a food drive. I go through dozens of bags checking expiration dates and note several cans of olives, fat free balsamic vinaigrette, polenta, organic corn flakes with dried fruit, and imported pasta from Italy, just the stuff I would go for if the cupboard was bare. Our emergency aid person takes them to her church for desperate local families. I hope they know what to do with polenta.

As for the sculpture, the eyes are a little creepy, but it beats the motivational poster I haven’t quite removed so if my new LGBTQ project bff can’t find an appropriate display place, I suppose it would be quite a lovely addition to my office.

The most important meal of the day

We are planning a breakfast. Or more succinctly, I am planning a breakfast. The board seems to have rallied around finding a new ED. A flurry of emails. Lots of meetings. Committees. Pre-meeting meetings. Our biggest fundraiser is a couple of months away and let’s just say I have concerns. However, in the hierarchy of frustration is my inability to get Hal on the phone. Apparently, Hal is the solution. We are a Jewish agency and any meals served must be kosher. Of course, around here kosher caterers come at a premium. I am not up on my kashrut but I know enough to know that getting a rabbi to oversee a $35 bagel on a plate is meshugana. Hal, the “big boss” of Bubba’s, reportedly the only place for a perfect bagel with a schmear, the centerpiece of any Jewish breakfast event, prefers to deal in fax. As in he gets them and doesn’t respond. I want one 20 minute conversation to work out what we want, how much, and a phone number in case it doesn’t show up. Apparently, Hal is the only one who can to make it happen. I may have to resort to recruiting the former board president, a Bubba’s regular. I would rather seek his assistance in a more monetarily productive way, not to mention he picked me to be the interim ED.  I can run the organization, really I can, but please help me get bagels–now there’s a confidence builder.

The circus is in town

The exiting ED and I visited a local real estate developer and his CFO, both of whom  bring their 3 exceptionally large dogs to work with them. The youngest is a 4 month old Great Dane puppy, We went to ask for a Leadership gift to kick off our yet to be named multi-year giving society. I heard it was a bit of a 3 ring circus. As the puppy tried to engage the other two,  the older was not amused and let the pup know. The third felt left out and grabbed the pup’s prize toy and took off to the other side of the room. Lots of under the table, around the chairs. I have 3 of my own, terriers, dogs you can pick up and move if they are in the way. The scent must have been irresistible. I was trying to stay focused while being sniffed all over. Just as I got to the good part, “would you consider. . .” the phone rings and he’s totally distracted.

romotional poster for Forepaugh & Sells Brothe...

My boss who had clearly had this very experience before, tapped the table which got his attention and quickly picked up where I left off. We got the gift. I quickly joined the tag team effort to jump in with our making the announcement and would he fill a table to witness the big event. The dogs were bored with us and the meeting was over. At the elevator, his CFO confirmed that he would make sure calls to fill the table would be made as well as a check delivered for this year’s pledge.