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.

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?

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.

Where to start

I inherited a  website I rate at Web 0.5 on Heather Mansfield’s scale of  social media evolution. Doesn’t even make 1.0 infancy. Our website is essentially an electronic brochure with snail mail newletters in .pdf form you can download. The “what’s new” is a year old consisting of a list of sponsors. Finding the Donate button is a challenge. And then, it connects you to a place to create a Paypal account. Our Facebook is a profile with 200 friends and a business page, not even a nonprofit page, with 26 likes.Despite it all, we’ve gone from 0 to 5 new requests to be added to our mailing list each week. So something is working.

I did not grow up with social media and have no interest in connecting with people over what I ate for breakfast. As far as I am concerned, people in my past can stay there. However, this is different. To get up to speed, I ordered Heather’s book Social Media for Social Goodand while waiting for it to arrive, I caught her webcast. Confirmed all of my worst fears but bolstered confidence in my own assessment. What needs to be done is a long list.

Less is more

In the 20’s, Hemingway won a bet that he couldn’t write a story in 6 words. He declared “For sale: baby shoes, never worn” his finest work. Students First found a winner for its contest to describe a great teacher. I voted for this one. Also from the runners up– “All 30 students raised their hands” was among my favorites.

A direct mail solicitation that is almost done has gotten longer and longer as everyone added a little something. It is now two pages but  lots of white space. I caved on my idea of a non letter format making finding an alternative to Dear Friends a must. I did, however, put my foot down and declared there will be no string of PS, PPS’s  at the end, like I couldn’t figure out how to end the thing.

As my distress of too many words reached a frenzy, my daughter sent me a TED talk on the subject. Apparently, I am in good company.

Sebastian Wernicke 1000 TED talks, 6 words

Stage Fright

warm & fuzzy at its best

The first call to action in the Benevon model is a “sizzling Point of Entry” to quote Benevon founder, Terry Axelrod. Ours is. So I hear. Warm & fuzzy. And fruitful. We’ve gotten spontaneous donations, gifts in kind from our wishlist, offers to do fundraisers for specific programs of interest, and much needed volunteers. Did 2 back to back in different towns today with the ED. Both pretty well attended. 2 board members attended. And brought guests! Huge breakthrough. Showed video clips of interviews I shot. Kind of raw and effective. So what’s the problem? I hate public speaking. I get nervous. The doorbells rings and I lose my place. I’ve been too busy to properly rehearse and I feel like a mess. I know it’s not as bad as I think because the feedback on the event is great. But I hate it.  I’m hoping it gets better.