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.
I got the greatest feedback from a development director of another local non-profit who attended our last point of entry event. She was impressed with how we made a lot of nothing so moving. We are a social service agency. No cute kids, no sad puppies, or revitalized urban decay. Basically nothing to show for what we do. And our offices are, well, offices. Hardly tour-worthy. The true measure of the Benevon training is to make the story overcome the obstacles and touch, move, and inspire your guests to engage with your mission.
The talking head is my new best friend. A video of a family member talking about how her dad benefits from our Friendly Visitor program, which sounds like a nice old lady delivering muffins. He gets a ride to temple every Friday night with a family we matched him with. Nice, but so what. Until you hear the back story. He almost died after accidentally leaving the car running in the garage at his home thousands of miles away. She uprooted him to a local assisted living facility. The loss of independence, loneliness, and the change in parent/child dynamics were overwhelming for the whole family. These outings have given him independence, new relationships, and kept him connected to the community. She believes he would be “further down the road in dementia” had it not been for the connectivity he now enjoys and she is relieved at his improved quality of life.
Our story is not the outcome–the ride–but the work of an exceptional staff member who figured out what could make his life meaningful again and came up with how to make it happen.