Non Profits: Reaching Across the Aisle

And Reaching Across the Non Profit Boardroom Table

By Joseph John

My good friend and I were having coffee recently and discussing everything from sports to — gulppolitics. We both rolled our eyes at the fact that our leaders in Washington have become so combative, so alienated, so out-of-touch, that they have fallen deaf to the electorate. Unfortunately, they seem to be focused strictly on their personal agendas — not their constituents’ wishes. Republicans, Democrats, and whatever’s seem to forget that it’s the good of the country that should be their primary focus, and not a matter of W’s and L’s on their personal scorecard. Oh, yes, I can be naive. However, politics and the country’s direction can’t be construed as a game. Well, I could continue, but the focus of this article is not on the dysfunction in Washington D.C.

No. Unfortunately, dysfunction, personal agendas, and personal scorecards find their way into every strata of society, and that includes the non profit sector. “Oh, surely you jest, Mr. John. Isn’t “altruism” the rule of the day in the nonprofit sector?” Oh, PUHLEASE.

Think about how many people join a non profit board and immediately bring THEIR personal agenda to the table. Reflect on the number of boards you have joined and the lineup of folks who already are lobbying hard for their ideas to be implemented. I’m sure you have dealt with some people who tend to implement roughshod over other board members’ beliefs and values. It seems to take virtually no time at all for some board members to alienate others because, quite simply, their philosophy is this: My way or the highway.

Many of my articles have focused on individuals — the people who hold up their hands to join a non profit board. People joining a board are coming in from so many directions, mindsets and lifestyles.  With that in mind, my question(s) are always the same: Just WHY did you join the board? What’s in it for you? What is that you want to achieve and do for society? And just as important, did the membership/nominating committee perform due diligence in screening this person?

A non profit board, unfortunately, is not insulated from the same negative human traits that we see on a daily basis in Washington or state capitals for that matter. It appears to me that there are too many people who believe that compromise is a weakness rather than a strength.  “I won’t give in. I won’t yield. My way is the correct way and the only way.”

Compromise is not a weakness — it is a strength. Compromise is strength because you have the organization’s best interest(s) at heart, not your personal agenda. You are willing to reach across the aisle/across the boardroom table because the good of the organization is more important than your personal agenda. A dear friend who was involved in contract negotiations prior to her retirement says that “compromise is a way for all sides to ‘win’ something. Unless it is a life threatening issue, compromise is always possible.”

Remember one of the most important questions the membership committee was supposed to ask the potential candidate: CAN you/WILL you learn to “play nice” and become a TEAM player with a group of people who also are contributing their free time to serve? Somewhere, in that interviewing process, questions have to be asked in such a way as to ensure the candidate understands the role of the individual in relation to the good of the non profit organization.

Melanie Lockwood Herman, Executive Director of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center, best captures the importance of compromise, ie, reaching across the table or aisle, with this comment:

Compromise is a basic instinct for non profit leaders. Discerning when compromise may impair mission fulfillment, however, is a skill we must learn and practice. Resisting the urge to compromise may not be easy, but it is necessary to protect the mission of your organization and your commitment to deliver on that mission each and every day.

Yes, in the ideal world, the nonprofit sector can be the prototype of collaboration and compromise for ALL sectors of society to work for the common good — it’s just a matter of reaching across the aisle.

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