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#strangedays – thoughts at the end of quarantine

This is a different post from the ones we usually publish, in spirit and content.
It is a mix of reflections that keep the professional and personal parts together. A sort of point of the situation, after strange and alienating weeks, in which thoughts, when I sat down to write, flowed spontaneously.

These have been complex weeks. Luckily they were not difficult from a personal point of view – I had no health problems, I managed to keep my work pace unchanged and I continued to follow the projects I was working on without any interruption (cheers the technology!). And I learned a lot: not only digital tools but, above all, different ways to look at things from another perspective.

It is not a small thing; indeed, it is really a lot.

These almost 2 months of closure, silence and free spaces, have been an opportunity to deepen, study, compare and discover things.
I enrolled in an online course on classical music – more or less 30 years after leaving the Conservatory; I attended a good number of webinars focussed on digital issues – not just tools but, above all, culture of digital transformation; I took part in webinars where I was among the speakers and also at the Open Day of the Master in Fundraising as a former student; I read, not only about fundraising and philanthropy, and I listened.
Indeed, I would say that I tried as much as possible to listen. To better understand, try to look at things in a wider way, find a “remote” dimension that would allow an experience of meaning.

And I would like to share some of the things I have learned here, always of course on the topics the blog deals with – I would very much like to deal with the thoughts of those who will read, so every comment will be more than welcome.

Trust is the engine. Of everything.

The President (affected by Coronavirus) of an npo I work with, for whom “the only way to do my job well is to meet others”, who has found a wonderful way to tell about quarantine through weekly videos from home, in front of a notebook because “When you talk you have to be precise”, but with an informality made of noises from the garden, a relaxed approach and the story of a difficult situation, really difficult for the organization, is the first image that comes to mind. Without official screens and sometimes not even the right words, the measured ones; because an emergency is an emergency and the children of the community needed – to do distance learning, reassurance, attendance and comfort.

Requests of help – like this one – generate answers, often very fast.
Because an emergency is an emergency, and you need to move quickly.
Even when you don’t know each other before and you just need a phone call and an indication of a website that certifies the truthfulness of what you are telling, of an organization in distress. Even when those who intervene start from Veneto and arrive in Lombardy – two of the most distressed poles of contagion, throughout this period.

Because it is useless to go around it: if I need help I have to ask for it clearly, without mincing words or sweetened words.
A need is a need, nothing else.

What’s the meaning?

The authentic opening to the other, from my point of view. The one that makes us exposed us and that, at the same time, tells us better than formally flawless turns of words, but that they cool the message by adding intermediation levels where only emotion should speak.

In recent weeks I have seen Board members and presidents at work, some of them operationally, other behind their desks, some weaving networks to circulate information and aid. Everyone committed to coping with something unexpected and unknown, to keep together the uncertainty of the contingent situation with the need to respond to concrete and urgent needs.

This is a point that I find particularly interesting and “educational”: the claim to manage uncertainty in a rational and rigid way – especially the general one – is a chimera, generates hasty answers, works on a very short-term horizon, compels within a perimeter something that is not yet known and which, precisely for this reason, cannot be compressed.

The solution, perhaps, is to welcome uncertainty and do your part as best as possible.

A phrase that I have always loved very much, of the English poet Alexander Pope, keeps coming to mind, saying: “act well your part, there all the honor lies“.
Applies to everyone. Here, in this blog, it also applies to the Boards leading the organizations.

There is no one rule for everyone, this is the beauty of being a Board member.
There is, however, a cause and the ability to understand what needs to be done, even in times of emergency and crisis and even when the cause is not connected to the emergency, to make it progress.
Those who had already understood the concept were able to continue working, despite the difficulties, the crisis – the current one and the one that will inevitably characterize the next few months.
The rest suffered a setback. It was inevitable, the pandemic was probably just an accelerator in these cases.

There is no need to despair, however. You can learn from everything to improve – I have always been a staunch supporter of the “therapeutic” use of failures and difficulties: they relieve a lot of pressure and help correct the shot.

Smart working (perhaps) is not the ideal size, but we can make it closer.

I have always used platforms for remote meetings. In recent weeks I have discovered others but, above all, I have become familiar with the possibility of being together even on the opposite sides of a screen.
I continued to carry out my consultations and meetings; I supported a foreign organization with which I collaborate in the fundraising director’s selection process by interviewing the 9 shortlisted candidates; I held training courses in more or less numerous classes, interacting with the participants, stimulating them with exercises and active participation in the lessons.

In short, I learned to feel at ease in front of the screen almost as if I were in presence – to tell the truth: it is a substitute, the physical encounter is always the preferred option, as far as I am concerned.
And I took up a point I had talked about at the Digital Transformation Day I was invited as a speaker by iRaiser last fall: I had to talk about how the cultural process – from my point of view – brought about a change in mentality before I even came to identify the tools that would support it. In particular, my focus was on Boards of Directors, with which the theme had posed itself – and continues to present itself – as a “structural” question, not an episodic one.

Preparing the material for my session, I recovered a book that I had read a while ago and that had fascinated me – it is still on my bedside table and every now and then I open it to one of the pages marked with ears (yes, I mark the passages that interest me in this way, so the books I read – no matter if of fiction or professional texts – always have the “lived-in” look) because there are passages that I find truly illuminating.
The book is The Game, by Italian author Alessandro Baricco (ed. Einaudi, 2018) and, in particular, this sentence tells precisely, in my opinion, what these weeks of quarantine have made evident: “The digital revolution is a mental revolution, more than merely technological, because it has changed and is changing our mental posture. (…) we believe that the mental revolution is an effect of the technological revolution, and instead we should understand that the opposite is true “- first the mental revolution, then the technological revolution. Which means that a new type of intelligence has generated the tools that can satisfy it“.

What is emerging clearly is how much the two dimensions – online and offline – are not in contrast and not even distinct but, more correctly, integrated parts of the same uniqueness. I am the same person in both dimensions, I can decide how to approach both but I cannot consider some areas of my work feasible only in presence and others also at a distance – it is obvious that I refer specifically to my professional reality with its peculiar characteristics. But it really applies almost to all those who do not carry out exclusively manual activities.

Here, this feeling at ease in both dimensions is an aspect that, accustomed to dealing with live people – Boards of Directors, large donors, companies, colleagues, just to name a few – and to consider the live dimension as the only one capable of “Supporting” what is a good part of my job – the issues of legacies, planned donations, partnerships, coaching paths with the Boards – I take home as one of the things I learned.
It is a possibility, not necessarily the only one.

Time is a primary variable

Suddenly we found ourselves – everyone, and I am referring to all those who were lucky and were not directly touched by the virus – with a dilated time, capable of generating possibilities or, on the contrary, anxiety or boredom.
The first days of lockdown I remember them as facts of a non-linear, jagged, muffled time. And I remember the common feeling of being inside a bubble of unreality.
I spoke to many people in that first week, and we were all taken by something like the intoxication of novelty, from feeling part of a collective effort, of a single body that was struggling to stay alive.
Then came a certain habituation to a normality that was not so normal (and it is not) and, with this, also the need to “take stock”, reorganize in some way, give a horizon to everyday life, find words and tools to go forward “with sense”, not “in suspension”.
For me it was the contiguity between personal and professional life that was the key to finding it, this sense.

As often happens to me when I need to focus on something, I started writing.
To observe and write. And I did not need to do it in the spare time between one train and another or pinning ideas on the smartphone. I was sitting at the desk and I could choose to spend two hours rearranging my thoughts, looking at my professional world of reference through the lens of a slower and therefore deeper rhythm.

I kept the social networks at a safe distance – I don’t demonize them and I’m a regular user of social media, but at a certain point the “screams”, the speed of the messages, the quantity of the information partly overwhelmed me and partly stewed me.
It all seemed too much, as dissonant, inappropriate. And in a period in which I imagined catastrophic reports of the time of use of my smartphone, this has, however, surprisingly decreased. I do not derive universal laws from it, but a more balanced relationship with the hic et nunc, a different use of time and a more focused attention on “little, but quality” has been a source of great inspiration and benefit.

A word has represented these weeks better than others, as far as I’m concerned: integration.

Between online and offline, as I wrote; planned initiatives to be rewritten without distorting them to make them coherent with the context; personal interests and time to devote to it without feeling at fault and work time which is also reading, studying (calmly), reflection.
For me it has translated into greater creativity, both with reference to the personal and professional sphere. New projects have come out and already started projects have taken different paths, intuited on the spot and gradually developed.

Phase 2 hardly changes anything, for me and for us as a group of consultants, from a logistical point of view.
The organizations we work with and the scheduled courses are all outside the region and abroad, so we will continue to work on both sides of the screen.
I hope it will be better for everyone, yes. And that we succeed in impressing in our mind what happened – generosity, self-sacrifice beyond imagination, a sense of community, altruism, as well as the flaws of the system that emerged here and there.
I hope and we hope that all this will become a store of knowledge and awareness not to be abandoned too soon in the name of a return to the “before”.
And that we can start again, step by step, and re-think, with greater wisdom.

p.s. the picture was taken in Noordwijk, The Netherlands, last October: I was there to join the IFC Conference and I had a walk along the dune, in the noon, surrounded by these magic light and view.

Board in prima fila

Spunti, buone pratiche, riflessioni e strumenti utili per chiunque si occupi di fundraising e lavori insieme ai Board.