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When a step back is a step forward

It has been a period of virtual meetings on all possible platforms, remote calls with Boards and fundraisers, redesign of training courses to improve the “user experience” for participants, thoughts on fundraising, fundraisers, international policies. And also webinars watched at impossible times, rigorously deferred, so as not to neglect “food for the mind” and the cultivation of curiosity.

A few days ago, during one of these remote events, I listened to words that I pinned on the agenda, about collective leadership and social and public purpose as a methodological approach to teach to students of University courses related to socio-philanthropic subjects.

I reflected on these issues also in the light of the stimuli received from the first Italian Nonprofit Women Camp which took place at the beginning of March and I reasoned that the leadership paradigm, in nonprofit organizations as elsewhere, should – in most cases – be reviewed and updated in a way coherent with a challenging time like the one we are experiencing.

[because yes, I am convinced that the “new normal” will be, in fact, new and different from the one we knew; what we need to understand is how much good we can take with us to the “new world” and how much, instead, it will be good to leave where it is left. My purpose concerns the attention to my ecological footprint and the definition of lighter ways of setting up the profession: after 1 year of (almost total) smart working, a reflection shared with many of the organizations I collaborate with is, for example, that meetings in person, they will be calibrated well, leaving the closest interaction to technological opportunities. Mainly because this mode saves time to spend in insights and “vertical” thinking useful for everyone, avoids travel and pollution where possible and, in general, involves a rethinking of times and approach which, at least from what we have seen in the last 12 months and a half, increases the effectiveness, concentration and quality of productivity. Instead, dedicating all the time needed in presence when it is really necessary and a real added value]

Among the activities we have been working on in recent months is the “design” of the Board of Directors of an organization that is undergoing renewal after 2 terms with the same members.
After a start-up phase of the organization, years ago, which saw us collaborate as consultants for everything related to the definition of the development strategy together with the founders and staff, a period of consolidation followed during which some of the founders – not all of them – were part of the Board and contributed to the definition of the positioning of the organization.
Now is the time for a change, with all that it entails from the point of view not only of the “design” of the Board from a theoretical point of view but, more practically, in relation to the sensitivities, the orientations, the “vision” of the world ”shared between the founders and the new, future Board members.

A few days ago I had a meeting with one of them, founder, former president and historically very active person within the organization.
After a period of strong internal conflict within the Board, he had taken a sabbatical and now, slowly, he is resuming his link with the organization.
He is a person of whom we have great esteem, as well as the other Board members and the whole organization who, even in the most complicated moments, has always been able to keep the bar straight and not lose it focus on the mission, the care of their donors, the search for alternative solutions when those planned did not seem to work.

This person updated me on his months away, on how he lived them also in relation to the pandemic, on the reflections and considerations “from afar” on the organization – I must say that I consider this aspect of the personal relationship to be extremely precious within of a professional relationship. Because in many cases it allows me to identify paths and solutions by also leveraging on a feeling linked to individual stories that, especially in a profession strongly centered on values and an idea of the world that (literally) gives the opportunity to take sides, has a continuity between the two areas.

Thinking together about the development that the organization has had in recent months, the results with the plus sign ahead, a stable internal organization, he said to me: “You know, I understood that it was time to take a step back. I strongly wanted this organization, I invested time and money to bring it to life and bring it to a certain level and it was very frustrating to realize that I disagree with the majority of the other Board members. I argued, even quarreled. Then, however, I realized that I would only do damage to myself and, above all, to the staff who were under all that pressure and, ultimately, to the organization. So I walked away, even though my heart ached to do so. Now a new cycle begins, I realize it after looking at things from a distance; and yet, although I love this organization and have a great desire to want to get closer, I understand that I do not want to be cumbersome and, above all, do not want to disturb this work that is working so well. So I will keep this step back and put myself at the service of the organization in a light way“.

Here, beyond the declination that we will give to the “light way” – and that somehow I find in many reflections that I hear and that, as I wrote above, I do in this period on the subject – and the appreciation for the content of these words, I also reflected on how many times – few, in my experience of now more than 10 years of working with the Boards – I have heard “I take a step back because, even though the organization is” my creature “, I understand that I could damage it if I continue to rekindle the diversity of opinions and practices ”.
And how difficult it is, in my daily work, to be able to tell a president or a director to do so, this step backwards, for the good of the organization, its business, the internal climate. But, at the same time, how useful it is for the health of the organization to have a president or director, even more so if he is a founder, capable of looking beyond self-love and attachment to something that has been born and feels like its own thing.

It is a reflection that I carry with me as a consultant: you will hear me mention it among the best practices if we meet in consultancy or within training courses or during conferences on the subject.

It is a reflection that I carry with me as a Board member myself: not always – fortunately! – I agree with the opinions of the other directors in the Boards where I am, but I try to do everything possible to leave room for any opinion and put myself at the service of the cause even when I would have done things differently – or slightly differently, because then the gradation of the divergence is what counts in practice.

Being aware that a step back is always possible, helps to relativize one’s “weight” and, to a certain extent, to look at things from a distance when it seems that they are not going as planned.

Resuming writing here after several weeks, sharing this reflection seemed to me a “healthy” option for me who write it first and – I think – also for those who will read it.

Taking a step back from time to time and looking at things from afar but with the same loving gaze is good for us, for others, for the future.

Board in prima fila

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