Dear Nonprofiteer, Study this!

Dear Nonprofiteer:

On the Board of my nonprofit (“Kumbaya”), I am the only member who works as a teacher.  I’m not sure whether my occupation had anything to do with the following e-mailed offer from the chair:

“Hi Schoolmarm!
I have an idea and wondered what you think. It would be great if we could widen awareness of Kumbaya’s work. I wonder whether you’d like to chair our new Study Group, in formation.  It would meet to discuss Kumbaya’s latest achievements and challenges in a warm, conversational, circle-of-friends setting. You would recruit Study Group members [from outside the Board] and be its leader.  There would be a suggested donation, which you could set.  [The executive director] would attend some of the meetings to speak about our latest doings, and you could bring in outside speakers whose work relates to that of Kumbaya, at your discretion.

Let me know your thoughts–especially if you have suggestions of how to make the Study Group better. Warm regards, Chairlady”

What the heck is a study group?  Am I being shoved into an irrelevant wing of Kumbaya?  Why didn’t Chairlady raise this idea at a Board meeting–is it somehow personal to me?  Calling it “our” makes it sound underway: shouldn’t I have heard more about it?  But then again, maybe I should chill and consider the idea rationally.

Signed, Schoolmarm

Dear Schoolmarm,

I don’t think there’s an issue of your being “shoved into an irrelevant wing of Kumbaya,” especially as Chairlady’s letter suggests that she has the irrelevancy market cornered. The “Study Group” construct is new to me, but it sounds as though Chairlady has one of two things in mind:

  • a desire to create an auxiliary board of some kind which, as she fondly imagines, will consist of people willing to make significant contributions to Kumbaya without being permitted to share in its governance, OR
  • a desire to expand the governing board without any notion of how to go about identifying and recruiting possible members.

In either case, she’s identified you as someone who gets things done, and simply dumped the project into your lap: “This is a good idea; why don’t you do it?”

She might indeed think that your background as a teacher will enable you to invent programming which will engage and educate an audience.   But as the programming is obviously merely a means to another end–fundraising or Board recruitment, as the case may be–your skills in that area aren’t reason enough for you to take on a task that the Board hasn’t discussed and approved.

Reply to Chairlady thusly:

“Thanks for thinking of me in connection with this project. As a teacher, though, I know that people attend educational programs when they think they’re going to get something out of them. I can’t imagine who might be motivated to attend (and pay for) what sounds like a regularly-scheduled commercial for the work of Kumbaya, unless they’re already interested in the agency and wish to consider becoming further involved.  So what kind of involvement, exactly, are we prepared to offer Study Group members? Are we creating a fundraising auxiliary, or a bullpen from which to bring on additional Board members?

Let’s discuss this at the next Board meeting. Once we’ve clarified a Study Group member’s role and responsibilities, you and I can talk again about whether my programming and presentation skills are the ones most useful to lead such a group, or whether in fact you need someone who’s a terrific recruiter or a gung-ho organizer of fundraising events. I look forward to discussing this with you and the rest of the Board.”

Yes, yes, it may be heavy-handed to mention Board discussion of the issue TWICE in a s ingle paragraph, but your point (“Shouldn’t I have heard about this?”) is well taken: only the full Board, and not the Chair in her discretion, should create outreach systems for Kumbaya.  Asking you to implement her most recent brainstorm NOT EQUALS consulting with you as a Board member about whether it’s an appropriate initiative for the agency.

I suspect the idea is a cockroach: once it’s exposed to the light of Board consideration, it will scuttle away and be heard from no more.

Gentle readers: Of course, your nonprofit is impeccably managed; but what about those incompetents down the street?  Write to the Nonprofiteer about all the mal- and nonfeasance with which you’re surrounded, and she’ll chastise the guilty and praise the virtuous and wise (that would be you).  Please e-mail (subject line: Dear Nonprofiteer . . .) early and often.

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