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Jan 8, 2020
Posted Under: President's letter

2020 – the year of perfect vision – the year of hindsight and insight. I could use all of that, couldn’t you? What isn’t there to love about more understanding and an opportunity to learn? I am a true believer in the learning organization, where mistakes are information – where we get to try and risk and try again – where we can get it wrong and figure out a better way. There are few guidebooks worth their weight that can tell us exactly how to be and act and do our work. In fact, much of the attraction of our work is that it brings together people who are willing to break the mold and try new things in order to get a better result for their communities. I love this spirit in our sector. Sure, sometimes we make the day harder than it needs to be, especially when we think that if we didn’t invent it ourselves it must not be as good. And sure, we are sometimes running too fast to learn from the insights and the mistakes of others who have traveled the same road. I’m ready for a year that by its very name promises us clear vision and more insight on becoming better. Aren’t you?

So, what will we do with all this insight and improved vision? What are we striving for?

There are many answers to this question, of course. There are the long-term and short-term definitions of success for your mission and your organization. There are the goals set by your community. There are larger goals that as humans we all can and need to focus on in order to see necessary change. For me, all these versions of success require one common ingredient: connection.

In today’s world where divisiveness reigns through partisanship and competition and silo bubble-like thinking, and where there is still a temptation and a reality to go it alone, let’s take a step toward our goals with all of our new insights and lean in deeper to connect. At Foraker we are ready to help you and your organizations in so many ways, and in 2020 we are especially committed to the ideas of connection through collaboration, diversification, and support. Let’s explore what taking steps together could look like this year.

Connection through cross-sector collaboration

In our work connection could look like asking harder questions about why the issues we are tackling exist, and what structural barriers exist that prevent us from solving the problems we face. Asking and answering these questions requires us to talk with other nonprofits, government (local, tribal, state, federal), community leaders, and more. It requires us to get outside our own organizational structure and to see if that structure is part of the problem and not the solution that we had hoped it would be. It requires us to be both a guest and a host in conversations and to understand the power dynamics of both roles. It requires us to have courage, to be wrong, to acknowledge a different path, to see a bigger opportunity. None of this is easy, but neither are the systemic problems we were called upon to solve. Doing our work the same way year after year will get us the same results. The problems are bigger than any one of us and making space for new and different connections across the ecosystems of our communities is essential. Convener, joiner, host, guest – 2020 is the year to try them all with the clear intention of deeper connection.

Connection through diversification

As board members or staff executives, board connection can look like taking meaningful steps to recruit and retain diverse board members. You likely don’t need another study to tell you that your board room is not diverse. If you are like most boards in America, you can see it and feel it. Just wishing it were different or saying “I tried but…” is not enough. It never was. There are a number of pretty good (not perfect) nonprofit tools that can help, but none of them are as important as the first conversations. Let 2020 be the year that at a minimum we have two of them: 1) the conversation recognizing that achieving your mission is less effective because you lack diversity and perspectives on your board, and 2) the conversation where you document the WHY of conversation number one. Only after we acknowledge the need for change, and we know our WHY, can we use any of the tools out in the world to better connect and engage the next iteration of board members.

It is easy to get defensive in this conversation if you are from a dominant ethnicity, gender, generation, or perspective. If this is you, please don’t stop serving your community, but walk the path of consciously understanding how it could be better for you, your mission, and your community. Diversifying the board is not about asking less of you if you are part of the dominant group, it is about making purposeful space to be and act differently. It is – as we have talked about for more than a decade – about the right people at the right time to move mission forward. Twenty years ago, we at Foraker talked about boards as “boundary spanners.” This notion is still true – that connection in the board room is the space to expand the boundaries with people who can move mission forward with new ideas, different perspectives, and diverse experiences. It is about connecting people into a constellation that forms mission not just holding onto the perceived super stars. These thoughts are not new, you have heard them from us and others before, but the world in 2020 demands us to prioritize this connection. Our mission goals and our communities require it.

Connection through support of self-care/we-care

If you are striving for more personal balance in your life with work, family, friends, and yourself, then connection takes a different spin. If we thought we were challenged by collaborative behavior or diversifying action, then we have truly met our match in the effort to connect with ourselves. Historically and currently, we are workaholics. We are driven to a bigger goal outside ourselves, and we give our whole self to it every day. Maybe some of us have learned better boundaries and some self-care. Maybe you have made considerable progress and model it for others in your nonprofit circle – wonderful, keep it up. But for most of us this is a regular item on our “to do” list. So, what will you do to better connect with yourself? Will you mark spots on your calendar every week for one self-care moment? Will it look like joyful exercise or a phone date with a friend or a family night dinner or a vacation from social media or securing a mentor or a coach or getting a new skill to feel more confident or journaling or what? If this was easy, it would have happened already. So, I remind us all that “self-care” is really “we care” and that all of it requires support from your circle, which we hope includes us. Let’s make a commitment together and support those around us to connect to what they need to feel a deeper connection to themselves.

Connection can be achieved in so many ways and each path will be as unique as you and the circumstances require. What I am certain of is that true connection has some common features. It is intentional – meaning you are consciously doing it on purpose. It is meaningful in that you can feel it, not just see it – that literally your senses are living the experience rather than just being able to say that you did it. This all means we have to make space in our lives to do it, and it likely means we will need some support to see progress. If we can be that support, great. Either way, I hope by the end of 2020 the result for all of us is that we are living more fully. We are committing to diving deeper into what matters to each of us, and that ultimately we have come together in our efforts to connect to do something greater than any one of us could do on our own – we healed across divides. We have improved not just our own life but the lives of people and places in our world. To this end, bring on 2020. Let the healing connection begin.