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Oct 10, 2019
Posted Under: President's letter

When I was a kid, I didn’t like candy very much, but I sure loved Halloween. I loved the creativity of a handmade costume and the bonus of Alaska Halloweens that required an indoor version and an outdoor version that could accommodate my snow pants and Moonboots. I lived on a dirt road with few neighbors, so I also loved the thrill of going to the neighborhoods of friends and feeling that sense of community that neighbors bring. But truly, the best part was sitting “crisscross applesauce” in a circle at the end of the night with my friends and trading for the candy my mom loved the most. She always seemed so surprised and pleased at the same time – relishing the treats she loved but would never just buy for herself. As an adult now, I think of these moments each October and savor the idea that for so many of us this month offers us the opportunity to remember our childhoods while starting a season of holidays around the world that celebrate traditions of sharing.

At the same time, it is hard to believe it is October already. We seemed to have spent September collectively gaining our footing again after a chaotic summer of budget battles. I have been impressed with so many in our sector who have found the balance between reaction and strategic action – between doing and just sitting and breathing – between turning inward and reaching outward for collaborators who offer solace during our present challenges and efforts to create a brighter future. And in all of this shifting, and weighing of options, I can also see us savoring and sharing our knowledge, insights, and actions.

As you dive into October, which treats will you savor in the coming season and what do you have to share? Come into the circle and have a seat. Let’s sit “crisscross applesauce” together and consider our options with a few favorite Halloween candy treats.

The 100 Grand Bar. Sure, it might be nice to have 100 Grand to ourselves, but consider what could happen if we partnered with another group to do something bigger with our mission than we could do all by ourselves? We know mission is bigger than us, and the challenges we face in our communities are bigger than any one organization. The temptation might be to believe that there are large gifts within our grasp. But the reality is that we have more potential to secure these gifts if we have clear plans, we focus on the relationship not the money, we work together, and we focus on the impact in our community. We must overcome the “scarcity story.” Treat it as the “trick” and focus on the “treat” of abundance.

Starbursts: How will your mission shine brighter this year? How will you stop hoping everyone just knows the value of your work? You could just sit back and savor it for yourself knowing that every day you do critical work for your fellow Alaskans, or you could shine bright and share your mission story, your collective story, your personal story. Get a plan. Know your audience (everyone is not an audience), train the team, and focus on the good. This is about the difference mission makes in the economy and in the lives of Alaskans. It is not about pulling others down, but rather about sharing your part in a larger effort to make our communities vibrant, strong, healthy, productive, and shiny bright.

Smarties: The “I” and the “E” in the Smarties make all the difference, no matter if this is a savor or share treat for you. You have likely all heard about SMART a goal which typically stands for “specific, measureable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.” Classic use of the SMART goal is in annual planning to help us stay crisp and focused. But add the I and E and you get “I’m Excited.” Honestly, there is so much work we could all be focused on that choosing work that doesn’t excite our boards, our staff, or ourselves is likely a goal that will stay unchecked on the list. I know, the lists are long. So ask yourself (if you are savoring this treat), or ask your collaborators (if you are sharing), what makes everyone excited about accomplishing the goal? Where is the energy in the team? Where does the conversation “light up?” How can you shift a SMART goal to a SMARTIE goal and keep the intention and values intact? Moving the IE goals to the top of the list will give you and your team the fuel you need to move forward even when the hills and valleys seem even more intense than in the past.

Red Vines: A highly collaborative statewide Alaska nonprofit, thread, gives the gift of red vines from time to time. It’s the perfect metaphor not just for them but for all of us. It reminds us of how we can be tied together in our work across geographies, across missions, and across issues. We can savor our connections as a best kept secret, or we can commit to not confusing the trick for the treat and bust the myth that we are bad at working together. Can we do more? Sure. Can we do it better? Yes. But we also know it takes much time, money, and energy to do it in a way that benefits our community. The tricksters offer a world that has fewer nonprofits doing more work with fewer resources. Hmmmm? That never worked in government or industry. I’m not sure why it would work for us. The treat is committing to the core principles of why working together is worth the effort. And how sharing in small ways builds trust for greater efforts in the future. It is true that we are stronger together. We saw that this summer, and we will see it again and again. The vines that wind their way around, through, and across our work are strong. They are stronger still when we find those lines that connect mission impact with government and business partners, not just with those inside our own sector. Don’t be caught in the sticky tangle of false sharing – instead let’s savor and share this treat for the reality and possibilities of our time.

Tootsie pops: They’re hard on the outside, but soft on the inside – the treat that asks us to work a little bit to get to the goodness. Someone asked me recently if a sabbatical was possible for the mighty advocates who not only did their full-time job all summer, but rallied their constituents, their communities, their staff, their boards, and themselves to stand up for the essential work provided by our nonprofits. We are so fortunate to have the Rasmuson Sabbatical program as an option for some leaders, while many other groups have figured out how to give staff and themselves a break to refresh and renew. I commend every one of these treats to savor. And as we frequently talked about this summer, this is also a “we care” moment to share. In my lifetime in this sector, I rarely encountered anyone who is afraid of hard work. We mostly have to remind people to not work too much. But we have to remember the goodness in the center – that the hard work leads to something sweet. We save lives. We create. We educate. We entertain. We sustain and preserve. We celebrate. We articulate. We advance. We invent. We are essential. Missions are about what happens in the realm of greater good for our communities, our lives, and our planet. We need to remind ourselves and each other that there is sweetness in all of our hard work, not just the hard work itself.

Our bags are filled with so many treats to savor and share. There are tricksters, too, out there who can distract us. But as we rediscover our balance we will also discover where we will react and where we will strategically act, where we will stop and where we will advance, and where we will hone in and where we will engage. Know that each moment is an opportunity for conscious decision making. We have choice in how we respond – how we position ourselves – how we advance missions for the people and communities that are counting on us. We have a choice in what we savor and what we share.