“What we got here is a failure to communicate” said the Board President slightly chuckling at his own joke.
“Actually, what we have is a failure to listen” the Executive Director answered back.
Time for polite conversation was over. The Executive Director believed that the window for proactive solutions was beginning to close and the door to crisis management was about to open. This organization was heading for trouble. For the past half hour their conversation had gone round and round about how best to engage the Board in fundraising, and more specifically helping to cultivate new donors.
The Board President took a deep breath and began again: “We’re not a fundraising board. That’s the reality…”
“Nor is this Board engaged around our cause.”
“Yes,” only slightly agreeing “but most care deeply about the people we serve.”
“Deeply enough to help us avert a crisis?”
“I don’t know. What do you think we should do?”
“I don’t know.”
The conversation came to a halt. They each looked away from one another. Then the Executive Director decide to try a different approach:
“When you look at our organization, what engages you the most?” he asked.
The Board President was not sure. “There are so many different programs and services we offer. They all do good work…”
“But is there an experience that you had over the course of your tenure on the Board, that makes you think ‘ah, yes that’s why I’m doing this!’”
“That happened early on before I was even on the Board” he began. “I was on a tour of one of the centers and I met a young man who told me a little about his life before he came here. He was doing drugs, dropped out of high school, and started hanging out with a gang. It seemed that the whole world gave up on him and he gave up on himself. He somehow found his way to one of our centers, got a job, was encouraged to stay away from the gang, finished high school and went onto college. What struck me the most is that he could of very easily had been a headline in the newspaper, something I would have overlooked. But there he was standing before me—proof that no life should ever be thrown away.”
“‘No life should ever be thrown away’” repeated the executive director. “That’s a great story. That’s why I’m here too.”
Being completely upfront and honest, the Board President said: “My time on the Board hasn’t lived up to that moment; not that I need to have those kinds of experiences everyday but I really hadn’t thought about that encounter in a long time.”
“We need to change that” replied the Executive Director.
And the conversation begins.