Warning! This is a pretty weird blog. But I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. So here goes.
First, read Maureen Dowd’s op-ed piece “Alone Again, Naturally.” (August 19, 2014, New York Times) Her column forms the basis for this blog.
I’ve read the column several times now. Each time, I wonder if your organization or mine or the others behave like Dowd describes President Obama.
“Above the grubby political scene, unearthly and apart…” (Dowd wrote). Does your organization avoid public policy and advocacy work? Do you feed the hungry but avoid fighting for policy changes to reduce hunger? Do you only look at your own mission and forget about the rest of the community and its issues?
“Unlike L.B.J., who devoured problems…Obama’s main galvanizing impulse was to get himself elected. Almost everything else…seems like too much trouble.” Does your organization remain safely in the status quo, focused on mission without any attention to what affects your mission? Does your organization avoid all risks and steer clear of any potential conflicts?
“His circle keeps getting more inner.” How often does your organization go beyond its narrowest group of stakeholders? Do you reach beyond limiting borders to ask cage-rattling questions, engage in conversation, learn and change?
“The White House believes a presidential speech on a politically charged topic is as likely to make things worse as to make things better.” (Dowd quoting Ezra Klein in Vox.) Do your leaders avoid taking positions in subjects that affect your organization and those you serve? Do you remain silent because you don’t want to offend a donor or a prospective donor or that very powerful board member you have?
“For [Obama], eating his spinach is schmoozing with elected officials.” (Dowd quoting Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri). Is that the way your CEO behaves – staying at his desk and avoiding community events, lunch gatherings, etc.? Do your board members hang out with each other and friends at events? Do your board members – and staff, too – understand that there job is to mingle and schmooze, going up to strangers and engaging in conversation?
“Sure, the president has enemies…But as F.D.R. said of his moneyed foes, ‘I welcome their hatred.’ Why should the president neutralize himself?” Is your organization at the right tables in your community? And, if necessary, do you fight to be at those tables? Are your leaders known as the quiet folks who aren’t seen much? Does your organization communicate regularly with its donors? Do you remind your donors that they are the heroes, not your organization?
“The country needs its president to illuminate and lead, not sink into some petulant expression of his aloofness…” Does your organization lead? Do your leaders speak out? Remember… silence is consent.
Our President makes me sad. And organizations and people like our President make me sad. To what degree are you willing and able to take risks…you and your organization? To what degree does your organization welcome challenges, embrace cage-rattling questions, intentionally reach out and engage? To what degree do you, your leaders, and your organization speak out.
The world needs a strong nonprofit/NGO sector. And the sector needs strong organizations and strong leaders.