Saturday, January 30, 2010

Becoming an individual - and organizational - change agent

What does it take to be a community change agent, as an individual or organization?

I’ve been immersed in the question of community change since the moment I landed in Tucson for the Community-Driven Institute’s intensive consulting course. But it’s very familiar concept for me – and a centerpiece of my nonprofit life for the last 26+ years.

Delivering needed community services is a vital role. It saves and enhances lives. But service delivery is only half of the process. For many of us, and for many of our organizations, changing the environment is the larger purpose. If we are driven by a vision of a community where everyone is healthy and able to reach his/her full potential, change is essential.

This week, as I was pondering my individual change agent role, a post from Third Sector Connector caught my eye. This post, Laura Deaton's "17 Hallmarks of Community Change Agents" sparked thinking about existing strengths - in myself and in many of Laramie's social service agencies - and where there is room to move toward greater effectiveness and power.

Do you recognize your nonprofit somewhere in Laura's hallmarks? Do you recognize your board's strengths? Do you see yourself and your specific contributions to changing our community?

I do see myself, in ways that made sense before I went to Tuscon for my CDI immersion and with new clarity that that experience has created.

I already saw myself in #15, fostering a learning culture. I've long seen the potential in applying my expertise in adult learning to facilitate spaces where Laramie's nonprofit boards can explore and expand their understanding and appreciation for their unique responsibilities. That relates closely to my potential to support the kind of professional development, mentoring and coaching opportunities that Deaton describes in hallmark 16.

Today, I know that I can support new ways to engage community stakeholders, to facilitate the external focus of hallmark 13 and movement toward a shared vision of greatness for Laramie. I understand the value of asking the right questions (hallmark 8) and, thanks to my CDI mentors and peers, I have a better sense of what those questions are and how to facilitate discussions that lead to better decisions for our community.

Most of all, I am anxious - and better prepared - to play a role in building an environment of nonprofit inquisitiveness (hallmark 7), where we can tap the incredible, creative minds of those who lead our nonprofit community to create something wonderful for our citizens.

What change agent strengths can you contribute to create a stronger, more vibrant Albany County?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

It's all about vision

I had to make an uncomfortable confession as day 2 of the Community-Driven Institute immersion course came to a close yesterday.

I've know that nonprofits should have a vision statement, I've understood intellectually why they needed it, but my zest for making the most of limited teaching and consulting time has usually led to plowing over vision to get to the fun "mission-driven" stuff.

I've long understood intellectually the need for identifying a vision. But yesterday, I got it - in my gut and my heart, as well as my brain.

Vision is about community change. It's about stretching higher and higher, until we identify our highest potential as catalysts for that change. It's about what is possible if we are successful. It's about a better world if we're successful.

If we don't start with the vision, if we don't have a strong grasp of the vision, our full potential will never truly be 'full.'

The 'aha' moment for me came as my peers and I took turns practicing vision discussion, as facilitators and as participants. When we truly focused on identifying a compelling vision, on the highest possibility, we were excited. We were energized. We were overcome by the change that we were seeing.

I've been involved with pretty satisfying mission discussions over the last 26 years. I've led many of those discussions. But I've never truly felt the kind of palpable excitement that those brief experiences yesterday created. The difference between those experiences and yesterday ultimately is where the work was focused.

As I write this post, I'm heading to day three, where my journey of understanding (and the massive conceptual shift that it is creating) continues. I'm still processing what this means, for me and for the organizations that I will support in the future. Some of that processing will undoubtedly occur in future posts here.

In the meantime, I'll share a favorite resource that does the best job I've seen of describing mission, vision and values statements. Coincidentally - or not - this longtime favorite comes from the Community-Driven Institute. Click here to access this article.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Expanding my governance horizons

I write this from the Denver airport, en route to a week of intensive, transformative learning and thinking about the contributions of our nonprofits.

I've long been inspired and challenged by the work of the Community-Driven Institute. I've enjoyed stretching my thinking as I've befriended CDI's co-founder, Hildy Gottlieb, on Facebook and Twitter over the last year.

The foundation of CDI's work matches closely everything I believe about the value of nonprofits and nonprofit governance. As Hildy and I chatted about my dissertation research, the intersections between their phenomenal work and mine were clear and numerous. When the opportunity arose to deepen my own learning in a face-to-face setting, I knew I had to go.

I am ready to connect what I do to a larger community of like-minded social change agents - and to build upon my knowledge under the expert guidance of CDI. That is how I find myself headed to Tucson today.

You'll be hearing more -- undoubtedly a lot more -- about what I am learning and how it is shaping my thinking in new ways. In the meantime, I'd like to share a couple of gifts from CDI:
  • A link to the Articles Library, which is a treasure trove of wisdom and practical "how to" advice on nonprofit governance issues.
  • A link to the CDI YouTube channel, which offers up several brief video clips of Hildy discussing several governance topics.
Looking forward to sharing what inspires me with you!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Becoming a board veteran

As I enter a new phase of my professional life and a chance to join a new (for me) community of practice, I'm contemplating my impending transition from wide-eyed newbie to active veteran member.

I'm not joining a new nonprofit board specifically, but the process (legitimate peripheral participation, in the community of practice world) is largely the same.

That has sparked for me a broader question for readers of this blog this morning:

How does your board go about not only orienting new members to their job but to truly embracing them, bringing them into the culture of the board, and supporting them on their path to becoming full, productive veterans with the capacity to lead? Please share, via comment to this post.