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This is the result of a whiteboard session we had this morning as we continue defining our strategy. The three green circles represent our areas of interest and investment. We’ve been committed to leadership organizations and reducing poverty in the global village (through market driven economic strategies) from our beginning. It is only in the last few weeks that we’ve adopted an emphasis on the next generation as an official part of our strategy, though it really reflects the formalization of something we were already doing rather than any meaningful shift. As the year progresses we will be working to add greater depth to the Strategic Partnerships we’ve established and ensure that we are offering value beyond funding. We will be accepting Encouragement Grant applications again in September, and our school leadership program is growing significantly. We are also looking forward to our Gather event in October when we’ll bring together a selected group to explore the future of non-profit leadership in Canada. (btw: the image above is from white board capture app for iPhone)

My post today is part of a larger initiative of more than 50 bloggers all sharing their thoughts on how to ‘bridge the gap’. You can check out the other perspectives here. Catalyst was involved in an Encouragement Grant to New Direction in 2008 to support work with an organizational consultant. I’ve never considered myself a threatening person. I’m shorter than average, generally friendly, and like to be liked. So it came as a surprise when my new friend told me that when I moved in down the street they had a serious conversation about moving away to protect their children. A little background might be helpful here. When my wife and I moved into our new home three years ago with one son and another child on the way (we now have three kids) I was working as a pastor, trying to start a new church in the community. The person we bought the house from asked about the new church and I said it was evangelical Christian. He may have misheard me because by the time we arrived the word was out that an evangelist was moving in. Over the next several months we began getting to know the neighbours, especially when my son started school. One of his friends from school lives up the street and has two moms. While picking up our children and walking home I got to know one of the couple and we have developed a meaningful friendship. My friend has taught me so much that I didn’t previously understand about parenting, our neighbourhood, reiki, spirituality, and particularly what it is like to be a lesbian living a monogamous married life in suburban Southern Ontario. I treasure our friendship. One day as the kids were on her swingset she told me what happened when they heard about the evangelist moving in: (paraphrase)
We put the kids to bed one night and sat down to talk about whether we should move. As much as we love it here we just didn’t know if we could put our children through the risk of being targeted at school by some religious bigot because of our relationship. We couldn’t trust you at first and it has taken a long time to feel safe with you as a neighbour and friend. We’ve both had so many bad experiences with church people that we were genuinely afraid about what would happen.
I still feel sick when I think about it. I spent years in a church culture that occasionally talked about “the gay agenda”. I never thought about how my subculture might be perceived on the other side. I still have theological questions that I hope to someday earn the trust to ask about, but if I ever do, I know i’ll be asking friends who have learned that even an evangelist (which is not a word I would ever use to describe myself) isn’t always a threat.

…from your best staff’s next employer Greetings; We want to thank you for taking the time to identify and initially hire our new employee. We understand that you recognized their innate leadership potential and caring heart, and brought them into the nonprofit field. We are grateful. We also understand that you benefited from the staff person’s high levels of commitment and energy while they lasted. Your decision to frequently undermine their efforts with board level interference took time to entirely drain their joy in working with you but ultimately it was successful. Our organization has a strong commitment to working with our staff to develop their skills and self-awareness. We invest time, energy, and resources in doing so. We have also worked hard to clearly delineate reporting structures and what issues are appropriate for board involvement. Your former staff member has told us that these are new experiences for her and she has never received the kind of accountability and encouragement in the past that we provide. Years ago that would have surprised us, but nearly everyone we hire has similar stories from other organizations much like yours. We are at a loss to understand why you would hire someone, invest in their salary and expenses, and entrust them with the work you consider so critical, but make essentially no effort to ensure that your investment is growing through intentional development of your staff. It seems extremely foolish. Perhaps that is why you have high staff turnover and lack a sense of vision and momentum. In any case, your weakness has allowed us to find another bright, gifted leader for our organization who is thriving in our environment. In fact, she recently told me that, although she does miss the work and clientele she had with you, she can not imagine ever again working in a setting where more dollars are invested in revising the website than in developing the team. (We couldn’t have said it better). She has shown us enthusiasm she admits she wondered if she could ever regain after the time spent in your “unhealthy and toxic” systems. She has also told us that her spirituality has been renewed beyond her hopes and her personal life is much more balanced and enjoyable. In closing; please accept our appreciation for inadvertently providing us with such an outstanding addition to our team. We are certain that we won’t be reciprocating because you now have a sour reputation in the circles of promising leaders. Sincerely; Proactive Wisdom Board p.s. We are expecting to have some additional vacancies in the coming months; could you forward your staff directory?

Some years ago a wealthy German businessman came across a village in the poverty-stricken African country of Swaziland that captured his interest. Formerly an important mining town; it was now abandoned, mine closed, population scattered, buildings left vacant. Rampant disease added to the devastation. Where others saw only a ghost town, he saw a profitable opportunity. He set about buying up the entire town, opening an upscale tourist lodge, and developing a series of businesses with confidence that in time there could be great returns; not of personal profit but of a better life for the local people. At one level this may appear to be just another story of typical Colonialism. In this case it is quite different. The village of Bulembu is being developed not to produce additional wealth for rich Westerners, but to bring new hope to people for whom life is stunningly difficult. Nearly half the population have AIDS, orphans are everywhere, and industry is nearly nonexistent. Yet by 2020 Bulembu is expected to be a community that is economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable. It is an audacious dream, but the early results are promising. It is a unique situation; unlikely to be replicated elsewhere. The leadership challenges are significant. And I, for one, am eager to watch it all unfold. Check out Bulembu.

I am just finished a term on the board of one organization and discussing seriously the possibility of joining another. In the past year I have become convinced that strong pairings of effective boards and lead staff are surprisingly rare and extremely powerful. At Catalyst we want to support organizations that are attempting to make this reality. Our friends at Strive post a helpful email blog regularly that I find very informative. This issue explores what kinds of issues boards should be involved in and how to process when board members overstep their role. Very appropriate. I also recommend Jim Brown’s book “The Imperfect Board Member“. The principles are practical and insightful (though I find the GEM model a little more complex than ideal). We’ve given coopies of this book to several organizations and I have two more copies to give to the first two people who request them in the comments to this post.

On June 7th we celebrated with the 5 recipients of Catalyst Scholarships for graduating students from the Halton Public School board. Pictured above with Catalyst founders Shirley and Doug Alexander are: KJ Lukas, Ashley Haick, Haylee Bloxham, Neel Dhingani, and Bhavini Tailor. In addition to a financial gift (administered by the good people at the Halton Learning Foundation), each of these young leaders will be receiving a year of monthly mentoring from Catalyst. During our reception they received some words of wisdom from Doug on how to maintain pursuit of their dreams in the midst of the realities of life. They were encouraged to: Read Extensively Be Creative Add Value Be  their best even when tired Give generously expecting nothing in return Intentionally Seek Mentors It was an inspiring evening to hear the dreams of our recipients and anticipate the mark they will be leaving on the world as they move forward. Thanks also to the Harbour Banquet Centre for the facility and Watson’s Engraving for the awards.