We’ve discussed why your organization exists, how to build a better board relationship, and the types of brains you need on your Board/staff. Now let’s tackle the issue that I have seen to some degree at every nonprofit organization I’ve ever dealt with: communication.
Years ago I read a book (I wish I could remember which one!) wherein the author tells a story from his high school years: one summer he was tasked by his parents to rid their yard of moles. He tried everything to no avail. Years later he met someone in a hardware store who was buying something they said was to stop moles. “Does it work?” our author asks. “Oh,” says the stranger, “it’s not actually for the moles, it kills the grubs the moles feed on.”
We all need to stop whacking the communication moles and actually attack the grub issue(s). I hear over and over again that folks are “too busy” to share information in a timely fashion. This is actually just a characteristic of white supremacy culture making us believe that there is urgency to everything we do. I almost went off on a tangent about white supremacy culture in the workplace, but that is a whole series of posts itself. Please take time to explore the fantastic resource created by Tema Okun, et al. You may see, as I did/do, how many of the grub issues across our organizations are firmly rooted here. It takes time to have real conversations about organization direction, company culture, and programming decisions…root and trunk decisions, to borrow the “decision tree” metaphor. If you don’t have time to have those conversations, perhaps your organization should be doing less.
Stop wielding information as a weapon of power! If you remember nothing else from this blog, please remember this. You cannot build a successful, healthy, thriving organization if you are expending emotional and mental labor trying to restrict the flow of information or hoard it for yourself. This happens at multiple levels all the time: board to staff, staff to board, executive leaders to staff and vice versa, peer to peer among staff, etc. This approach only leads to distrust. You may retain your power but you will see a revolving door of all the smart, creative, collaborative people you try to bring into your organization. Take a look at the Victory Gardens situation if you need to see what happens when decisions are made without good flow of information before, during, or after. Sometimes information hoarding is aggressive (see above), sometimes protective like when an employee believes sharing information will imperil their pet project or even their job. It really doesn’t matter why, it never leads to good.
The bottom line is that when information is restricted for any reason the result is fear, anger, distrust, and turnover in your Board and staff. Besides, as nonprofits, we are in the public trust; if there is information we feel we can’t share (outside of legal/HR reasons), there is something deeply wrong with our organization. As the authors of Crucial Conversations say, if we aren’t all working with the same data set, we can’t possibly make the best decisions. “Need to know basis” is a phrase that needs to be eliminated from our vocabulary and replaced by “all available information all the time.”
So, who’s responsibility is it to make sure information is flowing? Everyone’s. Next, we’ll look at how to share this responsibility and the communication styles that need to be taken into account when building a culture of free flowing information.