Monday, November 3, 2008

Board Source Conference Ah-Ha

Last week I was in DC attending the Board Source Leadership Conference. Now, I describe myself as a "Cliff Notes" conference attendee, meaning I like to get in and grab the stuff and then go work in my room. I find myself tired of networking after ten minutes. They are a good ten minutes but I am often incapable of small talk. While I love the nonprofit world, I cannot bring myself to talk about board development for long periods of time. This is one of the biggest pet peeves from my wife as she can have a five hour dinner and I am fine with a good 30 minutes.

In any sense, the conference was very well done. The best session I attended was one that was led by Clara Miller, the leader of the Nonprofit Finance Fund. Of course her workshop was on nonprofit finances and that was great but the portion of the training that caught my fancy was the brief discussion she was having on nonprofits view of operating costs (being less than 20%) and having fund diversification. Now, nerdy folk might think this was the interesting part (no offense please as I am part of the nerdy folk) but the most interesting point to me was how the discussion for a small time went to how nonprofit organizations should advocate to funders ( I brought up the point after raising my hand like a 5th Grader) on the problems with the view on operating costs and fund diversification. Ms. Miller stated that there had been a movement to educate funders on this. I had some knowledge of this but frankly thought it was idle chatter. Following the session I immediately went up to Clara and signed up for anything and everything I could do to advocate on this. Maybe the political campaign inspired me as I believe I shouted out, "Yes We Can!" Clara took my card after remembering me as a member of her facebook page and the rather embarrasing picture of me in a full-sized Winnie the Pooh costume.

In all seriousness, the reason I raise this is that I often think leaders in the nonprofit world think leadership is the activity of knowing where the land mines are and avoiding them, with the best leaders being those who show up on the other side of the mine field. Unfortunately, the mine field includes the often unwieldy requests that come from funders. To me, this shows some areas of leadership but mostly it just shows resiliency. The better way to view leadership is the act of removing the mines. Even more, the most successful leaders are those that change the mine field altogether, maybe into a field for all to enjoy. Kickball anyone......

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