A SOURCE for Tools, Advice, and Training to control risks... so you can Focus on your Nonprofit's mission.

June 15, 2011

Getting Social in Seattle

By Melanie Lockwood Herman

I want to begin this week’s message with a note of thanks to the eleven companies that have already signed on as Corporate Sponsors of the Center’s annual conference—the 2011 Risk Management and Finance Summit for Nonprofits. These companies are: Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., Canfield, Charity First, Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, First Nonprofit Insurance Company, Great American Insurance Group, The Hanover Insurance Group, Munich Reinsurance America, Inc., Non Profit Insurance Program, Philadelphia Insurance Companies, and Riverport Insurance. The exciting line-up of education sessions we’re unveiling today would not be possible without the generous support of these companies.

This year’s Summit will begin with pre-conference workshops on Sunday, September 18th at the Edgewater Hotel. The Conference continues on Monday and Tuesday (September 19-20) with concurrent workshops and plenary sessions at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center. Both venues are on the Seattle waterfront.

As our team worked to put the finishing touches on the agenda we’re releasing today, we found ourselves incorporating themes from the thought-provoking book two of us have been reading: The Social Animal. In the chapter titled “Attachment,” author and journalist David Brooks discusses the correlation between an ability to develop meaningful relationships with peers and authority figures and a child’s prospects for academic success in school. Research suggests that a child’s social skills can inspire or hinder academic achievement. Throughout The Social Animal the author explores the “deeply social aspect” of the mind. Brooks presents an entertaining, relationship-driven narrative to illustrate how the unconscious mind does the heavy lifting when it comes to decision-making.

As I read The Social Animal I thought about how so many nonprofit leaders have tried to inject logic-driven “business practices” into the nonprofit workplace. Terms like “return on investment” and “metrics” roll off the tongues of nonprofit leaders. And throughout our sector nonprofit executives regularly affirm their understanding that a nonprofit is indeed a “business.” But in our zeal to be disciplined and respected “business” leaders have we discounted the importance of relationships? Have we unknowingly emphasized performance metrics at the expense of human connections?

When I began my career in the nonprofit sector I naively believed that mutual respect negated the need to be liked. I adopted and often repeated the mantra of a then-popular business guru: “I don’t care if you like me. All I care about is whether you respect me.” My na´ve approach to supervising others ignored two key facts: first, that nonprofit employees are social animals, and second, that relationships are an essential part of a healthy environment necessary for mission-advancement.

During a site visit to a new client this week I was surprised to see an inviting and comfortable break area located adjacent to rows of cubicles. I was told that teams at the organization take turns using the break area, and I observed one team that seemed to be enjoying its well-deserved downtime. How refreshing to visit a workplace where “taking a break” from work is taken seriously. The organization also celebrates the social nature of its staff by encouraging each employee to decorate their workspace and by pairing new staff members with staff mentors.

Brooks reminds readers of The Social Animal that changing one’s environment is an effective way to change one’s behavior and attitude. I hope you’ll consider a temporary change of scene and join us in Seattle this September 18-20. We will provide an environment that will help you re-think your understanding of the risks facing your nonprofit. Count on us to deliver a mix of fast-paced workshops and thought-provoking plenary sessions that will inspire your creative side. You’ll also have an opportunity to “get social” with colleagues facing similar challenges as well as those who have found practical solutions to the challenges you’re likely to face in the year ahead. Register now and take advantage of early bird pricing.

The Social Animal, by David Brooks is available at online and neighborhood booksellers.

Melanie Lockwood Herman is Executive Director of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center. She welcomes your ideas about any risk management topic, feedback on this article and questions about the Center’s resources at Melanie@nonprofitrisk.org or (202) 785-3891. The Center provides risk management tools and resources at www.nonprofitrisk.org and offers consulting assistance to organizations unwilling to leave their missions to chance.



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