I lived on a kibbutz for a while when I was in my early 20s, when I was on a very extended backpacking trip. I had reconnected with an Israeli guy I’d met a few months before when we crossed paths in Greece, where he was on vacation.
Never in my life a lark, I was at work every day before dawn, which gave me what seemed like infinite hours between lunch and dinner. Every day I called him once or twice. And I might have considered calling him a few more, in between running, reading, journaling, and watching cricket. We joked about “kibbutz” time. Days felt like months. Weekends at his place were nanoseconds.
After a few months, it wasn’t funny.
I’d read every book in the library. My journal was repetitive and boring. I needed to get on with my “traveling” life and its routines. He had needed to get on with his “real” life and his.
Whatever we felt for each other was secondary.
It’s easy to see that now, but at the time, I struggled with all the conflicting emotions, assumptions and patterns within and between us. Breaking up was hard, and staying together would’ve been harder. We weren’t up for it, and we moved on.
Ever noticed that dynamics in organizations are similar to those in personal life? We’re told to bring passion to our jobs, and that requires bringing our emotional selves. The challenge is, most organizational structures and professional training avoids all of the emotional aspects of a career. Consider this:
A non-profit submits a proposal for funding. It’s exciting. Innovative and substantial, the grant would significantly contribute to the organization’s fundraising goals. Robert has invested a lot of time and his organization’s resources into the proposal. If it’s successful, he has a good chance to get the promotion he wants. He expects a response today and is confident. Robert checks his email every 20 minutes to see if Jo-Ann has sent word. Robert is on kibbutz time.
Meanwhile, at the funding agency, Jo-Ann has been working hard to prepare the Board on her team’s strategy update, including results from previous grants, as well as make the case for a new batch of grants for approval. Her meeting is one among many that the Board will see that day. And then something happens, and Jo-Ann is alerted that decisions on the new batch of proposals will be bumped to the next Board meeting. Which is next quarter.
What happens next between Robert and Jo-Ann is critical. There’s a dynamic in place between the two organizations and individuals, even if it’s not recognized, which includes all of their assumptions and patterns of behavior. The dynamic can be positive or negative, and have lasting repercussions for all involved.
Because Jo-Ann’s agency is the funder, and money is conflated with power, Jo-Ann might overlook contacting Robert until she has a definitive response. Or she might send out an impersonal group email to all of the organizations whose proposals were bumped, because she has a huge stack of other work that needs attending to. Or, if she does call Robert, she might not pause to consider how much this means to Robert personally, or for the non-profit as a whole.
Robert might just take the news without pushing back, even if he wants to. Maybe he’ll convey frustration inappropriately. Or escalate it in his organization and hers, without first engaging her. Maybe Robert calls her first, aiming to be proactive, but putting her on the defensive.
Alternatively, Jo-Ann could communicate to Robert with empathy for his situation, and prepare a few alternatives that are feasible within the constraints she faces. She could meet with him personally, to convey either positive or negative news – and in so doing, illustrate her respect and appreciation for the work he has done. Her communications with him might strive to affirm their relationship as peers, simply sitting on different sides of the same coin that’s trying to make an impact. Likewise, Robert might work to see himself in Jo-Ann’s situation, and prepare a few alternative scenarios for her to consider, acknowledging and appreciating her role. And maybe they can push aside the power, gender, and other dynamics at play, to determine whether to break up and move on, or to stick together and wait another quarter.
These are the realities faced every day by funders and the funded. I work with non-profit organizations and mission-driven funders who are working to improve lives around the world, with individuals who invest everything into their work. My goal is to improve the dynamic between funders and the funded at individual, team, organizational and eco-system levels, because it’s in the in-between spaces where small shifts can have extraordinary results. The dynamic between Jo-Ann and Robert and between their respective organizations can be created, recreated, reinforced or shifted by what they do next. I’m still not a lark, helping the Jo-Anns and Roberts of the world navigate through these spaces motivates and inspires me every day.