Matter-ness as Organizing Principle

Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 11.42.35 AMI am doing a webinar for Blue Avocado, a great blog about all matters nonprofit management, to discuss Matter-ness as an Organizing Principle. Here is a write up of a talk I gave recently on this topic. For me, matter-ness began with a minipheny I had as president of my synagogue. For a year as president my inbox was filled with angry complaints. What happened to my parking spot? Why was the door locked? How come I didn’t know she died? And my favorite: why didn’t anyone call when I was in the hospital even though I didn’t tell anyone I was in the hospital?

And then it occurred to me that all of these complaints were actually one complaint: Why don’t I matter here?

My talk will outline the various ways that organizations make their people feel that they don’t matter. All of the automated letters, the press release communications, the less-than-heartfelt thank yous all add up to people feeling pushed away from organizations that they care about.

What’s the antidote? We are living in Big Small Towns right now, the integrated ecosystem of online and on land communities that allow us to reverse this tide – if we want to.

First, it’s recognizing that the problem stems from three things in particular: looking at the world from inside one’s fortress walls outside, focusing more on transactions than relationships, and because we are terrible storytellers. We don’t tell our own stories well and we don’t allow our people to tell their stories outside of the obligatory, dried out testimonial (I really liked the service this organization provided blah, blah…)

The second step is begin to reverse the tide from inside out to outside in. Ask people to tell you how it feels to engage with your organization. Are you easy to access, is it clear on your website that your organization is made up of real people? Are you telling moving stories about what your efforts mean to people?

And then there is a hard step. Are you willing to take a common complaint or problem to the world and solve it in public with your crowd? How would it feel to you and your supporters if you posted on Facebook: We’ve heard from people that they find it hard to understand when we’re open. Is this true for other people? What does it feel like? Can you help us solve this problem?

Of course, working out loud like this requires a great deal of courage on the part of staff and patience on the part of boards and funders.

We don’t need to just take problems outside of the walls. We can use our megaphones to tell the stories of our people, to thank them in creative and heartfelt ways, We can and should celebrate and laugh and cry together. But to do so we must inch out way outside of the fortress walls to really engage with our own people and reassure that they really matter to us and our causes. Because in the end, your people are the only thing that really does  matter.

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About the author

Allison Fine
  • Eva Brune

    Allison, this is awesome. Thanks for bringing this to light.

    • Allison Fine

      Thanks, Eva, it’s a work in progress but I think it has a lot of promise. I’m going to keep posting about it. If you have any thoughts about when and how orgs have made you feel like you don’t matter, or have been matter-full (just made that up!) I’d love to hear it!

  • Hayim Herring

    Thanks, Allison, for sharing your real world experience. Because you speak from experience and caring, it makes your point even more powerful. I’m sharing with a couple of congregational presidents and hope they will post them on their list serves.

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