Saturday, June 27, 2009

On the internet everyone knows when you're working (or not).

Is it just me or has the 24/7 aspect of email and voicemail multiplied your opportunities for miscommunication? Not miscommunication in the sense of misinformation. The information, in fact, is rather precise...all the way down to the minutes and seconds in the timestamp. Rather miscommunication because you can place a message while in your pajamas and people will think that you are still wearing a business suit, maybe even still wearing that same suit they saw you in earlier in the day while you were in your office. The problem is, it's 11:30PM.

Much has been written about how "on the internet nobody knows you're a dog," the idea that the internet creates confusion over proximity and privacy. Instead, I am thinking about a related problem, the asynchrony inherent in electronic messages. Perhaps you are one of those people who checks your voicemail at the start of the business day, or opens your web browser first thing in the morning. If so, you see the accumulated messages left overnight (emphasis on the word "overnight") and you wonder "when is it acceptable to call it quits for the day?"

In all of my adult life I have never worked at a place that works as hard as Coastal Community Foundation. You would think that everyone, every single employee, was working on commission, working to make payroll, or working to send money home...rather than just working to do good. It is like that at many nonprofits. Working for good is a huge motivator. There are no finish lines, no goal posts, no visible signs of progress yet employees and volunteers push themselves to their limits. It renews my faith when I see people pushing themselves along, without financial rewards, in community improvement projects. When paid employees do the same you have to wonder what's the magic about giving back?

So what does that have to do with dogs and the internet? When there are no limits on working from home; working 24/7 and leaving voicemails and emails with their telltale timestamps, I am sending Coastal Community Foundation employees the unintended message that it is okay, even expected, that everyone work beyond the 9 to 5 workday (our hours are actually 8:30AM to 6PM...that's how bad it is). Once "quitting time" no longer exists my daily ritual of thanking people and telling them to "go home and get some rest" sounds instead like a challenge to their commitment.

So in the spirit of full disclosure (and to counter the ah ha's of those who checked the timestamp on this blog entry) I am writing this while barefoot and enjoying the breeze on my porch. My wife is to my left and a cold drink is by my side. I am enjoying myself. Read this in the spirit it was written. Giving back to your community is a profound motivator that makes the effort of making a living seem like child's play. It does not, however, reduce the wear and tear on body and mind.

So now how do I protect the health of Coastal Community Foundation employees and get them to take a break? What tips do you have to help employees in the nonprofit sector get some work/life balance back into their lives? I've already got the message to reduce my off-hours messaging. What else do you suggest?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Improvement grants help 13 neighborhoods

Read a recent article by Charleston Regional Business Journal about the Neighborhoods Energized to Win (N.E.W.) Fund, which recently awarded over $30,000 to grassroots neghborhood groups.

Small grants can do BIG things.

Improvement grants help 13 neighborhoods

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Henrietta Gaillard – A Leader and A Lady

Earlier this year the Charleston community lost a devoted and much-loved leader, Henrietta Freeman Gaillard, who courageously battled cancer for two and a half years. Henrietta is dearly missed by her family and many many close friends. She is also missed by acquaintances like me, who knew her more by the evidence of her quiet service to our community, by her legacy of servant leadership. You know the type – not so much the people who make the front page of the Post & Courier on a regular basis, but those Rocks of Gibraltar -- the people who, through their single-minded service, naturally ascend to leadership positions. And in leading, point others to the cause they are promoting – not to themselves.

Among the many legacies Henrietta has left to our community, one that stands out to me is her dedication to developing the potential of women. She did this indirectly, through her various public service roles, modeling what it means to be a woman leader of excellence. She also did this directly by encouraging individual women in her personal life.

Henrietta served for eight years as the Director of Development for Ashley Hall. Walker Buxton, who worked under Henrietta at Ashley Hall, described her this way: “Henrietta had an incredible work ethic – I’ll never forget the time we hosted an event at a home south of Broad, and at the end of the long night of meeting and greeting prospective donors, there was Henrietta back in the kitchen, sleeves rolled up cleaning silverware – she was not above doing anything and that is why she was the kind of leader people wanted to follow.” Inflated ego was indeed never a struggle for Henrietta – and she modeled this humility to all those around her. “When I first started working at Ashley Hall, Henrietta said, ‘I don’t mind if people make mistakes, but don’t make a mistake because you didn’t ask!’ The point being,” Walker continued, “that no question is too dumb so don’t be too proud to ask it.”

Thanks to her many years of volunteer work and leadership training through her involvement with the Junior League, Henrietta brought to Ashley Hall’s development shop a focus on strategic planning (back in the 80’s, before it was common practice), an ability to motivate and train volunteer solicitors for a successful $1.5 million capital campaign (at that point in time, the largest capital campaign successfully undertaken by a nonprofit), and she always encouraged the women under her leadership to pursue professional development opportunities. She was more interested in their personal success, not in keeping them “under the thumb” – that never even occurred to Henrietta.

Henrietta served as President of the Junior League of Charleston from 1985-1986. Because of this and her devoted service to our community, her friends and family worked together to establish the Henrietta F. Gaillard Leadership Fund at Coastal Community Foundation. This endowed fund provides a permanent source of funding for the Junior League’s leadership training activities – as well as a perpetual reminder of Henrietta’s dedication to developing the potential of women.

Beyond being a great leader, what I hear most is that Henrietta had an amazing ability to be a great friend. As important as all her leadership and service to our community was, this is what she will be remembered for most.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Woman Making a Difference

Coastal Community Foundation works with a group of savvy women who band together to increase their giving power and provide grants to local organizations that seek to enhance the quality of life for women and children. This giving circle is called Women Making a Difference and its first grants meeting of the year was today. Whenever this group of women comes into our offices, I wonder what really is a woman making a difference.

A recent article in the Georgetown Times talked about how to recognize a woman who makes a difference in her community. This woman not only takes on the historical role of shaping home and family, but she also extends her nurturing role through activism and nonprofit work that has a significant impact on individuals and society as a whole. This woman helps us all reach the common goal of building a better world.

One woman making a difference in Charleston is Cynthia Coker, Vice Chairperson of the Disabilities Foundation of Charleston County. I met Mrs. Coker on a site visit to the Webb Center, one of the many arms of the Disabilities Board of Charleston County. Mrs. Coker was there to fight for a grant to help keep the Webb Center open. She spoke from the experience of raising a child with disabilities of the importance of parents of children with disabilities having a safe nurturing environment to leave their children during the day while they were out earning a living. Mrs. Coker said that without the Webb Center many children would have nowhere to go and many parents would have no alternative but to quit their jobs to stay home with their children. But the Webb Center is only one arm of the Disabilities Board and only one agency Mrs. Coker believes in fighting for.

Mrs. Coker believes that all people with disabilities should live an exceptional life while navigating a world that is often ill equipped to receive them. She has spent endless volunteer hours finding support for underfunded programs, building bridges between the public and private sectors, encouraging people without disabilities to embrace their fellow community members with disabilities, and maintaining a positive outlook in the face of red tape, growing needs, diminishing government funding, and inadequate public awareness.

In the last few years, Mrs. Coker has focused her efforts on creating a viable Disabilities Foundation of Charleston County to generate a source of permanent revenue for the Disabilities Board of Charleston County which serves over 2,500 people with disabilities in our community. Mrs. Coker constantly encourages the Foundation and the Disabilities Board to start every decision making process with one thought in mind: the people with disabilities who are being served.

Mrs. Coker has committed her life to improving the lives of people with disabilities, starting in her own home and then impacting the whole Charleston community. That is a woman making a difference.

Do you know a woman making a difference?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Running against the tide

Charitable giving to funds at the Coastal Community Foundation is up 8% while giving, nationwide, to foundations is down 19.7%. What accounts for this 27.7 percentage point spread on the upside? Before you read more, guess. Why is the Lowcountry running so strongly against the tide? Why is charitable giving to Coastal Community Foundation way up compared to the rest of the nation?

So how many of you guessed it is something in the water? That's the most common response I get when I ask this question at Rotary Club presentations or national meetings of community foundation professionals. Of course that answer is tongue-in-cheek, but there is some truth to the idea. Our waters attract nature-lovers of all types, fishing-types, hunters, birdwatchers, and people who like the serenity of a marsh or a swamp. It keeps those here who love the outdoors. The beauty of the Lowcountry attracts early retirees who have money, self-motivation, and moxie. They seek connection with the Lowcountry and eventually get involved with our nonprofits. The waters also draw families back to the Lowcountry, such that if a child goes away to make their fortune they come back and give back. Looked at this way, our water is part of the reason charitable giving remains strong. We attract people who have made money elsewhere. We get the best of the economic engine that has created new wealth in this nation.

The second most common answer I hear for why giving is up is that living on the coast makes our communities self-reliant and resilient. Being in a hurricane zone will do that to you. You come together when there is a crisis. Coastal Community Foundation grew dramatically in the time of Hugo. It also made us stronger during this economic downturn.

So if these ideas do not float your boat, then what's your explanation for the outpouring of charitable giving in the Lowcountry? If not the waters, then what?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Shame on me: An angel among us -- Jacki Baer

When Jacki Baer first called here a year or two ago, I thought for a few moments that she might be a con artist and a charlatan. She wasn’t asking for money for her new non-profit organization, Fields to Families (“Yeah, right – not for 10 minutes, anyhow,” I thought). She asked for advice about organizational development and program planning. When I asked what their budget was, she said, “We don’t have a budget.” (“Hah – gotcha!”, I thought, and I was about to do a 60 Minutes number on her so-called “non-profit organization”.)

Jacki is the founder of Fields To Families, a non-profit that in two years has mobilized hundreds of volunteers to glean farm fields and vendor tables at Farmers’ Markets and distribute their fresh produce to dozens of soup kitchens and other local feeding programs that had previously served mostly canned or boxed food. In year-one, Fields to Families volunteers delivered 20,000 pounds of produce in their own cars. Last year, it was over 80,000 pounds.

About Jacki saying they had no budget when she first called? They truly didn’t. Their only expense had been the money it took to file for non-profit status with the IRS, and Jacki paid that herself. Newsletters, website, gas for deliveries, communications, meeting expenses – everything was in-kind donations.

By the end of that first phone call, I was totally won over by Jacki Baer’s sincerity, friendliness and openness to suggestions. We’ve had other phone conversations since then. She has yet to ask for money.

Jacki and her late husband moved to Charleston from Albany, NY in 1989. She became a Master Gardener through Clemson training. Ten years later, she started collecting leftovers from vendor tables at Farmers’ Markets and along with a few friends, decided to organize that kind of recycling into a non-profit organization.

She describes herself as “elderly and not in the best of health”, so Jacki herself doesn’t glean. She’s the volunteer staff member who sits at her computer and by her telephone organizing, mobilizing and scheduling the entire operation. She’s humble, so to find out the truth about all that she does, you’d have to ask one of her Board members, one of her volunteers, or one of the farmers she works with. Here’s a link that takes you to a Post & Courier article with some comments by Brock White, Director of Agriculture at Boone Hall Farms.