Looking Under the Hood
There are a few scenarios that have presented themselves lately which have caused me to wonder: Should an organization let a donor or prospective donor, or a respected community member, “look under the hood” of the organization?
What do I mean by looking under the hood? I mean showing the in progress, less than polished, sometimes conflicting, inner-workings of organizational life. Basically ,do you want to let them see how the sausage is made? Here are some examples:
- You form a committee of volunteers to chart programmatic work without having the funding for the programs committed by the organization and/or when there is disagreement about the direction or priority of the programming among the senior staff.
- You ask a respected community leader to chair a task force that reveals deep divides internally in what appears outwardly to be an organization singing from the same song sheet.
- You invite a donor to be part of a host committee for an event that is not taking shape as smoothly as you hoped with bumps in the road foreseeable.
What are the potential risks of exposing these vulnerabilities? What are the potential rewards?
I guess all of this depends on the type of donor or community member we are talking about. What is their level of commitment and experience with the organization? How much experience do they have working with nonprofits or similar organizations in general? What are their expectations about their committee’s or task force’s charge or work? Do they know how far along the projects and programs are? Are they Pollyannas or realists? What is their willingness to help contribute to the conversation and navigate to reach the clarity needed?
Some want to do a job only when it can be done in a clean and delineated way. Some are willing to wade through the messiness of organizational life. I guess it just depends.
What is clear is that we need to choose carefully. We should give full disclosure ahead of time to volunteers as to the nature and status of the work they are being asked to engage in, check in during the course of the work, and assess with them afterwards about their experience and how it has affected, if at all, their feelings about the organization.
I generally believe that engagement is a good thing. However, sometimes it can change how someone sees an organization and that can have consequences.
What do you think?