What to do on a snow day? Did you ever notice how so many of us find reasons beyond reason to venture out on those risky days? Its the same everywhere, including the Land of Lost Board Members. In a land that is never day or night, nor light or dark, the snow comes in the same quality – already gray. Walking through the not quite frozen, not quite thawed grey-gray slush, I slid into the office of the local newspaper, the Timely Donations News. I was planning a trip to anyplace warmer and sunnier and wanted to stop delivery until my return. The lobby was quiet, but I could hear a familiar voice in the reporter’s pool. It was my friend, Bella Pelorizado. Bella is a former nonprofit executive director who has moved onto a lucrative consulting business.
“Bella,” I waved across the anti-press terrorist barricade, or is it the antiterrorist press barricade, or is it the terrorist press… never mind. “Bella, what are you doing here?”
Bella released the barrier lock, lowered the bulletproof shield, raised the steel impelling spikes. and welcomed me into her office. “What do you think?,” she asked as she gestured around her cubicle. It was cluttered with tech equipment, old newspapers and letters. “How do you like it?” She glowed in the mess. “I have a new job. Its only part time – but it just suits me!”
“You’ve become a reporter?”
“No, no. I’m the new agency help lady – you know the Dear Abby of nonprofits.”
“Bella, I can’t think of anyone better suited for the job!” I looked around at the clutter. “What questions do your readers have?”
She held out a derelict piece of paper with coffee stains and chocolate smears. “Listen to this – Dear Bella, My agency is having trouble getting Board members to take their service seriously. What can I do to revive their commitment and increase their service hours?” She put the letter aside and began to type, “Dear Slob,…”
“Bella, that’s cruel.”
She ignored me and continued. “Dear Slob, If the rest of your work is like the letter I received, you have to clean up your act and probably your desk before anyone takes you seriously. I bet your agency needs cleaning, organizing and decluttering. Its a new year, act like it.”
“Whoa, I think that’’s a little harsh.”
She ignored me and read a second letter aloud. “Dear Bellicose,” she paused and turned to me, “I think they’re getting sensitive don’t you?” She continued – “Dear Bellicose, I never thought I would be writing to you, especially after the advice you published in your last column,..”
“Your last column?” I asked.
She waved a disinterested hand, and continued, “But I’m in trouble. My finance officer just sent a card from Bora Bora. And now, if I could figure out how to access the books on his computer, I’m sure I would find no bank balance. What can I do?”
“Dear Loser, And I say that because you have probably lost your capital campaign fund, your reserves and any restricted funds that you manage for special programs. You are at fault and so is your Board. There should always be a lot of double-checking going on when one manages donated funds. Or, as you have learned, there will be a lot of double dealing going on. Where were you and the board? What was the treasurer doing, how about the finance committee and where was the audit committee? Fortunately for you, the Board is as much at fault as you are – losers and slackers all of you.” She pounded away on her keyboard as she reworded her response. She giggled and smiled, her interesting hair did its usual ringlet dance as it spelled out LOSERS.
“Must you be so harsh? Won’t people respond better with kindness and understanding?”
“By the time they get to this desk,” she glanced around the office, “they are too far gone for kindness.” She picked another letter from her pile. It was wet and the ink had smeared. She sniffed in disgust, but as she read her countenance became more sympathetic. “Listen to this,” she said, “ Dear Bella,
“Please excuse the condition of my stationery, but I am writing this as rain pours down through the office ceiling. You can tell by our letterhead that I work for a respected agency that provides good, cost effective service to this community. The rain is my problem. How do I get my board to understand that maintaining our place of business, you know, keeping up the building we paid for with a valiant and successful capital campaign, is imperative? Won’t donors become suspicious or at least think we are foolhardy for not doing practical, though not sexy, maintenance?”
Bella’s hair was afire with indignation as it spelled, POOR GIRL and MORE PAILS, while Bella pounded out her reply. “Dear Drip, You are correct. No donor keeps giving to a place that can’t manage all facets of a nonprofit. I don’t care what the edifice is, if you used some one else’s money to build it, you should take care of it. Your Board is missing the boat and mismanaging donation dollars. Hope you dry up soon.”
“You know, Bella, even when you are being supportive, you sound mean.”
“You know,” she looked right at me and so did her ringlets, “You get on my nerves.”
February 2008 Expect the Unexpected Every Day