We don’t need to hold their hands

Yes, I know that I see everything through a parenting lens.

But, really, there’s a lot of overlap, sometimes, between parenting and advocacy.

Take how we deal with nonprofit Boards of Directors, for example.

I hear so often that agency staff are reluctant to ask Board members to take on advocacy, afraid to really even broach the subject of the risks inherent in advocacy, and timid about identifying Board culture as an obstacle to effective advocacy, even when it is.

I mean, yes, I get it that we work for the Board.

I think that’s a good thing.

But…they’re grown-ups.

If they really don’t want to be here, they don’t need to stay. And we’ll never know what they can do for themselves if we don’t let go.

That’s where the parenting analogy comes in.

It’s a lot like the organizing maxim, I guess: Never do for someone else what they can and should do for themselves. Only this is more “never deny anyone a chance to do what they should be doing, for you.”

My kids surprise me all the time, with how they respond to being asked to do something for themselves. Usually, they are hesitant at first, even resistant.

Ben is known to throw himself on the floor and wail that he ‘can’t’.

But, when they do it–whether it’s deliver something to the neighbor next door or put their shoes on by themselves or pour their own milk–there’s such a sense of satisfaction.

You know that, right? The good feelings we engender when we support people’s empowerment.

But it also brings us closer to each other, because I appreciate that they’re doing for themselves, and they value that I believe they can.

And that’s where this Board connection piece comes in.

Because we–as nonprofit staff and advocates–are too often guilty of complaining about Board inaction, or Board intransigence, when we haven’t even prodded them into the action we want to see. When, sometimes, we haven’t even asked.

What if we did?

An organization I’m consulting with recently set up a Board Advocacy Task Force and asked Board members to commit to several types of activities to support the organization’s advocacy, including serving as a sort of ‘kitchen cabinet’ for the staff advocate, forming a speakers’ bureau to evangelize for the organization in the community, communicating directly with legislators, participating in Mental Health First Aid training.

And, mostly, they said yes.

But the story doesn’t end there, because this increased engagement–not that much time, really, on the part of Board members–doesn’t just mean a difference in the organization’s ‘advocacy bottom line’. It also changes how staff see Board members, as partners, and how they see advocacy (as something we all do here).

Asking more of those who have pledged their allegiance to your organization draws you closer together.

Just how I feel when Ella gets dressed by herself.

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