Glancing in the rear-view mirror

rear-view-mirror-1182330-640x480Welp.

It’s going to be a lot harder than I thought to recover my blogging rhythm, but I need to start somewhere. It’s time to admit I may not be able to research, write, polish and photo edit like I am used to doing.

But one thing I can do is share what I’m learning along this new path – the path to gratitude for full-time work again. It couldn’t be a nicer arrangement with more rewarding opportunity. I’m pretty excited to start the new gig next week.

I hate to say good things come to those who wait, but waiting can really bring about the right thing, at the right time.

I do have to say, I’m really thankful for the season leading up to this, which I was so sure was empty and purposeless. (Yeah, I know – oh ye of little faith. Don’t tell me you haven’t been there, too.)

But God planned this time for teaching me some of the most important lessons of my life. Here are a few:

  • “Stuff” doesn’t matter. People matter.
  • We can get by on much less than we think. Anything besides the basics are wants, not needs. We confuse them a lot.
  • Learning can happen in any environment. We just have to want it.
  • Family is everything.
  • Kindness: Friends, we’re going to have to try a lot harder at being kind to one another. This world and all its challenges and distractions fool us into believing we’re that different from one another to be able to love each other — when in reality, we’re so much alike. Let’s focus on that.
  • Oh. It’s not about me.
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To board or not to board? That is the question

Woman dressed in suit talking in meeting

A few years ago, I joined my first board. As a strategist, I looked forward to contributing to the success of a nonprofit.

Like with anything new, I had questions about “how this works” and what I should expect. Most of those surfaced as I served and learned the ropes. Along the way, I asked people I knew whose board experience I could learn from.

Based on their experience and mine, I decided to share a few pointers – especially for people looking to give back to their community and beyond. It’s not an exhaustive list, but good food for thought. I’d love to hear yours, too, in the comments.

Dos and Don’ts of joining a board
If you’re considering joining a board, it’s good to go in with eyes wide open. Because engaging in this kind of work really should come with a clear understanding of commitments and the real needs of the organization from its trustees.

  • DO join a board if the organization’s mission is something close to your heart. It helps if you’re knowledgeable in the space it serves, too.
  • DO join a board if you have specific skills or a network that can be helpful to its advancement. Are you networked with like-minded people? They might be able to support the org or even be committee or board candidates themselves.
  • DO, in most cases, expect to do some fundraising. That means at some point, you’ll need to pound the proverbial pavement with your contacts and others, in hopes of helping your organization reach its revenue* goals. It means asking for money. Lots of folks are very uncomfortable with this, but let me tell you – if you have the right potential donor, they want to be asked. I’m a pastor’s kid, so I grew up hearing calls for offerings. And apparently the “ask” rubbed off on me, so I’m not at all shy about it – especially if I know someone has demonstrated interest in lending financial support before.
  • DON’T join a board without a clear idea of what your time commitment will be. If you only have 2 hours per month that you can devote to it, make sure it will fit into your schedule so you can maximize your time and make the best contribution possible. Nothing breeds resentment like demands that exceed your availability or don’t consider your time.
  • DON’T join a board that has not clearly outlined and agreed to domains and responsibilities of staff and board members.

What would you add to this list if someone asked you whether they should join a board?

*Don’t be fooled by the word “nonprofit.” Like any for-profit, a nonprofit needs income (revenue) to meet expenses like payroll, program administration, marketing and donor development. Many parallels are clear, too: Donors = customers; program development = product development. At a high level, the needs are basically the same.

Photo credit: UN Ebola Task Force meeting on 19 September 2014 via photopin (license). No derivatives.

And we thought blogging was risky business

meerkat on yellow backgroundAs if life with social media weren’t real-time enough. I never thought I’d be curious enough to jump into video, let alone real-time video.

For the moment, I’m not. Not personally, anyway. Heck, I hardly take selfies, much less video of any kind. But I am fascinated by emerging technologies and their potential uses.

I’m sure the response to live video tweeting tools is something like it was back when blogs and social media were winding up, especially in corporate environments:

  • Too risky: Who’s gonna control outgoing content?
  • Too raw: Great. Now we need another editor.
  • Too transparent: The execs will never let us do it.

And yet, just like social media, opportunities abound. If your marketing or communication needs call for the immediacy of video, it’s official: the tools are here.

The space is definitely evolving, but between Vine (edited), Meerkat and Periscope (both real-time), a few practical ideas that come to mind are:

  • Conferences, concerts, sporting events: Real-time action & “reporting” (I cringe to use the term, but hey, these tools make citizen reporters of us all, with or without contextual info)
  • Farmers (or any) markets: Stream what’s at market – today only
  • Flash sales: Discounts on new or limited inventory; viewer-only discounts
  • Restaurants/Food Trucks/Food Service/Cooking Classes: Watch it being made; drive instant traffic
  • Disaster response & fundraising: Show what it’s like “on the ground” (depends on availability of communications services, which can be a tall order in a crisis)
  • Oh and of course – law enforcement. Can’t forget that.

The possibilities are really endless and don’t necessarily have to be invasive or high-risk, although for those of us unaccustomed to putting our entire lives out there, this can feel pretty voyeuristic.

Some folks will “go there” and it will be interesting to see how responsible users will be. But I’m more excited to see how this space matures and the good things it has the potential to do. My mind’s wheels are definitely turning.

“I just want her to be somebody.”

Painting of woman in pink dress holding yellow and white flowers

Meet Esperanza*. She’s a wannabe.

Well, kind of. I believe the artist actually wanted her to be like the girl in this Fernando Botero painting. Her proportions are similar to a Botero, but Esperanza appears notably more Caribbean.

I bought her for USD$50 at the foot of the hill where the original Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, used to be perched. (Here’s the Montana today, rebuilt after the massive 7.0 earthquake in 2010, which killed more than 250,000 people and which I still can hardly talk about. Maybe soon.)

Anyway, that trip was my first trip to the developing world – and, surprisingly, my only trip to Haiti (hopefully not my last).

Learning to tell stories
It was where I began learning from the best — like photojournalist Chuck Bigger — things like the composition of a great photo. It’s where I learned how to gather and tell an organization’s story from the point of view of its “customers” — those who benefited from its services.

It’s where my eyes were opened to the many opportunities we take for granted in the United States and developed world. It’s a hard truth, but a truth nonetheless: Most of the world is not born into opportunity like Americans are.

Common ground
But parents everywhere still want the same for their children – to be healthy, to be loved, to belong, to have a better life than they had.

I can’t tell you how many mothers or caregivers I’ve interviewed who only ever wanted their children to grow up to be successful. When we would ask what their dreams were for their child, most replies inevitably included:

“I just want her to be somebody.”

I used to think that meant they thought their children weren’t “somebody” already. But I believe it’s more that the child’s potential hadn’t yet been uncovered. When it was, stories changed. Families changed. Futures changed.

For some families, it may mean a child has completed primary school and can work in the local market selling goods that help the family with income (not an ideal situation but certainly a real one). Or a high school education, which may mean a more technical vocation. A university education means a young person can become “a professional,” with a sustainable income to support even an extended family, including education for siblings and others.

Children are the key
When a child’s potential is developed, they become somebody who can bring health and hope a family hasn’t seen, lifting them out of poverty. And it doesn’t stop there. It ripples out to the community too, and sometimes even nations.

That’s why I call Esperanza a wannabe. Because I believe she wants to be somebody. Maybe somebody like a Botero – only better.

*Esperanza means “hope” in Spanish. This painting was named by my talented friend Kris, who kindly stretched the canvas she’s painted on. The canvas, by the way, is reused upholstery fabric.

So you wanna work in nonprofit?

Woman holds up handmade jewelry for display

This proud mom in Dominican Republic shows off her handmade jewelry – skills she gained through a microenterprise program for single parents implemented by one of Compassion International’s church partners. Her small business helps her sustain her family’s livelihood.

It’s become such a romantic idea to work for a good cause. So romantic, many Americans would probably rather work for a cause than for the Man.

It’s certainly noble.
It’s definitely rewarding.

But don’t be fooled. It is also hard work. And I don’t just mean long hours.

I’m convinced there is an evil in the world that doesn’t want to see good to come of anything – including whatever good things you set out to do.

Whether it’s more red tape than is necessary to get something done to logistical nightmares to communication misunderstandings, it’s good to be prepared for whatever comes your way.

As the saying goes, forewarned is forearmed. Be alert and wary that the good work you do will meet resistance.

That’s when you pull up your big-girl/boy panties, stand up tall and fight your way through. I’m confident you will find reward on the other side. Fatigue too, but it will be the best fatigue you’ve ever felt.

Hunting for story

I’m on a mission.

I have a very special friend, Kris, who is lovely and complicated and talented – all in the best possible ways. We met at work over 10 years ago and still share similar – not identical by any means – but similar interests and passions.

One is a love of things creative. I’m definitely more of an observer and Kris is more of a Maker – in the truest sense. Some people sew (I try), knit or crochet.

Well, she does all of the above (and way more), often using her own exotic fibers and textiles and tools she procures from all over the world. It’s not the exotic that makes her talented. It’s what she does with her God-given abilities, powered by the tools, that is so spectacular. And she is so open to sharing and teaching. (Check out this great project she’s involved with that is empowering women in Uganda to generate their own income and support their families.)

unyunga-journals

Just a few of my friend Kris’s handmade journal gifts. I usually have at least one journal with me, wherever I go. If the occasion is special enough, I use one of hers.

A few of my favorite things

While I don’t know what the heck she is talking about half the time, I simply LOVE hearing her dream about and brainstorm her projects. It certainly doesn’t hurt that she shares – pretty liberally, I might add – her incredible handiwork. Kris has gifted me with some of my favorite writing instruments, beautiful handmade scarves and so many gorgeous journals, I can hardly count them.

Lord knows, as a paper-and-pulp lover, I hate to violate these pieces of artwork, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. Like many I know, I love to write by hand, but it is getting harder and harder to write as fast as I’m thinking these days. Such is the plight of a straddling generation – one foot in the analog, the other, digital.

Had paper, did travel

Anyway, Kris, who did much of her growing up in West Africa, challenged me sometime ago to blog about my own international experience and travels.

Thing is, many of those memories are locked up in my travel journals…somewhere. I’m getting warmer in my search, but so far, those little pocket-sized Moleskines are eluding me.

To be honest, I’m kind of nervous about finding and unbundling them and rediscovering what I first learned on my first trip to Haiti in 2003 and one of my last trips to Dominican Republic. So I pray again for courage as that wall of memory comes down.

I guess que será será.

Writing about what hurts

Writing about what hurtsI recently reloaded content from a very old, long-running blog and just finished scanning it to see the type of stuff I wrote about. This is what I learned:

  1. I wrote some pretty good headlines back then.
  2. My topics were all over the place, like a journal.
  3. I never, ever wrote about my work.

That last one kind of stings.

Considering that time in my life changed my life completely, I sure managed to suppress how much poverty had taught me – how much I’d learned, how much I had let go of.

Still, in the words of Heather B. Armstrong, one of the first professional bloggers to monetize her blog before monetizing was cool:

“BE YE NOT SO STUPID. Never write about work on the internet unless your boss knows and sanctions that YOU ARE WRITING ABOUT WORK ON THE INTERNET.”

So I journaled (privately) a lot about work. I’m sure many people do. Maybe it’s what keeps us from breaking the law.

Anyway, I also had long hauls of multi-hour flights, with plenty of time to write about everything from:

  • eating in-flight, off-hours meals with my arms practically crossed (thank you, United);
  • miraculously getting from Jakarta to Singapore with absolutely no itinerary (I later learned); and
  • my “lost,” luggage somehow following me from Entebbe, Uganda, to London Heathrow with absolutely no tags on it.

That was the light stuff.

In fact, what I’d never blogged about is what weighed (then and now) heavily on my heart. It’s also the third – and so far, missing – leg on this blog’s intended three-legged stool: culture, communications and cause.

I’m not sure exactly how the topic of cause – of poverty – will unfold, but it’s feeling more and more like it’s time to let it happen. I’m praying for the courage to go there next.