Nonprofit Sacred Spaces and Technology

This blog was inspired, once again, by Krista Tippet’s On Being. Her Civil Conversation with Sherry Turkle of MIT about the real challenges we face if we are to examine our lives with our digital objects and proactively shaping technology to human purposes. They talked about Turkle’s book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.

During their conversation they talked about sacred spaces within a family and how technology impacts conversations and connections. I thought about how this applies to our nonprofit work.

The Board as Sacred People
In the past two decades, I have been to more nonprofit Board meetings than I can count. In the last few years technology has impacted our engagement with our leaders. We are emailing Board members instead of calling them. We send information, Board minutes, agendas, updates electronically. Some nonprofits have established intranets for their Board members – I think the idea is there is so much information to be shared and in an effort to be transparent – they give Board members access to this information any time they want. Question is: Is this helpful to deepening our engagement with these important advisors, donors, leaders and communicating effectively?

While an old fashioned idea – I still believe Board engagement (or true engagement with any donor) requires electronic, face-to-face and phone time. These special volunteer leaders help us lead our nonprofit organizations through change, success and challenges. I believe just electronic communication between a quarterly or even monthly Board Meeting is not enough.

Then there are the actual Board meetings. Did the Board members access the intranet and come prepared for the Board meeting? Are the Board committees working and prepared to report? Part of this is how we, as nonprofit staff, prepare the agenda and information we want to share. Setting priorities and determining how the Board time will be used effectively are tools of engagement. How we share information can indicate the importance we place on it.

A quick email with a Board agenda or link to the Board intranet does not tell Board members what’s important. An even longer email misses the point in a time of ADD, an inbox overflowing with requests for attention or a quick reveal on a mobile device. While email may be expedient – who said these communications need to be expedient? And expedient for whom? Staff or Board members?

I have said this many times before – we need to treat our Board members like the major donors they are or can be. We would probably not email a major donor with information we want them to have or know. We would call them, make an appointment and only as a last resort send them an email with the shareable bits. This is a classic method of stewardship and cultivation – a way to engage them in conversation and deepen their engagement with our organization.

Board Meetings as Sacred Space
But we also need Board members full attention. During recent Board meetings I have been shocked by the number of Board members using their Blackberries, iPhone, Androids, what have you, during the Board meeting. Board meetings are sacred spaces. We need to work together, be fully present and do the work of the Board as a reflection of the nonprofit mission, vision and values. No one can multi-task – fully listen to the meeting conversation, read and reply to text/email, update Facebook. And who wants them to while we are about the business of our nonprofit organizations?

Someone has said good teaching is entertaining. The same can be said of nonprofit Board meetings. At some point we need to take responsibility for holding good and engaging Board meetings. Our Board members are not there just because the IRS says they need to be. Again the key here is engagement.

Creating Board agendas that have topics for discussion in addition to the required elements of a Board meeting. Consent agendas allow for the “boring” stuff to be agreed upon and set aside quickly. This means the meat of the Board meeting is about engaging the Board and utilizing their skills and expertise to celebrate and solve challenges.

If you have done all that and Board members continue to use their technology during meetings, ban technology from the meeting. No one’s world will fall apart for the 60-90 minutes the Board “allows” you to have with them once a month or quarter. And if their world is falling apart, they should probably have an excused absence from the meeting.

How is technology impacting your nonprofit work and communications? Next up – technology and office sacred space – staff meetings, one-on-one meetings with staff, desk etiquette.

One thought on “Nonprofit Sacred Spaces and Technology

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.