Nonprofit Reality Shows Uncut (Oct 07)

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In much of our lives, so many conversations are truncated to fit that we lose our feel for the real rough fabric of experience. That fabric is contained in honestly told stories. So when our own experience gets a little thin and nubbly, we may demur from sharing, and so it goes.

We may not want to take up too much airtime or we may worry about showing too much to other people — all our foibles, faults, and follies. And it takes valuable time to stop and listen to someone else's story all the way through. But, my experience is that when I do listen to someone else all the way through, I understand my own experience at a whole new level. Formulaic answers for others become less apropos and I am humbled and reintroduced to the real human complexity of our work.

I figure you may experience things in somewhat the same way so the next issue of the Nonprofit Quarterly is full of stories — some of them bare-naked — of talented, committed, and sometimes willful and obsessive people confronting very difficult organizational issues. The sources of the problems in these stories include such stuff as the leader's own personality when it drives organizational life, and the simple but sometimes excruciating process of formalizing a "family" type organization. In one story, the organization's board unexpectedly votes to close much to the surprise of the executive. In another story — in which the organization faces a much more immediate crisis — the thought of closing never comes up. What are the differences and the outcomes of decisions made?

It's all in the next issue, entitled Nonprofit Reality Shows: Season II, but we enclose a little taste. Paid subscribers can read the story of an AIDS organization that existed in a state of intimate chaos for many years until it hit the wall of its own inattention to structure and detail. The executive hired to save the organization tells us about the "bloodbath" that ensued — what the board did, what the staff did, what he did, and the results. It's a familiar and torturous story but I have rarely seen it so starkly told. There is a lot to consider.

For everyone, subscribers and non-subscribers alike, we link the analysis of the story penned by our own Deborah Linnell, who is the author of one of our most requested articles, "Founders and other Gods." As usual, she brings a combination of practical experience and tested theory to bear on what many of us have experienced as one of the more painful phases of organizational life.

As always, I would love to hear reactions and responses from any of you who have experienced similar issues in your own organizations. Write to me and let us know what you think of the case and commentary.