Saturday, September 24, 2011

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation, Part II: "I Serve"

THESE TWO WORDS GAINED EXPANDED meaning for me this summer.  While spending a week at Chautauqua Institution, my vacation companion and I attended a dizzying array of performances, lectures and conversations with authors and staff.  Each was introduced by the Institution's president or senior staffer, who began by introducing themselves to the audience.  In every case -- and I mean every case -- the staff welcomed the audience, said their names and added their titles by saying "I serve Chautauqua Institution as [insert job title here]." 
It was my companion who pointed this turn of phrase out to me.  "Do you hear how they're introducing themselves?" she asked.  She'd picked up on right away.  The more I heard it, the more I was amazed by it -- not just the uniformity in which it was delivered, but by the powerful servant-driven idea behind it.  Obviously, the Institution's leadership made a conscious decision about emphasizing the service aspect of the work and for some of us in the audience, at any rate, it carried deep resonance.
We agreed that it's a perspective that we  just don't hear much in the nonprofit sector when our colleagues introduce themselves or talk about their work.  Yet nonprofit work is service work no matter if it's health care or arts education, and those of us working and volunteering in nonprofits do so in service to an institutional mission and, thus, the audience.
As nonprofits of all stripes struggle to gain ground against seemingly unrelenting economic forces, it seems that now is the perfect time for all of us in the sector to examine why we serve and how we each uphold our institution's mission.

Click here for Part I of What I Learned on My Summer Vacation About Stakeholder Communication

Image:  The Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, director of the Department of Religion, kept the conversation to interfaith dialogue within the strategic plan at a Trustee Porch Discussion. The Chautauqua Daily, August 6, 2011.

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