In 1984, I was appointed the Regional Director of the American Jewish Congress in Washington, D.C. At 28, I was the youngest person ever to have been appointed to this position. I was young and energetic and with my spanking new Masters in Social Work (MSW), I was ready to take the world by storm.
I began by meeting with colleagues to get acquainted and position myself as a partner in the field of what was then called human rights work (now we'd call it community relations or civil rights). So I started my series of get togethers with the guys−and yes, they were all guys. Not only was I by far the youngest person in the group, but I was the only woman as well. I took a deep breath and readied to charm.
One of my first lunches had such an impact that I've never forgotten it. I figured I'd start out with my Jewish colleagues, so met with a rabbi who was the regional director of the American Jewish Committee. I asked him how he got in to the work and when did he realize he wanted to become a rabbi.
He gave me an overview of his early days and basically said that one journey became another and he became a rabbi. It was a story that I hear often, that happenstance often dictates our next step. I did think it was a little odd in that becoming a rabbi is kind of a big cosmic religious step, but just stored it away for the future.
He then asked how I came to be where I was. I remember telling him how even as a little girl injustice always disturbed me greatly and that I knew that when I grew up I wanted to be in a position where I could make a difference.. Becoming a community organizer was the best way I knew how to do that.
He stopped and sort of stared at me. "Tracy, you do not want me leaving this table thinking that you are as naive as you sound right now."
"Oh, of course not," I fumbled thinking frantically how do I get out of this one, "I mean what I meant was...ummm, well .. " Now I'm generally pretty good thinking on my feet, but I was stumped. I couldn't come up with a cool answer or one that would have him taking me more seriously. Good grief, this was my first lunch and already I'd shot myself in the foot.
I sighed, embraced the Pollyanna that is me, and said "Gee, I guess you are going to have to. That is why I became a community social worker and it is at the essence of who I am. I'm not brilliant, nor do I have illusions that I will cure cancer, but I do hope that the world will be a little better off for me having been in it."
I've replayed the conversation over and over in my mind through the years and I wouldn't change a thing. I've embraced the Pollyanna within me. And I wish that for all of you. When we reflect on our lives during this High Holy Day season I hope one of the questions you ask is "Where is my Mensch?" "How can I make a difference today and into the future?"
I wish you and the Mensch within you, a wonderful year, a year of joy and happiness and a year of remembering that the Mensch within is your Legacy.
L'Shana Tova tikatevu-
I’ve been doing non-profit work now for more than 30 years−yikes! Or as my daughter would say, “Well you are kind of old…” It’s true and it actually is comforting in that there isn’t a whole lot I haven’t seen. So with all of this experience, I have developed a profile for my ideal board and committee member.
Here’s why MIP and MIPsy are such great partners:
Listen and hear. MIP attends meetings and really listens not only to what is being said, but to what the speaker means. Being able to pull out the nugget of intent and review it without prejudice and bias is an invaluable talent; hearing what is being said for its own sake and not through an already-made-up mind opens up possibilities.
Solve Problems. MIPsy has the ability to always keep the goal in mind, pull out the issues of concern from every prospective, and either come up with the solution or identify the questions that need answers before we can do so.
Have My Back. MIP is my partner in every sense of the word. If there is something I need to know, he shares it; if I’ve screwed up, he lets me know in the kindest of ways. If I have a problem, MIP helps me think it through and come up with solutions. If MIP disagrees with me, he does it respectfully and never embarrasses me or other Board members publically. I have a committee member who met with me the day before my budget was to be presented to our Finance Committee. He ripped it to shreds and said, “What were you thinking?” He then proceeded to help me problem solve and come up with strategies to defend my budget. When presented, he was the biggest cheerleader.
Ask Questions. Some of the greatest ideas come from new committee and board members when they ask questions that they worry are going to be stupid or ignorant. First of all, it forces all of us to take a breath and make sure that everyone is on the same page with the same amount of information. Asking hard questions makes my life easier because perhaps I missed something, something doesn’t make sense, or it is unrealistic. Secondly, I can’t tell you how many times a newbie has asked a question that hadn’t occurred to anyone because that’s not the way we’ve been doing it. Gems come out of many newbie questions.
Value Time. MIPsy takes on an assignment and does it within the agreed upon time frame! MIPsy also respects staff time and is as responsive as possible to emails and surveys. I can’t tell you how many staff I’ve had to pull off the ceiling because committee members don’t respond to meeting surveys/doodles and it holds up meeting planning and moving the work along. Of course, MIPsy is on time for meetings, too!
Kind and Supportive. MIPsy tells me when I’ve done a good job (even if she assumes my ego is so big I don’t need the compliment). MIPsy is kind to staff, thanks them often for the hard work completed and appreciates good work. She doesn't let staff know that she thinks she could really do the job better if only she weren't so busy!
Realistic Expectations. MIP is always mindful of work/life balance and keeps his eye on the highest priorities. Historically, non-profits have prized workaholics and have turned a blind eye to stressed out, exhausted staff. MIP wants a happy and well-rounded staff, knowing that they will work harder and be more loyal if their job descriptions are actually doable.
Provide Financial Support. MIPsy gets that while non-profits can’t work without volunteers, they also can’t work without being able to turn the lights on. MIPsy and MIP are both generous to their capacity, understanding that helping to support the organization’s core operations is critical.
Bring Other People to the Party. MIP introduces me to his friends and colleagues for committee involvement, potential contributions or support (in our case legacy planning), leadership development or simply to spread the word to make sure that more and more folks know about our good work.
Have a Wonderful Sense of Humor. MIP and MIPsy are serious about our mission and celebrate doing good things with humor and joy. Volunteers and staff put in long hours of intense work. Laughing together makes the work fun and helps forge wonderful relationships that may get tested during stressful times.
I’ve been blessed to work with many MIPs and MIPsys over the years. They are a joy and they keep me at my absolute best.