Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Make It Play For Your Nonprofit - And You

This is NOT Photoshopped!

When I was still working as a software project manager, I got dinged for being “too playful.” Corporate politics being what they were there, I suspect that the VP listening to my group calls with the mute button on was less about reviewing my laugh o’ meter than it was about his desire to oust my boss’s boss. I still found it funny, though, and since they were gunning for me anyway, I didn’t change a thing.

What Was My Deal?

Well, part of it is that’s just me. Unless it’s really life or death, I don’t take anything too seriously. I generally operate under the assumption that everything I know is wrong – or will be in the near future – so there’s no sense in getting too attached to any of my ideas. Finding humor in my life helps me keep things in perspective.

Where I was working at the time was really high stress for everyone. There had reorganizations and downsizing and buying and selling for two years or more and the survivors were demoralized and shell-shocked. One location’s employees had to maneuver around piles of furniture accumulated by the corporation as it bought and sold companies like there was no tomorrow. And it was this location’s product that I was managing the releases for. Not only was I dealing with a team of developers and testers who were hostile to the corporation, but I was only the latest in a series of former competitors being thrust upon them. In addition, they were being asked to work closely with other developers and testers from other swallowed-up companies with demoralized personnel in other states. Naturally, it was expected that business would go on as usual. Ha.

In a situation like that, what else could you do but make a joke?

The humor started out very dark, but every meeting and every status update in between, I worked to find the funny. Most times, my efforts were only worth a tiny smile and it took months and months to tease out enough information about everyone that I could make references to their hobbies, their families, their quirks. During all of this time, members of my various teams never set eyes on each other. I was the only one who ever traveled between the facilities. But by the time I left, they were making casual jokes and teasing one another across the telephone and internet and they were seeing themselves as a team, which is what I worked for. With a sense of really knowing and trusting each other, I was confident that even after I left, they would be able to use the systems we had set up to do what they needed to do. And I was proud that they were comfortable enough with those systems that they could form new teams without me.

I could have done it by leaving out the humor, the playful teasing. I think. Maybe. But it would have taken longer. And it wouldn’t have been as much fun. And if I can't have any fun, I don't wanna be there.

Adults Need to Play Too

Yes, your small nonprofit is serious business. I doubt anybody gets involved in philanthropy because they think it will be all cocktail parties with entertainment and sports celebrities (more like cocktail weenies with that guy who was the 6th one voted off in Survivor four years ago). Trying to raise money even in a good economy is enough to make a person want to snatch themselves baldheaded most times and trying to raise money and keep the organization going pretty much singlehanded in a wonky economy is probably the job description of someone who is serious about doing good and/or overdue for a psych evaluation.

I joke. I joke. But, as Ann Landers used to say, “I’m kidding on the square.

How Serious Are You With Social Media?

One of the columns I keep open in Tweetdeck is for #nonprofits. By and large, the Tweets I see in that column are straight news – links to blogs, to e-books, to a rundown of the day’s events at a conference. I RT several. But that’s not a conversation. A conversation is give and take. So I look for ways to initiate a conversation. I often ask a question and sometimes my frame for the question is humour. Only once or twice since 2008 has anyone not taken the opportunity to reply in kind.

Dr. Tian Dayton, a clinical psychologist, says in a HuffPost article:
Adults need "role relief" and "role variety" just as much as children do. Spending time in a balanced palate of roles allows the self several forms of expression, guards against "role fatigue" and provides "role relief" as well as practice taking on new roles. Getting stuck in one role, say that of "mom" or "worker" can reduce our sense of spontaneity and aliveness according to J.L Moreno, father of the role play therapy known as psychodrama. Moreno, who wished to be remembered as the doctor who brought laughter into psychiatry, felt that people who are happy in their lives tend to play a variety of roles that allow for rest, relief and rejuvenation. This playing of a variety of roles, according to Moreno, increases spontaneity and creativity.

Play Around A Little – It’s Healthy

You work hard for your nonprofit, but don’t work too seriously. Putting a little humour, a little playfulness, into your work will ease the tension and give you a breather even while you’re still running.

Tag – you’re it.


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