I’ve been thinking about balance in our lives. It’s a condition we strive for in all the facets of our very busy days, and without the conscious awareness of it I suspect most of us would quickly fall seriously “out of balance. ” That short phrase suggests that something in our work or relationships or even our health is out of alignment and thus posing some kind of a threat to our well-being. The issue is no less true, no less evident, in charitable development operations, where all the players are all jockeying for something, often unspoken, often merely intimated, and even potentially dangerous.
The proposals received by funders like WPF are meant to encompass both the heart and soul of the organizations seeking favor. The narratives usually include historical recounting of how the organizations grew into existence, the hardships and challenges faced, the holistic benefits that they seek to offer their beneficiaries and the budgetary plans to make all of that magic happen. Sometimes, it’s even all true. Oftentimes, it constitutes little more than a picture of what the leaders would like it to be or, even worse, merely what they believe the funder would like to hear.
It’s a bit of a game. The requestor tries to articulate the words and ideas that will resonate with the funder, and over the years has likely become quite savvy about what stories seem to “work.” Meanwhile, the funder attempts to discern exactly what is being proposed within the words and interviews, remaining steadfast with its assistance objectives and requirements while trying to be practical about what rural peasants are capable of accomplishing. A fair amount of cat-and-mouse likely drains energy from both sides. But sometimes a balance is reached and a partnership is formed, for better or for worse. The organization gains access to credit or grant funds, and the funder either gets repaid or receives a report about results. It all happens under the term “development,” and sometimes good results are created.
It’s the same kind of balance that makes for successful business organizations. The very best corporations create a balance between executive decision-making and the serious consideration of perspectives from the rest of the organization. Too little of it results in an organization that feels little loyalty or ownership; too much of it creates delays and dysfunction for lack of agility. Organizational boards of directors face the same balancing act of knowing how far to reach into the minutiae of operations versus watching the entity from a much higher level. Such balance constitutes the art of organizational governance.
Non-profits have to follow the same laws of balance in their own pursuits of success. Knowing when to press and when to accept, differentiating personal perspectives from essential truths, knowing how to rely upon experience and wisdom rather than claiming it, wielding authority instead of serving through it; these are critical hallmarks of enduring organizations of substance.
Economic theories, sociological precepts, historical milieu and political postures notwithstanding, progress comes down to the motives and the integrity of individuals. Naturally, each has been shaped by the influences of those external factors. But in the end, success or failure is a result of our willingness to maintain balance….