For over a year we had the vision of creating a safe space for directors of established NPOs to share and learn with and from each other. For over a year we found reasons to rather not do it just yet and instead wait for the right moment.
Over this year, the concept of our directors forum changed frequently with every meeting and discussion Jim (Director Masinyusane), Nick (Director United through Sport) and myself (Director Masifunde) had. A safe space it was meant to be, a space to share success stories and get input and support for challenges which everyone in the non-profit space faces. But we were also quite clear that we did not want to waste people’s time, not another multi-stakeholder gathering where people share their own successes, enjoy hearing their own voices while looking forward to a free lunch. We wanted to make sure that nobody walked out with a feeling of having wasted some valuable time, but instead with the feeling of being enriched, inspired and motivated to strive for excellence in his or her organisation.
On Friday, 14.2., finally, the first forum took place in Masifunde’s Changemaker Academy in Walmer Township. We started it with a focus on sharing of excellence in the field of HR and the question how to build motivated teams of young professionals in the non-profit sector where salaries are rather low. We decided to visit our guest-speaker, Jim McKeown, with a camera team upfront to introduce his story and organisation briefly to enable him to dive straight in to his presentation. We feel this worked really well. The video gave a good feeling and full picture of our speaker, and in return, the speaker did not have to waste valuable time on sharing his personal vitae and background. We allowed some questions and answers after the presentation and invited participants afterwards to a shared lunch in the myMito cafeteria.
We had invited 40 directors from Port Elizabeth and surrounding, 35 responded and 30 rsvp’d. Several asked whether they could attend with two or more organisational representatives – which we did not allow this time since we felt 30 guests is a good number to start with. And if organisational representatives attend alone they usually interact and network more than when they attend together with colleagues – since they then tend to remain in their group. Out of 30 rsvp’s only 15 attended, we could try to blame it on the hot temperatures on the 14th Feb or simply on Valentine duties which had priority for some. But we had hoped for better attendance and will need to do some follow-ups why only 50% of the confirmed participants actually attended.
From those who attended, we received a lot of positive feedback. Great guest speaker, professional setting and good food. Participants asked for more interaction between participants and better chances to network. Valuable input to take in to planning the next sessions.
When Jim, Nick and myself reflected on the first session, we also were very happy with the content. Jim’s presentation was perfect: Full of learning, entertaining, based on real experiences, practical throughout and never boring. That’s what we are looking for. Someone sharing his / her personal trick that makes a difference within the organisation. I am sure everyone in the audience took many ideas out and has now time to think how to introduce some of Jim’s advise into their own work.
What I personally felt came a bit short, was to not only focus on the excellent case study of one high-performer in the sector, but to also engage with this high-performer about his/her day-to-day challenges, concerns, or doubts. I find it essential to not only get inspired by what someone has achieved but to also be open and transparent about areas of underperformance and weakness. The non-profit sector is one of the most challenging sectors to work in, and while it can be very rewarding at times it can also be extremely stressful, emotional and tiring to be the head of a non-profit organisation. For me, it is essential that the forum offers a healthy mix between excellence to get inspired by and sharing of challenges to create a feeling of belonging and togetherness amongst directors and leaders in the non-profit sector.
Once we’ve achieved that for the forum itself, we need to see how we can capture and share that in our short video-clips. It is definitely easier to capture success story presentations then capturing a safe and partly intimated learning space. We do not have the answers yet, but will use the time until the next forum to get a bit closer… Work in progress!