I love debates … I mean discussions … well sometimes I do mean debates. Words are my vocation and avocation. Most of my non-profit consulting uses words to educate or motivate.
I started my career intending to be a clinical psychologist: the practice of carefully listening to the words of others and the art of the well-chosen response. Therapeutic words can transform lives. Close to the end of my Master’s training, and peering ahead at 4-5 more years of training for the coveted PhD so that I could become Dr. Dobko (no alliteration jokes please), I saw a posting for a counsellor at the AIDS Committee of Toronto. First of its kind in Ontario, maybe even in Canada. That was 1984. Suddenly words were less important than action. My community was dying. I got the job and never looked back.
Working in a nascent movement allows you to be manager, communications expert, fundraiser, chief protestor and bottle washer. I spent over 12 years in AIDS organizations, twice as an Executive Director. I did a lot of public speaking — workshops, conferences, radio and TV. And always there was the written word: articles, handbooks, press releases. (A little bit of published poetry on the side.)
In these early days of AIDS, we were under siege. People were dying, hospitals and governments were either uncaring or unprepared. We were small in number, our budgets even smaller. Often we only had words to effect change. Debate skills, even protest skills, became as important as counselling skills. Sometimes we forgot and debated a little too much with each other. People do that sometimes when lives are on the line … sometimes even when they are not. It’s important to discuss openly and debate minimally with friends and allies. When confronting the unconvinced however, respectful debate opens minds and changes the world.
My last AIDS role at the Kumbaya Foundation was also my first as a consultant. Since 1992, I’ve been a paid or volunteer consultant to more than 20 non-profits and my professional role now is to facilitate discussions rather than lead debates. I create plans. I deliver the concept, the branding, the money … the goods.
Since I consult in several areas, I guess that makes me a charitable and foundation generalist — oh please don’t let ‘generalist’ be a dirty word. I am experienced — another potentially dirty word since ‘experienced’ can mean old and outdated. I am a change agent. Okay, that sounds better though I read recently that even that phrase might be dated. Sigh. Let’s sum it up this way, I try to use ideas and words to effect societal change. I help create meaningful educational campaigns. I manage complex fund development plans full of words to lift the money from donors’ pockets … not a bad way to make a living.
The only thing I’ve missed — being this consultant creature — is the opportunity to weigh in on the meaty non-profit discussions and debates on behalf of my clients — not generally my role.
I’ve watched in fascination as the Internet has evolved into Web and Social Media 2.0. Now consultants have blogs and the Internet has a culture that encourages online education, discussion, even debate. So what should my blog look like? Non-Profit Dialogue will have pieces on management, fundraising and communications, but I also plan to weigh in on the tough discussions we are facing in the non-profit world. Discussion and maybe a little debate. Going back to my roots. Won’t that be fun?