People often say to me – “I don’t have time to get involved in civic life. I work full time and my kids keep me running around all the time.” I certainly understand that statement, as I am just coming out of 20 intense years as a parent and as a care giver to my own parents. I understand what it is like to feel overwhelmed on a regular basis. Putting anything new “on the plate” can cause you to go into a mental tailspin. Enough! Sometimes, we simply cannot do it all. Let’s give ourselves a break.
I have sometimes said that there may be better seasons of your life than others for getting committed to public life. Sometimes the spring and winter “seasons” are best for providing the space and time to indulge in volunteerism, advocacy or other pursuits. But I think there may be something else going on here that makes people reluctant to “get involved”.
I believe that many of us avoid community work because, quite frankly, there are local organizations that are poorly run. Strong leaders are probably the exception no matter where you are and few of us are given the training to become one. Many of us have already endured poor leadership at our jobs. Can we bare to do it once more during our precious free time? We have all seen the squandering of human capacity and skills, dysfunctional politics,ego-based leadership or involvement, the “my way or the highway” style of management, not to mention the poorly run meetings that serve no real purpose or get any work done.
Beyond attracting people to your mission and purpose, as a leader, you must be able to create processes that feel welcoming, fair, just, organized, accountable and which provide meaningful roles to those who want to make a difference. The organization’s governing approach should be structured in a way that inspires the imaginations of your members while providing the structures and processes that can be sustained over time and passed down when you move aside. In many organizations, these things never happen, leading people to feel a sense of chaos, haphazard management and a confused sense of purpose.
When community organizations are not well managed and governed, when interested people are not given roles for work that will add up to change – no matter how large or small, people stop showing up. This leads to a decline in membership and outreach to the community. Things can spiral from there. Without good civic infrastructure in an organization, petty politics can take over causing divisions among members. Private, personal “agendas” can take the place of a public good. An inward-looking organizational culture can develop making it difficult to get work done in the larger community. Does this scenario sound familiar to you? Are you looking for a better way in your organization?
The Civic Governance framework developed by Civic Organizing. Inc. provides the inspirational piece (governing for the common good and active citizenship) that can capture the imagination of the people. It provides structure needed to develop goals, work plans and adaptive management skills. It teaches sound civic leadership practices and disciplines. It provides the structure that allows everyone interested in contributing to have a meaningful role. It also ensures that feedback loops provide regular opportunities to adapt to changing circumstances, while never losing sight of your goals.
I have worked with local non-profits, government agencies, lake associations, academics, and others who have found this framework beneficial in achieving their organization’s roles. And it produces outcomes in a way that looks and feels different. When people have an authentic voice in a fair and just system of management, outcomes and morale improve, they are happier and stakeholders feel more trust and respect for their partners. These are the reasons Civic Governance excites and inspires me.