Change: My Takeaways as an Executive Director
Change. It’s the latest trend. It is a great tool. And it’s exhausting when it isn’t fun.
Before I came to Vantage Point - and especially before COVID-19 - I would tell you that change is fun. I love change; I thrive on it. As the eternal optimist, I seek change as a process of improvement and getting to better places. I believe that change refreshes, allows new perspectives, challenges outdated thinking.
My coming to Vantage Point was no different. On a personal and professional level, I didn’t need the job. I liked my independence and my clients, but the opportunity to help make the change Vantage Point had already identified as a goal, and the idea of changing how I supported my beloved sector…well, it all seemed like a grand adventure.
Like many new Executive Directors, I had a vision of what the organization could be based on limited and external knowledge. In my defense, I at least had enough experience to know that listening and watching for a bit was important before I insisted on implementing my long list of exciting opportunities for positive change (I still have the Note in my phone I wrote out the day after I signed my contract that consisted of no less then 24 things I wanted to do in my new role!). Despite my long list, I took my time. Or I thought I did.
I come from a lifetime of work in social justice and a family deeply immersed in electoral politics. In that work, we talk about power, privilege, and hierarchy. A Lot. In advocating for gender equality in Canada (as opposed to advocating for gender equality in cultures and nations not our own), one gets used to being ignored or seen as low on the scale of ‘Important Things’. No matter our individual social location, human rights advocates are used to being ignored or thought ‘too political’. What we lose sight of in all not-for-profit work, and especially in social justice advocacy, is that as individuals we still have power.
And the Executive Director of Vantage Point has power. Despite thinking I was holding back, in truth simply being the person I am stimulated change that created motion for the people around me.
Example #1: When I arrived at Vantage Point the office standard was business attire with casual Fridays. Anyone who knows me well is chuckling right now, if not laughing. Not only did I change that policy, I didn’t realize it was a policy until two weeks after having worn jeans every day.
Example #2: When I started my role, there was still some debate about whether it was appropriate to ask Knowledge Philanthropists to do territorial acknowledgments at the beginning of workshops. In the world I was coming from, I didn’t know anyone in BC was still uncomfortable with the practice. Now, it’s standard practice as part of our JEDI (justice, equity, decolonize, inclusion) goals and values.
And I learned, by listening and observing, where changes I envisioned were not a good idea for the organization. For example, ‘Knowledge Philanthropy.’
This must be framed around the core understanding that I loved, loved, loved, Vantage Point’s perspective on engaging skilled volunteers (and that is also present tense ‘love, love, love’). Vantage Point sees volunteers as whole people and honours those who choose to contribute their expertise to organizations they love. Vantage Point sees the very structure of not-for-profits as tied to understanding and advancing a people lens and in seeing the abundance of our organizations by celebrating the people involved. Vantage Point sees, at its very foundation and core, volunteerism as a part of human relationships and community development.
But, as someone actively seeking to upend racism and sexism and all the intersections swirling around those two concepts, I chaffed at the concept of ‘philanthropy’ as a positive. To me, the need for philanthropy is created by the availability of wealth to be donated. And philanthropy is often applied in western settler culture in a way that often feeds the systemic problems charitable endeavours seek to ameliorate. The way wealth is collected and held by few and is kept from those struggling to survive and thrive, then handed back to those suffering in dribs and drabs based on ideas about who and what organizations are worthy is a problematic system.
Applying this lens to Knowledge Philanthropy, one can see that there is privilege in the capacity to give free professional skills to a mainstream organization – which is what Vantage Point is. If someone is 2SLGBTQ+, or Black, or Indigenous, or Asian, a refugee, or in poverty, or struggling with parenting, heck if someone is a straight, cis, white woman with a full-time job and one or more children…the capacity to donate time beyond their immediate community and family can be very challenging. Being judged or rewarded for the ability to volunteer time in the context of inequality is beyond unfair.
So, I was skeptical. And I was wrong. Partly.
Just as the majority of individuals who give charitable donations are middle and lower-income, so too the vast majority of people who give their time are people who have experienced the need for extra support. And giving time is not always a matter of giving away time with no benefit in return. In fact, the Vantage Point Knowledge Philanthropy program has so many benefits that the word limitation our Marketing & Communications team tasked me with is at risk here!
Suffice to say, Vantage Point is able to reach more than 1500 organizations each year, invest time and energy in sector development and advocacy, and do what we do because over 100 individuals – from Board members to Peer Network participants, from facilitators and instructors to tech hosts – give their time and knowledge to our mission and vision. Knowledge Philanthropy works and is central to who Vantage Point is and what we do.
I have learned change is inevitable, whether it is a pandemic or the desire to be different. But not making change is sometimes good for everyone. If change is necessary, though, I have learned individuals need different things in times of change.
Some want to know the big picture: Why are we doing this?
Some want to know the process: How are we doing this?
Some want to know the timeline: When are we doing this?
And if you don’t answer all three questions at the same time, whether in informal discussion or formal communications, you leave people behind feeling bewildered at best, angry and frustrated at worst.
Change is in the air. Change is constant. But what I have learned in the last three years can be summed up with the principle, “Change if necessary, but not necessarily change.”
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