September 26, 2013

Building an Inspired Team: From Exchange to Relationship.


When your mind and heart are truly open abundance will flow to you effortlessly and easily.

by Jennifer McCrea and Jeffrey C. Walker authors of the book The Generosity Network

We Americans especially value individualism and freedom, and there’s an inherent tension between being an individual and being in community. How can we be creative, thriving individuals in community, allowing both to flourish?

That’s one of the big challenges facing any leader—particularly in the nonprofit space, where people come together not because of economic necessity but because they want to be there.

Unlike in business, where “the boss” may be able to get away with simply giving orders and expecting them to be obeyed (at least for a time), leaders in the nonprofit world need to win hearts and minds if they hope to accomplish anything. Which is why building the band of engaged, inspired team members is such an essential skill—and a difficult one.
The key to making it work, we’ve discovered, lies in moving beyond the notion of exchange to that of relationship.

An exchange is about a defined and limited quid pro quo: “You give me X, I’ll give you Z.” An exchange can be delineated in a written contract that is legally binding; when its terms aren’t carried out precisely as agreed, the usual result is anger, an argument, even a lawsuit. Many of our dealings in the marketplace are simple exchanges of this kind—for example, when you buy a car, eat dinner in a restaurant, purchase a share of stock, or hire a plumber to fix a clogged sink, you’re engaging in a quid pro quo exchange.
A relationship is quite different. It’s a connection between people based on a mutual commitment of resources to a shared future. And because the future is inherently unknowable and indefinable, the commitment is open-ended and potentially unlimited: “You start by giving A, and I’ll start by giving B. Let’s put them together and see what we can create.”

A relationship is not a fixed state; it’s an ever-growing and deepening reality based on mutual openness and on a shared willingness to follow mutual passions. It’s a beginning, not an ending. Relationships can’t be defined by contracts, and they don’t take shape in a marketplace. They emerge organically from person-to-person contacts.
A friendship, of course, is a relationship. For many people, marriage is the ultimate relationship, a for-better-or-worse commitment to a lifetime of shared adventures that are impossible to predict. But many other meaningful human connections also partake of the open-ended mutuality of relationship. Many of us have established deep relationships with our families, the towns we live in, the schools and colleges we attended, and the country whose flag we wave.

In some profound sense, these groups and organizations belong to us and we to them, with a shared, mutual connection that no written contract or quid pro quo could ever fully define. It’s the kind of connection we explain using phrases like “for the long haul,” “through thick and thin,” and “whatever the future may bring.”

And that’s the way it is when we become partners with a nonprofit organization. For the most engaged partners—generous donors, dedicated volunteers, full-time or part-time staffers—giving is not about writing a check and expecting some defined benefit in return (a name on a plaque or a program, a tax deduction, a progress report filled with statistics). It’s about becoming a member of the band, with a role to play in making the music soar—and with future outcomes that are not strictly defined but which promise to be exciting and fulfilling.

And the same applies to all those who contribute in dozens of ways: the volunteers who keep the homeless shelter running, the local merchants who provide canned goods to stock the soup kitchen, the nurse who spends her day off giving flu shots at the nursing home.

This is why, if you hope to build a community of generous partners to energize the flow of resources toward a cause you cherish, you need to stop thinking in terms of exchange. The sooner you start thinking about a relationship-based model—and living it—the sooner you can begin spreading the virus of unlimited generosity to those whose minds and hearts you touch.

Write Your Comment

  1. James D. Smith

    So, If I act with love but the results are not as intended, perhaps harmful, it is neither meaningless nor irrelevant. How many different things could it be?

  2. Andrej Kopčavar

    ha, ha to je točno tako . . . A

  3. Melissa Shirley MartellRojas

    Soo true. Action without love is meaningless.

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