Dani Robbins

Archive for July, 2014|Monthly archive page

An Open Letter to College Bound Daughters, including My Own

In Advocacy on July 22, 2014 at 3:38 pm

I am so excited for you and so proud of you! College is great fun. It’s the first time you’ll be on your own without anyone checking in on what you’re doing and with whom. It’s the first step to being on your own.

It’s also the most dangerous time for young women. You are right smack in the middle of the danger years, which are ages 16-24. As such, here are my tips for you. Some may seem silly, some may seem paranoid, but bear with me; I have your best interests and your friends’ best interests at heart.

First, let me start by saying sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. Never. There are some things that can contribute to being in a situation where you can get hurt. Try to avoid those things. Doing so may not necessarily protect you, but it’s all we have. To that end:

  1. I would prefer you don’t drink until you are of age and then only drink in moderation. If you do drink, don’t drink to the point where you do stupid things, and that’s a different place for everyone. Know your limits and mind them.
  2. Never leave your drink – alcohol or otherwise – unattended. Don’t leave it on a table while you go to the bathroom. Don’t ask someone you don’t know (well) to hold it or to watch it. If you feel more woozy or disoriented than you think you should, get out of there and call someone to come get you.
  3. Trust your instincts. Humans are the only animals that talk ourselves into doing something when our instincts are screaming not to do it. Never go against an uncertain conscience.
  4. You may love your friends but some of them will drop you in a second for a cute guy. Know which ones they are and plan accordingly.
  5. Make a deal with your friends to never leave each other alone and drunk at a party, drunk with a guy you don’t know, or drunk with a group of guys. Your friend may be totally pissed at you when you make her leave, but you have to make her leave. It will be easier when you all agree to that plan at the beginning of the night. Her fury at you will subside. Your guilt and her terror if something bad happens will not.
  6. If you get left alone in a place from which you do not know how to get home, choosing the person you ask for help is preferable to accepting help from someone that offers whom you don’t know. Better yet, keep a little extra money on you, the number of the local cab company and your phone charged.
  7. Your phone will not protect you, but you can use it to call for help. Take it with you into public bathrooms.
  8. When you get home, lock the door behind you, immediately. If there’s a black out, make sure the doors are locked. When you go to sleep, make sure the doors are locked. If it’s possible to lock the door while you shower, do so.
  9. Some men will think that if they buy you dinner, you will owe them something. They will be wrong. This is most easily avoided by paying for your own dinner.
  10. Violence and jealousy are not charming and do not signify love. They are signs of control and anger issues. Pay attention to how men talk about women and treat you. None of us are so special that a man who hit, punched, controlled, or hurt his ex-girlfriend will not also hit, punch, control, or hurt us.
  11. Professors who stop class – or stop you in the hallway – to tell you you’re pretty, ask you out or imply that you should sleep with them are also not charming. That is sexual harassment.
  12. Calling things what they are gives you power.
  13. The majority of men will not try to take advantage of you. Those that will do not have an R on their forehead for rapist. It will be very hard to tell the difference. It is not that any man may actually be a potential rapist. It’s that you won’t be able to tell the ones that are, from the ones that are not. (To my male readers, if that idea makes you sad or furious – and I hope it does – I encourage you to speak up whenever you hear comments that contribute to women being objectified, to intervene whenever you see situations in which women are being hurt and to also work towards eliminating violence in all its forms, including against women.)
  14. There has been a lot in the news lately regarding how colleges handle sexual assault, and for the most part, it’s not well. If you or someone you know is assaulted, my advice is to go (as soon as possible and before you shower) to the largest, non religious (so your options are not limited) off campus hospital and the city police first; go to the college officials second, even if it happened on campus. You may decide to not press charges later but get the evidence collected anyway. When you get to the hospital, ask that a rape crisis advocate be contacted.
  15. No one should ever be ashamed of something someone else did to them. That does not mean they won’t be.
  16. Controlling how you arrive at and get home from a date is preferable to getting in a car with someone you don’t know well.
  17. There will come a day when you will have to decide between being polite and being safe. Pick safe. Rude is always preferable to hurt.
  18. Don’t get in a car with people you don’t know.
  19. Don’t drive drunk or get in a car with someone who’s drunk.
  20. Don’t compound stupid with more stupid.
  21. Women on TV have sex far more often and with way more partners than the vast majority of actual women. You can never go wrong by not going home with someone. The opposite is not true. Be careful who you allow access to your body and under what circumstances.
  22. Some things cannot be undone.

Finally, moving on to different topics:

  1. You are paying to be at school. If you don’t understand something, ask questions until you do. Any question you are brave enough to ask out loud, someone else is thinking. I promise.
  2. You are much more likely to get what you want if you can communicate what you want. That goes for professors, bosses, friends, guys and roommates. Don’t leave a note, send a text or post something on line when you are angry, frustrated, sad or confused. Gather your courage and say out loud and in person what you need to say and listen to what is said in response. Once you have, you can form your counter response.
  3. Everyone is not going to like you. It’s okay. You’re not going to like all of them either. Don’t waste energy being sad that someone you don’t like doesn’t like you.
  4. Don’t be afraid to be who you are.
  5. Let other people be who they are.
  6. Don’t accept the options other people offer you. If you don’t like the choices presented, find new choices or new people.  There is always a choice.
  7. Surround yourself with people who are kind to you and make you feel good about yourself. We have all known people that cut us down and make us feel bad about ourselves. Minimize your time with those people.
  8. Don’t believe everything you think. Some of your thoughts will be based on biases you didn’t know you had and couldn’t articulate; some will be based on fear, negative messages or inaccurate information. Don’t believe them.
  9. Challenge everything. College is a time of inquiry. Poke at things until you are confident they are based on something you understand, agree with and can explain.

You are not in high school anymore. This is your life.

Stand tall. Be proud. Have fun. Be safe. Make good decisions. Call home every so often.

Be great!

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Serving at the Pleasure of the Board

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Strategic Plans on July 3, 2014 at 9:21 am

Nonprofit executive leaders (called executive directors, president and/or CEOs) serve at the pleasure of their board. Boards are made up of community leaders that, collectively, serve as the “owners” of an organization. They are responsible for fulfilling The Role of the Board including hiring, evaluating and supporting their executive. That executive is responsible to support the organization’s mission and goals; guide, support, and serve the board in establishing goals, developing policies, securing and stewarding resources, and implementing a strategic plan; and to provide leadership and direction to staff.

The individual members of your board may or may not know any of that. They may or may not have served on other boards or understand their job, your job, the mission of your organization or how that mission gets implemented. They may or may not understand the program and services of your organization or the role it plays in the community.

Boards that don’t understand their role can’t perform their role.

One of the things that new executive directors are often shocked by is the amount of time they need to spend developing their board. It is an enormous commitment to develop a board of directors and one that is critical to the success of your organization. As mentioned in The Role of the Nonprofit CEO “The CEO assists in building the board, both initially through encouraging an appropriate prospecting, vetting, and orientation process and on-going though Board education and evaluation. It is the CEO’s role to support good board process, and the board development committee’s role to lead the process.”

Board development is a role of the executive leader and because you serve at the pleasure of the board, the safest thing you can do is train your board as to their role, your role, the need for your agency and the impact it makes.

I have seen boards hire a new executive director to implement a change the board wanted and then fire that leader when the change that they asked for felt too difficult. I’ve seen boards hire the wrong executive and then let that executive stay because they didn’t have a plan to replace them. I’ve seen boards (and you have too) promote staff that were in no way ready for a leadership role, because they didn’t have the time or the inclination to do a search. I’ve seen boards agree to a change management plan to change the culture of the organization and then get nervous when it felt too uncomfortable and consider firing their executive, who instead resigned in disgust. Discomfort and sometimes fear is an inherent part of change and it’s a part that we have to expect, and then manage.

It should go without saying (but, of course, it never does) that people are more likely to be happy with what you’re doing, when they know what you’re doing.

Serving at the pleasure of 18 or 20 or 24 people – even 12 – is a pretty high bar. I always joke that it’s hard to get 20 people to agree upon what they want for lunch, let alone what the annual goals are for an organization, but we must. The board sets the strategic direction to guide the work of an organization and before you can plan, you have to build.

Boards have to be intentionally built, properly educated and evaluated. As included in The Best Advice you will get the board you build. “Board development is an intentional process that includes strategic prospecting, recruiting, and orienting for new board members and educating, evaluating and recognizing current board members, coupled with a strategic plan (that is being followed) and the introduction of generative discussions.

Strong CEOs build strong boards. As discussed in greater detail in the Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives “the CEO’s role in board development is to understand the work of the board and its processes, and support the implementation of each. CEOs play a primary role in building the board. As such, they have the opportunity to assemble a board that can take the organization to new heights.’  ‘The CEO assists in building the board to which she will ultimately report and also makes recommendations, staffs board committees, and supports the board’s success.  CEOs do not have the authority to add board members.

In the case of board development, CEO’s should also:

  • Support the recruitment of potential board members; arrange and attend meetings with prospective board members and the board or committee chair, share the agency’s vision, mission, and board processes, including time, giving and getting expectations, and assess the capacity of the prospective member to fit on the team;
  • Manage the board development process, including the spreadsheet of terms of office;
  • Ensure board training and evaluation.”

Having an intentionally built board is not enough, you also have to encourage that board to go through a strategic planning process and you, as the exec, have to be able to operationalize that plan to align the work of the organization.

In the absence of agreed upon goals, there is no objective way to for you to be evaluated. In those cases, you as the exec will either receive no evaluation or worse, your board will rely on how they “feel” about things. Feel is not objective and feel is not safe for leaders.

Any day can be the day you quit or get fired. Over the years, I have had to explain to a board chair why co-mingling is unethical, to a different chair why yelling at another board member to get a donation is not effective, and to yet another chair that if he want to fire a member of my team, he would have to fire me first.

What if I didn’t have goals that I was expected to implement? What if there were no metrics to gauge my leadership? What if the day after I had one of those conversations was the day the committee was meeting to do my evaluation?

These jobs we hold are not for the faint of heart. They’re tough and they’re lonely. They are also incredibly fulfilling, an honor and a privilege.

What’s been your experience in serving at the pleasure of a board? Do you have any amusing, scary or appalling stories to share? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

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