Reflections on Community And Not-For-Profit Boards and Memberships (Power of Networking)

 

Reflections on Community

And

Not-For-Profit Boards and Memberships

(Power of Networking)

by

Paul A. Dillon

paul@dillonconsult.com

before the

Harris School of Public Policy

University of Chicago

 

November 18, 2011

Good Afternoon:

 

It is truly a pleasure to be here with you this morning. I am honored that my

 

dear friend of many years, Lydia Lazar, invited me to share some thoughts with you on

 

the power of networking, particularly as it relates to service on community and non-profit

 

boards and memberships.

 

When Lydia told me the topic on which she was asking me to speak, I emailed each of

 

my three children, all of whom are young adults out in the working world, the following

 

message:

 

This (speaking on the subject of networking through non-profits) will be interesting,

 

and will force me to evaluate what I have been doing all these years. I hope that I

 

haven’t wasted all this time. In terms of what the world values, there are so many people

 

who are more successful than I could ever hope to be.

 

 

 

My daughter replied, “In the movie ‘Adaptation’, there is a line that a person is ‘who

 

they love, not who loves them’. I think the same analogy can be applied to networking.

 

You are who you know and serve, not who knows and serves you.”

 

Smart girl – must take after her mother!

 

I thought about those words a lot—and, agonized over what I should tell you this

 

afternoon. I thought about doing a “How to” type of presentation. You know, something

 

like, “Ten easy steps to networking through non-profits”, or “The one-minute non-profit

 

networker.” But, that seemed too pedestrian. You can pick thousands of those types of

 

“How to network” schemes off the internet. So, I thought about it for awhile, and decided

 

that one of the things that’s always missing in these overly simplistic “How to” guides is

 

the psychology, philosophy, and emotion of why people started doing what they were

 

doing, whatever it was, i.e., how to loose weight…how to start exercising…how to make

 

money in the stock market…whatever, and the struggles that they were undergoing while

 

they were doing these things.

 

So, I decided that what I want to do this morning is to give you the psychology,

 

philosophy, and even theology behind what my definition of networking is, its value (as

 

if you already didn’t know), how and why I started volunteering for service on non-

 

profits, and how you can do the same, should you choose to do so. But, most important, I

 

want to relate, if I can, my own journey from volunteering for non-profits for my own

 

selfish business reasons, to volunteering because I really care. It’s the last point that is

 

most important, but will be the most difficult for me to articulate. You can be the judge

 

of how well I have done. I have saved some “how to” items for last. But, perhaps, these

 

mechanical issues regarding networking through non-profits can best be covered in a

 

question and answer session later, or in a personal conversation.

 

What Networking Is . . . . Or, More Precisely, Isn’t

 

The first (and absolutely the most important) thing about networking that you have to

 

realize is that it isn’t about you . . . it’s about them!

 

In an exchange of e-mails with a search consultant with whom I had lunch several

 

years ago, I wrote the following:

 

“You also termed what I do as networking. While I understand that the word networking

 

is the current colloquialism, what I do is much more than that. Networking, to me, is

 

almost a pejorative term. It implies just getting a lot of business cards, and then calling

 

these people to use them for your own business or personal objectives.

 

I don’t do that.

 

What I have tried to do over the past thirty-seven years that I have been in business is, for

 

each and every person that I meet, to try to love them with my whole heart, my whole

 

mind, and my whole soul—to always put their interests FIRST, and my interests THIRD

 

(there is no second; that’s my margin of error). And, you know when you do that, when

 

you totally abandon your interests to others, it comes back to you, not just ten times, but

 

ten thousand times ten thousand times—without you even asking! Remarkable!

 

Networking, then, is really “relationship building”. It is the fine psychological art and

 

spiritual craft of how one human being interacts with another, in the most positive,

 

giving, and uplifting way possible, over an extended period of time, hopefully into

 

perpetuity. That is really why so many people do it so wrong, or can’t do it at all. Most

 

people, I find, are much, much too selfish to be effective relationship builders. When you

 

cut to their very core, you find that it is really, basically, about them—and, that they

 

really, really don’t give a damn about you, or anyone else, for that matter. They are

 

phonies. They are frauds. And, frauds are eventually found out.

 

When I peer deep into the eyes of people like this, and have a window to their very

 

soul, I ask myself, “Where were their parents, where were their teachers, where were

 

their priests, ministers, rabbis, imams, or other religious leaders?”

 

For, you see, effective relationship building, effective networking, if you will, really

 

can’t be taught. It can only be nurtured in those people who have been raised by their

 

parents, taught by their teachers and instructed by their religious leaders, to be

 

warm, gentle, loving, kind, open and giving people, who believe in the basic goodness of

 

mankind.

 

How To Go About It

 

Over the years, I have watched people join organizations, or attend networking events,

 

for the sole purpose of getting a bunch of business cards, or a board of directors roster,

 

and using these cards or rosters to call people up, or perhaps make an appointment, and

 

then proceed to beat the living “you know what” out of them to sell their products or

 

services.

 

Wrong!! That is not the way to do it! That is not how you build effective, long-term

 

relationships that lead to long-term friendships that perhaps can lead, in turn, to long-

 

term business opportunities. That is the guttural, low-class approach to networking. If

 

that is your idea of relationship building, of networking, then go sell

 

vacuum cleaners or encyclopedias door-to-door.

 

As one of my more pithy and droll friends, who had a rather patrician upbringing,

 

derisively said about someone who tried this approach with him, “He was more suitable

 

for selling ice, than bonds.” Ouch! I never forgot that comment. No, that is not the way

 

to do it.

 

There is an old adage in Chicago business and civic circles that you have to give

 

before you get. Let that be your cardinal rule in relationship building.

 

If you meet someone at a so-called networking event, ask how you can help them.

 

Ask them how you can be of service to them and their business or organization. Tell

 

them what you have in terms of skills, contacts, resources, etc. And, then ask them what

 

they need. Start out the relationship by giving, rather than getting. And, you know,

 

when you make a sincere offer to help someone—to be of service to someone—and

 

really, really, really mean it—and really, really follow through with it—they will almost

 

always reciprocate in kind. And, often, they will give you in return much, much more

 

than you ever give them.

 

The same is true when volunteering for service on a non-profit board or other similar

 

type of organization. Be sure that you volunteer for a non-profit or organization whose

 

mission and purpose really interest you. Then, work very, very hard at this volunteer

 

activity to help the organization fulfill its mission. Remember the caution of that great

 

Roman statesman and orator, Marcus Tullius Cicero, “Facta, Non Verba”. (It’s deeds,

 

not words that count). Prove to your other board members or organization members that

 

you are more than just a name on a letterhead, that you are not there just to meet people

 

to advance you own interests. Treat your volunteer service with the same

 

conscientiousness and diligence that you would any for-profit business activity.

 

For when you do this—when you treat your volunteer service with the same diligence

 

and seriousness that you would for any for-profit business activity, people will

 

realize that you truly are a person of substance, and that you truly are a person who can

 

be relied upon, and that you have the best interests of the organization (rather than you

 

own interests) in mind. And, people will realize that you really care.

 

Several years ago, at an Economic Club dinner, the former president of a Chicago area

 

university paid me one of the highest compliments that I have ever received, and one

 

which I hope that I can live up to. Introducing me to the head of a Chicago non-profit

 

organization, he said, “This is Paul Dillon. He is a good man. He really cares.”

 

He is a good man. He really cares.

 

He really cares.

 

That is how you build solid long-term relationships in Chicago’s civic community that

 

can lead to possible opportunities for you down the road. You have to give before you

 

get. You have to really care.

 

The Value of Networking—For Yourself and For Others

 

Anyone sitting here today should realize the intrinsic value of building long term

 

relationships to a business or public service career. It is an absolutely necessary part of

 

your working life.

 

Not to do so is the equivalent of committing “career suicide”. If the way you have

 

operated to date in the jobs you have had so far (or, for those of you not working yet, for

 

the jobs you intend to get) is to simply go to work, do your work, and then go home

 

without participating in any professional societies or community activities, or without

 

attending any so-called “networking” events; then, from this point forward, your behavior

 

must change.

 

In a 1992 presentation that I was privileged to make to the Midwestern Regional

 

meeting of the College Board on “What Business Expects from Higher Education” and

 

which was later published in the November 1992 issue of The College Board Review, the

 

professional journal of the College Entrance Examination Board, I said, in part:

 

“New graduates, and every other nineties-era manager or professional, who want to

 

survive in the white-collar work force of the future are going to have to be very visible

 

with a lot of professional contacts. They will have to be smarter, tougher, more self-

 

reliant, exceedingly cynical, a great deal more fiscally prudent in their personal lives and

 

willing to take dramatic (sometimes terrifying) short-term risks for long-term

 

employment gains. Furthermore, I went on to say, (and these words apply to all

 

professional, managerial, and technical workers, not just new graduates).

 

“While it may sound like fluff, students entering the professional and managerial work

 

force must take responsibility for developing a great number of professional contacts (the

 

current colloquialism is “networking”), in addition to obtaining and maintaining high

 

professional visibility. Students should learn that a hunger for success, coupled with

 

style and image, are as critical as substance to business success. After a certain point in

 

your career, competence is assumed. From that point on, ambition, drive, style, image,

 

politics, and luck (some would say divine providence) seem to be the prime determinants

 

of success in the business world.” And, the same applies to the public service world.

 

It’s just common sense. If you’re faced with being out of work and don’t know

 

anyone to call, what are you going to do?

 

If you take nothing else away from this talk this afternoon, remember these words!

 

CIRCULATE OR TERMINATE! It’s that important to your long-term career survival.

 

While I realize that the primary concern of the people in this room is how to make

 

contacts to find job, I want you to mentally set aside that all too important task for a

 

moment, if you can, while I appeal to the more altruistic side of your nature. There is,

 

perhaps, an even more important reason to volunteer for service on a non-profit board,

 

governmental committee or commission, or other such professional or community based

 

organization. And, that is to better the lot of your fellow man.

 

When I look back at the opportunities that I have been fortunate to have over the past

 

thirty years or so of volunteer service on various non-profit and governmental boards,

 

committees and commissions, I am truly humbled by what has been accomplished. The

 

bustling aerodrome that you see today at Midway Airport was a direct result of the work

 

of the Midway Airport Revitalization Commission. The Chicagoland Chamber of

 

Commerce (then called the Chicago Association of Commerce and Industry) played

 

a pivotal role in the first phase of the O’Hare Airport redevelopment program in the

 

1980’s. The Regional Transportation Authority was formed in 1974. Politicians have

 

been influenced to pass good legislation (hopefully), editorial writers have been

 

influenced to write editorials supporting good causes (hopefully), performing artists have

 

been financed so that they can perform their art, and most important, through the work of

 

wonderful social service organizations funds have

 

been raised, not only to feed, clothe and shelter Chicago’s underclass society, but to

 

provide them with the support, encouragement and tools to escape their vicious vortices

 

of poverty, racism, and hopelessness.

 

No simple business career can provide such wonderful opportunities. These are

 

opportunities that, hopefully, will promote an infectious conspiracy of goodness in all

 

who touch you, and in all whom you touch. These are opportunities to care. In the words

 

of Francis Bacon, “In this theater of man’s life, it is reserved only for God and for angels

 

to be lookers on.”

 

If you recall your Sunday School days (for those of you who were

 

awake) when Cain kills Abel in the Book of Genesis, God asks Cain, “Cain, where is you

 

brother? Cain replies with the most profound question in the whole of the Bible. “I do

 

not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” The whole of Scripture from that point on,

 

indeed, the whole of civilized society, is designed to answer that one question.

 

Of course, we are.

 

 

These ideas are beautifully expressed in a wonderful newsletter,

 

published by the Royal Bank of Canada, on The Call for Volunteers. The author of this

 

newsletter states, in part:

 

“One of the mainstays of society, after all, is the common understanding that the stronger must share their strength with the weaker. There could be no social order if the community interest did not come before purely selfish pursuits. The religions which did so much to establish that social order in the first place have always stressed that the individual has an obligation to his fellow human beings. The concept of mutual support is implicit in every major religious belief.

 

For instance, it is a maxim of Hinduism that ‘he does not live in vain who employs his wealth, his thought, his speech to advance the good of others.’ ‘The way to heaven is to benefit others,’ the Taoist philosophy says. According to the Prophet Mohammed, ‘A man’s true wealth is hereafter the good he does in this world to his fellow man.’

 

In the Old Testament we find the example of Job: ‘I was eyes to the blind, and feet I was to the lame. I was father to the poor and the cause which I knew not I sought out.’ In the New Testament is the Parable of the Good Samaritan: ‘Go and do likewise,’ Jesus enjoined.

 

John Ruskin made an acute observation of scriptural teachings when he wrote: ‘It is

written, not ‘blessed is he that feedeth the poor,’ but ‘blessed is he that considereth the

poor.’ A little thought and a little kindness are often worth more than a great deal of

money.’ “

 

And, it is the work of many, many non-profits and government committees and

 

commissions which gives you an opportunity to fulfill that Scriptural charge—to be your

 

“brother’s keeper”, to “share your strength with the weaker.”

 

That is the real reason why you should undertake volunteer service on community

 

organizations, non-profits, governmental advisory bodies, and the like.

 

This is Paul Dillon. He is a good man. He really cares.

 

How and Why I Started Networking

 

But, I have to be completely honest with you. That is not the reason that I started so-

 

called “networking”. I started getting involved in business and community activities very

 

early on in my working life because it became obvious to me that you needed to have a

 

wide range of contacts to go to if either your job dried up, or you were fired. I

 

recognized in my twenties, way before the concept of “networking” became fashionable,

 

that creating a long-term relationship with a lot of people, both inside and outside of your

 

career field, was necessary for career preservation, as I have previously noted this

 

morning.

 

Furthermore, in the professional services industry, in which I have been in one form or

 

another for most of my career, obtaining and retaining a good reputation as a hard worker

 

and diligent volunteer in a business or community organization was one way that a

 

professional could market himself, or herself, as the case may be. Back in the mid to late

 

1970s when I started my business career after my military and government service,

 

formal advertising and public relations programs for professional service firms were

 

extremely rare. Back then, getting yourself known in Chicago’s business and civic

 

communities was the most effective way to market both your and the firm’s services.

 

And, it probably still is.

 

That concept was never more true than when I was in the real estate industry from

 

1976 through 1985. Real estate is, inherently, a contact business. That is how you know

 

about deal flow, and how you are able to assess all of the myriad socioeconomic factors

 

that comprise what is euphemistically known as “market value” for a property. Even

 

more important, as a real estate analyst in those pre-internet days, I knew that I had to

 

develop a wide range of contacts who were good sources of data for the various market

 

and financial feasibility analyses that I was required to perform.

 

During those years, I was privileged to work for some wonderful mentors who were

 

kind enough to introduce me to many, many prominent people in Chicago’s business and

 

civic communities. Those introductions advanced me light years in Chicago’s business

 

and civic life—and, I am truly indebted to that family for taking such an interest in me,

 

and in showing me the value of forming long-term business and civic relationships. I

 

hope that I have been a worthy student.

 

So, you can see, my initial reasons for “networking” (so to speak) through service on

 

business and community boards and committees was hardly

 

altruistic. It was initially for business reasons, but that was to later change.

 

Did I find Them, or Did They Find Me?

 

I have often been asked, “Well, Dillon, how did you get so involved in all of these

 

organizations? Did you find them, or did they find you?

 

Interesting question.

 

I think, initially, that I searched for organizations where my volunteer service would

 

be helpful to my business career, as I previously noted. So, in essence, I started out by

 

finding them. But, later on, as I hopefully developed a reputation for hard work on

 

organization boards, and being committed to the goals and mission of these

 

organizations—and, really caring about these organizations and the people that they

 

served, I was approached, more and more, by organizations asking that I volunteer my

 

services to them. So, I guess, they found me.

 

The answer to the question is then, I suppose, both. Initially, I sought out

 

organizations that would inure to the benefit of my business career. But, later on, as my

 

skills, knowledge and contacts developed, organizations sought me out for what I could

 

bring to them to help them in their mission.

 

The needs are great, I have found. Competent, committed and knowledgeable

 

volunteers are few.

 

The Transition To Caring

 

Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, in a nifty little book entitled, Make Gentle The Life of This

 

World: The Vision of Robert F. Kennedy, quotes his father as writing, “(Another great

 

task) is to confront the poverty of satisfaction—a lack of purpose and dignity—that

 

inflicts us all. Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community

 

excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things”.

 

I have related to you this morning that my initial motivation for becoming involved in

 

non-profit community based and business related organizations was to make contacts and

 

build a reputation that would further my business career. . . a rather selfish motive, I think

 

now.

 

Let me tell you, however, about how, over the years, as I volunteered for these various

 

organizations, I became less and less interested in my own career goals, and more and

 

more interested in how the work of these organizations impacted the commonweal of the

 

citizenry of the Chicagoland area.

 

As I previously mentioned to you, what dawned on me over time was the tremendous

 

societal impact which volunteer service can have. Participating in these volunteer

 

organizations, as I have noted, gave me a unique opportunity to influence the common

 

good . . . an influence that I could have never obtained had I simply plodded along in a

 

traditional business career.

 

Let me tell you about one particular experience in this regard that served as an

 

epiphany of sorts for the tremendously positive influence that a single non-profit can

 

have.

 

Several years ago, I was asked to become involved with a social service agency, and,

 

was invited to tour one of their facilities to see, first hand, the work of this

 

wonderful organization.

 

I did so on a lovely late spring day—and, was stunned!

 

What I saw was truly God’s work on earth. I saw wonderfully committed people

 

trying their very best to ease the suffering of the most economically afflicted among us,

 

while attempting to give them the tools and encouragement to escape their world of

 

poverty, drugs and violence—all with very limited resources. I saw wonderfully

 

committed people doing their very best to shed the warm light of hope on people who

 

knew nothing but despair. Truly, this was miraculous. Truly, these were “mitzvahs”—

 

good deeds. Truly, this was God’s work—and, I wanted to be a part of it. And, I was.

 

“When I go down and see

 

the way some people live,

 

and look around dismayed,

 

shame scorches my cheeks

 

like the back of a flatiron.

 

 

 

How shamefully we hold our tongues

 

Or, at the most, we hem and haw . . .

 

Lies are written on fat faces

 

That should be hidden in trousers . . .”

 

. . . The poet Andrei Voznesensky writes on the ideals “of a world of poverty and

 

official lies,” as quoted by Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, in the previously aforementioned

 

text.

 

You Can Do It Too

 

There is nothing unique in what I have done. I have no special talents or abilities.

 

You can do what I have done. You, too, can contribute to the good of the people of our

 

region, while advancing your own set of contacts in Chicago’s business and civic

 

communities. And, here are some guidelines to follow in order to do that, some of which

 

I have already mentioned:

 

  1. Find a non-profit community based or business organization, or a government

 

committee or commission, whose mission and purpose really interest you. It stands to

 

reason that you will be more successful in your volunteer activities and certainly enjoy

 

yourself more, if you truly believe in the goals and purpose of the organization for which

 

you are giving your time and talents.

 

This is not as difficult as it may seem. Your local church, synagogue or other house

 

of worship, in addition to your local town or village government, can be good sources of

 

information on what social service agencies are in your area. Businesses may have

 

trade associations or professional societies that might be of interest to you. Local

 

governments have numerous citizen volunteer committees or commissions, planning,

 

zoning, veteran’s affairs, etc., that are seeking your talents. Organizations in Chicago,

 

such as Business Volunteers for the Arts, match the board needs of local arts oriented

 

groups with the skills and talents that volunteer business people are willing to contribute.

 

The Donors Forum in Chicago might be another resource for similar types of

 

information. The internet is a powerful tool in this area, with many sites devoted to

 

matching volunteers with organizations that need them.

 

The list is endless.

 

  1. Once on-board a non-profit, treat your volunteer service with the same seriousness

 

and diligence that you do in your regular business activities. Prove to your fellow board

 

members and organization members that you are there to serve the needs of the

 

organization, rather that your own personal interests. Work hard to show that you are

 

more than just a mere “name on a letterhead”.

 

  1. Once you have demonstrated to your fellow board members and organization

 

members that you work hard to further the mission and objectives of the organization,

 

rather than your own interests, over an extended period of time, then true, real, solid

 

friendships develop. And, it is typically only then, through these friendships, that true,

 

real, solid and substantive business opportunities will arise.

 

 

 

Remember, you have to “give” before you “get”. Remember that it isn’t about

 

“you”; it’s about “them”. Remember that your willingness to

 

“surrender” your own selfish aims when volunteering for service with a non-profit is vital

 

not only to the perpetuation of that organization, but to society in general. If we refuse to

 

contribute to the good of the whole, we perversely contribute to our own demise.

 

“He who never sacrificed a prior to a future good, or a personal to a general one, can

 

speak of happiness only as the blind do of colors”, Horace Mann wrote. Remember, as

 

my daughter reminded me, that you are who you know and serve, not who knows and

 

serves you.

 

I look forward to hearing about your future successes, and your future volunteer

 

activities.

 

I look forward to hearing the following words, when someone mentions your name; “He

 

(or she) is a good person. They really care.”

 

Thank you for the opportunity to be with you this morning.