At our AIIM16 Conference, we decided it was time to do something more than just have a lot of great sessions and great keynotes and fun food and social activities. We decided in our small way to use the occasion to also give something back. After all, we are a non-profit, for-purpose organization.
This wasn’t the first time we’ve done this sort of thing, but we’ve never really done it on this scale before. Our staff has had numerous outings to help local food banks. My board assembled bicycles one year during a December board meeting, and we gave them away to a local charity. (Note: Remind me sometime to tell you the story of overzealous fraud protection algorithms from both my credit card companies when I tried to buy five of said unassembled bicycles in Miami. But that’s another story.) I have continued to hope to this day that the charity did some sort of quality check before handing the bikes off.
This was the first time we took this type of initiative to our conference. We contracted with TOMS Shoes, which is well-known for its Giving Initiatives and proceeded to decorate over 200 pairs of shoes. And I have to say, everyone had a terrific time. The point of this isn’t that this was some sort of extremely difficult initiative; it was remarkably easy to do. The point is it reminded me that sometimes all of us doing the “running” of associations – making ends meet, keeping the lights on, trying to cat-herd all of those pesky members, worrying about running small, but very public businesses – forget why we got into non-profit work in the first place. Perhaps we can be doing more than putting on conferences and writing white papers and selling training and doing certifications and conducting market research.
Simply stated, non-profit – or more appropriately, “for-purpose” – organizations can play such an important role in making this increasingly digitized and impersonal and algorithmically-defined world more human. Most of the folks I know working in non-profits tend to be people people. We touch our members and our communities directly and in the context of ideas and values, whether they are professional, industry or charitable values. We ask these members to give us their most precious resource – their time.
Imagine what would happen if in everything we all do – not just for a holiday staff outing or a single board meeting or a once a year conference – we adopted the discipline that we are dedicated not only to our own particular industry or profession or cause, but also part of a broader community of fellow-travelers who have chosen this weird and outrageous idea of a career in non-profit management.