Posted by: Don Linnen | 29 June 2009

Big Wow Service

In the world of grant writing, we strive to impress. Programs and services described with compelling words backed up by impressive numbers. It is a fact of fund-raising life if you’re going to make your organization stand out from all the others.

But what is your mission? What is your priority? What service do you really offer?

According to Richard Foster, “service is not a list of things that we do…it is a way of living.” While rereading his excellent book, Celebration of Discipline, I came across a sub section on service in the marketplace. He provided a short list of services that each of us can perform on a daily basis. They are the services of:

  • Hiddenness
  • Small things
  • Guarding reputations
  • Being served
  • Common courtesy
  • Hospitality
  • Listening
  • Sharing the word of Life

Foster is talking about how individuals can serve. But individuals make up organizations. There is a common denominator of these services that apply to any nonprofit organization.

The service of hiddenness is certainly counterintuitive to our PR driven world. We’re all about getting the word out far and wide, loud and clear. But acts of service and generosity don’t always have to be material for the next newsletter. Word gets around slowly and quietly that good things happen. If you’re just in it for the short term and need kudos before moving on to your next gig to “help” people, you won’t understand that concept. But if you’re satisfied with making quiet, long-term impacts, you probably know how to spell the word “anonymous.”

“There are no small roles. There are only small actors.” That’s an old show business saying. The world of acting is known for its big egos. The service of small things is another one that probably doesn’t make sense to the loud and proud. But details matter. Heaven is indeed in the details.

The service of hospitality seems to pervade most of the nonprofit world. With just a few exceptions in Dallas, I’ve been amazed at how many people in the nonprofit world are willing to spend time answering questions, giving advice, and listening. That welcome feeling is what makes competitors into partners for the common good.

The service of listening is one more service that’s often taken for granted. We have two ears and one mouth. There’s your ideal ratio of listening to talking. The nonprofits that hear what their clients need; that hear what their donors want to do; that hear what their staffs can do are the ones that are making the biggest difference.

Yes, there must be adequate funds to perform programs and services. The highly touted, big wow service draws a lot of good attention. But to get it right from top to bottom, you literally must have service in your heart.

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