Embracing the Madness with Undivided Attention

“I must be out of my mind.” Monday’s calendar showed I was booked out for about nine hours to be sitting in meetings for two different organizations. For years I have been committed to serving on the board for the Portland Women’s Crisis Line (PWCL) exclusively. For some reason it seemed like a good idea to join a second board recently, the Oregon College Access Network (OrCAN). My first OrCAN board meeting was scheduled the same day as the PWCL annual meeting. I knew my calendar was correct, though it defied all rational sense. Surely I had made a big mistake. How could my intuition be so contradictory to all reasonable logic?

I take my responsibilities as a board member seriously. The only way to be an effective board member for any organization is to work hard at it. Working hard means I need to be selective in my commitments to the organization so that I can fulfill them as promised. It also means that I need to know my best skill sets, and polish up in areas that need improvement so that I can meet the organization’s needs as they arise. Moreover, working hard for an organization means I need to own the mission. I need to embrace and internalize the mission so intensely I cannot sit still. The other side of working hard, of course, is setting boundaries. Fueled by passion it can be easy to work too hard and burn out. Two boards means working exponentially hard.

It is exhausting to think about sitting on two boards simultaneously. In fact, I have declined invitations to run for the board of my professional association, Oregon Program Evaluators Network (OPEN). My reason, consistently, is that I do not want to accept fiduciary responsibilities for more than one organization. Aside from the amount of work, it is too much responsibility. If I cannot pay close enough attention it increases the opportunity for something to go wrong. When something does go wrong, regardless of what happens, the buck stops with the board. I am just not comfortable with that much responsibility for more than one organization, or so I thought.

Then there is the issue of fundraising. Fundraising often must be part of the fiduciary responsibilities since it directly and concretely supports the short- and long-term health of an organization. As important as fundraising is, I am not that skilled at it. In part, I simply do not know wealthy people. The bigger issue, however, is that I am a poor sales person. I have never enjoyed sales, and I have never been proficient at it. Fundraising is, at its heart, selling the mission. I’ve improved in recent years, but fundraising will never be my strong suit. Regardless of my skill level, as a relationship-based exercise fundraising takes a tremendous amount of energy. Fundraising for two organizations is just twice the energy in return for twice the frustration.

I have given myself every reason to be content merely paying my dues to OrCAN and nothing more. But somehow I found myself eagerly catching the car pool to Salem first thing in the morning, looking forward to a day scheduled to end a daunting 12 hours later back in Portland with the staff, volunteers, and board for PWCL. Twenty years ago when I was full of youthful energy I would have thought nothing of a 12-hour cooperative working day, interspersed with a bit of travel. I still work occasional 12-hour and longer days, but I need to limit their frequency even when they require far less energy working alone with Miss Sumi who does not care if I am articulate at hour nine. Clearly I must be a lunatic to agree to a second board so willingly.

If I am mad it is crazy for the mission. I internalized the OrCAN mission—to remove barriers to education and training beyond high school—more than twenty years ago and I have not been able to sit still since. That was about the same time I came to embrace the PWCL mission—to end domestic and sexual violence—driven by ongoing agitation about injustice. The OrCAN mission is what I do and it is why I do what I do. Removing barriers to education and empowerment is why Lund-Chaix Consulting exists. It is fundamentally about emancipation and self-determination.

On one level PWCL and OrCAN could not be more different. PWCL is a direct service agency as old as I am with a primary service area in the general metropolitan region and a much broader regional reach. OrCAN, a statewide membership support organization, is in its infancy, having been awarded its charitable nonprofit status less than a year ago.

On another level, the mission of PWCL depends on the mission of OrCAN, and vice versa. Intimate and family violence is an equal opportunity offender; violence and oppression know no boundaries of class or education. Removing barriers to education will not automatically put an end to violence, but is an essential component of individual empowerment. Education can also help one recognize oppression and think critically about its causes.

At its core the mission and services of PWCL are rooted in an empowerment tradition, placing decision making and control in the hands of survivors. To make informed decisions based on an array of opportunities and resources survivors must understand what is possible and be able to identify and access their own resources and assets, which are often created and developed through education processes. This might be a classmate or faculty member who represents a safe zone, a network that can lead to a new job site, or discovering the hope and belief that life can be different with a pathway forward. Sometimes education is the exit route and primary vehicle to re-construct one’s bruised and battered life anew. It should be no surprise, then, that at least four OrCAN board members have been active in the movement to end domestic violence.

What is truly insane is that despite nearly a half century of the Higher Education Act, access to postsecondary education is still not equitable. Low income students and students of color still have far fewer opportunities for building and living their dreams than their peers. Adult learners are not supported in their diverse contexts, needs and many competing priorities. State tax revenues have drained so rapidly from postsecondary resources that tuition has accelerated at light speeds, financial aid programs do not have enough to go around, under-resourced institutions are home to some of the most poorly paid faculty in the nation, and class sizes are beginning to burst through the roof. Though the Pell Grant has increased in size recently, the previous 40 years of disinvestment have reduced its purchasing power to a tiny fraction of its intended purpose.

In the meantime, income inequality has become ever-more disparate, and the homicide rate of those in abusive relationships has reached record highs. I will be the first to point out that correlation does not mean causation, but it would be foolish to think it is all merely coincidence. I have been given an opportunity to solve these problems at the root. It will be a collective effort and it will depend on my sustained professional focus on helping education and nonprofit organizations evaluate their programs and solve problems relevant to their missions. It would be downright crazy to turn down the opportunity to serve two boards so fundamentally important to our community with missions that support the other’s vision.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *