Annenberg Alchemy

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This summer our board chair and I went to two days of training delivered by the Annenberg which is one of the most important foundations on the West Coast. Wallis Annenberg is a legend. She has taken on a commitment to change and the Annenberg Beach House which hosts events throughout the year is just one evidence of her foundation’s work.

The Alchemy training is for organizations who want to assess what you are doing in terms of development particularly when working with your board. My board chair and I came away with a long list of takeaways of things we could be doing better. I’ll give you a few that seem obvious.
1. The staff and board need to work together.
2. The board needs to know what the fund raising goals are.
3. The board needs to clearly understand the goals and needs of the organization.
4. Part of each board meeting should be board training and development.
5. The board is responsible for bringing on and developing new funders.

For those of you who are going to do Alchemy in the future, though here are some odd things too. In no particular order, other food for thought:

1. They warn you in writing that the room will be freezing and it is. They say it’s always freezing. Really? No one at USC can control the temperature? It’s like a Kurt Vonnegut novel. It has always been freezing and it always will be freezing; that’s how that moment in time is structured.

2. The staff people who talk at you for two days, Lawrence and Dave are imported from the Midwest. They pay to bring these folks in and put them up in nice hotels etc. I’m pretty sure there are people in Los Angeles who could do this. Dave is awesome; he’s peculiar in his delivery of information but he creates energy and that’s cool to watch.

3. Lawrence talks down to everyone. He is in a room full of people who are makers, who have given up their lives and resources to change the world in some way, and he is talking down to you. Dave does too but not as much as Lawrence. Dave is on the board of Habitat for Humanities, so he is a maker too..

4. The most interesting people in the room and the people I wished I could hear more from were the other leaders of the other organizations. I would have liked each person to tell a one minute story of something they did successfully. What are you good at? Every organization has something. All these leaders in the room live and work in my city. I’m never going to see Dave and Lawrence again after they go back to Timbukto, but I could see these other people if I could make connections. .

5. Back to Lawrence, the second day I bounced in there, (well, I didn’t exactly bounce, I wandered in severely regretting my margarita intake from the night before) and said hello to Lawrence. I said, “I wish we could hear more from the other people in this room. There’s a lot of talent here.” I was chatting, but Lawrence cut me off, “Yeah, Kate,” he said, you’re just like my thirteen year old daughter. This is all about you.” Lawrence is 73, so he mentioned this thirteen year old daughter many times. It’s hard to impress a bunch of Angelenos with the fact that you’re an old guy with a young wife and teenage daughter. I mean seriously, this is LA.

But seriously, how is anything about me? Nothing is about me. I’m a maker. I’ve given my life to creating change. After that, I tried to keep it quiet. I wasn’t sure if Lawrence didn’t like me or is simply old and weary of teaching in general.

6. There was one intriguing organization there. I never found out what they did because they were keeping that on the down low. Their staff person was unpaid and was being reviewed every couple weeks to see if she could continue to work for free. But the board members were for life. The ED and board person talked to each other constantly and made some politically incorrect cracks that were surprising to hear.

7. What I realized was this: At some point, when someone’s talking at you for two days you become overwhelmed with information and you can’t take it in. And that’s when you start to focus on the instructors themselves. That’s when my students raise their hand and say, “Dr. G where did you get those boots?” And I say, “Why?” And they say, “They’re not working for you.” If you talk down to people, it’s very hard for them to keep listening. Because a little defense mechanism goes off in your head and starts saying things like: You have no right to talk down to me! And then you don’t hear the person, you’re too involved in defending yourself.

8. I learned a lot and with any luck our development team will experience a great leap forward as the Chinese say. I’m very grateful for the Alchemy experience and I would strongly suggest doing it, there were just some curious elements to the experience and that’s what makes life hum along.

9. I am going to remember this experience when I am in the classroom. I feel the best teachers for my students are each other and that if I throw them some clues they can teach each other. I’m going to keep doing that. It’s much more exciting to learn from your peer group.

10. I am going to remember that it’s easier to learn if your teacher thinks you are grand. Honestly, it’s easier to do almost anything if you feel grand. That’s why I always tell my husband, You’re the grandest; trust me, baby.

Published in: on June 18, 2014 at 12:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

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