When the Circle of Life Gets Stuck


For a relationship to exist, there must first be a connection. To form a connection, there must be engagement. To sustain engagement, you must sustain and nurture that connection. Sustained and nurtured connection leads to a sustained and nurtured relationship. It’s the relational circle of life.

The success and effectiveness of any organization is directly tied to the quality of its relationships. For a non-profit organization to thrive, it has to excel at developing strong relationships with its volunteers, donors, staff, board members, and community. Faith-based non-profits need to make sure that the quality of their relationship with the one that governs all other relationships is protected- their relationship with God. To develop, nurture, and protect all of these relationships necessitates a leadership approach of intentional stewardship and discipleship.

A stewardship attitude towards relationships with all stakeholders of any organization is the recognition that we, as leaders, have been entrusted. Entrusted to serve well those who our mission seeks to reach, support and encourage. We tend to get that part. Entrusted to maximize use of the resources with which the organization has been blessed. We tend to understand the financial part of that. Entrusted to develop and grow leaders within the organization that can not only further develop and continue the mission at a point when a leadership transition must take place, but that can help to grow and expand the depth and breadth of the organization even now. Entrusted to represent the cause and share the message of the Gospel reasons that propel the cause, to tell the story well and accurately to donors, new and existing. Entrusted to be a resource within a community and to become a help that works together within it to advance the kingdom. Entrusted to do all of this in a way that honors and glorifies God and exemplifies the Gospel message.

Folks, in most situations, we are just not doing those things well. The average volunteer retention rates and declining trend of new volunteers is evidence. To be fair, even academia and research circles didn’t start to catch on until around 1990 to the fact that engagement and connections at work had a far heavier impact on performance and job satisfaction than even pay. It was as if the world thought we lost our basic human need for relationship and stability once we walked through the doors at work and punched a clock. The factors and variables that affect job performance and job satisfaction for paid employees are the very same that affect volunteer satisfaction and commitment levels. The stark difference is that the volunteers don’t have to stick around because they aren’t trapped by the need for a paycheck. Engagement has become a buzzword that we know how to throw around, but fall short in practicing.

On the surface, I doubt that many Christian leaders would disagree with this assertion. Why then, do we so often drop the ball following through with it? Why is there a tendency to excel in one area and to neglect all other areas? Why aren’t we translating the relational circle of life into processes and systems that will keep us accountable to following through with our intended actions? The processes and systems won’t fix everything, but they will certainly help to retrain us into healthier Christian leadership habits, and that will in turn positively impact our organizations. We need to have ways to hold ourselves accountable for the development of quality relationships if we want our organizations to thrive. Next week I’m going to give you some action steps that you can take right now to start making a difference in your organization. Stay tuned!

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