When a Board Member Asks, ‘Tell Me About the Pig’
“Tell me about the pig.” That was the unexpected request that I got from a client’s board member at a gala event.
I paused, and then it hit me.
The week before, we had presented campaign feasibility and planning study results to this client. I had joined by video call, and the camera on my office monitor caught a bookshelf behind me.
Residing prominently on the shelf is, well, a pink pig.
This pig had sat quietly on the shelf for a few years, but I recently was inspired to get him back in shape (replace his battery). Now, if you squeeze his foot, he squeals repeatedly and dances a little jig.
The pig, I explained to our curious client, was a gift from a great friend and mentor Nelson Andrews and his wife Sue.
Nelson left us far too early; I miss his wisdom daily and wish I had been more attuned to take advantage of the opportunities he offered and tried to offer. He founded our Lighthouse Counsel advisory board and provided incredible counsel, including a prediction far ahead of the 2008 recession that tough times were on the horizon.
Nelson was a successful businessman running a major real estate development company with holdings across the country. He gave so freely of his time to so many significant organizations and causes in Nashville and beyond.
He was also very insightful. He was a savvy board member who understood his fiduciary responsibility, he saw below the surface, knew what questions to ask. More than once, at a pivotal point an organization’s history, he saw trouble and worked to make needed change.
In two instances, I saw the organization fail to heed his warning and with both the organization suffered from a cultural implosion and then a financial crisis. Both situations were easily avoidable with proper board oversight. He knew to dig deeper and that his duty did not lie with a relationship with a CEO, but rather with the organization and its public trust.
I saw this happen many times. He would raise the questions—much like his warning to me on the recession. Another prominent nonprofit did not heed his advice—other board members felt all was well—and it soon filed for bankruptcy.
This is just one example of Nelson’s keen insight, determination and integrity. I witnessed many. He always worked for the common good.
This very bright and successful businessman and leader, with incredible insight, also believed in having fun. He was not too successful to announce a new board slate with a kazoo fanfare… he loved life and lived each day to the fullest. He had no ego. He thrived on developing others and building high impact organizations. Mark Twain said that there was “unquestionably one really effective weapon—laughter.”
The pig, as well as a framed photo of Nelson in my office and in our conference room with his credo—“May I deal with honor, may I act with courage, may I achieve humility”—are regular reminders not to take myself too seriously, that humor and fun can improve most situations or circumstances, and that laughter is a gift to be shared.
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.