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How My Family Reunion is Like Your Board Meeting

My Family Reunion:
Lessons Learned Will Strengthen Your Board of Directors!

This past Memorial Day Weekend, did your family get together for a big reunion?

Ours did. Yep! Fifty-eight of us traveled from states afar to spend time in Tennessee, and unite around one thing which uniformly bonds us – John Henry and Marie.

The four-day event reminded me of a not-for-profit board or committee meeting, where connected, but unique, people get together for a single reason – to support a cause they believe in.

Our reunion – as it has been since the early 1990’s – is hugely successful, for reasons I believe will keep your board or committee happy, working together, and staying involved year after year!

1. Personal preferences never takes precedent over the needs of the whole.

Yep, in an age of gluten-free, vegans, and nut allergies, our reunion featured fried chicken, grilled burgers, crunchy desserts, and macaroni salad.

Sure, some among the group may have special food preferences, but for the reunion to succeed, the meals focused on satiating hunger, and those who wanted something different brought a personal cooler.

Too often in committee meetings, specialized marketing pieces slow progress. One committee member needs letters. Another needs a postcard. Yet, another wants an online appeal. Each time a customized request is made, progress slows.

My advice: Feed the masses, and customize when necessary by using a template which can easily be updated for donor asks that are unique or high-level.

2. Share Tales. Storytelling Builds Community!

Storytelling never stops at our reunion. Even my husband now knows the details! We married in 2013, but he’s able to fill in blanks and complete details because year after year, he listens.

Too often, we in philanthropic work assume that new board members know our history, but it’s unlikely. Take time to reflect. I’m not suggesting a five-minute “history moment,” but something more natural and spontaneous.

For example, if you’ve just received a capital gift to re-floor your school’s gymnasium, take time to recall how you came to fund the gym in the first place.

Or, what about your women’s shelter program? Highlight why you started this program and who got behind this initiative back in the day.

Through storytelling, I’ve learned of out-migration from Appalachia, union disputes, the role of the matriarch, bootleggers, land feuds, and home remedies.

These are my stories, and some day, I’ll be the elder at the table sharing our history.

Stories connect your cause to society at large, which deepens the devotion your board members have to your organization, to its future, and to its sustainability.

3. Accept change you can’t control.

Before the horrific Gatlinburg fire of 2016, our family had gathered at The Highlands since the reunion began.

I still miss the misty view of the Smokies on early mornings before the clan awakes.

My nostalgia, however, can’t be a driver for complaining. We had no choice but move once The Highlands completely burned.

Now, we’re all in separate houses in a nearby valley. This is a decision we never would have made had we not been forced to.

As a non-profit leader, I’ve been guilty of assuming that when change was inevitable, everyone should simply move forward. The reality, however, is that our volunteers need time to recall, remember, wish for the past, etc. as they move on.

Take time.

Every year, I tell my older sister how much I miss The Highlands, and every year, she tells me that we can’t live in the past. I’ve got that, but I still like to speak aloud my memories, and so do our board members.

Recalling good times should not be inferred as unhappiness with the present. I loved our reunion in the valley this year…but I still miss being surrounded by the mountains and clouds.


Working with boards of directors and committees creates close connections – not family-like but certainly closer than most professions.

I truly believe these drivers for my family’s continued connection will help connect you at a deeper level to the people who support your mission as well.

Photos: Cade’s Cove in The Smokey Mountain National Park

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