This week, I spent Monday morning with 96-year-old, Dyna Wise and her grandson, Lawrence Burley. The time I spent with these two extraordinary human beings, was not only the highlight of my week, but one of the most significant experiences of my entire nonprofit career.
Before I go any further, I’d like to provide a few initial facts that will make my story shorter. (I can almost hear your applause):
- Dyna is pronounced, DEE-nuh and not DY-nuh.
- Lawrence goes by Larry. Larry is pronounced, L – luh, ul A – æ, ā, ah, ā-uh, uh R – ruh, ur R – ruh, ur Y – yuh, ee, ah-ee.
- In Chinese, Larry is 拉里 ·
- There will be an upcoming (and absolutely riveting) feature article on Dyna, Larry, and their incredible life journey, where ORT has been a significant presence for longer than I have been breathing.
During my tenure in the nonprofit sect, I have read more articles and have endured countless meetings and conversations on what appears to be an obsession with getting young people interested in _______________. Yep, fill in the blank with just about any nonprofit organization’s name.
I’m not dissing the idea that finding ways to engage (and retain) young people is essential for sustaining an organization. What I am saying, is that by my assessment, the amount of time and energy invested in rallying young people ought not to exceed the time spent on attending to ALL generations. In fact, I’ll take it a step further – Spending time connecting each generation with one another is time well spent.
ORT, the amazing organization I work for, is 137 years old. When organizations have a strong enough mission and make the most powerfully measurable impact I have ever witnessed, (yes, ORT, that’s for you), it is obviously relevant. Too many nonprofit professionals and lay leaders in long-established nonprofits, become freaked out, as they question whether the external world sees them as relevant. Hence, getting hip and young often takes over and actually upstages an organizational mission to such a degree, that one can scarcely see the mission at all.
Respecting, appreciating and staying current with those who came before us, (and NOT to simply get their annual donation), will not only strengthen your organization, but they are an ENORMOUS REASON as to WHY YOU ARE DOING WHAT YOU ARE DOING. The trailblazers like Dyna Wise, Charlotte Lindon and other heroes of mine, Robert “Bud” Lifton z”l Hon. Abner Mikva z”l, who have both passed, and Rabbi Robert J. Marx, who I owe a visit to, have enriched my professional and personal life more than I can articulate.
Striking a balance in how we cultivate and steward constituents is, as far as I’m concerned, an art. When we study the data of our constituencies and whether they’re men, women, 16 or 96, blond or brunette, what matters most is listening to what gets them right in the kishkes about your mission. I think like me, you’ll find that driving a mission is timeless and therefore, ageless.