In the last 24 hours, I've heard 6 different commentators talk about the polarization of our US government being exacerbated by the fact that no one socializes anymore.
Ok. I was one of the people. And I was talking to my aunt and uncle in a restaurant in Hanover, NH.
But then on NHPR, I heard a person talking about how our US government was designed to run on compromise. And when people begin to lose the ability to compromise, the government is designed to breakdown. Then later on NHPR, an author was talking about John and Abigail Adams wanting far more from the American Revolution than we got from the war. But they felt it needed to take time. So they were open to compromising on issues and accept some freedoms instead of all freedoms.
And this morning I'm hearing it too. The interesting thing is that when talking about our parties' inability to compromise most people, myself included, cite Ted Kennedy. He used to go for the throat in debates on the floor and then go out for drinks afterwards with the same people he was attacking. Now people elected to Congress are living in their offices to save money and having their families grow up in their home states rather than be with them in DC. So no more cocktail parties that mix ideologies.
Even the Founding Fathers, had social occasions where they had to interact with people the bitterly opposed.
Is your nonprofit board over politicized?
If socializing is so important for a national government to be effective, how much more so for your nonprofit's board?
Do you give your board members time to see themselves as people? Here are a few ways you might do that:
You could have a board meeting at a board member's house instead of at your nonprofit
It's amazing how a change of venue can strengthen relationships and help people see each other in a different light.
You could add a quarterly reception at a local pub or restaurant
It doesn't have to be required, just a place that everyone knows the board members will be hanging out for an hour once a month. This will work better if the board leadership is committed to making it happen by being there.
You could take 10 minutes in each board meeting to hear people's stories about why they are on the board
The energy in the room shifts perceptibly when people start sharing their stories. Why not use that to your advantage?
You could have a retreat or a work day
Every nonprofit seems to have something that needs more focused attention whether it be fundraising training or cleaning up a vacant lot or walking trail. Getting the board to work together on something like this outside of the normal board meeting can be a great way to socialize too.
You could use a Google+ Hangout
If your board comes from all over the country or region, use technology to your nonprofit's advantage. Try holding a Google Hangout or using Skype or some other video conferencing tool. This allows you to see each other in your "natural habitat." If you're not familiar with Google+, check out my article How to hold a Google+ Hangout and why you should
Not everyone will go for this "socializing" thing. It seems a bit wasteful time-wise. But as your board members learn to trust one another, they will become more comfortable in sharing their hopes and concerns for your nonprofit. That will lead to much better governance.