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Members Respond on Balancing Personal/Professional Relationships

(Feb. 7, 2005) Numerous AFP members responded to the question eWire posted last week about finding the right balance in their personal and professional relationships.

Belen Herner, director of development for Family YMCA of Easton, Phillipsburg & Vicinity in Easton, Pa., wrote that she was seeing changes in her relationships with friends who became involved in her organizations as volunteer and board members.

She sought advice from other AFP members about the situations. Below are some of the responses that AFP received.

Susan Black, Development/Marketing Director, St. Vincent Family Centers, Columbus, Ohio

  • I would say that if you are such good friends then you could probably have a frank discussion about it. Job descriptions are also very helpful since they delineate exactly what each person is supposed to do so if any question arises, you can refer back to it. Finally, it's probably wise not to act to "chummy" when in a Board meeting or other formal atmosphere.

Trisha Ferrand, Economic Development Coordinator, Imperial County Planning and Development Services, El Centro, Calif.

  • It seems to me that the writer is noticing a difference in her relationships with her friends, and is concerned that this may be a negative. I think it may be just fine. I believe it is appropriate that the relationships undergo some changes - there should be some separation and some distancing around business issues. Although everyone is functioning in a volunteer, not a paid capacity, I think the same rules apply as should apply in the paid workforce.
  • You don't want your more intimate personal relationships to be obvious to everyone else. This is so that others don't feel slighted by being 'on the outside' and also because you don't want your friendships to be perceived as a 'voting block' when it comes to discussing controversial or sensitive issues.You want everyone to continue to work with you as distinct and independent individuals.
  • Keep the personal and business relationships separated, and continue to enjoy each in their own time and space.

William Hinman, CFRE, President, William Hinman Consulting, Winston-Salem, N.C.

  • Where's the problem? Having friends involved in one's non-profit organization is a GREAT OPPORTUNITY! The old adage is never truer: People give to people (I like to add, "with good causes"). If the nonprofit is credible, accountable, and worthy of support and involvement, then the friendship should only grow stronger. If there are issues that are becoming stumbling blocks to the friendship, then those issues should be honestly and openly confronted and resolved. (I doubt they are truly related to the non-profit, actually.)
  • So long as the organization is doing what it is supposed to be doing, and doing it how it is supposed to be doing it, then bring all the friends you can to the party! Remember also that a large motivator for annual donors to join an organization is to feel that they belong to a group. If that group is a bunch of friends who share a common interest, then the nonprofit - and the friendships - all benefit! Hold a friends day and celebrate! Many other nonprofits would be envious!

Michael Pratt, Director of Development, Brookgreen Garden, Pawleys Island, S.C.

  • Friends can be a tremendous asset to your work. However, when bringing them on board (or however they get there), it is essential to establish guidelines governing your relationship immediately - first day is preferable. Business is business. You have the advantage of sharing with them that you are responsible to some one else, perhaps your superior or a board, and friendships can not side track you. I have had very close people work with me, and the best thing I have ever done is to set the parameters early. I learned to do this based on experience.

Bill Roscoe, Executive Director, Boise Rescue Mission, Boise, Idaho

  • I too had a dear friend become involved in our agency as a board member. It was not a happy experience. First, he felt that I should give him all of my time that he asked for, related to Board issues, since we were friends. He also seemed to think that his ideas were more valuable or deserved my support because of our personal relationship. Then, we both felt uncomfortable when decisions were made and we stood on different sides of the issue. I don't think I'd like any more close friends on the board. As far as volunteering is concerned, I have several friends who volunteer and that relationship seems great. I also have friends who are major donors and again, the relationships are fine.

Gena Rotstein-Shapiro, Consultant/Owner, Dexterity, Calgary, Alberta

  • I struggled with this problem for several years working and living within the Jewish community. Basically, when friends were involved in the organization I was working for, we set rules: as volunteers, work stayed during work hours; as friends; no complaining about boss issues (though that was hard); and as members of the community at large, an unlisted phone number and I chose to not do my grocery shopping where a large segment of the Jewish community shopped.
  • It took me a long time to learn to tell my friends that I was 'off-duty' and would be happy to discuss the issue when I was at work, or to point them in a direction that would be more effective if it posed a conflict for either me or for them as volunteers.

Leslie A. Turcotte, Senior Development Officer, National Arts Centre Foundation, Ottawa, Ontario

  • I have a very close personal friend that recently started working with me. When we talk we will sometimes ask - Do you want to know as a friend or as a colleague? We are careful to do 'friend-only' activities and not to mention work. We have also had very open discussions about the challenges we might and do face. Being open and honest works for most things in life!

Paul Vitanza, Director, Catholic Community Appeal, Inc., Diocese of Dallas, Dallas, Texas

  • Separating the two when your relationship started from a personal one is clearly a challenge. My advice is that as soon as a person crosses over to the professional relationship side, you as a staff member must take leadership to establish a clear understanding with your friend that the relationship has now changed. It should be clear that as a staff member you will be looking at the volunteer in a different light when you both are in professional roles.
  • You also should let the person know that there will be areas of your professional relationship that you will not be able to discuss and you want them to understand that this must be done, because it is what separates professionals from friends. These lines must be drawn.
  • Actually, a stronger bond can occur because of this move towards volunteerism by a friend. The friend will gain valuable insight into what you do and what you face. This bond can increase your and their professionalism and increase your friendship after their volunteer commitment is over.

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