While "building community," "engagement," and "connection" are big buzzwords these days, they are critical to the work of philanthropy, a small world that depends on personal relationships.
Building a culture of people who share a common goal seems like hard work, but it doesn't have to be. Through a recent experiment to build community within my own organization, I've found that all it takes is an idea, a small personal risk, persistence, and consistency.
I've worked at Foundation Center for almost 19 years. Recently we have been doing things in new and exciting ways, but there are still silos that we are eager to break open. Many of us long to soften the formality and reserve that can characterize a long-established organization.
In July 2015, we moved to a beautiful new space with a large break room and a gorgeous view of the New York harbor, and the time was ripe to try some new community-building activities. I had the idea that a casual gathering around music could bring people together and connect colleagues who didn't have a chance to regularly interact. I created a Spotify playlist of my favorite songs from the 1980s (my college years), announced the start of what I called "SpotiFriday" in the break room, and at 5:15 I hit play. I had no idea what would happen.
That first Friday only a few people joined, but I was encouraged to keep trying by colleagues who liked the idea. I asked people to claim a Friday and create their own playlist of the music that spoke to them. It gave people the opportunity to take ownership and let their personalities shine through.
To my great surprise, it worked! Over the weeks, participation grew and “SpotiFriday” made its way into the lexicon of Foundation Center. We've had playlists of genres as diverse as the staff – Bollywood, Russian pop, disco, Latin music, female rockers, and various musical decades. With each week, more people showed up to talk about music, life, and a little bit of work. It is now a given that SpotiFriday is happening every Friday. Consistency is key.
This simple weekly routine has succeeded in connecting people in ways the workday doesn't afford. Every Friday, I leave thinking what interesting and talented people I share my days with. Best of all, I've witnessed the positive impact this spirit of camaraderie has had on our work and work culture.
Activities like SpotiFriday foster trusting relationships among colleagues. Those relationships inspire us to do our very best work for one another and towards the organization's collective purpose. In the end, they can help us to be more effective in the work we do in this sector to tackle the world's most pressing issues.
What idea has been bubbling in your head for building community and relationships? I encourage you to give it a go, persist in your endeavors, and modify until the right version of your vision catches on. You will delight in the rewards.
This letter originally appeared in yesterday's GrantCraft newsletter. To sign up for our newsletter and special alerts, register for free.