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Learning from Quakers in Corporate America

For a long time, I was very comfortable keeping my lifelong Quaker faith to myself. I compartmentalized my religion and kept it separate from my worldly activities in politics and business, where I used strategic planning, prioritizing, advertising, promotion, and fundraising to get my message across. I adhered to the Quaker mindset that Friends should share values with the business world rather than learn what Quaker businesspeople can bring back to our meetings, schools, retirement communities, and other organizations. But while much of corporate America needs a strong injection of Quaker values, it is apparent that many of our meetings and organizations could use a strong injection of better business practices and efficient management.

Each of us has skills which we probably are not using to the full benefit of our meetings, schools, and organizations. Here are some business practices we can bring to our faith communities.

Governance

Pick skilled managers for projects/clerks of committees. Relying on people to volunteer for jobs may not get the best people for the tasks. In business you have to pick the most experienced and skilled people for the task at hand. Quakers should feel the same burden of responsibility to the meeting (shareholders) in trying to match skills and experience with jobs to be done.

Delegate authority. If someone has the ability to do a specific job well, don’t saddle them with committees unless the task requires corporate consideration. Name tags, press releases, website operations, and notes of congratulations or condolences are all activities that can be launched by individual members of a meeting. In the case of  Newtown (Pa.) Meeting, where I am a member, we have shown that meetings don’t always need committees to get things done.

Adopt a “sunset rule” for committees. Downsizing can be a positive experience. It can make one look hard at priorities, trim the sails, and become more efficient. If all of our standing committees had to “sunset” every five years, it might make our meetings less cumbersome, more productive, and perhaps even increase attendance at meetings for business.

Enforce term limits. Have single two‐year term limits for clerks and assistant clerks of meetings and a limit of three consecutive terms of three years for other offices and membership on committees. This helps rotate responsibilities, avoid rigidity and stagnation in leadership, and involve new talent in the meeting.

Use ad hoc committees for specific short‐term tasks. Don’t burden standing committees with short‐term jobs best done by a few skilled people, and make sure an ad hoc committee is laid down once the task is done.

Manage your money. Adopt realistic budgets based on current income, and protect your principal for major capital improvements or rainy days. Ask your most experienced finance and business people to handle the money.

Outreach and Inreach

Get a website if you don’t have one. This is important. In political campaigns, we used say, “If you’re not on television, you don’t exist.” Now, if your group doesn’t have a website, folks think you’re dead or dying. An increasing number of people are having their first or second contact with some Friends meetings via the web.

Put up signs and get in the newspaper. Most towns have local, weekly shoppers. Ads are good, but articles are better, especially if you write them. When writing a story, avoid jargon, especially Quaker jargon (use the term “Quakers”; never call something a “monthly meeting” or say “First Day” or “clerk” unless you explain it). Keep it short and simple. Attach a photo and try to include something informative about the people who call themselves Quakers.

Don’t neglect your Friends. Market to nearby Friends schools (parents), retirement homes, and social service agencies. Update your printed material from that 1957 look.

 Use name tags. It may seem unQuakerly, but if you attract new attenders, name tags are highly beneficial. Name tags are kind and convenient and can serve as a stepping‐stone to joining a meeting, a sort of first degree of acceptance. People seem honestly thrilled to be asked if they would like to have a name tag. Use a professional looking clip‐on badge. (Stick‐ons don’t carry the message; they seem temporary.)

Have designated greeters. Make our places of worship more welcoming than any commercial establishment you can think of. Go out of your way to talk to visitors; ask where they’re from and how they heard about meeting. And ask long‐term attenders to join. We have offended far more people by not asking them to consider membership than by asking them to do so.

Social events. Bonding is important in any organization. Plan small group activities, have after‐meeting refreshments, ask visitors to introduce themselves at the rise of meeting, have a Visitors’ Book with follow‐up phone calls, schedule kids’ nights, family nights, and Friendly Eight dinner parties at people’s homes.

 

We Quakers need to open our doors, invite the world in, and learn a few things from the business world. Only then can we get on with sharing the gift George Fox and other Friends have given us.

 

Norval D. Reece is a cable television entrepreneur, former Secretary of Commerce of Pennsylvania, a lifelong Quaker, and member of Newtown (Pa.) Meeting. He is on the boards of Friends Fiduciary Corporation, Earlham School of Religion, and Haverford College Corporation, and the American Friends Service Committee's Steve Cary Leadership Fund. He serves on the program committee of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting's Friends in Business.


Posted in: October 2012: Wall Street, Main Street, and Meetinghouse Road

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