Broadening Perspectives:

The Power of Perception

Published: August 11th, 2022

The Gifford offices have been buzzing as we get the final details together for this year’s Nourishing Tomorrow’s Leaders cohort. While preparing for the opening session, I began to reflect on the first lesson that we teach every NTL participant when they begin the program: you have value, and you will add something wonderful when you end up sitting at a boardroom table. Sadly, many people do not initially see themselves this way.

There is a misperception that everyday people cannot be on a board of directors. People think you must be rich or have to be in a high position like a lawyer or a bank executive.

Sheena Solomon is the Executive Director of the Gifford Foundation.

Yet those everyday people have a valuable perspective and bring lifelong experience to the table. Some of these individuals know what it is like to receive the services that the organization delivers or have proximity to the problems that the organization is attempting to solve.  They may know what it is like to have to seek assistance with housing, food access, or any one of the many basic human needs.

By the time we reach the end of the NTL program, the participants have begun to realize this and have learned how to advocate for themselves and their community at the board level. But we have to remember that nothing about them has fundamentally changed since they walked into the first session – they are the same individual. What is different is how they perceive themselves, and that change makes all the difference in the world.

Of course, perception is also a two-way street. We all have to take a hard look at the organizations that we are a part of and ask how they make people feel. True inclusivity is really about making people feel comfortable in a space. A fantastic example of this is The Samaritan Center. It’s a very welcoming space and you don’t have to be homeless to receive a meal – they don’t even ask you those questions. If you are hungry, you can come and get something to eat. If you want to take a sandwich with you – that’s not a problem. They have also been intentional about creating a beautiful space so when you walk inside, it’s not degrading because you actually want to be there.

This dynamic is also important at the board level: if you invite a new board member who uses a wheelchair to a meeting that is held on the second floor of a building with no elevator, that is not being inclusive. Similarly, it is so important to give new board members the onboarding tools they need to be effective and engaged participants.

Every public facing organization plays a role in shaping the self-perceptions of those we serve. This impacts not only their mental health, but also our own ability to fulfill our mission successfully. I hope everyone reading this will join me in recognizing the role of perception in their work, and embracing the chance to leverage it for the better.

Sheena Solomon, Executive Director

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