A Pineapple, an Orange, and a Grape

| by Shannon Williams

Recently I spent the day facilitating a strategic planning session with a foundation board. As is my custom, I brought buckets of balls and toys which may seem frivolous, but actually they are an integral part of the day. The playthings are key ingredients in keeping everyone focused and in helping the group hold themselves accountable to the ground rules. And, they are just plain fun. Invite me to your next strategic planning session and I will show you what I mean!

After lunch, one of the board members grabbed three balls and started juggling. It reminded me of Carson, my 14-year-old son who much to my dismay juggled three pineapples in the grocery store the day before. I shared the story and the board member said, “Next time, tell him to juggle a pineapple, and orange and a grape.”

My first thought was that I really don’t want him juggling anything in the grocery store, but for some reason the image has stuck with me.  In fact, it has made me think about the symbolism of all that we juggle on any given day.

We are constantly juggling challenges and opportunities of different sizes and proportions. Juggling anything is hard, but juggling three totally different things is really tough. And this is what we do every day both personally and professionally.

In the non-profit world, we juggle client needs with donor interest, balancing desired impact with required investment.  We try to please staff, volunteers, program participants, board members, donors, and partners simultaneously. And, there is no doubt each of these constituents take on different shapes and sizes in our juggling feats at any given moment. Sometimes the board is the pineapple—just before the quarterly meeting and sometimes it is the grape—during the month of July. And sometimes the size and shape you were expecting turns into something altogether different. It can be exhausting!

But, it is also exhilarating. It’s what makes each day different and keeps us on our toes. It is what makes our work and our lives interesting and keeps us challenged. It is part of what draws us to the non-profit sector.

It probably will not surprise you that when I went home and told Carson about the juggling foundation board member and his advice, he grabbed a pineapple, an orange and a grape—this time at home. He was determined to prove he could do it—and he did. Which probably mirrors all of us who work in and with non-profits. We are determined to juggle it all—whatever the shape or size. And, we are determined to prove we can do it—for our clients, our teammates and our communities.

Good luck!

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