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JCF Blog

The Art of Blowing Glass

Posted by: Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford on 8/22/2018

Have you ever seen a glass blower at work? She usually holds a long iron pole, with a red hot lump at the end, alternately rolling, shaping and gently blowing into the pole to create something beautiful. It’s sweaty work, requiring a deft balance between strength and subtlety, pressure and ease.

Board leadership is much like glass blowing. Any kind of nonprofit management is, really. With nonprofits, one never gets to wield an iron fist, slaving for a clear bottom line the way a for-profit entity might. With nonprofits, one must engage, inspire, and encourage others to contribute their time, talent and treasure of their own volition. Community leaders use a softer set of tools to convince others to join them: shared values, mutual respect, meaningful impact and the power of their mission.

Much like a glass blower, a nonprofit leader has to know just how to breathe life into a project. The movement is adept and careful, purposeful and well-planned, never harsh or abrupt. Sometimes, the work is so subtle that a casual observer might not perceive an action happening. But the piece takes shape, almost magically, as the patient artist does her work.

This image seems graceful, almost like a carefully choreographed dance. For many of us, the reality of community work may feel well removed from the dance of the glass blower. One might say, understandably, that real-life community leadership is full of twists and turns, with many actors and many similar but not exactly aligned agendas and needs. Community projects never stem from just one person, and no leader has the control of the glassblower.

All true. Real life is messy. But as the glassblower learns and experiments, tries new things and sees what happens, so can the glassblower always do one very important thing: reheat the glass and start over. When we make a mistake, we can own it and restart to try again. With each new piece we create, we can adapt, adjust and try again.

When I mentioned this blog idea to a friend, she said, “I see the connection….glass pieces end up in museums and living rooms, gorgeous and finely crafted, and no one ever knows how much work and expertise went into it -- just like nonprofit leadership!”

For those of you engaged in the fine art of community leadership, I hope that you can see that work as a finely crafted piece of art and appreciate all the delicate craftsmanship that you and others put into the finished piece. And for those of us who mainly take in the finished project, it’s a good reminder to appreciate the mastery that’s necessary to do it well.We are all, after all, always learning and improving our craft – and we have much to appreciate in the efforts we all put in for a better community.

Thank you for your work to make our community better today and in the future – we are all craftsmen working in the important art of community building.

Kathryn Gonnerman is Interim President & CEO and Director, Center for Innovative Philanthropy at the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford 

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