April 20, 2022
‘Generous’ listening is key to moving forward together

Dr. Kenann McKenzie delivers inspiring message to kick off the Institute for Trustees

Danvers, MA — When you think about your childhood, who was the person who really listened to your thoughts, feelings and ideas?

Do you have a name? Now think about how that made you feel.

“Loved,” “respected,” “seen,” “heard” and “supported” were just some of the responses recorded during the 2022 Virtual Institute for Trustees keynote kickoff presentation with Dr. Kenann McKenzie, director of the Generous Listening and Dialogue Center at the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University.

McKenzie posed the question to encourage the more than 100 nonprofit board members and executive directors in attendance at the kickoff to think about how this practice can strengthen their work.  Intentionally empowering community members – particularly those supported by the services nonprofits offer – to speak their truths and offer their expertise is critical to maximizing impact.

“Imagine the ability to influence and offer a voice to the needs you have with someone who cares about you, someone who’s there to help you,” she said. “Of course, you’re grateful. But it feels so enriching to also have them ask you what you need, what you think about what they’re offering and how they’re connecting with you.”

McKenzie’s talk, “Co-Creating Solutions Through Listening and Dialogue,” focused on the adoption of “generous listening” – listening that is powered by genuine curiosity and an absence of assumptions.

“More than ever, we have realized the critical function of our local nonprofit community organizations, and so many in our community have come to rely on your wisdom, your resourcefulness and your generosity,” McKenzie told attendees. “Now one of the best ways I think that we can amplify these efforts is to ensure we have good, sound feedback for the community. And in doing so, we engage the community in a bi-directional listening and dialogue framework.”

McKenzie added that during our most trying times – like those we’ve experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic – slowing down to listen can feel like an impossible task for nonprofit organizations, which are moving at lightning speed to support residents and communities.

“But even under these dire circumstances, seeking ways to listen may mean better impact and success,” she said.

Some nonprofit leaders in attendance said their organizations were already opening up pathways for the community to share in the decision-making process; others said they weren’t yet doing it enough. But it was clear that for many participants, McKenzie’s talk planted the seed for growing a more authentic and transparent listening and dialogue process, one that amplifies underrepresented voices and values the meaningful stories they can share that help us as nonprofits evaluate, strengthen and sustain our work.

“This recognition is critical for our own systems work here at ECCF, and for the entire nonprofit sector, which by nature employs people who hold compassion and curiosity as intrinsic values,” said ECCF’s Vice President for Grants, Nonprofit and Donor Services Carol Lavoie Schuster. “We are so fortunate to connect with Dr. McKenzie about how those values link us to our work and successful collaborations with our communities.”

This discussion on co-creating solutions was the inspirational lead-in for six weeks of educational and networking opportunities for the more than 1,000 nonprofit leaders registered for this year’s IFT – an annual event produced and hosted by ECCF. This year, the conference is being presented by a team of community foundations working together to expand the scope and impact of the event. On the heels of a successful 2021 pilot with the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, the 2022 IFT is being presented by ECCF, the Berkshire Taconic, SouthCoast Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.

“The goal of the conference is to increase learning opportunities for nonprofit board leaders and to help expand the capacity of their organizations,” said ECCF President and CEO Beth Francis. “We are really fortunate this year to have leveraged partnerships with three sister community foundations to produce a comprehensive event that is reaching leaders across the entire state.”

The 2022 series of virtual IFT workshops – which focus on topics such as diversity, board engagement, succession planning, fundraising and more – run through May 26.

About ECCF

The mission of Essex County Community Foundation is to inspire philanthropy that strengthens the communities of Essex County. We do this by managing charitable assets, strengthening and supporting nonprofits and engaging in strategic community leadership. Since 1998, ECCF and its growing family of nearly 260 charitable funds have granted $106 million to nonprofits, schools and students in Essex County and beyond. Our ultimate goal is to have 34 thriving cities and towns in Essex County and to improve the quality of life for the region’s nearly 800,000 residents. Learn more at eccf.org.


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