Saturday, November 06, 2010

Service: What's prestige have to do with it?

I just attended a training program for volunteer board members of a local non-profit. The organization has links to a national institution that offered the training.

The training covered a lot of ground: fund-raising, PR, volunteer recruitment, organizational vision, goals etc.

The topics were a familiar litany spiced with anecdotes and some refreshing, useful ideas.

Suddenly, in the middle of the presentation, a sentence stood out as odd — even troubling. It may hide a lesson, but I'm left to discover it for myself.

The sentence appeared in big, bold yellow letters at the bottom of a Power Point page. The trainer underscored it when she read it.

Success of the board relies on the program’s
ability to make it prestigious to serve.

My first reaction was to question whether I was in the right room.

Then I pondered the key word.

“Prestigious?” “Prestigious?”

I rolled it over in my mind.

Could a meaning of “prestigious” have escaped me?

Does the success of a group rely on the prestige associated with belonging to it?

Put another way, can a program be successful without generating prestige? Without bestowing prestige on those responsible for it?

Could the author of this Power Point “point’ have been reading too many Mercedes Benz ads?

“You’re a success. You deserve the prestige of a Mercedes.”

And what does the program sacrifice to "make it prestigious to serve"? The price of a Mercedes? Expensive retreats? Five-star meals?

Maybe I’m too old to understand all this. Could it be too late in life for me to be concerned about assuming prestige? If I have it (and I seriously doubt I do), I don’t want to know about it. It’s not relevant.

Maybe in my ego-formative youth, the trainer’s sentence would have been meaningful. The woman sitting next to me was young. I checked perceptions with her after meeting. The line hadn’t bothered her at all. It just seemed to state the obvious: “Success of the board relies on the program’s ability to make it prestigious to serve.”

What was obvious to her, escaped me. I even consider prestige off-putting, a barrier to be surmounted. It’s not good for anybody. Not those impressed by it; not those who seek it or have it. The last thing I want is to be on a board full of people who join it for prestige. Or overseeing a program that measures its success by making board positions "prestigious."

Things have become pretty simple for me. I want to use my remaining time to do the best I can for others.

So I came up with my own tag line for the bottom of the page is:

Success of the board relies on the program’s ability to inspire the best in its members, making their service worthwhile.

“Worthwhile” is light years from “prestige.”

Could I have come so far?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with your reaction to the use of the word prestige, especially in that sentence.

To me the word is about image, not substance. You might think of it in terms of class as well. Not an attractive word. It comes from a root that means conjuror's tricks.

I don't think you are alone in thinking that the sentence needs rewriting.

Duncan Baruch

10:57 PM  

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