This time of year I begin to take a little closer notice of my mail. Not the electronic mail that daily floods my inbox, but my “snail mail” is what captures my undivided attention.
This February obsession with the postal service dates back to my earliest childhood memories of Valentine’s Day, in which an ordinary elementary classroom would be transformed into a post office that delivered heartfelt greetings and candy conversation hearts.
On the first day of the month of love, my homeroom teachers would forgo the usual lesson plans and help me and my fellow classmates craft personal mailboxes from milk cartons, shoe boxes or overly garnished paper bags.
I was never very crafty so my mailboxes never looked all that festive, but it didn’t matter because I knew I had created a post office box that would reap many tiny white envelopes filled with heart felt greetings. I would reciprocate with my own painstakingly selected Valentines, making sure I had matched just the right message to each of my classmates unique personalities and always saving the largest cards in the box for my teachers.
Even decades later I don’t think anything matches up to the simple sentiments in those early Valentine wishes and over the years, no matter how often I checked my grown up mail boxes there were no signs of the tiny flimsy cards- that is until a couple of years ago when out of the blue at work one showed up in my work mail cubby.
It wasn’t an internal delivery from one of my workmates, it had come through the post office and was disguised in a regulation sized envelope but once opened I discovered one of the tiny greetings. It was from a colleague who I had spent the better part of the previous year mending a damaged professional relationship. We had both worked hard opening up the lines of communication and reestablishing good relations between the organizations we led. It had been tough at times but we were able to work through the issues that had hindered a positive working relationship.
The Valentine greeting simple read, “Let’s be friends.” After a year of conversation, deliberation and compromise I was blown away by how this simple card captured everything. I still have the card in my desk and look at it when I am dealing with other tough situations in the work place.
It makes me wonder about the effect of using simple language when we are addressing complex issues in our community. Not in an effort to minimize or discount the problems we face but rather to clearly communicate both the needs and the calls to action to solve them.
Last week I attended a seminar in which a communications expert challenged a group of nonprofit leaders to condense their message to fit on a trademark Valentine conversational heart.
What if we replaced “Be Mine” or “True Love” with sentiments that could inspire others around a cause? “Conserve Water”, “Feed a Child”, “Give Generously”, “Stop Abuse”, “Spay Your Animal”, “Get Involved”, “Lend a Hand”, “Mentor a Student”, “Ring a Bell”, “Recycle”.
The Valentine confections are called “conversational hearts” for a reason. Clearly they are not intended to be the solution or the final word, but rather to getting a dialogue going.
Simple sentiments based on love. I think that is a great place to start a conversation and I hope I never outgrow that idea. I think this year instead of checking my mailbox I will send some Valentines of my own. If you have some simple messages regarding community issues or ideas on how to solve them, please contact me [email protected].
About the SWFL Community Foundation
As leaders, conveners, grant makers and concierges of philanthropy, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation is a foundation built on community leadership with an inspired history of fostering regional change for the common good in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Community Foundation, founded in 1976, connects donors and their philanthropic aspirations with evolving community needs.
With assets of more than $84 million, the Community Foundation has provided $61.2 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. Last year, the Foundation granted more than $2.9 million to nonprofit organizations supporting education, animal welfare, arts, healthcare and human services. The Foundation granted $782,000 in nonprofit grants including more than $400,000 in regional community impact grants and additional $450,000 in scholarship grants.
For more information about the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, call 239-274-5900 or visit www.floridacommunity.com.