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LL Decker & Associates, Inc
I returned from this Monday's Veteran’s Day Parade with a lingering sense of connection this year. My wife had a luncheon date so I went to the parade alone. To honor the occasion I wore a patriotic ball cap, a t-shirt that said, “Marine Dad,” and I hung my old Army garrison cap over my belt. I’d been watching the parade for an hour or so when a unit of Vietnam War era soldiers marched past. One guy in the unit looked over at me standing in the crowd, pointed at my garrison cap, and gave me a thumbs up. He saw the quarter-sized metal insignia on the cap that identified me as being in the Army Transportation Corps and as a UH-1 helicopter mechanic. That’s all it took. I smiled, nodded my head “yes,” and flashed a thumbs-up back to him. Without a single word we were connected. The affiliation was clear. He marched on and I walked home feeling part of a community I’d left 40 years ago. We had the common experience, like 10 million others, of having served in the military between 1962 and 1975.
Communities are funny things. As an academic I teach the “three conditions” that are required for a community to exist. The first is a common mission or experience. The second is a set of rules or laws that members agree to accept. The third is a system of governance for promulgating the rules, assuring compliance, and effecting change. Every biological community requires these “three conditions” to survive and thrive, but sometimes I am amazed with my lack of visceral understanding when the academic is transformed into a very real and personal experience.
That GI in the parade… if I do a bit of projection, probably belongs to dozens of communities and doesn't even know it. He’s a father, son, husband and maybe even a grandfather. His family is a community. He goes to work each day, but he’s thinking about retiring soon. Work and retirement create very different types of “sequential” communities. He bowls with a league on Friday night, gets up early on Saturday to ride to Rock Springs with his motorcycle buddies, and goes to the Methodist church almost every Sunday. Each transaction involves a community that contains the “three conditions.”
In fact, human beings create communities spontaneously. They’re called temporal communities, and they exist when a group of people assemble for some time-limited purpose. A baseball game, for instance, creates a temporal community. There is a 1) common mission, 2) rules, and 3) governance. (There are those “three conditions” again!)
So asked myself, "What’s the minimum length of time required for a temporal community to exist? How about 5 seconds? I think that’s what happened at the parade. Regardless of how brief the experience, I was taken back to Fort Eustis, Virginia, 1971. If for only a brief moment the feeling of affiliation was restored. We...he and I... did it with a few simple gestures, and without speaking a word.
What's this stream of consciousness I experienced mean to you? When working with nonprofits, remember that community… however brief and transient… is a powerful force. Never underestimate its ability to mobilize people.
Lance Decker is President of LL Decker & Associates, Inc., and Managing Partner for the Institute for Community Involvement, LLC. Lance is a business consultant to local governments and nonprofit organizations. For more than twenty years he’s helped clients create sustainable ventures that operate within the narrow framework of public service. Lance received an MPA from the Ohio State University. He served in a variety of local governments for twenty years before creating LL Decker & Associates, Inc. in 1993, and the Institute for Community Involvement, LLC in 2001. Lance’s early professional career as a community organizer and public manager prepared him for his current job as a consultant, planner, writer, speaker, researcher, trainer and teacher.
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Read Hannah Humphrey's, "Creating, Building, and Sustaining Nonprofit Communities"