Out of Order



The phrase, “out of order,” is used to describe when something is broken or not working or when someone is behaving in a way that is unacceptable or not customary.

The reverse assumption, would be that “being in order,” is synonymous with being correct or acceptable, or working properly.

Words matter, of course.  For instance, the word, “order,” in this example.  What if seeking “order” isn’t the highest value we are serving or our highest priority goal?

I’ve often described the various prospect management systems we use to build and strengthen donor relationships – especially in our major gift programs – as attempting to bring some sense of order to a naturally unwieldy process. I’ve reminded gift officers of this “naturally unwieldy process,” because most early-career gift officers (and many seasoned gift officers, to be candid), will ask about the repeatable steps they should take, the template they should use,  or even the formula they should employ to guide their engagement work with assigned donors and prospects.

But “order” doesn’t work here – even though we’ve been trained that more order is the goal and “out of order” is bad or broken.

Human relationships are not “orderly” in this sense.  There is no formula.  No step-by-step manual to follow to build relationships and to strengthen them. No blueprint or set of procedures that will work for all donors or prospects.

Instead of orderly, human relationships are. . . well, relational.  Their strength and the psychic energy we put into them – in all forms – depends on qualitative and intermingled variables like connection, trust, shared values, care, support, respect, and appreciation.

Perhaps, the ubiquitous use of the “out of order” phrase has taught us all to seek something that is neither our highest ideal nor our goal.  Maybe all along the focus on order has been wrong.

Maybe the phrase we should be using is “out of relation.”

If we focus on that phrase, it may just transform how we approach our work and our lives.


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