We've been working with a long time friend and colleague on a project to build a new clinic in Sanders, Arizona, a remote community near the eastern border of Arizona. If you're driving at speeds like most trucks on the Interstate, you won't even notice Sanders, but there is a growing community of Navajo and others in this rural place.
As we've spent more time in Sanders and in the Navajo Nation, we've been reflecting on how to communicate the stories and needs of this unique place. While there are volumes of stories to tell, it boils down to this:1. Cover basic needs first.
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs has been around for a while because it makes sense. In a rural community, very often people are trying to meet basic needs, like food, shelter and clothing. It becomes totally irrelevant to the community if you're trying to pursue lofty ideals if you don't have the fundamentals covered.2. It takes time to build trust and respect.
Rural communities can be a bit of a paradox, in that they are very hospitable, yet it can take a long time for you to be considered a trusted part of the community. They will show you around, but not let you in until they think you're serious about sticking around. When we were conducting our initial interviews of the board and other community members, they were polite. Now, after several visits, they're starting to reveal the real stories.3. Best practice doesn't always apply.
The challenge with "best practice" is that it has very often been vetted by organizations in metropolitan areas. True best practices, in many respects, are the simplest strategies that will work regardless of community size. Just because a strategy worked in a similar size organization doesn't mean it will work in a rural area.4. Take time to learn how you "fit in."
This doesn't mean abandoning your personality, changing your style, or trying to be someone you're not. This means observing community interactions first hand and finding the good in what you see before you immediately suggest change. Think about it--how would you like it if a complete stranger walked up to you on the street and told you everything that they thought was wrong with you?5. You learn the most over food.
This one can be true about a lot of communities, not just rural ones, but is accentuated in small towns. Most of the time, there's one, maybe two places where people hang out. For Sanders, people go to the Apple Dumplin in Chambers, about 5 miles away on the frontage road. In St. Michaels, everyone congregates at the Denny's (which is probably the best run Denny's we've ever experienced)! We've learned much more about a community by eating its food, talking to restaurant staff, and watching the locals than by formal meetings in offices.
With all these points in mind, we look forward to more opportunities to get to know these communities and hopefully bring new resources to improve their way of life. And we hope we'll best communicate not only the people's needs, but their sense of pride and respect for the place they call home.This entry is a preview of a book in process co-authored by Alice Ferris, MBA, CFRE, ACFRE and James Anderson. Originally posted January 2009.Connect with GoalBusters: LinkedIn - Alice Ferris / LinkedIn - Jim Anderson / Facebook / Twitter / YouTube / Myspace