…And Now For Something Completely Different!

That’s a quote from Monty Python, one of my favorite comedy troupes. This blog is undergoing a radical transformation and I give those of you who have subscribed to email notifications that you may want to unsubscribe.

As passionate as I am about voluntarism, relationship management, and customer experience, my employer of 31 years and I have parted ways. The organization has been going through a “transformation,” for three years now and, sadly, there is no room for me.

But that’s okay. I am landing on my feet and in the process of obtaining my real estate license. I’m also going to keep this blog going, but it’s going to be more of a personal journal about my new career.

Therefore, feel free to unsubscribe from notifications or drop me from your RSS feed.

Unless of course you live in Central Texas and want to buy some property. I’ll be happy to help (after I’m licensed).

Have a great 2014!


Where Nonprofit Staff Should Focus

Are you a nonprofit staff person responsible for fund-raising events or programs providing services to your clients or members? Are you expected to work with volunteers in governance, event management, and/or program delivery?

Where’s your focus?

Is it on the tasks related to those events or programs?

Or, do you focus on the volunteers who provide the governance, raise the funds or deliver those services?

If you work for a nonprofit using a model where volunteers provide leadership at the governance, event and program levels, then your focus should be on your volunteers, not on the tasks you need to complete.

A Tale Of Two Staff People

Gretchen, a staff person with both fund-raising and mission responsibilities, was very detailed oriented. She was adept at taking a goal and breaking it down into manageable parts. But she only cared about this year’s goals. To her, fund-raising volunteers existed only to raise funds, she never thought they might be interested or able to help mission delivery or marketing the organization. She couldn’t see outside the silos. A hard worker, she made her goals the first year. But many of the volunteers “retired” rather than work with her the next year. She found it harder to recruit volunteers to fill those positions and wound up doing the volunteers’ work herself. She burned out at the end of her second year and left the organization.

Tina also had fund-raising and mission responsibilities. But she made it a point to get to know her volunteers and to determine what motivated them to volunteer. She would discuss mission needs with fund-raising volunteers and vice-versa. She took time to explain the “big picture” to her volunteers and to show them how they made a difference. She spent additional time providing volunteers with recognition related to their motivations. For example, her volunteers who worked in banks and utilities were expected to be involved in civic activities. When they successfully completed an event or program, she wrote a thank you letter to volunteers’ managers. Her volunteers were more motivated, which meant they were more successful. They volunteered longer meaning she spent less time recruiting replacements. As they became more experienced, they found it easier to raise funds or deliver those programs because they learned what worked and what didn’t.

Gretchen focused on tasks. Tina focused on people. Gretchen left after two years. Tina was promoted and then promoted again.

All too often we get caught up in the tasks and fail to focus on people.

Zoom Out To 50,000 Feet

Let’s add some context.

Nonprofits must always keep their mission in mind. I call this being “Mission-driven.” This means that everything the organization and its staff does relates back to the mission. One of these is performance objectives for staff, another would be volunteer goals (especially in fund-raising).
Nonprofit staff should focus on developing their volunteers. If you work directly with donors, your focus should be on them, in the way that Nordstroms, Amazon.com and others focus on the customer.

But volunteers and staff are, ultimately, just resources (Okay, I apologize for saying “Just” in the preceding sentence.) They are the means to an end. The end consists of the results an organization needs to accomplish in order to fulfill its mission. Therefore a nonprofit should be:




For individual staff, your focus should be on your volunteers, not the tasks nor the organization.

Focus on your volunteers in order to produce the results needed to help fulfill your mission.

You’ve Just Recruited A Leadership Volunteer–Now What?

You’ve just learned that a key leadership position has been filled by a highly qualified volunteer. You will be the person working closest with this volunteer. This volunteer will play a critical role in not only the success of the nonprofit, but in your success as well.

What is the single most important thing you can do to ensure that success occurs?

Regardless of whether or not you played a role in recruiting that volunteer, your best chance of getting off on the right foot is to schedule a sixty minute appointment with this volunteer. Depending upon your circumstances and your nonprofit’s culture, you may want to bring along another volunteer with you, perhaps the person this new volunteer reports to in your chain of command (if you’re the staff person).

There are many reasons why you should hold this meeting, but the single best reason is to be sure that the volunteer completely understands your role and responsibilities and what you can and cannot do when working with that volunteer. Failure to clarify your role risks getting your relationship off on the wrong foot leading to misunderstandings, personality conflicts, communication failures all which can snatch failure from the jaws of success.

Can you skip this meeting if the person is a long time volunteer within your organization?

No. But the visit may be shortened since you won’t have to go into as much detail about your mission and staff model. Even a long time volunteer can operate under misconceptions about her role or your role. Make no assumptions!

Couldn’t this meeting be a part of the recruitment call?

No. One is a sales call, the other falls into the category of “training/orientation.” They have two totally different purposes. If you walk into a recruitment call with the 3-ring binder assembled by last year’s chair, the prospect is likely to take one look at it and think or say, “I don’t have time to do all of that!” Then she’ll turn you down.

Get the volunteer committed to the position first, then schedule an  appointment to begin “planning,” or “an orientation to give you more detail about our mission and nonprofit.” Avoid calling it a “training” session. Few people like, or feel like, they need training.

Where should this meeting be held?

You want a place that’s reasonably quiet, where the two or three of you can have a conversation and where distractions such as telephones, coffee shop blenders, and kids coming home from school won’t disturb you. If you meet this person at her place of work, ask to move to a conference room so that she won’t be tempted by her computer monitor or office phone. If this meeting takes place at her home, avoid the time of day when her kids are coming home from school.

Why is this meeting so important?

You’re partners, but you will each have different responsibilities and most likely you have different personalities and styles. Explain your responsibilities. Are you responsible for more than just the program or event she now leads? If you don’t let her know, she will think you are just sitting there waiting for her to call you. She may have worked with staff in other nonprofits where they did all the work and volunteers just signed off on letters and policies. Is that how you work? If not, you better let her know quickly. Otherwise, her perception of what you do will be wrong and lead to an enormous conflict down the road.


Do not go any further in your orientation until she understands your role even if this takes up the entire amount of time. If that’s the case, schedule the rest of your orientation for your next appointment. The time you invest in getting this right is well worth it.

You’re going to be working with this volunteer for a number of months, perhaps longer. It is imperative that she understands your role and what you can and can’t do for her. Clarity on this point means there is much less likely to be a personality conflict between the two of you and more likely that the two of you will establish a productive successful relationship.

How Being Ruthless Can Improve Your Meetings

We’ve all been victimized (or been the victimizer) of boring unproductive meetings. There are hundreds of articles, posts, and books chock full of tips about how to avoid boring meetings, but today I’m going to write about something seldom said. This post concerns any kind of volunteer or staff meeting held on a recurring basis.

Roberts Rules of Order is your friend, not your master.

If you’re using the same agenda template for every single meeting, is it serving your needs or has it become your master? For example, let’s say that your practice has been to give each person (officer or committee chair in a nonprofit) time on the agenda to report. I’m thinking about Roberts Rules of Order for you nonprofiteers out there. That may work for you 90% of the time, but what about the cases where you are faced with a crisis. In a business setting, a key customer may be threatening to take his business elsewhere. In a nonprofit, your capital campaign chair may have just resigned mid-way through your campaign.

Do you really want to give each person a few minutes to speak when you need to devote almost the entire agenda to this one topic? Don’t be afraid to throw the format out the window. Put this topic at the top (oh, go ahead and approve the minutes from the last meeting first, if you need to:-)

Unless there’s something in your bylaws that says you’re required to follow Roberts Rules, don’t be afraid to modify the agenda in a manner that best fits your needs in times of crisis. Don’t be wimpy and do things just because they’ve always been done that way; be ruthless in managing your time and your fellow employees/volunteers time in a way that is most efficient and effective. If that means devoting 80% of your agenda to one topic because it’s a critical time sensitive issue, then go for it.

Do your meetings enhance or hinder your work?

Is it your custom or bylaws requirement that you have regular meetings? If so, is every single one necessary? Do you really need to have monthly meetings just because that’s the way  it’s always been done? Is that the best use of everyone’s time? If not, be ruthless and change the bylaws or custom to quarterly, or every other month. Meetings should advance your mission or contribute to your goals, not hinder them.

Encourage dialogues, discourage monologues

Even if you’re rolling out a new plan that requires a presenter spend the bulk of the time presenting, you must still allow time for not only questions but suggestions and brain storming on implementation. Be ruthless in sending out information to attendees in advance and in creating the expectation that they will review it as pre-work. There’s nothing worse than wasting meeting time on something that could have been sent out in as an update in an email. Use your meeting time to focus on what’s truly important.

Imagine what would happen if you developed the reputation of having relevant meetings that helped people meet their goals as opposed to those that were inefficient.

Sometimes it’s okay to be ruthless.

An Open Letter To A Cyclist

An open letter to the young cyclist I’ve passed twice this week.

It’s early. Dawn is still 45 minutes away.
You’re riding your bicycle down the street.
You are dressed in dark clothing
You have neither a reflector nor a flashing LED light on your bike.

I’m in the car coming up behind you at somewhere between 30 and 50 mph.
Are my eyes on the road?
Am I…

…Adjusting my radio?
…Looking down to make sure I get my coffee cup back into the holder without spilling it?
…Reaching behind me to make sure I put my computer in the car before I left home.
…Being distracted by a dozen other things that may not allow me to see you?

Or just not awake yet.

Fortunately, the first time I saw you, I was paying attention. But I was within 50 feet of you when I saw you and had to swerve around you at the last second.

If I hit you. It would be my fault. No doubt about it. Case closed.

But you’d be dead, or at best, seriously injured.

If you were were wearing lighter colored clothing and using a flashing LED which costs you ten bucks at the store, I’d have seen you hundreds of yards sooner. I’d go on alert earlier as I hope other drivers do when I ride my bicycle.

Do you have someone who loves  and depends upon you?

How would they feel if you were killed or crippled in an accident?

What if the difference between living and dying came down to light-colored clothing versus dark clothing? Between a ten dollar flashing LED and a darkened bicycle frame?

I’ve ridden in too many rides honoring the memory of too many cyclists killed by automobile drivers. You’re in your twenties or thirties; you’re much too young to die.

Next time you see me, wave me down. I’ll give you the money for the light. I’ll even install it for you if you don’t have the tools. I’m sure you have a light colored t-shirt. Please wear it instead of the dark one I’ve seen you in.

Be careful out there,


PS: Think seriously about wearing a helmet, also.

Pumpkin Bread*, CRM, Systems Thinking, And The Customer Experience

In this post I’m going to attempt to discuss two of my passions, customer engagement and voluntarism. As they say when you get on the roller coaster,

“Please hold on to the bar!”

Recently one of my favorite CRMerati (people who blog about Customer or Constituent Relationship Management, abbreviated as “CRM“), Mitch Liebermann wrote a post, Who’s On First, which discussed the interplay between CRM and Customer Experience (CX).

(If your organization doesn’t use CRM, substitute your marketing strategy instead.)

Fortunately, this was not one of those posts arguing whether CRM is better or worse than Customer Experience. Rather, Mitch was discussing the interplay between CRM and CX.

Here’s most of the comment I left:

One simple example is that we may invite customers to attend an event. That means we have to properly segment, then effectively communicate with that segment to offer them something of value by attending that event. If the CRM strategy of inviting them to the event is successful, but their experience at the event is not, then we’ve damaged relationships with them. On the other hand, if we fail at effective communications, but offer a superlative experience, no one will show up to experience it. Both the CRM strategy and the CX must be successful. So while I see people talking about the distinctions between CRM, CX, and SCRM, I say, move over and let me mash them all together. I like to make pumpkin bread for my kids. Once I pull it out of the oven you can’t tell which part was the pumpkin, which part was the flour, and which part was the sugar. They’re all blended together in the right proportions.

Mitch’s reply shows that he believes that Customer Experience is more important than CRM. He went on to say that he thought the experience my kids had eating the pumpkin bread was more important  to them than them knowing the ingredients.

True enough! But here’s the thing. I’m a believer in Systems Thinking. That means that CRM and CX are components of the same system. Or that CRM is a component of the CX system. Either way, Systems Thinking states that an action in one component of a system can impact other components in that system. So, if the data I collect in my CRM software is inaccurate, it can lead me to make false conclusions when I create my communication strategies AND perhaps in how I design the experience I want to create for my customers or donors.

Back to the pumpkin bread, what if I accidentally use chili powder instead of cinnamon? They look sort of alike but there’s definitely a difference in taste. What’s that going to do to the experience? Or, what if I thought my family wanted pumpkin bread when they really wanted banana bread?

The customer or donor doesn’t care about the ingredients or about which segment she falls into. She only wants a positive experience. But sometimes decisions made in the CRM component can negatively impact the experience itself.

I strongly believe in the importance of Customer Experience as a business (or nonprofit) strategy. I also believe that CRM plays an important supporting role in delivering that experience.

You don’t have to have a CRM strategy to create a successful customer experience. But whatever strategy you use to identify, segment, and attract your customers or donors to your web site, store, or event, if flawed, can seriously damage or ruin that experience.

*Glenn’s Pumkin Bread Recipe

This recipe makes two loaves.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

Spray 2 loaf pans with Pam or similar nonstick spray


3 cups sugar

1 cup applesauce

4 eggs

3.5 cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1.5 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2/3 cup water

1 15 oz can pumpkin

  1. In an extra large mixing bowl mix sugar & applesauce. Add eggs, mix well, set aside.
  2. In another large bowl combine flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Alternately add flour mixture and water to sugar mixture and mix well using a mixer or by hand. Add in pumpkin. Avoid over mixing.
  3. Pour half of batter into each loaf pan.
  4. Bake for 55-65 minutes in a regular oven, NOT on convection. It’s done when you can stick a toothpick in the center and pull it out clean.  Cool for a few minutes before removing from pans.
  5. Enjoy.

Tell Compelling Stories To Make It Easier to Recruit Volunteers & Raise Funds

In a guest post, Volunteer Recruitment: What Works For Me, on Volunteer Match’s Engaging Volunteers blog, Anni Murray suggests three ways organizations can improve their chances of recruiting volunteers like her.

I’m betting all of our organizations have been guilty of her point about buzzkill. Many of us begin writing posts and articles in the “corporate voice,” rather than a more friendlier one. We all could probably seek out more, better user-generated content as well. Yet we frequently find ourselves on deadline forced to pound out a newsletter article on why we need funds which turns out to be superficial at best. As staff, it allows us to check off a task linked to our performance objectives, but there’s no real attempt to see if it resonates with our target audiences.

Taking the extra step to seek out and find relevant user-generated content can add to your workload in the short term, but pay off big time in the long term as it keeps more readers engaged longer. Let’s say your organization provides client services in your community. Rather than have a staff person write an article for the newsletter, why not solicit a letter from one of your clients and ask her to explain how the program she used made a difference in her life?

Or, do as Anni suggests, and write articles containing specific examples with non-stock item photos. A very good example of this is the newsletter sent out by the Tutwiler Clinic which provides medical assistance to the (way) underserved in Tutwiler, MS. Click on the pdf of their most recent newsletter. You’ll find it written in a friendly informal style as opposed to a “corporate” style. The articles mention how people were helped, and in several cases, their reactions. The photos are obviously not stock, but “home-grown.”

I received this newsletter in the mail the old-fashioned way after my first donation. Because I had only a general idea of what the clinic provided, I opened the newsletter and read it cover to cover–three times in a row without stopping. It’s not that this is a world class newsletter. It’s not. It’s that it spoke to me as a new donor, educating me and captivating me with compelling content that offered specific examples of how they used their donations. A corporate voice could never have done that. I’m now a regular donor.

Don’t just whip out an article. Craft it as the good folks at Tutwiler Clinic do. Better yet, seek out user-generated content from your clients, volunteers, and donors that compels people to support you.