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.

Three Tips To Engergize Your Volunteer Meetings

Decades ago, when I started in the nonprofit sector, my first boss took a sledge hammer and beat the following into my brain:

If nothing changes as a result of your meeting; that meeting was a waste of time!

I’m not here to suggest you use written timed agendas (you should) or that your meetings start and end on time (they should). Instead, I want to tell you a story about how we turned around a board that had meetings so boring that attendance took a nose dive into one that was energized, effective, and fun to attend.

After suffering through a number of boring meetings, I was discussing the board’s lack of effectiveness with my mentor. In a free wheeling conversation, I still remember from two decades ago, he convinced me to approach my board president and suggest the following:

  1. Reports of past activity would be submitted in writing. Working with my board president, we asked officers and committee chairs to submit their reports of the prior month’s activities in writing, preferably in advance. Those reports would be placed in the meeting folders at the board members seats when they arrived in the meeting room.
  2. Verbal Reports would focus on the future. Committee chairs were asked to focus their verbal reports on discussing future plans, especially emphasizing any obstacles, problems, or “doors” they needed opened in the community.
  3. Board Members were encouraged to bring guests. This nonprofit’s board meetings were open to the public and we wanted to attract visitors who might volunteer with us.

Within two meetings a sea change took place. Before we had been a servant to Roberts Rules as each officer and chair felt obligated to deliver a verbal report centering on what had already happened. But now, they still delivered those reports focusing primarily on what they were doing and what help they needed between then and the next meeting. With the death of boring monologues of reports read by officers and chairs, dialogue flourished. Questions were asked, answers offered, brains were stormed.

The meetings became much more livelier. As they changed, guests started getting more involved. By our third meeting, we filled an important chairmanship when a guest volunteered.

For me, these meetings became fun to plan as opposed to a burden to suffer through. I started to look forward to them whereas before I had come close to dreading them.

Over time attendance increased and the overall morale of the board increased as well.

If your meetings are focused on the past, convince your volunteers to change to the “future tense.”

One Strategy & Six Tactics Designed To Increase Volunteer Recruitment

There’s a bit of buzz going around the nonprofit part of the blogosphere this week about LinkedIn’s new Board Connect, a premium service offered free to nonprofits to help them search for board members. Both Beth Kantor and Katya Andresen have blogged about it.

Let me be clear that neither Beth nor Katya are suggesting that Board Connect is the sole way or even the best way to recruit board members. They are merely pointing out that it’s a new resource. However, I want to make sure that volunteers and staff in nonprofits struggling to build more effective boards (and committees) don’t substitute a resource for a strategy and its tactics.

Recruiting Volunteers Should Be A Year-Round Activity

Many nonprofits get caught up in the day to day tasks of client programs and event management. A small nonprofit theater group may focus for months on producing a Gilbert & Sullivan play, then find that they have only a few weeks to appoint new members to the board to  fill vacancies or replace those rotating off.

Board Connect may well turn out to be an awesome resource to nonprofits. I hope so. But it’s a resource, not a strategy. If you want to improve your recruitment effectiveness while decreasing the time  and resources you devote to it, then you need a coherent year-round strategy. For example:

Recruitment of volunteers, including board members, is a year-round activity and is the responsibility of all volunteers and staff.

Well, that was easy. Now comes the hard part. How are we going to do it. Here are six tactics that will enable us to execute the strategy.

  1. Management will provide updated resources (training in how to recruit, job descriptions, marketing strategies and support, adding to staff performance objectives, etc)
  2. A succession plan will be implemented so that new volunteers can sign up as members of committees, then move up the ladder to positions of increasing responsibility, including the board.  (A succession plan might include term limits for committee chairs, who is the chair-elect, etc.) Senior volunteers and staff will work to develop relationships with new volunteers that will make it easy to identify those who want to move up. This means, on a year round basis, senior volunteers and all staff will continually watch for those volunteers who are promotable and work to find the best opportunities for them.
  3. Senior volunteers and staff will be provided an accurate up to date list of volunteer vacancies by priority which includes information on the negative impacts of leaving those positions unfilled.
  4. Volunteer opportunities and vacancies will be continually highlighted on our social media pages and web site in a customer-centric fashion.
  5. The diversity of the volunteer base will be monitored and strategies will be developed to recruit volunteers from groups not now fairly represented. Diversity includes race, ethnicity, profession, gender, age, geographic location, social connections, etc. See my post on Outside-In Thinking.
  6. Board Connect will be utilized where possible.

In the above strategy, Board Connect is only one of the tactics used. The two critical components are that recruitment is a year-round activity and that it is shared by all, not just a responsibility of a nominating committee begun two months before the annual meeting.

Relying solely on a resource like Board Connect (or a business process like an ad hoc nominating committee) does nothing to address the underlying weaknesses that create committee and board vacancies. A strategy similar to the one above is more likely to result in a stronger volunteer base requiring fewer resources.

Your Organization is Not Important!

Another of my “must read” nonprofit bloggers is Kivi’s Nonprofit Communications Blog, by Kivi Leroux Miller. Recently, she hosted the August Nonprofit Blog Carnival where the discussion was centered around the usefulness of hard copy and e-newsletters.

There were many good posts filled with different perspectives on how to improve newsletters as well as discussions about where they fit in with all of our other channels, especially social media.

In a related post, Six Ways Social Media Has Affected Nonprofit Newsletters, one of the comments asked in part: “Do we (meaning nonprofits) still need hard copy newsletters?”

It’s Not About You

My response: It’s not the nonprofit’s needs that are important. It’s the needs of those people you want engaging with you. Do your donors, volunteers, and clients want hard copy newsletters? If you’re a non-profit with a local audience with relatively low email usage, then the answer might be yes.

If you’re an NGO helping a third-world client base and you have Millennial and Gen X donors all over the first world, then you probably don’t need a hard-copy newsletter.

For some, if you properly segment your readers, you may find receptive audiences for each.

If You Write It, Will They Come?

It’s not what you need. It’s what your readers want. Survey your audience, ask them what their preferences are. (VolunteerMatch, one of the nonprofits featured in the nonprofit carnival did just that.)

You need to find out what kind of content they want to read (or scan). Ignore what you learned five, ten, or fifteen years ago at college and find out what they want to read now. Your professors never heard of user-generated content when you were in college. The question you want to ask is, “What kind of content must we produce that will compel our audience to read and then engage with us? For most of us, it will be stories by and about people who have helped our organizations make a difference (volunteers and donors) or who have been helped by our organizations (clients).

Think Like Them, Don’t Think Like Us

Our donors, volunteers, and clients are more important than our organizations. They are our organizations’ lifeblood. Their needs trump the needs of our organizations. Always endeavor to put yourself in their shoes and ask what they want or need. We must continually identify their needs, wants, and motivations and determine how and where they intertwine with our missions. That’s called “Outside-In Thinking,” and you can more about that in my post, When Recruiting Volunteers, Think “Outside-In.

Finding that common ground and building upon it helps us create stronger volunteer and donor bases which make it easier for us to reach our business goals and ultimately fulfill our missions.

Does Your Social Media Strategy Include Customer Loyalty?

I’m fond of telling people “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, and I’m from somewhere past Pluto.”  Bear that in mind as I discuss a recent post from one of my favorite bloggers, Katya Andresen, who blogs at Katya’s Non-Profit Marketing Blog. Her post, “10 Simple Ideas For Things To Share On Social Media,” gives you just that. Simple ideas.

Those are good ideas, in and of themselves, but they’re very tactical in nature. From where I sit out here past Pluto, I believe a disclaimer needs to be put on the post stating that there’s more to effective social media use than just this list. It  looks to me like it could have been written 20 years ago about a hard copy newsletter.

Regardless of whether your organization is in the business or nonprofit sector, I believe you need a social media strategy designed to increase the loyalty of your customers, volunteers, or donors, not solely to promote your products or events. In order to execute a strategy focused on loyalty, I would have a mix of posts, both tactical and strategic, in nature. Most of Katya’s list would fall under tactical.

Posts that would be considered “strategic” would be those that are more global in scope. Most donors and volunteers, especially Millennials, want to know how their efforts make a difference when they support a nonprofit. They also want to know where the funds are being used. Even large nonprofits need additional marketing of their client programs. Therefore, in addition to posting about our fundraiser this weekend, I would be sure to complement it with other posts that tell the bigger story such as  posts (some with video and photos) that demonstrated how a volunteer made a difference and where the funds go. As William Sturtevant says in his masterful book about major gifts, The Artful Journey, “The more a donor knows about an organization, the more he or she gives to it.”

I would ask myself, “How will today’s posts help increase customer/volunteer/donor loyalty?” There might be a few that are purely designed to promote an event or program, but they would be a small part of the mix. Many of the posts I would publish would be attempts to start conversations, not just a 21st century version of a news release which I frequently see.

I would create a plan to solicit user-generated content from volunteers and those who benefited from the organization’s services. Donors and volunteers respond better when the post comes from people they can identify with, which is not necessarily an organization’s communications director.

I would attempt to use gamification to make supporters want to come back to our social media platforms over and over again where they could be exposed to these posts. I’d create a badge for bloggers to post on their blogs that, when clicked, would take them to our Web site.

I would also attempt to ensure that my posts provided content relevant to our supporters, not just our organization. And I would work hard to create and respond to conversations.

Katya’s list is good as far as it goes. But please don’t think that’s where it ends. There are already too many organizations out there who see social media as just another one-way conversation channel.

By the way, it’s cold out here past Pluto. Could someone send me a venti dark roast, no room, and a heavy coat?

Why You Should Talk To Your Top Customers or Donors

If you are a business do you know who your top ten customers are:

  • By sales volume?
  • By number of purchases?
  • By territory or store? (Does each territorial or store manager know this?)
  • By product?

If you are a nonprofit, you better know who your top ten donors are, but do you know who:

  • has made the most number of gifts over the last year, regardless of those gifts’ sizes?
  • Makes the largest gifts in each source?
  • has made more gifts in more sources?

What’s the average lifetime revenue of your top ten? How does that compare to your average customer or donor? If there’s a gap between your top ten and your average customer, do you have a plan to cultivate these customers or donors?

Most businesses have loyalty programs, but I’m not talking about those.

What sort of personal touch can you make? A phone call? A handwritten thank you? A single rose in a glass vase?

You don’t think you need to worry about that?

Then you’re sure there’s no danger of your best customers or donors leaving and going to your competition?

Don’t take anything for granted. Even now your competitors may be attempting to woo them away from you.

In sales, there’s a term called, ” Dominant Buying Motive.” What are their’s? Why do they buy from you? Or donate to you if you’re a nonprofit?

Arrange to meet them or at least talk to them over the phone. The purpose of this touch is to thank them for their ongoing support and to discover what it is they like about you and to get their input on how you could do things.

Oh, and if you walk away with some referrals, that’s alright, too.

The One True Metric

“I don’t know how many sales they made, but the open rate was up 13%.”

–Email marketer on a webinar about subject lines

About six or seven years ago, my nonprofit created a strategy where event participants could check a box on a registration form when they were interested in increasing their volunteer engagement with us. Once the forms were processed an email would go out to the participant inviting them to click through to a landing page where they could indicate one of four broad areas of interest. This would, in turn, open a ticket and trigger a process where our local offices would follow up to recruit the participant.

Every month we reviewed email metrics showing positive click through rates. But ultimately we canceled the strategy because we couldn’t prove that we had recruited a single volunteer.

The problem was that participants were either misunderstanding what the box on the form meant or they had been “in the moment” at the event and were no longer as interested once they were pinned down. The process itself was also cumbersome and the delay in time no doubt lost us volunteers.

Even those that were interested were hard to contact. The tickets were frequently closed with the comment, “Called three times with no response, then mailed invitation to volunteer orientation.”

We got caught up in the click-through rates and other email metrics. But the goal wasn’t to get high open rates. It was to recruit volunteers.

The number of volunteers recruited was the one true metric. Every other metric pales next to it. And by “volunteers recruited,” I don’t just mean those who sign up. They shouldn’t be counted until they have attended any orientation or training and cleared any background checks. Or, if they don’t need to attend an orientation, then they shouldn’t be counted until they accept a commitment to volunteer for a specific position or task.

Many of you are thinking, “Well, isn’t this the response rate?” In the business sector, usually. Their clicking through takes them to a cart where they purchase the product, or perhaps they download a white paper depending upon the call to action. But in the nonprofit sector, when volunteering is the call to action, the response rate doesn’t necessarily equal the number of people who wind up volunteering.

Now, if your campaign fails to achieve its goal (in this case, volunteer recruitment) then go back and analyze your email metrics. Perhaps your list contained too many uninterested people. Or your subject line didn’t offer value.Or, as in our case, your process might be too cumbersome.

It’s not the click through rate, it’s the number of people who show up to volunteer after they’ve cleared any other background checks or training criteria.