Category Archives: Capacity Building

Making the Most of Volunteers

Are your volunteers worth their weight in gold, or are they simply weighing you down?

By Laura Edman, Vice President, The Alford Group   Read Laura’s Bio

Have you ever thought to yourself, “Why do I bother with volunteers? It would be so much easier if I just do this myself.”

I admit it; over my 30-plus years as a fundraising professional, that thought has crossed my mind more than once. Yet whenever that happens, I think about the many times during my career when volunteers have made the critical difference between success and failure, between reaching that stretch campaign goal and falling short, or between successfully recruiting that key board member and having them turn down the opportunity.

So, how can you make sure that your volunteers really are worth their weight in gold, instead of being too much trouble to bother with? Here are some tips that might help you and some resources for more information. Continue reading

Collaboration is Easy to Discuss and Difficult to Do

CollaborationEvery day the news carries another story about the work in Washington, DC to negotiate a deal on the debt limit and serious debt reduction activities.  The issues are familiar – potential spending reductions and potential tax increases.  One side will not budge from its position of no new taxes – and the other will not budge on its position of achieving results with new taxes and limited spending reductions.  We know they need to collaborate to solve this – yet they are providing a good example of what collaboration is not. Over the next few weeks we will discover if they do learn the meaning of the word.

In the meantime, in our own communities, we have the ability to collaborate every day – and yet in the not-for-profit world I tend to see more competition than collaboration.  How can we set an example to work with other not-for-profit organizations that have similar missions, values, and services?  Is there a chance to provide improved services to the community utilizing fewer resources and thus improving efficiencies?  Do organizations ever attempt to discover the answer to these questions?

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The Unfortunate Lure of Small Not-For-Profit Governing Boards

pic_Committees1Over the past several years, many not-for-profits have begun to shrink their boards to sizes ranging from 9 to 12 people.  Both board and staff leaders have argued that a smaller board is more productive and easier to manage.  This model seems to be coming from the for-profit board where smaller boards are the norm (comparably) and chief executives are also the board chair (though this trend is changing as more corporate boards are choosing an independent director to be the chair of the board).

I would contend that the size of the board should be based on the amount of community engagement the organization wishes to have.  If a not-for-profit organization does not require significant community engagement then it does not need to structure itself with a large amount of community interaction.  However, if philanthropy is to play a role in the organization, then community engagement at the volunteer leadership level is essential.

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Finding Your Organization’s Voice By Listening

With non-profits working even harder to do more with less, it becomes even more important to find out if your stakeholders – volunteers, donors, prospects – are actually hearing your messages.   Do you know when, where and how your stakeholders want to hear from you?

The number and variety of communication channels have increased exponentially in the past five years, as have the expectations of our audience.  Prospects, donors, and volunteers expect to be able to engage in a vibrant, multi-pronged conversation about the things they care about.  It’s your responsibility to be part of that conversation.  Not as a megaphone, but as a genuine contributor – listening, asking questions, learning and sharing what you know.

The first step to doing this well is to find out where your stakeholders are, and what they are saying about you.  In a word: listen.

There are many different tools available to help you listen.  The first, and often most overlooked – is to simply ASK people.  Put an article in the newsletter, a feedback form on your website, or create a simple online survey using a tool like SurveyMonkey or Zoomerang.

Determine what keywords people use to search for you, and for the issues you address.  Search those keywords and see where the active conversations are taking place.  Set up Google Alerts to have links to conversations, articles and blog posts based on the top 10-15 keywords sent to your email, or use an RSS Reader such as Google Reader or NetVibes to further organize your listening, and reduce your email clutter.  Identify the most influential people in those conversations, and begin to follow them as well.  Other tools you can use include Technorati, Boardreader, Backtype and Delicious tags.

Start with the keyword searching, and build from there.  You won’t be able to adapt all of these tools overnight, but listening is the most important first step into deepening your capacity to interact with stakeholders in a meaningful way, and help ensure that your communications are shared in a place and way where people can and will listen to you.

For additional ideas and resources, check out Beth Kanter’s Social Media Listening wiki, Mashable.com, or NTEN’s We Are Media wiki as starting points.

– Debbie Marchione,  Senior Consultant, The Alford Group