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Volunteerpower News May 2003


Volunteer Power News May 2003

Author: Thomas W. McKee

"Volunteer Power News" Monthly Newsletter

©2003 Advantage Point Systems, Inc. Publishing



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This month I want to share with you an exciting interview I had from . . .

Someone Who Is Doing it Right!

An interview with Rick Brush

President/CEO, California Society of Association Executives

Last March I met with Rick Brush, the president/CEO of the California Society of Association Executives (CalSAE), a volunteer organization with over 1,000 members. The members of CalSAE are the high level executives from state associations such as the California Dental Association and The California Apartment Association. With over 700 associations located just a few blocks from the state capital in Sacramento, Rick is in touch with many of Californiaís most powerful influences on the stateís legislature.

But what impressed me most about Rick is not his significant leadership position, but that Rick is a people-person he genuinely loves people. He is authentic and the association he leads reflects his persona.

Tom: When you recruit people for a committee, what kind of a commitment are they making?

Rick: We will tell them up front that if they are going to be on XYZ committee, there are going to be four meetings, or six meetings, or on a "as needed" basis. But we try to give them, right up front, a pretty good idea of their time commitment as well as the tasks we will expect. Some people, for example on the membership committee, are not able to make the conference calls; however, in terms of helping our membership retention, they are happy to pick up the phone and make 15 phone calls to people who have past dues invoices and say, "I just wanted to make sure youíd seen the dues invoice and that you will continue on with us." So different people do different things.

Tom: What is the motivation for a member to volunteer to be on a membership committee that will be calling and asking somebody to pay their dues? That sounds like an awful assignment to me.

Rick: It is. But it is so different for different people. People want to give back to the organization and they want to contribute. They say to me, "CalSAE has been a great organization for me. How can I give back?" And I say to them, "We have 200 phone calls to make. If I can get 20 people to each make 10 phone calls, it is a lot easier than having 5 people making all of those phone calls." So they just want to give back. For others it is a business networking opportunity. It is part of their networking plan. If you are a sales manager for "XYZ Hotel" and you have a list of maybe 15 association executives and you are able to say to them, "Hey, I am John Doe with "XYZ Hotel" and Iím calling on behalf of CalSAE today in terms of your membership dues notice. I just wanted you to know that I am part of the membership committee, and Iím trying to help out and wanted to make sure that you saw the form." That is a part of networking for them. Their name has been in front of that person for one more time. And there is nothing wrong with that. They have their own motive, and they are furthering our cause at the same time.

Tom: With over 1000 members, how many of those serve as volunteers in your organization?

Rick: It is interesting. We are doing a demographic study of our volunteers right now to see how many are involved. We have 176 committee members and board members (or 17%). That is a large percentage. A dedicated group of volunteers.

Tom: What do you do to recruit your volunteers?

Rick: One thing we are doing very actively is trying to get our new members involved. People who join an organization are usually eager to get involved, so before each regional meeting we have a new member orientation. We ask each new member, "What do you want from CalSAE?" And so we are finding out what their needs are. People realize that if they are involved, they will get a lot more out of an organization that they belong to. A lot of people come out of a new member orientation and immediately say, "Tell me more about this committee. Iíd love to be involved on the membership committee, or education committee, or communications committee." We are getting a good percentage of our new members to go straight into committee work as a way to get involved in the organization.

Tom: Your board is made up of association executives, like yourself, who are often overwhelmed with pressure from their members, legislative issues to confront and a staff to manage. It seems that this is a very difficult pool to draw from to get the volunteers you need. Do you have a personal game plan whereby you are trying to get key association executives on your board?

Rick: Sometimes yes and sometimes no. What it really comes down to is what the need is of the committee or board. Right now we have a fall education forum we are putting together. We put it out to two committees for people to volunteer for this task force and only two execs. volunteered, along with 12-13 associate volunteers (members who are trainers, speakers, hotel sales managers, etc.). So I sent up a red flag to the staff person who is running that and said that this is the highest profile education event that we have of the year, and we need to have association execs. driving the agenda of those education sessionsin large part. So to only have two of them on the task force concerned me. We need to do some personal recruitment of some execs. And quite frankly we are right in the middle of that right now.

Tom: So how are you going to recruit those execs.?

Rick: Iím going to pick up the phone, and Iím going to have my staff person pick up the phone, and we are going to call some execs. that would be great on this committee. We are going to ask some people who are in charge of education for their own association, or some execs. that we know that have been involved in high level education, and Iíll ask them, "Can you help us out on this?" There is never anything better than the personal phone call. I am a huge proponent of technology and I can push information out there all day long and write great e-mails, but there is nothing that takes the place of going up to a person and saying, "Hey, Joe, I would really appreciate it if you could really help out on this project."

Tom: How do you recognize your volunteers?

We are limited in budget and donít have a lot of money to recognize our volunteers. So I make it very important to talk to each volunteer personally and shake their hand and thank them. If a volunteer committee has put together a luncheon, I make sure that I talk to each person individually and look them in the eye and say, "Thank you so much for doing this. I really appreciate it." I am really a people person. I genuinely love people and people can sense that. They know if our relationship is primarily a business transition or a genuine personal relationship. People become vested in us when they sense my sincerity.

On the night of Seasonal Spectacular, when I got home that night I sent an e-mail to each of the 32 people saying, "Thank you so much for contributing to the success. We could not have done it without you." All those things add up. When you get that recognition it means a lot. If it is neglected, people donít feel connected and they donít feel like volunteering again.

Tom: What are the biggest changes that you have seen in volunteer recruitment and management in the last 5 to 10 years?

Rick: For me it is flexibility. We are trying to be a lot more flexible in the way we set meetings for all of our committee members. It use to be that we were able to say, "This is what we are doing for the year. This is what we have to do." But now sometimes things get interjected during the year and so many things change.

Tom: Give me an example.

Rick: Just this afternoon, one of my volunteers who was running a meeting was called away at the last minute just before the conference call started. Rather than cancel the meeting, I said, "donít worry about it. Iíll take over." So I think that is where staff has to be more flexible and has to adjust their own schedule so that the volunteer doesnít feel guilty.

Tom: Do you have any other areas of flexibility?

Rick: Yes, we have worked hard to make our volunteer roles and responsibilities as flexible as possible. We have found that time constraints are so huge so we have told our committee members that if you can participate in person, thatís great, but all of our committee meetings are accessible via conference call. So for the person that is with the Reno Hilton and they cannot make it down the hill because of the snow, thatís fine. They get on the phone and call.

We are also making decisions by e-mail. It use to be so traditional that we must meet face to face and have this committee meeting. And right now if there are decisions that have to be made and itís too hard to get everyone together face to face and even through a conference call, we can do things technologically via e-mail. We say, "Here is the issue. Here is the motion that is put forward. Is there any discussion? We will take a vote in three days." You just follow the proper protocol and facilitate a virtual meeting via e-mail so that you can get quick decisions.

Tom: Can you give me an example of a decision you made?

Rick: Two years ago we approved our budget via e-mail. We had a draft budget that was put together and there was a substantial amount of changes and the board asked us to revise it--so we did a revision. We sent it out to everyone by e-mail and then there was a board vote that was taken by e-mail that was ratified at the next board meeting. That gave us the decision to go ahead with the new budget and then have it ratified at the next board meeting.

Tom: How did you handle discussion if one person said, "I donít understand this. I disagree with this. Why are you putting money here and not in my committee?" Did that happen?

Rick: Yes, it did. There was a lot of discussion and we had a very strict set of rules that you must reply to all people and not one person. And you couldnít talk off line about it. All discussions on this could not take place outside of the e-mail parameters. Someone could not call me and just have a side discussion on it. Itís not fair to the rest of the people. It needs to be fully disclosed to everyone. So those rules of engagement, so to speak, were made up front. Now I did have one person who e-mailed me directly and I e-mailed them back and said to please reply to all. Everyone had to have access to all discussion before a decision was made. Actually Jim Seely, an attorney in San Francisco, has written an article on taking action via e-mail. I just referenced the article and we followed the rules. (Note: You can read this article and others about doing business by e-mail by Jim Seely at http://www.assnlegalservices.com/columns.html ).

Tom: Do you empower your committees?

Rick: I think so. We give them a charge and then we ask them how do they think is the best way to fulfill that charge. So I think that is empowerment. With each committee at the start of the year we do an orientation from the committee chair and from myself on what we see the committee doing and how we want the committee to function. We want them to take ownership of it and what the role of the staff should be. So that when you look at the committee minutes you donít have "staff will do this, staff will do that." But what you have is committee members being supported by staff to provide information so that the committee member is doing what the member volunteered for. I think thatís empowerment.

Tom: One last question. You have a very small staff (one other full-time person and three part-time people in Sacramento and two part-time independent contractors in Southern California). You depend so much on volunteers. This is an overwhelming job. What do you do to charge your engines?

Rick: Go home at night. I have two daughters, 7 and 5 and my wife stays home, thankfully. We cut corners to make it happen. I will rarely stay in the office past six. I have to get home to dinner at night. My family, that charges me up.

Since we have a small staff, I often take my laptop home with me and may work 3 nights a week from 9:00 1:00. But my batteries are charged because of the time I spend with my family. Charging my engines is getting out of here by 5:15 so that I can be home by 6:00 to have dinner.

Professionally though, I have two groups that I meet with for breakfast. One group is a group of association executives, and we meet on the third Friday of every month. Frankly Iím excited that they let me attend. Often we donít talk about association stuff. It might be, "Did you see the Kings game last night?" And then we have an executive breakfast that we have once a month that is open to association executives in the capital region. I joke, but it is true, that it is a therapy session. They have the board member from hell, a staff issue and they ask, "Has anyone ever had this problem before?" Itís the old "get smart under the dome of silence." And itís refreshing.

Tom: Thanks for your time, Rick. I know you are very busy. I appreciate you giving an hour of your time this afternoon to share your ideas with many other volunteer administrators who are facing many of the same issues you face. Thanks for sharing.


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Thomas W. McKee

Volunteer Power