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Volunteerpower News June 2003


Volunteer Power News June 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 . . .

§ Ice-Breakers for Committees, Boards and Volunteer Staff Meetings

§ Working With Visionaries How to Unleash the Visionary Volunteer Without Destroying the Organization

Next Month: July Issue How to Recruit and Manage Gen Xer’sThe Number One Question I Am Asked.

Ice-Breakers for Committees, Boards and Volunteer

Staff Meetings

The days of one-liner jokes as ice breakers are gone, and there are many new creative ideas. The most popular are games that have participants reveal something personal about themselves, or which encourage participants to get to know each other personally. The idea is that more than just having fun, the ice breaker will truly help to create group cohesion based on trust and understanding.

One of the tricks of an icebreaker is timing. It should not be too long; otherwise the serious work of the meeting will not be given enough time. It should not be so short that participants feel it was a perfunctory exercise. Timing also depends on the size of the group, the overall length of the event, and the purpose of the event. An all-day retreat might warrant a half hour ice breaker, but a one-hour meeting may merit only a minute or two. The following are some ideas compiled by category, and gathered from a variety of sources:


Two truths and a lie: Have participants say 3 things about themselves - 2 true and 1 lie. Others guess what the lie is.

My favorite _______: Have everyone write on a piece of paper their answers to these questions: What is your favorite food, animal, TV show, hobby, and color? Sign your name. Don't let anyone else see the answers. The leader then reads the answers to the whole group, and members try to guess whom each set of answers belongs to. Award one point for each right guess. The person with the most points wins a prize.

Common traits: Give each person a list of 5 to 10 traits that they must find in common with the people around them. Sample items could be: "Find someone that was born in the same month," "..someone who lives in your state," or "..drives the same model of car." A prize is awarded to the participants with the most in common.

Planning-Meeting Opener

Write the words "agree," "disagree," "strongly agree" and "strongly disagree" on separate pieces of paper and post them on four different walls of the room. Then make a statement such as:

1. Our organization can change the world

2. Our organization has a focused mission

3. Our organization is facing a major threat

4. Our organization is living in the past

5. Our organization stands on the threshold of opportunity

6. Our organization is alive and growing

Have everybody move to the part of the room that matches their opinion. Have the group discuss why they chose their response.

Simple Lead-Ins

Ask participants to state one or two "burning questions" they hope will be answered in this session. Have participants describe one strategy/resource they have used successfully (relevant to the topic of the meeting/training). Have them state their personal definition of the topic (eg., in a marketing meeting, "Participation Marketing means...").

The Check In

Have each person say, "I am _____ % here today. The rest of me is ______." Let each person talk about where their minds are. As a leader you discover how big a job you have to get everyone focused on your meeting agenda.

Wild and Wacky Games For The "Not-So-Faint At Heart"

If you want to go wacky and adapt "Youth" games, a site filled with crazy and effective games and icebreakers can be found at http://www.thesourcefym.com/games/.


Working with Visionaries

How to Unleash the Visionary Volunteer

Without Destroying the Organization

What do you do with visionaries who are always thinking (and acting) outside the box?

Gary was a visionary. In fact, Gary’s enthusiasm, passion and energy were contagious; he was a great impetus to the mission of our organization. In brainstorming we are never supposed to put down new ideas; but in Gary’s case it was getting out of hand. One week Gary called me from the East Coast while he was on a business trip with a whole new way of running our organization. While traveling across the U.S. on a plane he got inspired. Two weeks later he had revamped his "airplane" idea and wanted to change everything. He reminds me of Steven Covey’s leaders who are up in the tree saying to the managers and employees cutting trees below, "Hey, guys, we are cutting trees in the wrong forest." The problem with Gary is that every week he wanted to move the entire work force to a new forest.

The problem with visionaries is that the word administration is a confining word. Visionaries prefer spontaneity. They say that too much administration limits the mission. In short, they consider administration and vision contradictory. With two or three visionaries like Gary, the organization can become spastic jerking and groping this way and that without any real direction. How much freedom do we give to visionaries? How do we empower groups to accomplish their dreams for the organization? How do we encourage the vitality and passion of a visionary without jumping so "outside the box" we end up in jail? This tension reminds me of the faculty member who told his colleagues in a university, "The state legislature has always granted us complete academic freedom here, and if we don’t do what they want, they are going to take it away from us."

Many organizations delegate an assignment to a committee or team. The team merely performs a task assigned. Much like the boss who says, "Go get me a cup of coffee." Visionaries will not stand for delegation. They demand to be empowered. The organization that does not empower visionaries and still follows the principle, "all decisions come from the top" will not keep visionary volunteers.

Jodi is a visionary. She declined to work on volunteer committees because she did not respond to just following someone else’s solutions to a problem. Jonathan, the executive director, called Jodi and said, "Jodi, I need your help. Our membership has declined 5% in the past two years. We are not keeping our members and are having a hard time recruiting new members. I would like you to head up a task force to look at our whole membership recruitment procedures and turn this around. What kind of a budget do you think you would need and who would you like to be on your team? I will help you recruit them." Jodi was empowered to do this project and she did. (See Jodi’s project charter and game plan at http://www.volunteerpower.com/resources/pcharter.asp)

Visionaries are often self employed, free agents or executives. They are used to making empowered decisions. Visionaries who own decisions make them happen. Effective volunteer managers give their visionary volunteers problems to solve. When visionaries figure out the solutions to the problem, they own the solution and will make it happen. Un-empowered decision making is a huge roadblock for the visionary volunteer. Most volunteers want to own the decisions.

In order to allow both freedom to experience the new ideas and enthusiasm through the vision of our members and to establish some guidelines to keep our direction sure, I have discovered two roadblocks that must be eliminated and two guardrails that must be erected on the superhighway of our mission.

To read the complete article (Removing two roadblocks and establishing two guardrails) on how to manage visionaries, see:



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For more articles by Thomas McKee, visit the Articles Section on our website at:


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Thomas W. McKee

Volunteer Power