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Volunteer Power!
Volunteer Power News - Number 61
Author: Thomas W. McKee
"Volunteer Power News" Monthly Newsletter

2008 Advantage Point Systems Publishing

A warm welcome to all volunteer managers-those of you who recruit, motivate and mobilize volunteer workers.

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In This Issue
  1. Featured Article: Part II -- How do you manage those volunteers who don't choose to volunteer-the non-volunteer volunteer? -- Retooling the Dysfunctional Organization Thomas W. McKee
  2. Order your copy of The New Breed by Thomas and Jonathan McKee
  3. Hear Tom McKee Live Listen to an MP3 of a ten-minute sample keynote presentation by Tom McKee, The Power of Volunteer Passion

Featured Article: Retooling the Dysfunctional Organization -the non-volunteer volunteer - by Thomas W. McKee
Last month we raised the question, "How do you manage the non-volunteer volunteer?" If you missed the letter that I received from Dana and my first response, you can catch up here: http://www.volunteerpower.com/articles/Newsletter60.asp.

In one section of Dana's letter, she described a High School Madrigal Choir. She said,

"It has the most oppressive parent participation requirements I've ever experienced--ghastly monthly meetings that go on forever (30-40 parents in a room trying to make decisions and everyone wanting a say, an agenda that basically could have been covered in email--you get the picture); fundraisers, driving to millions of performances and paid gigs, and so forth. The pressure on everyone to put in many hours is enormous, and the disapproval you get from leadership if you aren't perceived as doing your fair share is not subtle. Not to mention you worry about your kid being passed over by the director for solos or section leader, your younger kid not getting into the choir no matter how talented she is because you have a rep as a "slacker parent," etc.

I responded to Dana's letter by saying the following:

The first, and perhaps most important [problem], is the organizational structure. The dysfunctional system Dana described is made for chaos, especially when a community of highly professional parents (University of California, Davis professors, lawyers, CEO's, etc.) each have their own agenda-what is best for their children.

I want to address this situation in a separate newsletter-so look for my organizational suggestions in the May newsletter. This is huge, and I want to share some ideas that are working in other similar organizations. For now let me say that a non-profit is a business, but it is not run like a for-profit business. That tension is sometimes difficult.

Well, guess what, it is May and I have to have an answer. So here goes.

I have five suggestions for the volunteer team.

1. Don't do committee work at board or group meetings-empower your committees

I sat at my first board meeting of a graduate school. I was a member of two committees that had met for two days, and we finally gathered as a board to make our presentations. Forty board members sat in a large room, assembled around a huge horseshoe style configuration of tables. I listened as the first committee gave their report and board members started nitpicking the presentation. The discussion went on and on. Finally one member of the committee making the presentation said, "I would like to hear what each board member has to say about this." I looked around the room and quickly figured that if each of us spoke for only two minutes, we were going to be discussing this question for 80 minutes, and this was just question one of the first committee of ten to make reports. I began to think, "What have I got myself into?"

I raised my hand and spoke, "I know this is my first board meeting and perhaps I should not speak, but I am wondering about our procedure. I see the high capacity people sitting around this table, and I think we do them a disservice if we don't trust their decision-making ability. I move that we accept the committee report as presented and thank the committee for their work." The room was silent for a full minute (seemed like an eternity). Then one of the older members spoke up and said, "I agree, let's move on." We moved on.

During our next break, several board members teased me, "You know how to make your presence known at your first meeting." I responded that I was beginning to regret that I had ever accepted a position on this board if this is how we did business. I served on that board for five years and loved my experience because we empowered our commitees to make decisions.

I don't know where I learned it, but I am so thankful that early in my non-profit career I learned this lesson. "Never do committee work in a huge group." Choose a project team and empower them to do the work.

2. Choose volunteer leaders who know how to facilitate meetings

The second suggestion is about facilitation. The 21st century volunteer will not put up with incompetent leadership. Not everyone knows how to facilitate a meeting. When I look over my list of non-volunteer leaders, I try and find someone who can facilitate an effective meeting. A leader knows how to ask good facilitating questions, keep the ball rolling, keep the meeting on track, keep to a time schedule without stiffling discussion and definitely knows how to use a parking-lot flip chart to park items that are not on point. In Dana's Madigral choir experience, perhaps a first-rate chair could have handled the discussion by keeping things on track. Too often in volunteer organization we have a tendency to let anyone chair a meeting thinking that its no big thing. It is huge.

3. Give outcomes-not rules

The third suggestion is about process. Some non-volunteers just want to get the job done as fast as they can because they are fulfilling an obligation. To use Dana's words, they are worker bees who don't want to be involved in leadership. Some people prefer to be given a "to-do list" and then just get it done. However, when we are talking about larger projects, even the non-volunteer volunteers want the freedom to do the project their way. Most like to have imput into how it is done. They don't mind suggestions and examples of what has worked in the past, but they want to have the freedom to do it their own way.

My son and daughter-in-law recently attended a first parents meeting of their 10-year-old daughter's select soccer team. They were impressed with the coach who announced at this meeting what he expected the parents to do. He said, "We are interested in playing soccer. We are not interested in making huge banners that are better than any other teams. We are interested in playing soccer. We are not interested in having uniforms that cost more than any of the other teams. We are interested in playing soccer. We are not interested in fund raisers that raise more money than another of the other teams. We are interested in playing soccer."

One of the parents asked, "But what if we are interested in raising money for a huge banner?" The coach said, "That is up to you. My concern is that we win soccer games, not have great banners; however, if you want to raise money for a huge banner for our team, you will need to make sure that it doesn't interfere with our goal of teaching our ten-year-old-girls to increase their soccer skills and play together in order to win soccer games."

He gave them an outcome. It was up to them to decide what to do. They decided not to raise money for a huge banner, but to focus on helping the girls to develop their soccer skills.

4. Earn authority from the group

Dana commented, "It's hard to be a volunteer coordinating other volunteers because you don't have the ascribed authority to tell people what to do." The authority question is a good question and a problem.

I teach leadership classes for government agencies (California Department of Fish and Game, Department of Finance, Department of General Services, Etc.). One of my favorite classes is a class called "the leadperson." A leadperson in a state agency is a team leader who is not a supervisor or manager. To use Dana's words, "you don't have the ascribed authority to tell people what to do." You cannot hold people accountable with the threat of "a first written warning" or filling out a "corrective intervention form" (government workers are famous for forms). One of the first questions my students always ask is, "How can we get our teams to do their jobs when we don't have any authority?"

One answer for the supervisor, manager, executive director, or a volunteer leader is that you never give power-you earn it. Leadership boils down to the leader's ability to motivate the work team-whether the team is a paid team or non-volunteer volunteer team. It is all the same.

And how do we do that? That is where the volunteer leader has to use his or her motivational skills to encourage the volunteer to accept the responsibility and finish the task. What are the best motivational skills? Those have not changed. They include constant communication and affirmation. The best motivaters are great communicators-they listen, encourage and give constant feedback.

In a sense even the paid staff of the volunteer organization does not have any authority to get the volunteer to follow his or her leadership. Jim Collins, in his Good to Great and the Social Sector, differenciates between executive leadership and legislative leadership. He says that the non-profit leader does not have executive power; therefore, he or she must generate power in order to accomplish the mission. He uses Francis Hesselbein, the highly successful leader of the Girl Scouts of the USA, as an example of legislative power. When she was asked by a New York Times columnist what it was like to be on top of such a large organization, she responded, "I'm not on top of anything." Collins says,

"When she had to face a very complex structure composed of hundreds of local Girl Scout councils (each with their own governing board) and a volunteer force of 650,000, Hasselbein did not have the full power of decision. But she moved people to confront issues facing girls in modern America such as teen pregnancy and alcohol use. Proficiency badges sprouted up in topics like math, technology and computer science, to reinforce the idea that girls are-and should think of themselves as-capable individuals who can take control of their own lives. She did not force this down their throats, but simple gave the independent councils the opportunity to make changes at their own discretion. Most did."

When she was ask how she did it she said, "Oh, you always have power. You just have to know where to find it." She learned the power of language and how to find the coalitions and how to connect different groups and shared interests. Without concentrated power, the leader has to be smarter in order to create the conditions for the right decisions to be made. (I highly recommend Collins' very short (35 pages) monograph on leadership in the Good to Great and the Social Sectors)

5. Utilize Virtual-Volunteer Methods such as E-mail and Web 2.0

Note Dana's comment about the adgenda, ". . . that could have been covered in an e-mail."

I am on a board now that meets only once a month for 1 hours. We make many of our decisions by e-mail using the "reply to all" button. And of course Web 2.0 is another very popular way to communicate with a "wiki." While the most famous example is, of course, Wikipedia, a wiki is simply a group of web pages that allows community members to add and edit content, often without needing special permissions or HTML skills. Wikis are most useful for creating collections of frequently asked questions, aiding process design, annotating business issues, reducing email floods, increasing efficiency where chronological discussions are unnecessary, and generally promoting creative thinking.

Imagine a business process improvement activity - increasing the readability and reusability of application interfaces, for example - that is designed within an organization, but also derives input and experience from external collaborators.

Check out this video: Wikis in Plain English

I wonder how many of Dana's "ghastly monthly meetings that go on forever "could have been done on a wiki? Many non-profits are using their own on-line community (social networking) web pages to communicate information and coordinate scheduling.

These are just a few suggestions to retooling the old 20th century volunteer organization to a quicker more efficient volunteer organzation which will help you working with the non-volunteer volunteer.

Tom's Books: The New Breed and/or They Don't Play My Music Anymore
The New Breed


Here's a glimpse of the Table of Contents:

Introduction: The Common Predicament
Where It All Begins

Chapter 1: Who Is the New Breed of Volunteer?
   A Profile of the 21st Century Volunteer

Chapter 2: Recruiting the New Breed of Volunteers
   The "Courting" Relationship

Chapter 3: Finding the New Breed of Volunteers (Not Scaring Them Away)
   The Seven Deadly Sins of Recruiting Volunteers

Chapter 4: Tapping into Two New Breeds of Volunteers
   Retiring "Boomers" and "Generation @"

Chapter 5: Motivating the New Breed of Volunteers
   Discover Three Levels of Motivation

Chapter 6: Empowering Volunteers to Do It Their Way
   Move from Delegation to Empowerment

Chapter 7: Managing the Virtual Volunteer
   Virtual Volunteers and Using Technology

Chapter 8: Managing High Maintenance Volunteers
   Performance Coaching the Volunteer from Hell

Chapter 9: Leading the Successful Volunteer Organization
   Mobilize the Collective Power of Volunteers

Chapter 10: A Leadership Case Study
   A Fable of How to Do It Right

  • Sample Position Charter
  • Sample Project Charter
  • Interview Guide for Hiring a Paid "Volunteer Manager"
  • Sample Questionnaire for Virtual Volunteers
  • Sample Board Code of Conduct
  • Strategic Planning Retreat - Agenda of Questions
  • SWOT Analysis Form
  • Ice-Breakers and Openers
  • Team Building Activities
  • Sample Training Exercise-A Case Study:


Plan Your Future
When the World
Keeps Changing

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Hear Tom McKee Live: Listen to an MP3 of a ten-minute sample keynote presentation by Tom McKee, The Power of Volunteer Passion
Thomas McKee
Who Takes the Fall When Your
Keynote Speaker is Just

You Do!

You can count on Thomas McKee for any size group. He has spoken to over one half million people in Europe, Africa and the United States over the past 35 years and has worked with some of America's top corporations, organizations and associations.
(More info about Tom here)


Click here to listen

Tom McKee is a leading volunteer management speaker, trainer and consultant. You can reach Tom at (916) 987-0359 or e-mail him at tom@volunteerpower.com. Other articles and free resources are available at www.volunteerpower.com

For more articles by Thomas McKee, visit the Articles section on our website.

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