Pic-PostAs a volunteer I am focused on giving. I connect, mentor, take on projects, spread the word, listen and offer a point of view. I am always there and often with home baked cookies.

But maybe one of the greatest gifts I have learned to give is the opportunity for others to help me. I have been independent for so long and am such a good problem solver that no one thinks I need help and I don’t ask. Instead I spend hours trying to figure out how to get things done.

I think that my decision to go car-less has had the greatest impact on my independence. There are times, although few for an inner city dweller, that nothing beats individual transportation.  Sometimes transit and taxis just don’t make sense and renting a car for someone who doesn’t drive too often, doesn’t either.

So I have found the bright light in all this. I have discovered the joy of asking for help. I know the satisfaction of helping others and now I am allowing others to feel the same and to pay me back for the support I have provided them. It’s an exchange of equals.

And I have found a way to turn these favours into mini meetups where I can share my perspective, my city, my secret places and turn the task into an adventure. I make it fun.

I suspect that asking for help is what I needed to learn and it is with joy and appreciation that I accept the help whether that is a trip to the store, help carrying groceries or merely hanging a picture.

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted here because somehow I went from frustratingly idle to overwhelmed with “work.” I am pleased to say that I am fully engaged as a Strategic Volunteer with multiple projects and ongoing initiatives on my plate. So many, that I can now be selective about what I take on.

DeskI am still on my quest to redefine volunteerism models in the non profit space so that Boomers can put all their skills to work when they choose to give back. There is a lot of work to be done here.

I have managed to find an anchor from which I can expand my reach, involve others and in so doing, provide myself with fulfilling challenges.

This has taken 5 years. It has been a journey of patience and persistence. The patience to wait for the opportunities to surface. The patience to wait for others to understand your value proposition. The persistence to keep looking, asking and offering to help even when the response is uninviting. The non-stop faith that you can add value, that you can make a difference, and you can do it using all the tools you have.

Came across coverage for this interesting Toronto-based start up that allows you to apply your loyalty points toward tuition. There are limited educational institutions signed up but congrats to the University of New Brunswick and Centennial College for being early adopters. And right now it’s only applicable to Aeroplan points, which is a big player and looking for ways to distinguish itself.

What’s most interesting is the concept that you can be a “Nice Person” and donate your points to any student. I’m sure this program will be used by parents and extends easily to other family members and friends but the concept that you could support a student that might not be within your family circle is what I find engaging.

So if you have student you want to support at one of the partner institutions and you collect Aeroplan points, you too can be a “Nice Person.”

http://www.higheredpoints.com/how-it-works/

Things come in threes. Good things and bad things. This week I was hit with 3 things that reinforced that work needs to be done to change perceptions. It’s not reality that runs the world, it’s our perception of how things are and how they should be.

1st thing

A newly retired person was referred to me for suggestions on what to do in volunteer capacity. Again, I heard that the volunteering had to have value, to be meaningful. This person would rather be working but an accident triggered a begrudged retirement and from there a series of disappointments in her efforts to volunteer.

Hoops to jump through, time consuming training programs of little value, certifications that would have cost a bundle and a general approach that said “we don’t really want you.” I referred her onto a community non profit in her neighbourhood that I had heard good things about and asked that she share her findings.

2nd thing

I was approached to join a board for a volunteer organization. This organization is in trouble and yet it had a mandate of great value. A badly administered board lead to a bumbling recruitment process, a rushed timeline and concurrent but uncoordinated recruiting.

On top of that, the time crunched board balancing the demands of young families and hard driving careers, seemed more like an exclusive club than a fully functional team. I haven’t heard from them since the interview.

3rd thing

I was idly listening to a CBC radio interview with Chris Hadfield, the retired Canadian astronaut. A good portion of the interview focused on questions of what a retired astronaut does. I can’t remember his answer other than a chuckle that this was his second retirement. He retired from the Royal Canadian Air Force and joined the Canadian Space Agency. But I do remember his definition of retirement.

Retired
‘You used to be useful and now you aren’t.”
Chris Hadfield, the astronaut, reflecting on society’s definition of retired.

So far Mr. Hadfield (a Boomer having been born in 1959) is in “Post-retirement” according to Wikipedia. An author, a professor at the University of Waterloo, and undoubtedly a list of other activities.

So maybe the terminology I should use is “I am in post retirement.” I came through a period where I was not useful (retired) and now I have regained my “useful” status.

Brazil, the B in BRIC along with Russia, India and China, is the focus of so much speculation on growth. But even with just a taste of it you see the opportunities and barriers.

Opportunities include natural resources: sand, sea, minerals, forests and more. There is a labour force that is generally hard working, good natured, and fast in some centers. Barriers are corruption, engrained ways that are difficult to change and a peaceful people who until recently might have grumbled but lived with the state of things. Infrastructure from roads to housing to public transportation is weak.

But perhaps one of the most challenging barriers is education. Public schools are poorly though of, so the rich go to private schools. Public university requires entrance exams that a select few from public schools pass as most students are I’ll prepared. Mostly those that get in are products of a private education.

Education for all the reasons that research has pointed out not only provides skills but critical thinking, broad awareness and ignites passion and potential.

I am half way through the trip but if the rest is anything like these past few days there is much work to do to make Brazil the best she can be. It may have to be the newer perspective of the millennial generation to affect serious change and bring Brazil into a modern age of prosperity.

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“We are not ready.” It is commonly known by locals and soon realized by visitors. Brazil is not ready for the World Cup. Not prepared for the number and needs of the masses coming for the Olympics.

The airports are the first thing you notice. Domestic terminals are often so much better than the international ones which barely handle a couple of flights. Then there are the roads, lack of major hotels, public transportation and most importantly tourist support.

It is interesting that in a country so rich in history there is little structure to tell those stories, let alone in various languages. The best tour was H. Stern, a private jewelry manufacturer and retailer. They tell their story well and monetize the experience.

There is no culture of maps so getting directions is difficult. Portuguese is the only language spoken in many areas, even tourist towns. Brazil could learn from many other countries how to structure tours and attractions, and improve their tourist offices.

Not only would this prepare Brazil for the major events, but this infrastructure for tourism would live beyond 2015, creating high value jobs for Brazilians and lots of opportunity for the young people that fuel this nation.

Education, jobs, and business opportunity all around telling the rich stories of their country and being the best host – both ideas that Brazilians value.

boxI am moving. So are many of my friends. In fact, I am downsizing from a house to apartment style living. This means a lot of changes including the shedding of a lifetime of collections. Furniture, clothing, decorative items, gardening tools, linens, and lots of former treasures have to go. I have no space for them.

So this move has been an exploration on how to get rid of stuff. Some has gone to friends and family; things they need or find useful. A few valuable items have gone to a consignment shop or online to Kijiji and I may or may not get a few dollars for them. Some has just gone to the street and disappeared from there.

But what has been more interesting has been the many ways of donating these items, giving them a value as a donation. I did take some interesting treasures and donated them to an art exhibit. They became art. Books, of which I have hundreds, have gone to the local library to be used to raise funds. Some gardening tools and plants went to a teacher who runs a garden club for kids. He also took some old art supplies I’ve had for years.

Linens, especially towels and blankets have gone to the humane society to make a few animals more comfortable. Clothing to causes that put immigrants into the workplace. And furniture to an organization that sets up individuals and families in need with furnished homes.

We all have stuff to get rid of at one point in our lives and there are many ways to do this. But it feels good to take a little extra time and research to find a valued home for things you once treasured.

If you are in the Toronto area here are some sources.

I’ve talked about boards and their importance to an organization but a series of recent conversations have led me to reflect on the role of the executive director.

When do you know when your organization has outgrown your executive director? When is it time to urge them to give way to new thinking in order to revitalize the organization.

In many non profits, generally smaller organizations, the founder is the executive director and just like entrepreneurial businesses, there is a time when the this leader must adapt or step aside to allow their organizations to continue growing. It’s a healthy and natural process which if ignored, leads to struggle and stagnation.

All the conversations I had talked about the ED being the old guard, happy with the way things are, and seeing the role of the organization in a certain light. But the donations were declining, the membership unengaged and competing organizations taking the spot light. There was a need to review the value proposition and modernize the brand.

If the executive director is holding the organization back, generally the board is enabling this.

So the big question is – how to push for change. I’d say the core answer is courage. The courage to ask the tough questions, push for answers and seek solutions. That could be seeking out and bringing in new board or executive team members that have the skills and passion to affect change.  It could be creating new roles that act as change agents within the organization. It could be the employees banding together and speaking with one voice.

No one wants their organization to die, they just don’t realize how sick it is. Who has the courage to start the conversation?

Fundraising has been the topic of the week and in addition to my salon I took in a webinar put on by Cfccanada.ca and thestop.org called Stocking the Pantry: Fundraising in the community food sector.

What’s a good ask (for money)?

For corporations and foundations there’s usually a clear process so follow it. For major gifts – build relationships, ensure alignment, have a good plan and articulate what you’re about, do research on target, don’t ask on the first date, be ready with an answer; be clear about the impact the donation will make.

More from the experts

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask and be clear about what you want. But make it a two-way dialog, not just about your organization; ask what the donor wants to accomplish
  2. Persistence and stewardship of leads/donors is key. Expect it to take 1-2 years to develop major donors
  3. Alignment is important – what’s the connection of donor and cause. Long term relationships are based on trust and common interest
  4. Don’t forget the 80/20 rule, 80% your funds come from the 20% so focus on that – usually major donors and foundations
  5. Practice relentless storytelling (about talking about your cause) and be on the lookout for allies
  6. Your desk has a gravitational pull; schedule moments to talk to someone about the cause; be on the road
  7. Every board should have at least one member who will fill the ambassador role, you need at least 2 who will ask for money. Always be on the lookout for board members that will fill this. Committees good way to groom new board members.
  8. You need unrestricted funded in addition to program funding, diversified funding; flex money is like R&D money. Ongoing donors where you have earned trust may be open, and you can challenge “is this the best use of funds”?
  9. Funders come and go so you need to diversify; relentlessly be on the lookout for other folks; juggle, keep and find new ones
  10. Use volunteers in fundraising; for events they are a key work force; as ambassadors; volunteers are donors in another form and you need to steward them. Segment your volunteer list according to the roles they want to fill.
  11. There are probably more time/cost effective ways to make money than events. With successful events, what’s your goal? Getting donors, cultivate potential donors, build your profile, get more folks engaged…good reasons. Measure the results. A big part of the event is the follow up; capture names and then follow up 1-2 days after (say thank you, offer a tour, sign up for newsletter)
  12. 3rd party events are less effort. Need to be clear about what you are willing to do. The Stop has guidelines online with expectations and how they engage.
  13. Marketing platforms easier for getting corporate funding than programs. Businesses need to entertain clients anyway so an interesting event would work – it also makes them look like good corporate citizens. What are your assets to leverage? The Stop has chefs and farmers.
  14. Measure the costs of each campaign (all costs), measuring soft costs (opportunity costs, could we have raised more with less time/effort, event vs. grant proposal)
  15. Research shows that a big reason donors stop their support is because of a lack of effective communication with the organization

Cool thoughts

Strategic planning process might be a way to get funders involved – they talked of a senior exec at a bank who got involved in the planning process, offered great insight and ended up a lifelong supporter

Plan-passion-persistence:“Money grows on the tree of persistence”

You are the link between the needs of your organization and the philanthropic desire of the potential donor that wants to have an impact; needs to be aligned

They had a couple of cautions

  • Be cautious about social enterprise. Only do it when you have the other pillars of fundraising solid – it is not the quick cash answer for charity. (By this I presume they are cautioning traditional charities that are looking for a snap on business that generates funds, not the new generation of social entrepreneurs.)
  • There is a new breed of volunteer/funder, angel investors, that come with a big sense of how you should run your organization. The advice is to stay true to your plan, be strong – don’t let them take you off course.

Lots more info in this webinar which is available online at http://www.learningnetwork.thestop.org.
Just register (it’s free) and you’ll get access to this session and many more valuable presentations.

So what did we learn?

Mostly we learned that everyone knows a piece of the puzzle and that coming together with open sharing of ideas and knowledge is good for everyone.

Questions: What’s the best technology for online donations, how do you best handle back office, how can you manage following up leads when your internal team is too small, how do you handle the new social media, what kind of pitches turn on a national chain, how do you inspire a community, how do you make it easy for a funder to say ‘yes’?

Answers: Yes, CSR is often a barrier; employee giving programs are often coercive; online donations providers take a big chunk but they offer a trusted environment; outsource cookies and chocolates as there are specialists that handle this well; work with millennials and participate in social media to understand it; draw the line that connects the business success and support of your cause; technology is an equalizer; everyone in the organization should be a cheerleader but you have to provide the brand message.

What did I learn? These types of salons are valued.

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