The Worthy Organization

The Worthy Organization
The Worthy Organization
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Table of Contents

Read This First

This book is written for you if you are planning to create a new organization of volunteers, or revitalize an association, society or club. Over the years we’ve discovered methods to enroll and inspire people in the business of creating a better world. What follows is meant to be practical techniques that will work for you. For your part, you will need to be able to clarify what your organization must achieve and be willing to both use the material here, and understand the principles so that the techniques can be adapted for your special situation.

Much of this I (Robert) discovered by observing people wiser than myself. The advantage of this ebook is that we can learn from your experience and update the content. Then anyone who buys a copy of the book may download the latest version. So, please write and tell us what worked for you, and what did not. Describe what wonderful new techniques you discover. The email for collecting information related to this book is

This book began as a series of essays that Robert Ballantyne had written to instruct staff and colleagues with solutions to organizational problems. Therefore, when the pronoun, ‘I’ is used in the text, it means ‘Robert.’ When Sherry Jennings began adding her experiences and anecdotes, she is identified by name. Our hope is that the voice of this collaboration is not too confusing for the reader.

Organizations often lose leadership and community support because of internal strife; not because anything was wrong with the original mission, or because the need for the benefits no longer exists. If you believe these issues are undermining your organization’s mission, please address those issues now. They won’t go away on their own. There is an old maxim that says, if you don’t deal with the problem, the problem deals with you.

Organizations lose momentum and relevance because of internal strife; not because there is a lack of need. — R.J. Ballantyne

Most organizations begin with a group of like-minded people who band together for some worthy purpose. An organized group of friends and colleagues can have a lot of fun working and creating. If the group is motivated and inspired, together they can change the world. So what happens in the course of working together and who is responsible for the strife? It is frustrating working with people. People don’t do what they are supposed to do; they do what they do. But we need them. We need them to work with and create with us.

People don’t do what they are supposed to do; they do what they do. — R.J. Ballantyne

Often, people really care but don’t know how to cope and we see volunteers being discouraged by:

  • conflict,
  • dashed expectations
  • chaotic or dysfunctional organization
  • burnout, and
  • mismanagement of the funds.

This book is about organizing any association, club or society that you and your friends want to start or improve. The techniques described here will work for any organization, small or large, that requires a corps of volunteers or members. In this e-book I may talk about associations, clubs and societies, or members and volunteers. The distinctions are not important. I start with the premise of organizations with volunteers that may or may not have staff support.

As this is being written governments everywhere are withdrawing support for many of the programs and institutions that provide the quality of life that we wish to enjoy. More and more, we will come to count on our nonprofit facilities and organizations to fill an ever-widening gap of public services. As a member of your community, I need you to learn how to be successful with your organizational projects and initiatives.

Over the years I have been drawn to participate in leadership roles to support tourism and civic boosterism organizations, professional societies, astronomy clubs, educational institutions, and environmental organizations. Although the causes may be different, the issues and techniques of successfully organizing people are always similar.

Participants (volunteers) need to be:

  • recruited,
  • trained,
  • motivated and
  • rewarded or recognized.

The ongoing program needs to:

  • inspire,
  • produce accomplishment, and
  • be enjoyable for the people doing the work.

Other considerations:

  • Often money needs to be raised.
  • To enjoy long-term success, the organization should be fair and democratic, and
  • The leadership seeks to draw the best ideas from among the members.

Wonderful things happen in our community when an organization is successful. This book began as a collection of essays that I wrote over the years as a result of my experience with several volunteer organizations. Because much of the philosophical approach arises from my consulting practice and volunteer experience, I probably know you and your struggle. In that sense, this e-book is crowd-sourced and a collaborative reference. I encourage you to experiment with what’s provided and respond to me about what worked and what didn’t. Perhaps you discovered another approach that worked better for your situation. If you don’t mind, I’d like to continually update this e-book with your contributions.

If you are like me, chances are that you won’t open this book at the beginning and sit down to read the whole text. Probably you looked at the table of contents and selected a section of interest. As you feel the need you will cherry pick ideas from other chapters. If this is the case, please skim the whole work. We are beginning a dialogue about organization and the individual parts need to function together. You may not use all of the tools in this toolbox, but you should know what they are and how they might serve you.

My friend, the late Tony Barrett, was one of the founders of Pollution Probe in Canada during the tumultuous 1970s. This feisty organization had offices down the hall from the great media guru, Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan became interested in the passion of these young environmentalists and was a frequent visitor.

On one of these visits, McLuhan listened to a series of atrocities polluters were perpetrating upon the pristine Canadian landscape. After hearing what the Probe activists wanted the public to do about it, McLuhan interrupted, “I know that you probably don’t want to hear any advice from an old guy like me, but Tony, people don’t like to be should-upon.” I think about that advice whenever I presume to try to tell folks what they should do. By reading this you are inviting me to should-upon you. I consider it a privilege and I am grateful.

Your Role, Your Passion

Perhaps you have accepted an invitation to sit on a community board or participate in a committee. Perhaps you and your friends want to crank up a new society. Perhaps a valued organization seems to be failing and you feel the need to contribute to its revival.

Because you care passionately that the world will be a poorer place without this society or organization, you now have a responsibility. Since you are the one who may soon see a worthwhile course of action, you are the agent of change.

Does the word passionately ring true for you? The simple act of reading this e-book tells me you have a passion to convince people to behave differently.

The first ingredient in this recipe is your passion. You may have been recruited because your friends are involved and you have a skill that the group can use. If this is the situation, your interest will continue as long as the issues before the organization concern your special expertise. However, you won’t be happy and a full participant unless you care passionately about whatever it is that the organization is trying to achieve.

Look ahead to the section on Mission & Vision to determine if you or your friends are more interested in “doing things” or “applying my skills” than in what the organization is supposed to be achieving. The distinction between what you do and what the organization achieves is worth grasping before you proceed. When you have convinced yourself that your organization is providing a benefit that has value far beyond the cost (in money, people, time and resources), then you have the inspiration to make that happen.

Your organization is about providing some benefit or change in your community. Even if your friends and the leadership have not properly explored that concept, you need to know about it. Whether or not it is clearly articulated by the organization, you need to be able to articulate it for yourself. Now let me ask you, is that benefit (or change) worth all of the effort and other resources that you and your colleagues will contribute to produce the benefit? I hope you said, “Certainly!” If so, then I have no concern about your passion.

If your group is about like-minded people gathering because of a hobby or common interest, your response might have been a more thoughtful, “I feel that it is worth it.” That may imply passion.

If you are just starting out, you may wish to pull together volunteers, expect to raise money, and ultimately have an impact on your community. You may or may not plan to have paid staff.

The most powerful resource available to you is people. With enough people supporting your cause, nearly anything is possible. Most likely you want some money or have access to the things that money can buy. It is always easier to raise money if first you have a large army of support. If you are clear about the value of your project, and it provides the inspiration for enough people to participate with you, then finding the other resources you need is far easier.

Most of what follows has to do with the job of raising that army of support for your cause. There are some short sections on the important concepts of fundraising, but there are many other fine books on that subject.

If you are passionate about working to provide your community with a benefit—and with this book you decide that you have the capacity to achieve that benefit—you are about to make a powerful decision. Are you going to commit to producing that benefit? I hope you, and all the people who will join with you, will.

Mission & Vision

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
—Margaret Mead

Let’s begin by exploring what your organization will achieve. You may think you are clear about this. Does everyone on your team share the same beliefs about the mission of the organization?

As a consultant, I find that often when people seem to be happy doing the same things together, they are doing it for different personal motivations. Lack of common beliefs about the intended results can be a major source of misunderstanding and unhappiness when decisions are required.

Following is a novel and effective approach to articulating mission.

Ignore your temptation to skip this section and get to work or learn more about the action-oriented tools first.

Why should you be clear about your mission? As I noted in the previous chapter, human resources are the most important resources you can attract. You will need an inspirational mission to attract people to your project. A well-articulated mission statement also clarifies and prioritizes all of your goals, objectives, and activities.

Before you do anything else, work on clearly articulating the mission. You do not need to hold a retreat, strategic planning session, or go through a lot of soul searching with a large group of people. Drag out that ancient copy of your constitution to read the section labeled Purpose. Go back to the original values and beliefs that caused your organization to come into being.

You are setting down in writing your first thoughts to be sure that you, and maybe your small leadership team, are in agreement about what future you want to call into existence. Writing brings clarity to what your organization must achieve, not what tasks are performed. Remember, you are not setting the mission in stone. Later, when you have elected a board, that group will revisit the wording as an important part of the business of governing. In fact, the term mission will be replaced with new language (see the section on Governance).

When I facilitate sessions on mission or vision, I watch people raise their gaze as if they are trying to glimpse something beyond the horizon. The first words that come out are usually vague, poetical, and grand. When I try to bring this down to earth and ask for precise words about what should be achieved, most people default to describing how things will get done. A big gap exists between the “why” an organization exists and the “how” the work is done. You need to be clear about the “why” before you get to the “how”.

The effective mission statement is short and sharply focused. The mission says why you do what you do, not the means by which you do it. —Peter Drucker

The mission statement (sometimes used synonymously with vision) describes the change or benefit that your organization will make in your community or in the lives of your members. This is visionary—which means this statement is about a condition that does not yet exist but can be envisioned. Your organization will be built on, and guided by, achieving this mission. A powerful mission mobilizes the forces of the community to produce that benefit or change.

A strong mission or vision statement that the community can buy into makes a big difference. Sherry met a woman who worked with a foundation in Kansas that funded a 16-county effort to find a common end or vision statement. What they came up with is: Kansas will be the best place to raise a child. Note that the wording doesn’t say, “Kansas will provide…” or “Kansas will work toward…”. The vision clearly states that parents in Kansas will have the best place to raise a child. That vision drives decision-making and resources for the Kansas Early Childhood Comprehensive System

For some action-oriented people, grasping the distinction between describing the actions necessary to accomplish something and the results is difficult. If this is difficult for you, please read the rest of this section carefully. You will gain insights from understanding the difference.

Here’s an illustration of the distinction between the action and the results. I arrange an appointment with someone in her shop. It’s in an unfamiliar part of town and I ask for the address. The response is often something like this, “Oh, you’ll be coming from the north; so you drive down Main Street past the shopping mall, go two traffic lights and turn right, then…” I explain that I have GPS. All I need is the address and maybe the major cross-streets. I asked for and address and instead I was told what to do. What if I am not coming from the north? What if I didn’t expect to be driving and took public transportation?

The point of this example is that if I’m told what I have to do, I must follow that single pipeline of instructions or become lost. I do not have the freedom to solve the problem my own way.

Notice that when I’m given the address, and maybe a description of the destination (my mission), there are no verbs. What I receive is a clear vision of my objective. I know that if I am not at that place at the specified time I have failed. Because I’m the one who is accountable for showing up, why shouldn’t I be responsible for choosing how I get there?

Look at most mission statements. You’ll likely see a list of actions to be taken: “To develop…,” “to help… ,” “to build…,” “to foster…,” etc. Verbs!

The assumption is that if the actions are successfully completed, the mission will be achieved. While it may seem to work okay, there are three disadvantages to this form of expression.

First, the real mission isn’t described, only the effort expected to achieve the mission. This results in a lack of clarity of purpose, and the associated lost opportunities for creativity.

If my mission is to paint (a verb) a wall white, it’s true that when I achieve the mission I will have a white wall. Unfortunately, the real mission, the white wall, is merely implied by this mission. The mission focuses on the act of painting, not a white wall. If the mission is stated as a smooth white wall (a noun modified with a couple of adjectives) the mission is clear. The associated thought process lets us consider the quality of the mission. Any discussion will involve such things as whether white and smooth are really necessary—or even if a wall is required.

Second, the mission statement demands a particular action: painting. The people who will do the work will focus their thinking on the variety of paints, and conditions suitable for painting, because they know they are accountable only for painting. If, instead, they were responsible for a smooth white wall, they may decide that it can be constructed of smooth white material that never needs painting.

Third, the people doing the work are held accountable for the effort expended, not for the results. How many times have you heard about someone, or a group, who “gave it 110%?” When I hear that I know that their math has no credibility and I wonder if they actually achieved anything of value. The amount of effort might make an interesting anecdote, but the thing that really matters is accomplishing the mission.

When we have to be clear about mission (the result, or benefit, or change) rather than instructing the team members what to do, our job is often much harder. Now we have to articulate something that seems obvious to us, but is grammatically strange. Many of us are pushed into leadership roles because we demonstrated that we know what to do. In our mind, we think we can see the job that needs to be done. So, when we issue marching orders, the job may be done, but the people doing the work may not really understand why they are doing it. The key words of your mission should be nouns. This is why you (as someone showing leadership) say, “I think we need a smooth white wall,” instead of “paint the wall white”.

This is a profound difference and more than just playing with syntax. The smooth white wall is visionary—it doesn’t yet exist.

Because our dedicated workers are following our instructions, they don’t have the opportunity to develop their own novel approach. We have insisted that our way is the only way. You may not realize it, but this really contributes to stifling the team’s creativity and sense of ownership.

Part of your job of leadership is clear articulation of the mission or vision. An alternative is to facilitate the process of discovering what is needed, then holding the team accountable for achieving that.

If you find that this use of language is new or awkward, please review this material until you are comfortable with it. It is much harder to visualize what is needed than it is to assign a task to address a problem. If you can be clear about the mission or vision, then many people can contribute creative ideas about how to achieve it. Although you may think you know what needs to be done, you may be surprised at the variety of other ways members of your team will attack the problem.

Once this way of looking at things is clear to you, whenever a problem arises and people start describing what has to be done to address the problem, you will find yourself reviewing the mission and asking, “Does this strategy or action address the real need? Do we know the real need? How do we know?”

Now think about the reason you are founding a new organization or revitalizing a current one. What is the need? How do you know what the need is? What is the benefit or result in your community that must be achieved by having your organization? This is your mission.

Your ability to be able to think in terms of clearly articulated outcomes instead of describing tasks, will have a profound impact your ability to motivate and inspire your team.

The Leadership

My hope is that many of the people in your organization will understand the concept of mission and will learn the process of good governance. Once you have articulated the mission, leadership needs to communicate throughout the organization the vision, values, and ways the world is going to be changed by your organization. Good governance ensures all of the contributors will be aligned, motivated, and accountable in the process of accomplishing that change. Leadership needs to set the tone at the top.

The leadership is composed of those people who

  • know the values of the organization,
  • have a clear vision of what must be achieved, and
  • communicate the concepts.

Because of your interest in this chapter, likely you either are now, or intend to be soon, among the leadership of your organization. Throughout The Worthy Organization I refer to the term leadership. Leadership generally describes the people who instruct or control the destiny of the organization. Surprisingly, leadership is not just the people who have the titles or statutory responsibility for running things.

The leadership is composed of those people who know the values of the organization and have a clear vision of what must be achieved. In established organizations, these leaders may no longer hold any office or even be members. But people talk to them and ask advice. These leaders have acquired a wisdom that may be so important to the success of your enterprise that you will want to ensure that they remain close enough to the operation to provide some guidance. Informal leaders can be quite valuable.

Informal leaders are people who guide and direct an organization without holding any titles. This is also called leading from behind. You may not have any official authority, but you are reading this book because you know that things have to improve. If you can convince people to change their direction, you are leading from behind. This is a wonderful way to contribute your wisdom as long as you are not creating factions and unnecessary dissension.

Because of the importance of formal and informal leadership, you should deliberately foster the skills of leadership among all participants. While society tends to admire natural leaders, leadership can be learned. Cultivating skilled leaders is vital to the success of your organization.

A leader’s role is more than knowing the values and having a vision. Leaders must communicate vision and values and model desired behaviors. Disagreement about vision, and among the leadership, or a lack of clarity about what the values look like in practice, may cause the organization to flounder. For board leaders, the process of establishing good governance should require the whole board to learn and practice responsible leadership.

For your society to succeed you will need people who are willing to practice followship and management as well as leadership. At some time everyone should have the opportunity to serve in each of these roles. You are probably clear about the concept of followship. This is the role for most of us as we do the work to transform the dream of achievement into a reality. It is called followship because we must fulfill our responsibilities in concert with others and accept someone’s coordination and direction.

The distinction between leadership and management is more confusing.

Managers are those folks who are skilled at organizing people and resources to get things done. They become the committee chairs for fundraising events or the volunteer coordinator. We need our managers. Management is a desirable skill in the business world and most of us are familiar with business management. You may even have work experience as a mid-level or high-level manager. Often managers are elected or promoted to the high offices of our community organizations. Usually, these are positions on the board of directors, governors, or trustees. What managers must understand is governance is not management. The role of the board is not to manage the organization. The role of articulating and qualifying the mission, and holding the organization accountable for achieving the mission is called governance. Governing is the official business of leadership. The distinction between management and governance is often difficult for managers (and others) to grasp.

When managers (or anyone) hold a position on the board these people should become proficient with the skills of governance and leadership. Managers who can combine their business skills with governance skills can be truly inspirational. However, board members who attempt to make the board into a form of senior management committee are actually meddling in the affairs of those whom they should be holding accountable for the actions of the organization. Board members who are acting as managers are not providing the leadership required. Unfortunately, this is what many boards believe their job is (See Evolving from Startup to Good Governance.)

As a volunteer, you can serve your organization well if you can learn to function effectively in each of the three roles: as a follower, as a manager, and as a leader. Your whole organization will serve your mission and the community well if it fosters a culture of people who are skilled in performing these roles. You also need to know when you are in one role or the other. For example, if you are meeting as a board and taking action as a whole, you are in the role of leader. If you are a board member who is running the annual fundraising event, you are a volunteer manager (who may also be a board member, but is not acting in that role). If you are a board member who is making the table decorations for the annual gala, you are a follower. Understanding what role you are in is important to ensure you are doing the right job at the right time. It cannot happen by accident—skill building and learning about role distinctions must be an intentional part of your program.

The Champion

As discussed in the previous chapter, leadership is a role that can be assumed by any responsible person who understands the values and vision of the organization, can effectively communicate, and who models the desired behaviors. Leaders efficiently ensure that the work of the organization is accomplished. Often leaders are barely visible—especially if they are more interested in providing recognition for the volunteers who are doing the work. Robert Smith was deeply admired for his leadership skills. He used to say, “A charismatic leader manages from one chaotic situation to the next. An effective leader knows how to do two things: drink coffee and go to the bathroom.”

Some leadership roles require someone with charisma or powerful community connections. I call this person the champion. The champion does not have to be the CEO or the chairman of the board. The champion is the person who has the role of visibly defending or supporting the organization. If you have identified yourself as a change agent or an ambassador for your organization, you may need to become the champion for the process of change that you envision.

Often as a consultant, I recommend finding or nurturing a champion. If you are involved with community fundraising, the chair of the fundraising cabinet (or whatever the group is called that is accountable for achieving the funds) may need to be a champion. If your group needs to undergo some major organizational change or process, it may be useful to have a champion with the drive to succeed. This might include having a champion to nurture and encourage the group through a process such as strategic planning, adopting Policy Governance®, organizational restructuring, or initiating a new program.

If the change you envision needs a champion, be sure that the person is appropriately appointed or elected (self-appointed champions create factions), and then support this person in her or his work. The champion is going to feel personally accountable for the success of the cause whether or not this person has any real authority to act. Also, this role requires strong communication and networking skills. Don’t be surprised when you find this person badgering anyone who is slow to meet, or commit to, obligations. Champions are not shy and are at ease talking to anyone at any time. Once immersed in the project, the champion will seem to be everywhere and into everything. Therefore your champion may make some mistakes and step on a few toes. Hopefully you have someone with the sensitivity to quickly repair any broken fences.

However, beware of believing that a champion can be a great long-term leader. Champions are great for campaign-style initiatives, but do not do well in the long run. Those who love to follow someone with charisma will want to retain the champion, but others will resent the style and tactics used by a champion. Most people do not enjoy working in constant chaos. Encourage the champion for the duration of the campaign, but make the role time-limited. When the job is done, say farewell with lots of recognition and praise.

A word to a champion who is reading this: understand where your power and effectiveness lies. To continue to win friends and influence people, use your personality and charisma to focus attention on the contributions of your followers who are doing much of the work behind the scenes. To ensure your success over the long term, keep the formal leadership informed and in agreement with your actions. Don’t get caught up in the chaos yourself and become a loose cannon on the deck.

Member and Volunteer Recruitment

Every organization, at some time, needs to identify potential new participants. This chapter is intended for organizations with members, such as associations, or public benefit organizations that need volunteers. Possibly part of your purpose is to build a visible constituency of people who share the values expressed in your mission. In this case, the larger the membership, the larger the constituency. If you want to be politically effective, nothing is more compelling than a large number of committed people.

Likely the work of your society requires willing hands. In most volunteer organizations, the rule of thumb is over 80% of the work is done by less than 20% of the members. To expect otherwise is unrealistic, so do not become discouraged if it seems that all the work is done by a few people. Nevertheless, do not be complacent about this. Strive to involve everyone. In order to have enough active workers to run the various aspects of the association, you need a plan that engages existing members. An organization develops more capacity when many people know how to manage many different tasks. Members should be encouraged to learn new jobs and not occupy any portfolio for a long period of time.

Volunteer organizations that do not recruit new participants will dwindle. Expect that 10% to 20% of your membership will vanish each year through attrition. Because of this, recruitment activities should be part of your annual program planning.

All of this is to say that membership development is not something you do when you are worried about membership dropping off. It is a primary program that fuels every need of the organization. Considering its importance, it should be fun, and it should be a normal part of the annual activities.

Membership and volunteer development is a primary program that fuels every need of the organization.

Successful recruiting begins with the infectious enthusiasm of the association’s leadership. These folks should value and foster a welcoming, pleasant attitude among members. If your people are not enthusiastic enough to behave in this manner, the process of attrition may outstrip the plan of recruitment. As noted before, leaders must be able to communicate enthusiasm for the vision and values and model the desired behaviors. Everyone in the organization should be recruiting all the time—whether they know it or not. Each conversation with a coworker or an acquaintance is an opportunity to promote your vision and values. The corollary to this is that unnecessary derogatory gossip, even in the company of those who seem to have no connection with your organization, can be very damaging. Following is an example of a local service club to illustrate.

Just because it might be called a ‘club’ does not mean that your organization has to be clubby. It is easy to slip into the mode of operation where the gatherings always consist of the same clique of friends who meet frequently because they like each other’s company. Since these good folks are always there, they end up as the leadership. From their point of view, the club (society, organization, association) is doing good work and they are enjoying their contribution.

A core group can be vital to your success. These are the people you can count on to do what must be done when no one else wants the job. Problems occur when this clique doesn’t allow other members the choice of gaining entry to this inner group. Outsiders will often view membership in the society as an unpleasant experience. Could this be happening in your organization? Members of cliques often do not see that the clique exists. If people feel excluded, usually they quietly drift away. You cannot afford to lose that support. A few will stick it out because they believe in the cause. In this case, factions may form, and there are misunderstandings and bad feelings among warring groups. In this climate, membership remains static, or falls. From time to time someone pushes the panic button and there is a membership drive. This is exhausting work for everyone involved, but it does keep the club alive. Many organizations operate this way. You may know or even be part of one.

Remember when you are thinking about your organization’s intent to produce a worthy benefit for your community, you must also have a strong organization to accomplish that. Strong organizations need people. Building a fully-capable organization that has the human resources necessary, now and in the future, requires recruitment planning. The recruitment program suggested here is designed to dovetail with the normal activities of your association. It requires that leadership remains vigilant and persistent in recruiting. If the loss of membership is 20% or more, you need to consider what’s not working. Ask questions. You may need to conduct surveys or focus groups or town hall meetings. Do not ignore the situation. You must clearly understand the problems and find solutions. Often an independent consultant can help you ask the right questions and identify what is wrong.

What follows is a plan for growing your membership or army of volunteers. Certainly modify it for the style of your organization—but try to understand why the process works so that you are effective. You will find that some members (who shy away from talking to people) will propose membership campaigns that rely on pubic relations, or advertising, or anything to avoid personal contact. Public relations, advertising and collateral materials may have their place in helping strangers to identify themselves to you. For that stranger to take the step of joining or volunteering, you will find that real recruitment is always done by people. For people to join you will have to do more. Nearly every step in the the process involves one-on-one contact.

The strategy recommended for acquiring members starts with first identifying who in the community would be interested in membership. A workgroup or committee could begin by brainstorming what talents or skills are needed in the organization. Or the committee might begin by thinking about the people who are attracted to the organization and what attributes they possess. Next, individual prospective members are identified. A prospect form should be filled out with the potential member’s information. The form should include a section for the individual to describe his or her interests in serving the community or volunteering for your cause. If there is a good match between the organization’s mission and the beliefs and values of the potential member, someone personally invites him or her to join.

People are recruited by people

People will join because:

  • they like you,
  • they like what you stand for, and
  • they like what you are doing.

The steps of recruitment are:

  • identify the people in the community who should be part of your organization;
  • ask the individuals identified to describe their interests for service or leadership;
  • communicate how your organization can fulfill those interests;
  • ask him or her to join, participate, or volunteer;
  • answer any questions or concerns individuals may have about making a commitment to your organization;
  • complete the recruitment.

If you have experience with sales, you have noticed that my recommended strategy is similar to the sales process. Selling is an honourable profession and there is much written on how it should be done with integrity. At one time or another we are all in the business of promoting (selling) good ideas, concepts, services or products. It is worth learning how not to be a hustler (those people who give sales its sleazy reputation), but to be a responsible sales person. I think we owe that to all of our worthy undertakings. If you want to become good at this you may want to do more reading on the subject. It is seldom taught in our schools or in our culture’s institutions of higher learning. As a result there are many people who are in sales who have a poor understanding of how the process should work. The following describes the process in language of sales or marketing. Later you will see how to create a program that uses this process (See Public Events, as well as Greeting & Follow-up).

Prospecting – Step 1

Likely there are many people in the community who may be interested in your cause, so you need some way of finding those who are. This is called prospecting. Prospecting is done by drawing attention to your cause by some means. Prospecting may include personal networking, public service announcements in the media, participating in community events, or running events.

The purpose of prospecting is to cause a stranger take some personal action to indicate that he or she is interested.

When you, or a member of your organization, find that you are talking to someone who is interested and is capable of joining your organization, you have found that most prized citizen, the qualified prospect. Somehow you want to be sure that you don’t lose track of that person. Up until this point, all of your recruitment efforts have focused on identifying that person.

Making the Case – Step 2

Now that you have identified a qualified prospect, this person needs to know what your organization is all about and how he or she might participate. This is step 2, and is called making the case. Usually you will accomplish this by listening to the person talk about himself or herself, his or her interests, and gently showing how your organization’s values and projects dovetail. People don’t like a sales pitch and directly launching into why your organization is great is seldom a useful approach.

Ask The Person to Join – Step 3

The one thing you must not be passive about is the fact that you value this person and you would like to see him or her participate with you in your organization. At some point be sure to say so. Salespeople call this asking for the order, and it is something many people find hard to do. Since your project is serving the community—not self-serving—you should not have a problem. Besides, you should be making this person feel wanted.

Objections – Step 4

An objection signifies interest, pay attention.

At this point you may hear an objection. “I am not sure that I could commit the time.” “The membership fee seems awfully high.” “I wouldn’t know how to do the kinds of things that seem to be required.”

If you interpret an objection as if the person said, “I am not interested,” you were not listening! Listening is more important to this process than talking.

An objection means that your prospect is interested but sees an obstacle to joining. A prospect may have several objections. If you can deal with the objections, the person will probably join. After you have talked to a few prospects you will have heard most of the objections you will hear from everybody. If you are going to increase your membership you will have probably found ways to respond to all of the normal objections.

If you are receiving some serious objections, you may want to reconsider how you are doing things. Thinking through the objections that people raise so that you can manage them easily and in the spirit of friendship is essential if you are going to maintain or increase your membership. Most of the time the objections require only your encouragement to proceed. Learning how to cope with objections so that you can answer most of them, and maintain your enthusiasm, will make the recruitment process easier for everyone.

Complete the Recruitment – Step 5

Step 5 means that you will follow up by asking that the membership form is filled out, and that you collect the membership cheque, or whatever else is required. You may simply be inviting them to join your committee, and to show up for a meeting.

If you are one of the shy people who feel that this sort of salesperson-like behaviour is not your style, please remember the values and principles that motivated you to become part of this group. No one will join if they do not want to participate—believe me, you are not that persuasive. If they decide to join, it is because they wanted to, and they were waiting for you to ask. Isn’t that is reason enough for you to overcome your shyness?

Public Events and Members’ Meetings

In the context of this manual, public events are proposed as a key element in finding qualified prospective volunteers or members. So, let me assume that your worthy organization is event-driven and people are needed to make things happen. Therefore, you need active volunteers.

People seem to go through phases of active and passive community life. Much of the purpose of this manual is to provide the means to harness the talents of people who might be ready and willing to make a active contribution. The first step is to have them join. There will be members who simply read the newsletter and attend the odd meeting, but they are not full participants in your affairs. Please don’t resent them. While it is beneficial to have these peoples’ membership, the work of your association cannot proceed without a core of committed and active individuals.

This e-book proposes two ways that a member of the public will likely become a member. The first way is that a member will invite a friend or acquaintance to join, and the member is effective in making the case for the association. Probably the friend attends a meeting, likes what s/he sees, reads the Benefits to Membership on the application, discusses any concerns with the member, then fills out your membership form and writes a cheque. The second way is that a member of the public hears of one of your events and decides to attend. This person likes event and the organization, and decides to join. This means that the event must be promoted so that some of the public is aware of it. Promotion is discussed in P.R. and Media sections. While promotion is important to generating attendance, word-of-mouth via committed members and friends is often more effective. Do both.

Key elements of both methods of attracting potential members are some positive experiences that the prospect has with your members, probably at an event and in talking with like-minded friendly people. Another element is subtler. Instead of waiting for the prospect to take the initiative to become a member, there should be a process in place whereby the person is introduced to the benefits of membership, and is invited to join. Here is where most volunteer organizations fail to complete the process of recruitment.

Regular members’ meetings

In addition to the business of working for your cause through vigorous committees or task forces, consider running a series of regular meetings that are primarily social. Ideally, such meetings should occur weekly. These are in addition to the major public events and do not receive major promotion. Regular social activities are a membership benefit.

Although the meetings are casual and social, there is an entertaining program. For example, a member who is a magician gives a special performance. Perhaps a member who is a musician prepares a recital for your group. A member may report on an interesting vacation, trip, or adventure. Ask people to tell their personal story. People you think you know may surprise you with their interesting journey through life. Someone who is not a member of the group may be asked to visit and give a talk. The chair of a committee might be asked to report on recent activities of that group. You will probably discover that the problem is not finding interesting speakers, it is thinking about possible speakers and then taking the time to ask people, to schedule them, and then promote the talk to the members to be sure there is an audience.

Following the entertainment, a very brief review of current activities or projects of the association and upcoming events should be presented. Such meetings re-invigorate volunteers, and illustrate the current scope of activities of the association. Members should be encouraged to bring friends (prospective members) to these meetings.

Running weekly meetings require a very active and committed membership. This assumes that the participants can travel to the meeting, and will want to assemble frequently. If the thought of weekly meetings is exhausting, consider another schedule. One meeting per month is a minimum. If that seems impossible, maybe you should wonder about the need for your organization.

When Sherry looked at my recommendations for building membership, she commented that the methods sound a bit like your local service clubs. Recently she convinced me that I should join my local Rotary Club. But I didn’t learn this from any of the service clubs. Yes, as a planetarium director, and later a museum director, and because I was fairly well-known in Manitoba, I did speak to the clubs to promote my shows—but I knew little of how they operated.

In the mid-1960s, I remember observing how the combination of weekly membership meetings plus major events was used to turn the little Montreal Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada into one of the most active and involved astronomy clubs in Canada or anywhere. The weekly meetings were held on Saturdays in the little observatory on Mount Royal at a high location on McGill University property. The ‘events’ were lectures by prominent astronomers—usually held on the campus. At least once or twice a year there would be a public star party.

When I was on the board of the Manitoba Naturalists, the organization provided an amazing number of public events, workshops, and programs. They still do (the name is now Nature Manitoba)

When I was elected president of Winnipeg AM, a volunteer civic booster organization that was generally supportive of tourism and Winnipeg-appreciation, we met weekly on Friday mornings. While we didn’t have ‘events’ we did take on high-profile projects. Those weekly meeting were essential to maintaining and involving membership.

When we negotiated the transfer of the Convention & Visitors Bureau to Tourism Winnipeg and then created the Tourism Industry Association of Winnipeg, our volunteer membership actually increased—but not because of this formula but because we gave the tourism industry a voice. In that sense, it didn’t need the meeting-structure, but we used the newsletter part to keep everyone current and involved. We could easily bring the troops out for an event when we needed them.

While a program of regular meetings is certainly very similar to service clubs, probably it is similar because it works.

This concept of holding weekly meetings is an accepted method of maintaining member engagement. Some service clubs keep attendance records and will ask a member to resign if his/her attendance is below a minimum threshold. Unless yours is a service club, that rule us probably draconian, but it does show the value of regular member participation.

Major events

From time to time during the year, the association should run some major events for the general public. These must be promoted to the public. The event is likely a sponsored talk by a public figure or by someone who has achieved some status in the community. The event could also be a poster session, a conference, a tour to an interesting site, or some other imaginative gathering of people.

If there is a charge, it could be offered to the public at a rate higher than the members pay (which could be nothing). However, people do value something for which they pay. If there are direct costs, is it reasonable to use the members’ fees or to charge admission to cover the costs? If people do pay they expect to be treated in a professional and competent matter. You will have to deliver value—no excuses.

The purpose of these events is that they will draw in people who are interested in the same causes as your organization. Some will become members. The other reason to hold these events is that the program will delight the members. (See the section on Programs).

Greeting and follow-up

The reason you encourage members to bring friends to meetings, and one of the reasons that you hold events, is to attract people with shared values who may decide to be members. As explained in the previous chapter, these people are qualified prospects. Another way of putting it is, that compared to the general public, these people are already more than halfway to becoming members. My point is these are valuable people. These are the people who will want to help you to achieve your mission. Do not let them wander out of your association’s life. Some action is required on your part to ensure that these people take the steps necessary to join. Once they have joined, then you need to help them become contributing members or volunteers.

Having attracted a potential member, the first thing to do is identify the person. Maintaining a written record is best.

Having gone to the trouble of attracting a qualified prospect, the first thing to do is identify the person. Merely handing out a membership brochure—regardless of how attractive it is and how well it describes the benefits of membership—will seldom move people to join. Certainly have the brochure or the application form, but you will have to do more.

Begin by discovering why the person was attracted to your event. Have it in the form of a written record. It is amazing how often groups have done something to assemble an enthusiastic crowd, and the next day while everyone is congratulating themselves on a super event, no one knows who was there. Too bad, that list of names would be golden.

There are several ways of achieving a record of attendance without it seeming like the beginning of class in grade school. For the regular (weekly) meetings—and probably for all meetings—consider establishing a sign-in book. Use a big heavy volume with lots of room across the page for a printed name, address, phone number, comments, and a place to tick whether or not the person is a member. This book must be at every meeting, and all copies should be kept forever. Members like this, and will enjoying referring back to memorable meetings that they attended. Members should be in the habit of signing in as soon as they have removed their coat. The host or chair of the meeting should encourage new members, guests, and visitors in this practice. Before the meeting write in the date, the time, the location, and the purpose of the meeting. As part of the event’s wind up, the host should make a note of any interesting occurrences.

If a book seems too ‘low-tech’ or doesn’t work for your meeting space, consider a registration desk. A registration desk requires some planning and preparation. You’ll need a list of expected attendees. People are expected to tick or initial their name on the list and identify any guests. Greeters need to be at the desk and cheerfully welcome people and ensure that no one is missed in the record. If names and addresses are not typed into a computer, be sure you can read the handwriting. If networking among members is worthwhile you may want to offer name tags at the registration desk. It is environmentally responsible to have permanent member tags and use temporary ones for guests. But you need to consider how to print, sort, store, and manage the tags.

Part of the responsibilities of the host is to notice visitors, to talk to them, and note their names. The sign-in book or registration information helps. When the meeting begins, the host should recognize and thank members who brought friends, and welcome by name, all of the visitors. If the host is not familiar with the membership, or finds doing this awkward, then some of the old hands must help. This act of welcoming is done in the spirit of friendship, and should not be a chore.

During the social part of the meeting, the host (or some of the other greeters) should have a word with the visitor. The host should thank the person for coming and ask if the visitor has any questions about the organization. A membership application form should be offered (and it should contain a section on benefits of membership) along with the sincere wish to see the person at future meetings. Find out what interests the visitor, and introduce him or her to likely friends. Watch for interests in some aspect of the operation of your society. If they show an enthusiasm to volunteer for anything they will surely join. It often takes a few meetings before people decide to become an active participant. Be cheerful and encourage visitors to continue to explore the organization.

The prospect must be invited to future meetings, again and again, until the person makes a choice of stating that s/he is not interested, or joins. Too often we assume that because someone has not offered to join that they do not want to. Rather than risk rejection, we abandon the prospect. In fact, the prospect concludes that we do not care, so why should s/he? If the person says, “no thanks” or “I’m not interested,” accept that and pursue them no further; otherwise give them and your cause the benefit of the doubt and gently persist.

There are two kinds of follow-up that help with recruitment. The first may come out of conversation with the visitor. You agree to call him or her about a fact or an upcoming event. Be sure to make a note of it and do it. People really appreciate thoughtful follow-up. It shows that you value the person.

The second is to consult with the member who brought the visitor. Be sure to notice when a member brings a new potential member, and appropriately celebrate this occasion. You want your members feeling appreciated when they actively help grow your organization. One of the membership committee (if you have such a group) should call that person, thank them for bringing a visitor, and discuss any special interests the prospect might have in your organization. It is this member who will likely invite the prospect back to a future meeting, and may actually collect the membership cheque. These members may need some help and encouragement.

If your association is worthwhile, then so is the process of identifying and nurturing new members. Please give this necessary activity the attention it deserves. The things to remember are that people like to be asked to join and they do not like to be pressured. Everyone likes to be recognized and appreciated—even the first time visitor.

If you are not accustomed to this form of greeting and follow-up, it will seem uncomfortable at first. After a while, it will become simply good manners.

The leadership, or the Membership Committee, or good friends, should try to be aware of the activities of new members. These people need to feel welcome and be asked to participate. Introduce them to individuals and groups where they are needed and where they will feel comfortable. They need to become involved, but not overwhelmed.


Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody

The chair asked for volunteers saying, ‘Anybody can do it.’ Everybody thought that Somebody should, but Nobody did.

The Somebody decided that since Anybody could but Nobody did, then Somebody should, so she volunteered

When Everybody saw Somebody doing what Anybody could, Everybody gladly lent a hand — and the job was soon done.

Leadership Skills by Emily Kittle Morrison

As you increase your membership, you should be aware of how and why a volunteer program works. As the organization grows, be sure to develop a culture of good volunteerism. You will want your association to be a place where ordinary people will have the training and motivation to do extraordinary things. In this book, we begin to explore the value of an effective volunteer program. If volunteers are going to be a large part of your future, please connect with your local volunteer organizations, and read more about how to manage volunteers.

Who is responsible for the volunteer program?

In the start-up days, everyone is busy seeing that nothing is falling between the cracks. As exciting as the start-up period may be, it is also exhausting. Part of growing includes dividing the work and assigning groups and individuals to take on the responsibility of accomplishing various tasks.

The leadership should take care that no one is asked to perform a job that she or he is unable to perform, that moral support is always there, and that all contributions are recognized. An individual is motivated and satisfied when doing what one is best at doing. When Marcus Buckingham was with the Gallup Organization, he and his team researched over 1.7 million employees from 101 countries representing 63 companies. Analysis of the results revealed that people have the most job satisfaction and perform most effectively when they are using their strengths (Buckingham and Clifton).1 Leadership is responsible to ensure needed help, instruction, or training is available. Volunteer motivation is part of the responsibility of the leadership at every phase in the life of your organization.

Do not put anyone in charge of volunteers who has a low opinion of volunteers because they are not paid.

Please don’t put anyone in charge of volunteers who has a low opinion of volunteers because they are not paid. Unfortunately, I still hear people (who should know better) say, “You cannot expect much from them because they are only volunteers.” Over the years, I’ve learned to have high expectations for what volunteers can achieve, and I’ve seldom been disappointed. The only difference between a volunteer and an employee is that the employee is paid. For many people, extrinsic rewards such as money are far less motivating than the intrinsic reward. When you match someone’s passion with the opportunity to participate in making a better world, the work is awesome.

As your association grows, you may need to develop a productive culture of volunteer management. This must go hand-in-hand with recruitment. As soon as someone has agreed to join or participate you will probably want to invite them to assist with (or even lead) one of your initiatives. Large organizations may formalize this by having a volunteer coordinator—someone who is either a volunteer or, if the budget allows, is a paid professional. At least have a committee that is accountable for recruitment and volunteer development.

Part of my purpose here is to alert you to the fact that in your community there are many people who know about volunteerism and can help you. You can, and should, expect much from the results of the work of your volunteers. There is probably a volunteer centre that can teach you the philosophy of volunteerism and also provide lots of practical advice. Here’s a small sample of the information available

Why people volunteer

There are many different reasons that people volunteer. You should not expect that everyone is motivated by the same reasons as you. Be sure to make room for those other people.

The main reasons that people will join your organization are:

  • They are attracted to participate with the existing members. This means that you and your people are the main attraction. In some cases, recruits will like you enough that they might be willing to accept your mission and values in order to participate. This is fine if it does not compromise the prospect’s integrity. From the section on recruiting, I discussed that the prospect likely attended an event or was invited to a gathering by a friend. When the leadership and the membership is friendly and welcoming, prospective members will talk to new people and seek out their interests. Newly recruited members should be guided to groups that will be supportive of the new member and will benefit from their participation.

As I previously mentioned, if people don’t feel welcome, or they are not encouraged to participate, most will quietly withdraw. Greet people in the spirit of friendship. First make a friend, then a colleague. Actively welcoming new people should be part of the culture of every gathering. Keep in mind that many people are shy, even though they may not exhibit shy behaviour. You may need to give people some time to warm to the culture of your society, and to gravitate to the activities that interest them. Be sure to review your membership lists frequently to ensure no one is forgotten.

  • They are enthusiastic about your society’s vision. Part of the job of the leadership is to keep your vision in view and in focus. Sometimes the jobs required to run the club are a bit tedious, but they do really contribute to improving the world. All knowledgeable members can learn to help by being evangelists for that vision in all of their social interactions, not just at official gatherings. Many people will be inspired by your clarity of purpose and will want to participate with you.
  • They believe that participating will permit personal growth and achievement. This aspect of volunteerism is often overlooked; but you should be aware of it especially if a volunteer has the opportunity to accomplish something that could be put on her or his résumé. Most people will participate in your society because this is how they choose to spend some of their time. They enjoy making a contribution and it provides intrinsic personal rewards. Other volunteers will see an opportunity to develop new skills and achieve personal growth. For those people, your volunteer training program will have real value to the member. Other people may want to use their participation as an opportunity to practice special skills that they have developed but for which they have yet to find professional clients. Participation allows them to network, meet new people, and even have fun. As long as their skills contribute to the real work of your society, make it happen!
Finding and asking for volunteers

Service clubs have members who join with the expectation that they will be asked to participate in volunteer activities. When I was museum director, my division had a large volunteer program. In that city, the opportunity to work in the labs with our curators, or as docents in the display area, were well-known and desirable community service volunteer positions—so we had no trouble finding applicants for vacancies. In these cases, when someone announces that volunteers are needed, likely several people will put up their hands.

The following discussion on volunteerism is for many other associations where a call for volunteers results in silence.

Why the silence? When someone volunteers, he or she is making a commitment of their most valuable asset: their time. In today’s culture that stresses doing more with less, few people feel they have any time to spare. People need to be able to process the request for volunteers, to decide that they want to do the job, and to consider if they can remove or delay other things in their schedule. So, they may hear the call and even be interested in the possibility, but remain silent.

Your solution to recruiting volunteers begins by understanding that most people need to be asked to volunteer.

People need to be asked to volunteer.

If you are going to ask for volunteers, begin by thinking through the task that needs to be accomplished. You must have the answers to some obvious questions. Does the volunteer need be someone who already has the skills to do the job? Are the tools and other resources for the related tasks available? If this is work that has been done before, is someone prepared to train or mentor the volunteer?

Then think about whom you’d like to ask to take on the job. You don’t need to select the person most suited (likely those people are asked all the time). Review your pool of potential volunteers and think about whom might be ready to take on increased responsibility, or who is currently under-utilized. Is there someone who might like to distinguish her/himself by making a contribution? At this point you should have a short list of people to ask.

Think through what will you say to your candidate so she or he will likely decide to volunteer. Why do you think your chosen candidate is a good choice for the job? What special skills or talents are especially suited to the task? How will the organization support the volunteer in his or her work?

Now you are ready to ask your first candidate to volunteer. Keep in mind that this is a personal request. You can use phrases such as: “We need you to take this on.” “I am confident that you can do this job.” “If you do this, I am assured that [name of person] is prepared to [help, mentor you, work with you, etc.].” Recall the section on recruiting. The candidate may need time to process the invitation, so unless you must have a fast yes, until you hear a flat ‘no,’ deal with those objections.

Volunteer training and record keeping

Look at all of the regular activities performed by the volunteers in your association. Whenever you elect a new treasurer or someone is appointed to run this year’s event, is that person expected to figure out how to do the job from scratch?

If you ever expect new people to be able to take over any of the regular volunteer tasks, it might be useful to have some record of how the job should be done. For a small society, creating a detailed manual of procedures might be such a monumental task that you won’t do it. I suggest you begin piecemeal: have some current incumbents write up their volunteer job description and procedures as a way of ensuring that they won’t have to do that task forever. If you have large volunteer-run projects or events, it becomes a necessary annual event to recruit new volunteers and then hold training sessions for the various positions. For some people, this training will add valuable points to the résumés of recruits. As part of the wind-up and reporting for a regular event, is it possible to capture, in writing, the details for the important jobs, the names of suppliers, and the related costs? It is better than counting on everyone’s memory as the process begins again for next time.

A large volunteer program will require record keeping that is similar to the files maintained by the human resources department of a company. While this level of volunteerism is beyond the scope of this book, there is some information you may consider collecting. These records might involve tracking volunteer hours and having job descriptions for each job.

The work of volunteers should be evaluated

The event and the work of volunteers should be evaluated. Celebrate what worked well but use critical thinking to determine if the success was due to good planning or pure luck. Certainly, volunteers can learn from what did not work well. Those who are anxious to improve will stay engaged. Those who lack interest in improvements can be asked quietly to step aside. This demonstrates to the people who are fulfilling the expectations for volunteering that the work is truly valued. For guidelines and tools on planning, creating, and evaluating events, here is one useful webpage

Rewarding volunteers

The most important reward for volunteer work is recognition. But what type of recognition? Some people enjoy the public acknowledgement of individual contributions and some do not. You need to communicate with each of your volunteers to determine what type of recognition is appreciated before singling out individuals. Certainly, you can mention the ongoing work of your volunteer teams at your meetings. You don’t need to gush with thanks, just let everyone know what people are doing. If you come to milestone in the life of your organization (conclusion of a program, the end of the season or year, almost anything), consider holding a celebration event to trumpet what everyone has accomplished.

One of the best uses of social media is for recognition (e.g., blogging, Facebook, Pinterest, Google Plus, Twitter). As long as the individual is comfortable with public recognition, tag them in posts or in photos. Photographs of people at work are terrific ways to share the excitement about your event. People do love to see themselves or others in photos. With all of the opportunities available on the Internet, be sure to use these tools.

However, the most effective recognition is a permanent mention in official club documents. For example, the board can recognize individual contributions in board meeting minutes. If you have a print or online newsletter that is archived, be sure to recognize volunteer contributions. For more about this, read the section on the newsletter.

In some large volunteer programs there are some perquisites associated with the job. Perks can include free parking, paid travel, paid meals, special event apparel or VIP passes. Perks must be legitimate business expenses and not a form of payment or honorarium. Consistency across the organization in awarding perks is important. If several people are finding and training their own volunteers, be sure that all of the volunteers are receiving similar treatment and benefits.

The Newsletter

The official communication for your association

For many organizations the newsletter should be the bedrock of a successful volunteer association. If you do not have a newsletter, or yours is not motivating volunteers, please give it the attention that it deserves. Most organizations that are having difficulty motivating volunteers either do not have a newsletter, are not using the existing one appropriately, or do not know how to manage a newsletter. Few organizations understand what can be accomplished with a newsletter.

Why is this form of communication so important? As far as members are concerned, this is the official outlet for information about your association. Here, members learn what is really happening in the association, they see who is doing the work, and their own contributions are clearly recorded. This provides a powerful motivation for participation. If you have a large national organization, the people in the local chapters may not identify with an organization-wide newsletter. In this case, the local group should be permitted to have their own publication.

As far as members are concerned, this is the official communication for your association

To the best of the editor’s ability, every contribution of the members should appear in the newsletter. The news is seeing who did what. An expression of the editor’s value judgments (other than recognition) is not required—all volunteer efforts are appreciated.

Because of the Internet, associations are debating the format of their official publication. A few effective newsletters are still printed on paper and delivered by the post. This format is easy for the reader to peruse at leisure. It is not clear that online versions offer better experiences than the printed piece. The Internet offers new possibilities (and problems). Your group will probably discuss whether it is better to offer the newsletter on the web, send it out as email, or continue spending the time and money printing, binding, stuffing and mailing.

Without enhancements to the online version, the printed version is much more likely to be read. The compelling argument for web edition is it’s less costly to produce, but it needs to offer something that a printed version does not. People still tend to pick up and browse a printed piece. Think about your doctor’s office or the seat-back magazines on a plane. Although much is changing with handheld mobile devices and wireless Internet, you need to consider value added elements for delivering your newsletter online. If your society is using groupware and most of your members spend part of every day participating in conferences and in online forums, you may find that an electronic newsletter is preferred. Just keep in mind: the newsletter must be read or it will not be working for you.

The newsletter must be read or it will not be working for you

Simply emailing, or posting on a website a scanned version of a print-designed newsletter using the Portable Document Format (PDF) (especially if there is more than one column) is a poor compromise and is not recommended.

Be sure you know how your members receive electronic communications. Formatted emails (with elements that are downloaded at the time the email is opened) are sometimes invisible to readers who don’t allow graphics to appear automatically. You may not be able to please everyone, but be sure that whatever you decide is the system and format you choose can and will actually be seen and read by at least 95% of your membership.

Now look at your existing newsletter (if you have one). Some editors believe that people will expect to see news about your cause. Editors work very hard to research developments from around the world and to find authors who will write articles that will be entertaining and present knowledgeable views. Material about the people in your local group is not considered the major news unless someone has achieved celebrity status (e.g., received a major award or achieved a major milestone). Such newsletters are nice, but reading them is not essential to anyone.

Everyone is so busy these days that few people have the time to sit down and absorb material that is merely interesting. If the articles are about people I should know and what they are doing (or even about me), I don’t consider that trivial and will be sure I read through the newsletter as soon as possible.

Try using the approach that is recommended here and you will see readership rise and volunteer motivation improve.

Quantifiable evidence of a successful newsletter

The newsletter is so important to motivating the members that the first two points used to quantify the success of the newsletter are identical to the points used to measure the success of the whole organization.

  • There is an active membership. To quantify this: more than 25% of the membership contributes to the affairs of the organization at least once per year. At least 15% could be described as active members.
  • People maintain their membership. To quantify this: Less than 10% per year do not renew; and the main reason for leaving is that the member is physically unable to continue (occupational responsibilities, moving or health).
  • The newsletter is read and back issues are kept as reference. This information can be discovered with a short survey or through anecdotal information.
  • People want to write for the newsletter. Evidence for this is that there will be no need to appeal for articles—there are always more offers than there is room. Also, there are no problems finding volunteers to work on the newsletter (e.g., writing, editing, proofreading, printing, folding & stapling, stuffing, addressing and mailing, or preparing for Internet distribution). Consider listing all of the volunteers for a newsletter as the production staff for the next letter. If anyone spots a typo or other error, be sure to list them in the next newsletter as ‘proofreader.’
Use lots of photos and mention names

This is the document of record. It means that people who ran, assisted, or participated in anything should be named. Don’t worry, no one will be bored. This is the primary news for the letter.

Use lots of photos, identify people in photos, and mention as many names as possible. Mention names as often as possible and new members will soon see who is active. New members will gravitate to those peoples’ activities—this is an important way that recruits discover how to become involved.

Mention as many names as possible, and mention names as often as possible. This is the document of record.

Do not skimp here to make room for that wonderful article by the famous Professor So-and-so. Instead, offer a link to access the article or describe where it can be found in the local library. Use it only if it lends credence or support to your members’ accomplishments.

The rule is: mention as many names as possible, and mention names as often as possible. The advice is widely known but editors seem to have trouble doing it. Treat peoples’ contribution with respect and do not use the cute style of gossip columns. Just report what happened, who was there, and who did what. By all means describe the setting, location, or rationale too.

One of the ways for the editor to investigate recent activities is to call committee chairs and other organizers, and ask for articles on recent affairs. Make it clear that what is required is information on who did what and not poetry about the cause. A little poetry is okay. Let people know that the editor may edit to keep articles short. If the organizers cannot (or will not) write, the editor can call to do an interview, and write that up.

Mentioning names, and describing what people are doing, makes compelling reading. People love to see their own names in print, and they devour information about the activities of others, especially if the subjects relate to their own circle. Mentioning names ensures readership and keeps the back copies out of the recycling bin.

Editorial style

Newsletters should be a quick and easy read. Because it looks like a newsletter, readers anticipate that they have at something in their hands that looks and feels like a newspaper or a magazine. Therefore the writing style should be similar to those kinds of journals.

The design of the newsletter should reflect the style of the organization and its membership. If you are the new editor, take the time to examine lots of newsletters from other organizations. I suggest that you develop a template that includes a masthead that you like and space for regular features. People will become familiar with the layout and will snap to the sections of interest. Likely your budget will limit you to a set number of pages.

The appearance of an organization’s newsletter becomes a matter of tradition. Give any changes considerable thought and include the leadership in your planning process. During your term of office do not expect to produce more than one major overhaul of the design—if that. You probably have more scope with your editorial policies.

Most organizations have a number of specious reasons for not doing what is recommended here. Let me suggest a few that I have experienced that will show the scope of what you may encounter when you choose to address this issue. Perhaps your organization has an academic tradition; and the look and content of the newsletter reflects that illustrious history. No one wants to change the beautiful format, even though its erudite articles do nothing to motivate the volunteers. Or your club is a chapter of a national organization and because there is a national newsletter (that hardly anyone reads, or that says little about the local group), you don’t believe there’s a need to crank out a local sheet. Sometimes most of the membership fee is sent to a parent organization and there is not enough left to service the members with a newsletter. Some organizations have not increased dues for years and cannot afford a newsletter.

Do not allow tradition or financial limitations to be excuses for your organization to fail. Ignore tradition that does not serve you and charge the members what it costs to serve them as members. This is appropriate, and necessary, as long as you are clear that the value of the membership fee is worth the price.


Most articles are reports of an event or activity, or a survey of a collection of activities. The essay on how to write a media release is good instruction to the appropriate style, except that there is no need to use headlines that are especially grabby. Newsletter headlines should simply make it easy for the reader to identify the contents of the piece.

The opening paragraph should set the context for the whole article. Each of the subsequent paragraphs should tell one element of the story. By now you know that I am recommending that the story is always about who did what, when, where and why.

The tone should be upbeat and full of recognition for the good works of the participants. Recognition is just that: the story of who was there, what happened and what was accomplished. The editor should not gush with words of thanks and appreciation. Use praise sparingly and only for exceptional circumstances. That is when it will carry more weight and have the most use. In fact, who cares if the editor is grateful? It is better if the reporting quotes someone, such as a member of the leadership, who expressed some words of thanks.

The reporting should be credible. This takes some skill to describe a situation when things did not go well and lots of people know it. The editor does not have to make a point of recording small incidents that are negative, but the major news does have to be told. Try to find that positive spin if you can do it with integrity.


Feature articles are not the point of the newsletter and should not take up an inordinate amount of space. Remember, though, new members will look to the newsletter to see what is going on. From time to time it is worth an article to describe the context for various association activities. If there are any new initiatives, a piece on the history, background, and reasons could be valuable.

Features keep the casual member involved and up to date. Avoid using valuable newsletter space for articles that are just interesting and do not relate to the work of your society.


Some writers have a knack for seeing and describing the humorous side of almost everything. It can make for great reading as long as no members (other than the writer) are victims of the author’s wit. Gags are spice in a newsletter and are probably not central to the editorial purpose.

Cartoon strips can add visual interest to the newsletter if you have a talented contributor. Beware of copyright issues if you help yourself to existing material from the other sources.


With smart phones or tablets, it is easy to take snaps at events or at gatherings of members and include pictures in the newsletter. This is a good use of space in the newsletter.

Take time to learn how to do this well. The most interesting pictures will be of people that the readers know, or should know. It is even better if the picture, or a group of images, tells a bit of a story. Take photos close enough to the subject so that faces are recognizable. Identify everyone featured in the picture. Don’t make the reader search the copy to find out what the picture is about, use a caption, and don’t make the caption too brief. Use a bright fill flash, and use electronic photo finishing to ensure that the photo doesn’t look dingy. Point-and-shoot cameras with tiny lenses have difficulty in darker locations—there is a reason people pay more for an SLR with a large chip. If you are using paper, can you print on stock that produces a decent looking image? If it will appear on someone’s screen, know that it may have different characteristics than yours.

If you are using electronic publishing, be sure to learn how to produce good, simple, and short videos.

No wall of type

Newsletters tend to be busy with lots of short articles. There are likely to be a couple of headings on each page. This means that there is lots of visual interest. If you find that you have some long articles that leave whole pages filled with nothing but type, be sure to break it up or the reader may abandon the article because it looks too long and boring.

The easiest way to do this is to include pull quotes. Find a few really compelling phrases in the text of the article that can be quoted as a box in the middle of the article.

Illustrations and clip art can help too. Because they can be scaled, these devices are also useful in adjusting the length of articles to fill the columns.

Blank ‘white space’ is a useful design feature. It is not necessary to crowd every inch of the page with copy.


At all times readers should know who is writing. If the editor invites an article the author should always have a byline. Be consistent about this.

If the editor is writing, the articles should not be written in the first person unless the editor has a byline. I am always surprised when I see the word ‘I’ in an article and I cannot figure out who wrote the copy. It does not look appropriate for the editor’s name to be repeated throughout the newsletter. Save the articles written in the first person for a few situations where personal observations are the most useful method of reporting the news.

Incisive Journalism

Opinionated journalists should be encouraged to write letters to the local papers and not write editorials for the newsletter. This is not the place for clever articles on such topics as the political activities related to the board. Power struggles should be confined to open and democratic board, general meetings, or lobbying, but never to sniping in the newsletter. People will read the newsletter because they want to know what is going on, not because they want to hear a writer’s opinion. The editor must subscribe to this philosophy, or the newsletter and your association will languish. In this regard, a newsletter is very different from a typical city’s daily newspaper.

The editor can become a powerful person in the life of the society. The primary recognition for volunteer activity is a thoughtful word in the newsletter. People will be hurt if contributions are not recognized in an evenhanded manner. An editor who plays favourites, or takes sides on issues, can alienate whole factions of the membership. The editor may win a political battle, but the club will lose.

Additional Newsletter Content

A source of useful reference

One of the problems that editors seem to have is finding material for the newsletter. Following are some topics that probably should find a place in your letter. Frankly, it always amazes me that there are busy organizations that seem to have difficulty filling the newsletter. Use the advice here and your problem will be a lack of space.

This list is intended to stimulate ideas for “filler” but never should crowd out the articles about member activities. Don’t let that happen.

List names of:

All of the leadership: board members, committee chairs, any organizers, people in related organizations, significant politicians. Be sure to list telephone numbers, consider including email and mailing addresses too. Repeat it all again after every Annual General Meeting. People will have to keep the newsletter because it is a convenient reference document. Consider listing new members and renewals. If you do this, list the life members from time to time.

How-to articles

One of the ways to encourage people to volunteer for active duty is for an experienced person to write an article on how the job is accomplished. It helps to give the membership an appreciation for the workings of the club. After about five years has past, consider rewriting, updating, and republishing this material. Try to give it a new spin.


People need lots of notice of upcoming events. Be sure that it is clear what is in the future, and why members should be involved and how they can be a part of it. This is a good reason to keep the newsletter simple to publish.


In a factual manner, report the issues that are commanding the attention of the leadership. The important issues have to do with developments in the community and the related organizational strategies that are being planned or used for accomplishing the mission of the society.

Issues often carry strong emotional content. The editor should not be using the newsletter to participate in a debate or promote a point of view. The object here is to keep the casual membership informed. If that cannot be done without having an impact on the issue, it might be better to wait for the issue to be resolved before publishing. And then there might be nothing to report.

If the issues are ones of internal strife, the newsletter may not be an appropriate vehicle for discussion.

Reading about issues may even draw out members who could make a contribution.

Make the newsletter timely

To make the newsletter truly newsy, it needs to be timely. The time from writing to layout, to publishing and mailing (or posting on the Internet) should be short so that it is still news when it arrives at the members’ homes. Use desktop publishing, and forget colour separations unless it is easy. The information content is more important than the look.

If your organization is busy you should probably publish every month. Make sure that the publication schedule (deadline for submissions, deadline for printing, deadline for assembling and mailing) is predictable and regular.

If you are thinking that a blog might serve the this purpose, remember that no one has to visit your blog site. We’ve created many blogs (and other forms of web sites), but this passive nature of the web means you will have to do more to make it inevitable that your members visit it. In addition to publishing blog articles, you’ll probably have to promote each new article with emails to everyone, tweets, something on Facebook, and more. Since the newsletter is considered a benefit of membership, often the online version is protected by a password. This is a huge barrier to readership.

Do not beg for volunteers in the newsletter

Surely you have seen those newsletters where the editor howls about the paucity of writers of articles, the dearth of help in publishing the newsletter, and the need for assistance on this or that committee. The editorial goes on to lament the fact that all of the work continues to be done by a few people who are approaching burn-out. The climax of the diatribe is to plead for some good people to come forward to share the load. I have never seen this work very effectively. Would you volunteer after reading that? You just know that if you did you would join that pitiful parade marching toward burn-out.

As explained elsewhere, volunteers need to be asked and sometimes persuaded to volunteer. The person asking needs to convince the prospect that s/he would be good at the job, that the job is valuable, and that there will be training and support so the volunteer will not look incompetent.

If this process is in place, there is no need to cry for help in print. It may be reasonable to list the vacant positions and a contact person for each. It is better not to do this if any of those positions are chronically vacant. If the newsletter is read, people will note these vacancies and will not want to be the sucker who takes on the undesirable chore.

Newsletter format

For a printed newsletter, there is only one format (in North America) that is easy for members to file: 8-1/2 x 11 inches. This is important because members may want to keep their newsletters. Leave room for a 3-hole punch because some people will want to keep their copies in binders. Anything else (regardless of what the professional designer recommends) is a nuisance for the members, and will likely be trashed. Consider providing the newsletter prepunched—it will encourage members to retain their copies. Keep the binding system simple and cheap so that volunteers can do the binding as part of the publishing process, and the member can pull it apart to copy or file the pages. Use recycled paper. Keep it simple.

If the publication is to be electronic, please avoid multicolumn formats.

If it is a blog, note that many themes have such wide columns that it is difficult for the eye to track from the end of one line to the beginning of the line below. There is a reason that newspapers have such narrow columns—those are easy to read quickly.

With blogs, it is best to publish articles frequently; probably at least one post every few days. Blog articles must be timely, and so if it is about a current event, try to publish within hours of the event’s windup. You may look into live-streaming, live blogging, and live-tweeting. If there is good Internet access available, this can be cheap and easy (once you and your crew learn how). Always think more about how to engage and delight the person coming to your blog than what it is that you want to tell them. As editor, you will hear people say: “this is important, please post it on the blog.” It isn’t important unless it is compelling to the reader. If you cannot imagine the angle or spin to make it compelling, don’t post it!

If you are using electronic publishing, think about the security of your archival material. Consider owning your own domain and website. Then maintain multiple off-line backups.

Print a standard box that lists the people responsible for producing the newsletter, how to contact them, and any significant editorial policies including the publication schedule, deadlines for submission, and what topics are acceptable for inclusion. Point out that the editor has the right to edit or reject any submissions. In fact you will not receive too may articles unless you request that someone report something and write it up. Be sure to ask.

It is appropriate recognition to list the contributors (authors) to each newsletter. Since, at the time of printing you may not know who will volunteer to participate in publishing and mailing, keep track of the names and list them in the next newsletter. I recall one editor who noted the names of anyone who had the nerve to point out a typo or other error, and listed those names in the next issue as proofreaders.

Keep a good record of all back copies of your newsletter. Be careful with newsletters that exist only as electronic files. Ensure that you have all of that backed up with at least one version stored at an off-site location.

Programs, Courses, and Meetings

Members need to be in touch with each other and with your cause. You will probably want to schedule programs to fulfill this need. Remember that when members gather, this is an opportunity to recruit new members, to learn something, and to have a social event.

Read the section on recruiting in conjunction with this section. That section talked about the importance of regular membership meetings, so we will begin with that.

Suggested format for regular meetings of members

The frequency of meeting, the location, and the reason to bring people together depends on your cause, the proximity of your members to the meeting place, the members’ desire to commit time to social functions, and the local weather. You may find that the work of the society uses up all of the time most people would be able to offer. Likely you will still want to hold some special events.

Here is a format for a weekly meeting. Note the elements of the meeting and try to incorporate the process of welcoming and recruiting in whatever gathering you use. Over the past year our consulting group, and some of our clients, have been experimenting with holding online video conferences. Online conferencing technology is improving rapidly and is excellent for many forms of group meetings and collaboration. In a future version of this book I may be able to recommend some robust processes. Please let me know if you are having a good experience with this.

Try to establish a single location for regular meetings, and—if possible—obtain the site for free. If your association has an active membership in an urban area, it is reasonable and desirable to have weekly meetings, say Friday evenings from 7:30 to 9:30 PM. For people who live and work in a city, breakfast meetings might be an attractive option. Professional associations often hold lunch meetings or right at the end of the workday.

Aspects of these meetings are discussed in the section on recruitment; and that should be referenced in conjunction with this.

These meetings should feel informal; but this casual and comfortable appearance should be the result of good planning.

Here is a suggested sequence of events for weekly evening meetings. There is no need to follow this plan. It is, however, an example that has been used successfully.

  • 7:30 – 8:00 Members arrive, sign in, and greet each other. If there is a need to set up equipment, this is the time, and hopefully there will be willing hands to help. People should be encouraged to arrive early during this time in order to talk to the others.
  • 8:00 – 8:15 The formal part of the meeting begins. The host invites folks to sit. It is useful if the host begins with a short and positive anecdote; maybe something s/he noticed in the past few days. This is to start the meeting with a positive (or, if useful, inspiring) tone. This requires some consideration in advance to think of something upbeat and relevant. It is worth doing because it helps the visitors and the members feel positive about the meeting, the organization, and the time they have chosen to commit to being there. Any visitors are welcomed, and members who brought visitors are recognized and thanked. Upcoming events are announced.
  • 8:15 – 8:45 A member or guest delivers a prepared talk on a subject of interest. (More about this below). There is a short question period.
  • 8:45 – 9:00 At least one committee chair (project or event leader) discusses the current activities of that group. This may be a prelude to asking people to serve on the committee. This section may be an informal report of a recent club activity.
  • 9:00 – 9:15 Questions, announcements, and other business.
  • 9:15 – 9:30 Social time. It is probably useful to establish the tradition of winding up promptly (in this case at 9:30). Members who want to hang out can head off together.

The main event is the prepared talk. Instead of finding knowledgeable members to speak on their areas of expertise, you may find it useful to ask all members to take a stab at preparing a talk. There are several advantages to doing this. First, anyone who has to present a topic in front of others will come to know that subject well. Second, anyone who prepares a talk, and is the featured entertainment for an evening, will become more committed to the organization. Third, this is a logical way to move a passive member from obscurity to active participation. Public speaking is terrifying for many people, and the opportunity to attempt it in the friendly atmosphere your organization will be an opportunity for real personal growth. For tips on public speaking, Toastmasters has excellent resources such as (

The organizer of the meetings needs to approach members individually and ask them to prepare a presentation. Invariably your prospective speakers will answer that they cannot, or that they don’t know enough, or that they are too shy. Be understanding and persistent. When they say that they cannot, assure them that you are confident that they can. When they say they do not know the subject, provide them with the assistance of one of the really informed members of the association, as well as access to material to research and illustrate the talk. If they are too shy, point out that everyone is, but that this is an excellent and friendly forum to overcome that. (Are you noticing that this is the same process as dealing with objections during recruitment?) Most of the people in the room have gone through this at one time. Each year you will need 40 to 50 speakers, so these people are truly making a contribution to the life of the association. They will rise to the occasion, and they will learn fast. Their sense of value to the club will be enhanced. They will become more articulate about your issues and values.

Of course people can pick their own topics. You will find that much of the time it is better to explain that you need a talk on a specific subject.

If your membership is still small, consider asking visitors to come and speak to your group.

The title of the talks should be announced in the newsletter, so the speakers and their topics will need to be determined in time for publication.

In order to ensure that there is a program for these regular meetings, a person or a committee must undertake the responsibility of organizing these meetings. Because of the importance of these meetings to the members and to the future of your organization, this is a major responsibility. Typically the organizer is also the host, but that is not necessarily the case. The function of the host may be rotated through the committee or even beyond the committee to active members. The real work of the organizer is not hosting, but ensuring that all the preparations are done.

The second feature of the evening is the presentation by a committee chair (or designate). Since the club is active, and this is an opportunity to promote one of the projects of the club, it is usually easy to find someone who is eager to fill this slot. Nevertheless, someone does have to ask.

The section on recruiting makes much of maintaining a ‘sign-in’ book as a part of meetings. Knowing who attends every meeting is valuable for a number of reasons. The person who writes the newsletter will often confirm the participation of members by checking this book.

As the years pass, the sign-in book becomes a wonderful record of the participation of individuals and members will appreciate it. You will see the names of students who have gone on to become leaders in their field. The first meeting of someone who becomes one of the movers and shakers will be recorded. The night there was a famous visitor who delivered an outstanding presentation. People will love to see their names and the names of old friends in past pages of the book.

Maintaining the book is a chore, and ensuring that it is at every meeting will sometimes be a nuisance, but it will be worth the trouble. As you can see, since these attendance records are very useful, if your committees, task forces, and other gathering don’t bother to keep good minutes, be sure that at least the time, location, attendance, and purpose of all are recorded.

Public events

Holding a series of major public events is important to the process of recruiting new members. To be clear: these are events that are organized by your association and offered to the general public as well as to the membership.

The substance of these events is optional, but holding several public events each year is a requirement in order to find new, qualified prospective members.

If you are finding it difficult to imagine what to offer at these events, here are some suggestions.

Talks by noted personalities or experts are the easiest and most obvious event. New authors, community leaders, and experts in your field may appear for no cost other than transportation and accommodation. Very high profile authors and leaders are often professional speakers, and you are not likely to attract them at no cost—but there is no expense for asking.

You might host a panel discussion on relevant issues related to your mission or matters of public policy.

Instead of a presentation, consider holding an interpreted visit or tour to a place of interest—e.g. a natural history or environmental location, a new display or exhibit in your town, a newly opened facility, a place that will soon undergo change, etc.

Your event might be a media conference associated with a matter of public interest where your organization has a position or a useful perspective.

Most of the time you should choose an event that is relatively simple to organize. The event needs to be publicized so that it is attended by more than members. Members are expected to attend. It should be of interest to the public. There is likely a cost associated, so an admission fee may be charged. Try to be sure that these events are revenue neutral. Some of these events may be expensive, but so attractive that they would be of interest to a sponsor—so it is worth pursuing a sponsorship. Review the Media Event chapter to see about organizational details.


Is there some knowledge or processes that your association members know that might be of interest to the general public? If your members could create courses to teach this, it would expand the influence of your organization. Also, some of the people who take the courses would be prospective new members.

The way to experiment with this concept is to run some courses for new members to train them in the culture and practices of your association. Probably there is no charge for this unless there is a cost associated with the venue.

When you decide that you have developed course material that is compelling enough to attract the public, probably you should charge a fee. At least cover your costs. Then decide how much of the fee should go to your association, and how much for the presenter. Your research into what to charge should begin by looking at the price for similar products in your region. Also consider whether you are doing this to generate revenue or to identify prospective members.


Do your members run projects that are related to the mission of your organization? The reason that this topic is included in this section of the book is to ask if non-members could be invited to participate in your projects and thereby make a contribution.

If non-members sign on for a project, they are likely to become enthusiastic about the work of your society. Some will become members. At least those who don’t will increase your influence in the community.

The Organization — Getting Things Done

On Leadership

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, Not so good when people obey and acclaim him. Worse when they despise him. But of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: ‘We did it ourselves.’ — Lao-tse (c.565 BC)

It always amazes me the number of people who believe the opinion of the Chair (or president) of a board is powerful. If the Chair has a big voice and strong personality, this person can dominate a meeting and make things happen his or her way. You have seen these types of leaders in action. This is a leader who always knows what needs to be done and who senses which individuals on the team need to be stroked or badgered. I am not proud to admit that when I was younger I resorted to such tactics. But don’t rule out coercive leadership as a possible choice for an organization. Many committees or organizations work well because this powerful person is in charge. This style is called the coercive leader who leads by fear, “My way or the highway!” The leader takes charge and invites no contrary opinions. This is the leadership style of choice when an organization is in crisis. If an organization is in serious trouble or in emergent, rapidly changing conditions, a leader may want to adopt this style. García and Santa-Bárbara 2 explored how coercive leadership sometimes needs to be used with teams to temporarily jump start a dysfunctional or non-performing group. The coercive style can be used on a temporary basis, over a period of a few days or weeks.

However, once the crisis resolves, coercion can create its own crises unless the leader can shift to another style. People can be found who like to be associated with this kind of personality, or ‘on his/her team.’ If the coercive leader’s style can shift to meet the changing needs, then great things can be accomplished. If not, sometimes the person is powerful enough to change the organization to suit him or herself. This style can have the most detrimental impact on culture in an organization. Eventually when this leader moves on, he or she leaves a vacuum, not a culture of success. It is almost impossible to find someone to fill this person’s shoes and when the crisis or the project ends, the organization languishes. Because of the aura of success that surrounds this kind of person, they are often sought after. Those who like to practice followship often prefer (even demand) this kind of boss. Those who prefer a more democratic style of operation will simply drop out; their potential contribution vanishes and you never knew it was there. It seems to be part of our culture to whine about a lack of leadership, then complain about the leaders who arise.

Theories and models of leadership (e.g., charismatic, authentic, transformational) attempt to describe the complexity of the task of leading. Think about the leadership style often described as charismatic. Charismatic leaders depend on their personal appeal to followers. Most leadership theories and approaches are focused on the leader’s role of motivating followers to serve and achieve organizational goals. In contrast to the coercive leader, a transformational leader like Barack Obama seeks to understand the motives and higher needs of followers in order to engage the full person. The relationship between transformational leaders and followers is mutual stimulation to achieve mutually desirable goals. According to Gary Yukl 3, the transformational leader’s focus is on the followers’ alignment with organizational or leaders’ values.

Part of developing a strong organizational culture is fostering the natural leadership style, and developing leadership skills, of individual members. Leaders are made through a combination of training and experience. All members who wish to make a contribution should be expected to assume some leadership responsibilities. (Note the words of Lao-tse at the beginning of this section.) Nahavandi in The Art and Science of Leadership 4 said, “The experience of actually leading others is one of the most effective ways to develop leaders.” Developing good leadership skills should be part of the personal growth that your society provides. Leadership should be more about participatory democracy than domination. As you think about moving your organization forward, think about how you can involve people in leading.

Evolving from Startup to Good Governance

Alexis de Tocqueville, a French political thinker and historian, wrote of his amazement at the way Americans could recognize a need and then not wait for the government or the nobility to solve the problem. Americans, he observed, formed associations.

I met with several kinds of associations in America, of which I confess I had no previous notion; and I have often admired the extreme skill with which the inhabitants of the United States succeed in proposing a common object to the exertions of a great many men, and in getting them voluntarily to pursue it. It is evident that the [people of England] consider association as a powerful means of action, but the [Americans] seem to regard it as the only means they have of acting.

Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions, constantly form associations. They have not only commercial and manufacturing companies, in which all take part, but associations of a thousand other kinds—religious, professional, academic, charitable, extensive or restricted, enormous or diminutive. The Americans make associations to give entertainments, to found establishments for education, to build inns, to construct churches, to distribute books, to send missionaries to the antipodes, to run football leagues. In this manner they create hospitals, institutions of higher learning, and professional development. If a small group of people proposes to advance some truth or to foster some feeling by the encouragement of a great example, they form a society.

Democracy In America, Book Two, Chapter V. — Alexis de Tocqueville, 1840

What a truly wonderful phenomenon! When there is a community need, often people will come together and voluntarily create an organization to address that need.

Over several decades and in several organizations, I have served both as a volunteer participant and sometimes in leadership roles. My community associations have produced some of the most satisfying accomplishments of my life. I am convinced that those of us who volunteer actually receive far more than we give. For people who are wondering about this kind of community service, I should add that it takes usually a few years to see real results and acquire this perspective.

Your new organization will have to evolve to succeed. During the early start-up period a small group of committed people will meet, divvy up the responsibilities among themselves, and do everything like a committee-of-the-whole. If you are successful, the membership will grow, and it will be impossible for work to be done the same old way. A variety of task groups will have to work independently but in an organized manner toward common goals. Expect this, and plan for both the growth and the necessary organizational changes.

This evolution is a cultural change that may be as much of a challenge as the start-up. Because you are recruiting new members, you are making lots of promises that must be kept. Groups will need to be accountable for coordinated action. Accountability includes seeing to the finances: collecting revenues, paying the bills, tracking every transaction, and occasionally reporting on the situation. You will not be able to please everyone so some decisions and issues will need to be resolved.

The work of leadership eventually becomes manifest in the form of a board.

The following is a brief look at the formation and evolution of the board.

As the work of your founders evolves from a committee-of-the-whole to a board with a variety of working groups or committees, I recommend that you stop using the board as the senior management committee. One of the steps in the development of your association may be incorporating. The Articles of Incorporation will identify the initial membership. This membership will approve the bylaws that will (among other things) determine how the board is selected. When this happens, your society becomes a legal corporate entity. There are many options to consider, and you should probably have legal advice about how to incorporate.

To be effective, I believe that the work of the board requires some new disciplines to be mastered. Part of the problem is due to the currently evolving culture of boards. Probably you have noticed that many nonprofit (and for-profit boards) have found themselves in difficulty because the board members didn’t know how to behave ethically and prudently. Until recently, people have assumed that the work of a board could be done by anyone with no study or training. As an organization grows and issues become more complex, that assumption may be naive. The governance direction that I propose to you is not the style of most organizations. It is my experience that, while some boards may be doing fairly good work, many make poor use of the time and the talent of the board members, and often boards have no idea how to hold their organization accountable for producing real results.

Nothing will ensure excellent results better than having an effective board that knows its job.

Good governance produces wonderful clarity regarding the purpose of the association. It also keeps tabs on whether or not the organization is achieving that purpose. This clarity and accountability can actually make people uncomfortable until they understand that accountability is not about blaming people, it is about ensuring that the results produced are appropriate and are achieved at a reasonable cost.

Learning to operate in this manner will be much more effective than traditional or default governance styles, but it will cause some culture shock for new board members who have served on those old-fashioned boards. Please learn the techniques and champion the process of educating your fellow board members. I am hoping that during the time of the emerging generation one of the major cultural changes in our communities will be the development of truly effective, high-integrity board members. Our community needs this.

The system of governance that you are reading about was developed only in the last couple of decades and the pioneers in their use are just discovering its benefits. Promoting the culture that I am proposing may difficult to do because the normal development of an enthusiastic group causes those who have been identified as leaders to gravitate to the board. So early on, the board becomes the general organizing body—the people who participate in everything. Later, when this may no longer be suitable, the behaviour is so ingrained into the culture of the association that it is almost impossible for the board to stop doing what it has always done and concentrate only on good governance. Unfortunately this means that those who are responsible for articulating what the society should achieve are also partially responsible for deciding how the work should be done. The principle that this violates is that you should not be accountable to yourself. Because you are all friends, you may think that is doesn’t matter. Actually it compromises effective leadership.

This section is to point the way to developing powerful and meaningful governance. The techniques discussed in this section are effective, but they are so new that the language to describe them is not widely used. So at first some of this may seem difficult to understand. Even though you may not need this for your start-up, please look it over and come back to it as your association grows. If you are doing a great job, that could be soon.

Think about this: why do you need a board? What is its role? How would you articulate its job description?

If you look at the hierarchical organization chart of any corporation (we are probably talking about incorporated societies), you will see the board as a box at the top. You might conclude that it must be up there as a form of senior management. That is what most people think, but I’d like you to see it differently. Consider why and how the board is formed. Likely you have members and they elect the board. In a for-profit, the shareholders elect the board. So, it is obvious that the board speaks as a representative of the members or shareholders. Shareholders are clearly the owners of the for-profit, and the board governs on their behalf.

With the not-for-profit the members may or may not be equivalent to shareholders. If members have simply bought a membership in order to receive services (such as members of a zoo or a library), they are actually customers of the organization. As customers, you would not describe them as owners (even though they may elect the board).

The job of a board member is that of a trustee. This is what is meant by the board member’s fiduciary responsibility. This means that board holds the organization in trust for those people it has identified as its owners.

So, who owns your society? Who is it that the board really represents? To understand this, consider why your organization exists. You (or those who founded your organization) have recognized that there is a need in your community that can be addressed by having this organization. Even though meeting and working together may be fun and produce intrinsic rewards, you want to produce some results, effect some changes, or produce some benefits in and for your community. You probably recognize who will benefit from your work and you know there is a cost associated with the work of producing these results. I would argue that your moral ownership—the people your board really represents—are all those people who would have your society exist to produce the benefits or changes that you envision for your community. The board represents those people whether or not they buy a membership. The job of the board, then, is to speak for those people. You (if you are a board member) hold your society in trust for the owners. This is what is meant when people refer to the board’s fiduciary responsibility.

The moral ownership of your not-for-profit association—the people your board really represents—are all those people who would have your society exist to produce the benefits, or changes that you envision for your community.

In order to govern effectively, here is the board’s full job description: the job of the board is to see to it that, on behalf of whomever the board perceives to be the ownership, the organization achieves what it should and avoids situations and conduct that are unacceptable. This is true governance and it should be the first responsibility of the board, wouldn’t you agree? The board has the authority to decide to do other things too, but those other things are not governance.

This description is short, but the job requires some diligence. In order to govern, the board will have to be clear about the needs and wishes of the ownership, and then it must articulate what the organization should achieve, and what situations and conduct are unacceptable. Having done that, it should hold those who are doing the the business of the association accountable. This is the only effective way that a group of people who meet infrequently can see to it that the will of the ownership is accomplished. Although when you think about it, this is a reasonable requirement of our boards; yet most boards do little or none of this. Most boards function very poorly.

If you look at the description of the board’s job it is obvious that most legitimate products of the board’s work is words. Wouldn’t you agree that if those words are to mean something they should be carefully articulated? Once again, this is not what boards typically do. Instead, most boards try to be the senior managers of the organization. Most people know something about management—or think they know about it—and they have little experience with governance. So, board agendas often have long lists of busywork that the members see as so urgent that they do not have the time to think about governance. I recommend that by the time you move to incorporate, you have also split the governance function from the management and operational jobs. Consider having a small board (probably five people; seven at the most) and a separate operations committee made up the Chairs of each of the committees who are charged with doing the work of the organization. This way the board can concentrate on governing. As governing trustees (who are not operations), the board will be able to hold the operations committee accountable for achieving the results that the owners want.

When the day comes that you hire staff to carry out the work of the society, the head of staff must replace that volunteer operations committee. The committee may remain, but only if it is accountable to the head of staff, and not to the board.

As a community association that has arisen to address a community need, your society has been created to effect beneficial social change. Training your board to understand a better governance model may be part of the benefit to the community. When (eventually) your board members see the positive results that are produced with this form of governance, they will influence the behaviour of other community boards. I participated in hugely beneficial transformation of the Canadian Nature Federation (CNF, now renamed Nature Canada) during the 1990s as it struggled to learn this new system. During my term as an officer and President of the CNF we went from almost-bankruptcy to having over $750,000 in a rainy day fund, and a larger and happier staff in new and larger offices. We discovered that when the board says what must be achieved, and leaves the methods to the doers (the staff), those doers focus an enormous amount of attention and creativity on moving the organization in that direction. If, instead, the board says what must be done (say, by approving an operating and program plan) that motivation is lost. It makes a real difference.

There is no need to describe the whole system of governance here. It is called Policy Governance® and there are several books written on the subject. My hope is that I’ve written enough here so that you will want to learn and implement this better model of governance. To get started, consider Caroline Oliver’s excellent (2009) Getting Started with Policy Governance: Bringing Purpose, Integrity , and Efficiency to your Board ( Sitting down with this book is like sitting down over a cup of tea with a trusted governance advisor.

Much of the initial work of the board becomes articulating policies that clearly state what is to be achieved, and what is unacceptable. Take a look at the previous section on Mission. There are some points there about the language of governance that you may want to review.

Many board members are content if, during their term of office, the organization is well run. It is like having a car and paying attention only to its mechanics. Board members have a responsibility to ensure that their organization is truly achieving what it must. You and your board members should be envisioning the future that your organization exists to create and then ensure that your organization achieves (or maintains) that. This is a short video I made to express the value of envisioning:

Once you have clearly articulated your policies, the ongoing work of the board becomes:

  • monitoring every one of its policies (not every policy at every meeting)
  • at least once every year, reviewing the validity of all of its policies. One of the positive consequences of this form of governance is that helps the board focus on ensuring that the organization is truly creating the benefits for which it exists.
  • linking to the owners and ensuring that the association is still achieving what it must. This requires an outward looking focus that requires the board to be aware of their own association in relation to all of the others that are also serving their community.
  • ensuring that the association has the appropriate leadership (hiring the head-of-staff, and conducting performance appraisals).

A bit of discussion about the word policies. Policies are not carved in stone and delivered down the mountain. Policies are explicitly written shared commitments regarding the values and beliefs of the people who have an interest in organizational success. They are meant to evolve as time goes on and people change.


The Power of the Chair / Agendas / Minutes

Any formal meeting, including general meetings of members, board meetings, committee meetings, or task groups needs to be organized with an agenda and produce notes or minutes. During the meeting, the special privileges of the Chair are only to cast a deciding vote in the case of a tie, to recognize speakers, and to maintain order. (In the event of a tie, often the Chair is best advised to remain impartial and not caste that deciding vote.)

Start the meeting on time. Never penalize the people who arrive on time by waiting for latecomers. Ever! If this is a new organization, get this right from the outset and make it part of the culture.

Never penalize the people who arrive on time by waiting for latecomers. Ever!

The real power of the Chair is to secure commitments of the participants to act, as well as the right to set the initial agenda. It is amazing to me how willing people are to discuss and to use their creativity for any topic put before them. This is the energy that the Chair will want to harness. There is no way that the Chair can stop people from adding to or subtracting from the agenda. Most of the time people are willing to leave that to the Chair.

In preparing for a meeting, the Chair should review past minutes for any commitments from members, and if a report is timely, list those items under Business Arising. I recommend that no item of business be on the agenda without the name of the person who will report, or who will propose something. No one should be surprised to see their name on an agenda (unless the person has forgotten what he or she was supposed to do). There is a piece of advice that I pass along with some misgiving. I once worked for a very skillful president who would deliberately leave out some matters that were scheduled to have been brought forward in Business Arising. He explained that, although these items might have seemed like a good idea in the initial meeting—and if the members really wanted to pursue them they could bring them forward themselves—in his opinion, these matters were now best just forgotten. I remember that I always agreed with his judgment, and I do not recall that anyone ever noticed. This might also be part of the skill and power of the Chair. Exercised with skill, these powers can result in considerable accomplishment. Setting the agenda does mean that the Chair must consider all of the current needs of the organization and think through what must be accomplished. In setting the agenda, the Chair decides what should be discussed at the meeting, and how much time is available. The above shows how business arising keeps commitments from being forgotten. New business is where the Chair can introduce new topics.

Typically the agenda for any meeting consists of the following:

  1. Chair’s Remarks – Chair
  2. Approval of the Agenda – Chair
  3. Approval of the Minutes of Previous Meeting – Chair
  4. Business Arising from the Minutes
    • 1st Business Arising – Name of Person Reporting
    • 2nd Business Arising – Name of Person Reporting
    • 3rd Business Arising – Name of Person Reporting
    • 4th Business Arising – Name of Person Reporting
  5. Committee Reports
    • 1st Committee Reporting – Chair of Committee
    • 2nd Committee Reporting – Chair of Committee
  6. New Business
    • 1st New Business – Name of Person Reporting
    • 2nd New Business – Name of Person Reporting
    • 3rd New Business – Name of Person Reporting
  7. Adjournment and Time of Next Meeting – Chair (Note that under the Policy Governance system, the agenda will look substantially different).

The reason for asking for approval of the agenda at the beginning of the meeting is to achieve an agreement on the business of the meeting before it gets underway. After that it can be altered only by a vote. I recommend approving agendas. Otherwise, the alternative is that as the meeting is winding up people ask to talk about ‘one more item.’ This can go on for a long time. If the agenda was approved, and it is completed, the Chair may simply announce that since there is no new business the meeting is adjourned (that means there is no need to ask for motion to adjourn). Before doing that, ensure that the time and location of the next meeting is known, and to thank anyone who facilitated the meeting.

The first item, Chair’s Remarks is a line I have learned to include on agendas. It provides the Chair with a few moments to talk about what must be achieved at the meeting. Typically, the early agenda items receive lots of discussion, and later items may be glossed over as peoples’ attention wanes and time becomes short. If an important matter needs to be given adequate time for discussion, the Chair can use this time prior to the approval of the agenda to ask for the matter to be moved up. If an expert or special guest is speaking at the meeting, that should be included under Chair’s Remarks. This allows the visitor to leave without having to endure the other business. If nothing else, the Chair can use this time to provide some news, or relate a short anecdote, to set the tone of the meeting.

If a decision is required, folks should have the background information before the meeting. In an ideal world, the draft minutes of a meeting should be distributed to the members soon after the meeting. Before the next meeting, members should receive an agenda and any required background material for the meeting. It is not reasonable for people to discover the agenda when they show up for the meeting. What’s worse is if they are handed reading material when they arrive that relates to decisions they will make. Send this material out in advance, and expect (demand) that people arrive at the meeting both informed of the issues and prepared to make decisions. I know that this will be hard to achieve with consistency; but try.

Consider using e-mail, forums, or online offices for the distribution of materials. It is cheap, fast, and environmentally friendly. It is probably not reasonable to use e-mail and then expect the members to print out a big wad of paper. If there is a package that needs to be considered before the meeting, it is probably best to send it out by post at least a week before the meeting. Or send out the electronic version but have paper copies at the meeting for those without laptops or tablets. The cost of projectors is dropping, so in some cases, instead of paper, the relevant material can be projected on a screen.

If your group is using parliamentary rules (more on that later), here is some advice for helping the Chair work productively within the rules.

During a meeting, the first responsibility of the Chair is to be attentive to what is happening 100% of the time. This can be difficult because it means really listening to every speaker as well as attending to numerous distractions.

The second responsibility is to constantly scan the room for people who may want to be recognized to speak. Keep track of these people, and the order in which they identified themselves. Someone who wishes the floor should have to do no more than make a slight movement of the hand to catch your eye. A little nod from you will acknowledge that you will recognize them in turn. Sometimes, you will find that while someone is speaking, suddenly a long list of people will have identified themselves. Since the signals given to you were subtle (invisible to most of the assembly), the speakers will not have a sense of the time before they have the floor. When the current speaker ends, it is useful to announce that there are a number of people who wish to speak, and to list the order of the names.

With parliamentary rules, when someone proposes a resolution, that person is the first to speak to the motion. The person who seconded the motion may speak next. Discussion proceeds around the room giving anyone who wishes to speak to the motion the opportunity to talk until everyone else has had a say. Then the mover may speak again if points have been raised that need to be addressed. This is what is meant by debate. Since some of the discussion may be taking issue with the motion, there is a tendency for the mover to want to ‘answer’ the concerns expressed immediately. Usually that kind of dialog is counterproductive. It is also out of order, and should be discouraged or disallowed. Dialogue of any kind during the debate tends to reinforce differences between individuals, and not focus on the issue at hand. Worse, the debate becomes a conversation, and people who want to address the motion but not the current drift of the conversation may choose to remain silent. Proceeding around the room, allowing each person to comment on the motion, provides a better balance of opinion, and keeps the other members involved.

Trust the process and you will arrive at better decisions.

You will also need to be comfortable with parliamentary procedure, so take the time to learn it. Often, as Chair, I have seen someone propose a resolution that is (in my opinion) not appropriate for the organization. Since it seems to solve a problem at hand, at first a number of people speak in support of it. Instead of panicking and jumping in with my concerns, I have found that after a few people have had the floor, someone figures out what is wrong, and makes a good case against it. Eventually, when the vote is taken, a good decision is made. People need the time to think, and the process allows for it. The last speakers will be a chorus of thoughtful naysayers, and inappropriate motions are usually defeated. And sometimes, I am wrong with my initial opinion. Groups do make good decisions.

Keep speakers on the topic at hand, and politely rule other discussion out of order.

The third responsibility is to maintain order and to interpret parliamentary rules. When high order motions are proposed, it is often useful to take a moment and explain what has happened, and what options are available to the members. If the Chair senses that the group would like to explore an issue informally, people should know that the rules are being relaxed and that they are free to object. Use unusual circumstances to coach and inform the members of the procedures and the options that are available. It will help the group to become better participants.

The forth responsibility is to keep track of the time and the agenda. Gently keep the business moving forward and try to keep the meetings from being too long. Most people are not too productive after two hours. If you are worried about how cope with a long meeting, consider asking the group what they want to do. Describe the problem and propose a solution, such as postponing some business for a future meeting. Sometimes it is useful to propose a break for people to stretch. These breaks, if well timed, can give participants some space to discuss some issues informally so that after the break a solution is quickly achieved.

Here is how a skillful Chair propels the activities of the members. When some action is required, the members will often identify in the passive voice, what needs to be done. The Chair should be thinking of whom should take on the job. At the appropriate time, the Chair will turn to the person and ask gently if he or she could take care of it, or otherwise take on the responsibility. If the person says, “sure,” the Chair asks if the person will report at the next meeting (or whenever is appropriate). The Chair should also make sure that the person understands the task and has the resources (assistance, money, time) to complete it. At the next meeting, that person’s name appears beside that agenda item in Business Arising.

Sometimes people forget these undertakings. Publishing the minutes soon after a meeting is a good reminder—and it is even better if the Chair or the secretary highlights the commitments. A note here about the minutes: the minutes must not be vague about assumed responsibilities. The minutes should clearly state who undertook to do what by when and with what resources. Capturing these commitments is an important responsibility of the recording secretary. I have been known to deliver a painful kick under the table to the ankle of the recorder when I noticed that person looking out the window and missing a volunteer agreeing to undertake a task.

The second reminder comes when the proposed agenda arrives, and the people who are expected to report read their names on the agenda.

At the next meeting, all the Chair has to do is ask the person for the report as it comes up on the agenda. There is a lot of peer pressure in this system for people to fulfill their responsibilities. If someone fails to perform when they promised they would, at the meeting where they are supposed to report, they usually offer to hustle to make amends. Isn’t this a better way to motivate people than badgering volunteers to do things?

When good work is done, the Chair should ensure that the person is recognized and thanked, and the comments should appear in the minutes.

Consensus vs. Parliamentary Decisions

Most volunteer organizations run meetings using Parliamentary Rules of Order. Although it is familiar, and most people expect it, parliamentary procedure is not the only way to operate. In recent years some organizations have been working to make decisions on the basis of consensus. Both parliamentary rules and consensus are useful styles of managing an assembly of people, and both have value. The organization should decide up-front, which will be used, and encourage the members to become skilled in the practice.

The purpose of this section is to suggest that there is a choice, with advantages to either system. Most people have some experience with the parliamentary tradition, and the rest of this manual assumes that that will be the form used.

Good consensus procedures lead to excellent decisions, but at a cost of time. The advantage is that everyone’s contribution is valued, and in the end everyone comes to some kind of an agreement. A disadvantage is that it requires considerable skill of the members in the process, and relies less on the rule of a Chair.

Parliamentary procedures have the advantage of producing speedy solutions that are satisfactory to the majority of members. The disadvantage is that it may encourage factions, drama, intrigue, and positions of win-lose. The rules provide orderly discussion and voting.

If parliamentary rules are used, both the Chair and the participants need to understand that the whole purpose of the rules is to allow the assembly to arrive at a speedy decision. Whenever I hear someone say, ‘Let’s not get bogged down in parliamentary procedure,’ I know I am with a group that understands neither the principles nor the process. Unfortunately, this is frequently the situation in many organizations. Often the consequences are endless debates with no positive resolutions.

When the group understands the parliamentary process, things can move swiftly and informally. After a few introductory remarks on a new topic by various members, the Chair will ask for a motion or to move on to something else. If there is a motion, it is followed by debate that moves around the room, with no dialogue (i.e., back and forth discussion among people with differing opinions). When the competing ideas have been expressed, the matter moves easily to a vote. Everyone accepts the will of the majority, knowing that each had an opportunity to make their case. When the issue at hand is particularly contentious, the Chair may be more formal about the application of the rules. This helps speed a decision.

One of the reasons members should know the parliamentary rules is so that they understand their options. For instance, if a member tries to raise a matter that almost no one in the room wants to discuss, while the person is making the motion another member may interrupt to say, “I object to consideration of this question.” That is not a rude comment, it is a high order motion for which a second is not required and no debate is permitted. The Chair immediately puts this objection to a vote, and if carried by 2/3 of the assembly, the original motion is out of order and cannot be considered further. If the members do not feel they know enough to make a decision on an issue, or simply do not want to deal with it at the current meeting, they can decide to postpone it, table it, or send it to a committee. I have seen situations where a group has crafted a carefully worded motion and has even distributed some thoughtful back-up material, and was hoping for a respectful airing of the issue at the meeting. They were appalled at the speed with which an assembly exercised one of these options and passed on to new business. Parliamentary procedure results in a decision that reflects the will of the majority. The minority can still be a large number of people, and they can feel hurt by the process. That is part of democracy. As U.S. President Obama said, democracy is a messy business.

The business of the meeting is not to give issues an airing, or to provide people a platform to express themselves; it is to facilitate the majority arriving at a decision.

When operating in a parliamentary environment, members should not be naive about the process. For a motion to carry, it must have the support of a majority of the voting members. Determining the will of the majority is the business of the meeting. The business of the meeting is not to give issues an airing, or to provide people a platform to express themselves. In my opinion, only an unsophisticated member would propose an important motion without considerable confidence that it will be carried. The principle of majority rule implies a political situation. The place to ensure votes-of-support is in private conversations before the meeting.

This process of lobbying is a legitimate part of our democratic way of life. I don’t know what the President of the United States has on his/her agenda today, but it is likely that a good part of that time will be spent on the phone or in personal meetings. The President will be attempting to persuade legislators to support some initiative. It is not described in the rules, but it is the business of promoting a good idea, and members who wish to participate effectively—such as yourself—need to learn to become skilled in the process. If this sounds like I am recommending political ambushes and back-room deals, I have not effectively made my point. If the meetings are going to be efficient—the reason for choosing to operate under parliamentary rules—then much of the discussion should happen in advance. If you are promoting a concept and will propose a motion, do your lobbying as part of your preparation.

If people need to read something in order to make a decision, that should be distributed in time to be read before the meeting.

If discussions need to be held whereby the membership is expected to explore a topic, and the resulting action is not known, consider holding a workshop that is not part of the business meeting. It would help if you have some members who are skilled in facilitating such workshops. Whatever you do, it would be better to keep this kind of work out of the business meetings. When the board, or the interested group, have concluded with a vision or strategy, it then become a simple matter to expedite the decision with a motion in the formal meeting. If a separate workshop is not practical, at least have the assembly agree that the business of the meeting is being interrupted for the purpose of workshopping the topic. Was this expected, and was it scheduled as part of the agenda? Do people have the materials, research information or background to be able to discuss the matter intelligently? If not, and if the matter is not time-sensitive, consider scoping the matter in a short workshop, and then the action taken will be to delegate the work of preparing the background for a future discussion to a committee.

If, instead of using parliamentary rules, the group prefers meetings to be creative sessions, where everyone’s ideas may contribute to solutions, then a consensus processes might be more desirable.

The promise of achieving a consensus sounds as if your association may be able to operate without conflict. In fact, the consensus fosters an atmosphere that encourages the expression of different opinions and even conflict, and then provides some process that may lead to a resolution in a creative and supportive environment. It recognizes that everyone has a contribution to make, and all views are encouraged. Often it takes several meetings to work towards a decision.

At the conclusion of the process it is not uncommon for some people to continue to disagree with the final decision, but they have also agreed not to block it. In agreeing to stand aside, they know that their concern was truly heard, and will be noted in the record as part of the decision.

Part of the frustration of working with consensus is that an individual, or a small group of people, do have the power to block a proposed action. Blocking is a powerful tool that values the individual. The psychological anxiety that occurs on both sides of the issue when someone feels the need to block is part of the dynamics of consensus. The assembly should work through the process even though there will be a temptation for the majority to vote and get on with business.

The parliamentary positions of Chair and secretary may be replaced by roles with names such as the facilitator, the advocate, the timekeeper, the scribe, the notetaker, and the doorkeeper.

Groups wishing to operate by consensus will have to study the techniques, and be prepared to train people in the process and the roles. It is culturally different from the experience of most members, and it may alienate some impatient people. While there is (more or less) a single set of rules for parliamentary procedures, there are a variety of options for using consensus. You will have to agree on which philosophy you will use. For instance, with some forms of consensus, anyone may block consensus. In others a single blocker is not enough, a minimum of two or more people are required. This more-than-one-person requirement for blocking is similar to a parliamentary motion that requires someone to second the motion before it can be accepted.

A major benefit of moving forward as the result of decisions made by consensus is that each member will feel like his or her contribution really matters. It requires the participants to be prepared to fully understand competing concepts, and to be willing to explore creative solutions. Often the quality of the results more than justify the effort to achieve proficiency with the system.

As a final note on this subject, I see many groups who claim to use consensus, but don’t. Sometimes this means is that the group will noodle around a subject until the Chair feels that most people are in agreement, and then asks, “Are we all in agreement?” Most people nod in agreement, and some are silent.

Consensus has been achieved. Or has it?

The resolution was quick and not contentious, but often it is missing some valuable insight. Instead of debate there was actually a conversation. In a debate each speaker addresses the motion and does not have to relate to the last person who spoke. A conversation (or dialogue) tends to follow from the most recent comments. For some people this means that the conversation can drift away from some valuable points that they might have made, so they remain silent. This is not consensus; it is a weak form of the parliamentary system. In a small board or casual setting with a skillful Chair who always draws out the quiet people, this might be satisfactory most of the time. It is better to create a casual manner, and yet use the real parliamentary system. So, if you observe that you, or others, are not expressing yourselves because the meeting is so conversational that there seems to be no context for your comments, be advised that your process is seriously flawed, and you should act to correct it.

If you observe that you, or others, are not expressing yourselves because the meeting is so conversational that there seems to be no context for your comments, be advised that your process is flawed, and you should act to correct it.

Many groups claim to use consensus, but don’t understand how it should work. The chair will seriously attempt to achieve a real consensus for a while; but when the process seems to be taking too long, the group will simply vote. That action destroys all of the dynamics of the consensus process. Anyone who chose to block is disenfranchised and will probably not contribute in that way again. This occurs when groups would like to operate with consensus, but are not really prepared to learn how to use it effectively. The results may seem okay, but are likely far from achieving the best wisdom from the members of the assembly.

Using parliamentary procedures does not mean that the style of the meeting has to be formal and unfriendly. It does mean that there is a fair process that does yield good decisions. Most attempts to be so informal as to ignore the rules result in a loss of good decisions. Since the contributors remain silent—but friendly—you will never know what was lost.

Role of Committees

A group of the unprepared, appointed by the unwilling, to do the unnecessary — Fred Allen

Especially with an all-volunteer board, the only way an organization can achieve its goals is to assign tasks to individuals or committees. One of the reasons that many people do not like committees is that they seem to be ineffective. This is almost always due to the members of the committee neither understanding the need and purpose of the committee nor how they are expected to fulfill their responsibilities. When a committee is created, clear terms and expectations of the assignment should be given.

There are two kinds of committees: a standing committee and an ad hoc committee. Ad hoc committees are struck to perform a specific task, usually to be accomplished within a definite time frame. When they report, they automatically dissolve. Standing committees are usually identified in the bylaws. Over time, and after a number of different personalities occupy the Chair, a standing committee may develop an internal culture which causes the committee to drift away from its intended purpose. Changes in the community or in the organization may cause the old reasons for the committee’s existence to change. In either case, it is important for the board or other functional committees to ensure that task forces or subcommittees are carrying out the current mission of the organization and the intended assignment. This can be achieved through clear Terms of Reference.

Often the easiest way to develop good Terms of Reference (ToR) is to ask each committee to propose the Terms to the assembly to which it reports, for approval or amendment. Nevertheless, the assembly that strikes the committee has the responsibility to hold its committees accountable for producing appropriate and useful results. A review of the Terms of all standing committees should be an annual event. If a committee is not serving a vital role, it should be dissolved. The striking assembly is delegating work to the committee. The authority of the committee can be only the authority that the striking assembly (or individual) has the right to delegate.

In order that all of the issues facing each committee are considered, and to attempt to establish a common format, the following guidelines, or template, are offered for consideration when developing new ToR. This format should be freely altered to suit specific circumstances.

Terms of Reference are like a job description. They state why the job has been created, who can fill the job, the means and resources to be used to accomplish the task, and the time limit for the task.

A Suggested Format for Committee Terms of Reference

This is material that I’ve been using since 1992. It pre-dates my experience with Policy Governance. Often a board will delegate decisions and actions to an Executive Committee. With Policy Governance, that is not appropriate. The work of any board committee is to inform the wisdom of the board. However, committees can be formed to work on special events such as fundraisers. For these purposes, the ToR needs to be clear whether or not this is an accepted board job or the job of hired staff.

Committee Name

Nothing conveys the purpose of a committee better than the name. If people are proud of their committee work, they will announce to their friends and colleagues their membership on the committee. The name should convey the importance, and suggest the function, of the committee. While the group may operate as a committee, it does not have to be called a committee. It could be a task-force or a working group or any other creative name that seems appropriate. The reason the group is called a committee is because it is usually formed as a result of the high order motion ‘to commit.’


This preamble identifies the need for the committee. It describes the intention of the assembly that struck the committee, reviews the scope of action, and acts as mission statement for the members.

If the committee is expected to operate in concert with other parts of the organization, the Preamble should describe the relationships. In some organizations, the committee structure is as complicated as a corporate staff structure.


Precise and achievable objectives are the key to ensuring that the work of the committee will be focused on the intended job.

The striking assembly may choose to hold the committee accountable for results or for carrying out specific tasks. For the wording of results, reread the section on Mission. If the committee is to perform tasks, the normal form is a series of bulleted statements (e.g., • to organize and run the conference in a manner that sustains a small profit).

It is appropriate for objectives to include a sentence of explanation or clarification.

Objectives should clearly define the results or targets, and not be worded in poetry that could result in confusion, inaction, or inappropriate action.

Remember, this was written before I learned Policy Governance.

For Policy Governance boards, I recommend that you use the language of Ends instead of objectives when writing ToR objectives. Since your committee will be only assisting the board in its work, be sure that the committee understands what part of the board’s work requires this assistance. State the results expected of your committee (not the actions to achieve those results). Frankly, I think that this advice would work for all committee ToR, but most people would have to do some studying to understand the language.


Ad hoc committees should be task and time defined. It must be clear when each committee is expected to provide interim and final reports. All committees should report to the assembly to which they are accountable. The timing and the nature of the content of these reports should be specified.

Authority to Act

It must be clear if the committee is to act merely in an advisory role, or if it is expected to take action to achieve its objectives.

The committee’s scope of activities is discussed in this section.

The authority of a committee can be only that which is (or can be) delegated by the striking assembly.


Committees should be viewed as worthwhile because they are very expensive in their operation, even if the resources are supplied without a charge. The time of the people sitting on committee is the greatest resource. The meeting rooms, food, office supplies, and office support, as well as any direct budgeted expenses are all part of the cost. It should be clear to the committee what resources are available to the members to carry out their work. The resources, other than the budget, are described here.


The method by which a committee obtains financial resources, approves expenditures, and accounts for money is described here. So are any required reports on the use of the budget. If there are to be no monetary resources, this section may be omitted.

A budget may include revenues as well as expenses. It should in any case where the committee is receiving funds or payment for services (such as admission fees to an event).


Committees are usually composed of members of the assembly that struck the committee. When this is the case, a motion made by the committee Chair at a meeting of the assembly, and on behalf of the committee, does not require a second. (Read the Rules of Order if there is dissension on the committee and there is need for a minority report.)

This section should discuss the possible make-up of the committee. Sometimes the striking assembly chooses only the Chair, who then has to find members to assist with the task. Occasionally, members of a committee are drawn from other groups of the organization, or from the community. This often strengthens the committee, and it may give these people the opportunity to distinguish themselves by providing good work to the organization, and it allows them to learn the organizational culture in preparation for higher office. In a small short-term committee the only officer is the Chair. In others there may be a full slate of officers.

If the committee contains other than members of the striking assembly, then this section should describe the rights of these individuals to vote.

Any special qualifications required of committee members are described in this section.

Financial solvency

The term, non-profit as a financial description for an organization seems to lead many boards to give too little attention to the financial needs of the association or society. I prefer the term social profit because it implies that there is nothing wrong with a profit (or surplus) when things go well. The other implication of the term social profit is it clearly implies a community benefit. Whether the constituency served is a municipality or a professional society, or global aid, or the consequences of small single-interest local club, you are providing some benefit (profit). Because there will always be times when things are not going well, most consultants advise having a war-chest, a rainy-day fund, or reserve. Depending on the nature of your business, you may need enough to sustain your organization for three months or more. Profit is not a bad word. The term ‘non-profit’ is merely an accounting term to describe how the net earnings will be used. Instead of disbursing net earnings to shareholders, your organization will use the funds toward the mission for the community served.

A social profit organization is a business, and one of the purposes of a business is to survive. It is not enough to have a plan of activities that will educate the members or save the environment, or whatever is in your mission. None of this can happen if the organization is not a financial success. As unattractive as it may be, a primary responsibility of your association must be to ensure its financial survival.

Financial solvency or sustainability of your organization means avoiding dependency. Are you counting on grants for support? That is risky. It might be satisfactory for a while only when the mission of the granting agency is almost identical to yours. These agencies are seldom willing to commit to long-term funding of operating expenses. As time passes they will change their staff and their selection criteria. This year you may be favoured, but there is no guarantee that this will be true in the years to come. Grants are an important source of funding, but most grant making agencies or foundations prefer to see that your organization does not depend on grants entirely. Funders are the first people to discourage you from becoming dependent on them. They will invariably ask you to show how you will survive after you have spent the grant, so I encourage my clients to think about this before applying.

Before hiring her as a consultant, Sherry worked with a human services agency that applied for a three-year grant to provide youth intervention services in a distressed county. The infrastructure to support their work didn’t exist (other youth services or facilities) nor did they ask the community whether or not the community would support the endeavor after the grant money ran out. When she learned about it, Sherry asked: ‘Is this where you wanted to go? Was this part of your mission?’ The answer to both question was, ‘no, but we knew we had a great chance to win the grant and we thought it was a good opportunity to expand our service area.’ Sherry believed this was a dangerous distraction to pursue funding which was such as stretch from their main service area where no supporting infrastructure existed. The agency succumbed to the temptation to over-diversify. They took advantage of a grant to go for a new service area and distracted the management effort from other important work. Sometimes it is right to go for expansion. However, you should think carefully about the implications before dashing off grant applications because you know they will succeed. Avoid mission scope creep.

Towards sustainability. This client agency continues to generate a substantial income from fundraising. They thought it would be okay to use grants to expand their service area. Usually, it would be a good use of grant funding. The problem was that the new area was very different from their current area and they had no infrastructure to enhance or expand on their core activities. They should have done some development work first in the community to assess the need and determine if the community was supportive. The sad part of the story is the efforts to support at-risk youth in a very needy county were also disrupted because the funding ran out. If this agency had developed support within the community for sustainable funding, they could have continued the work after the grant funding disappeared. Although complete sustainability may be impossible for many organizations, sustainability is something to work toward and keep in mind. Our recommendation is to use grants only to add value to your program, not for core funding. By all means, apply for grants. Once you have been approved, you can decide if you are going to accept and whether or not you have the resources to continue to work in subsequent years.

a primary responsibility of your association must be to ensure its financial survival

Some years ago, when running a social profit organization that was experiencing cut-backs, one of my managers asked in all sincerity, “What is wrong with running a deficit?” In talking to the manager, I realized that we live in a culture where our political leaders run our countries by regularly managing huge deficits. As a result, many people think that it is acceptable to manage a budget on either the red or the black side of the balance line. Well, it is not acceptable to have a deficit. It is organizational suicide to be blasé about the bottom line. Your organization should discipline itself to spend only what it is prepared to earn. If you are paying off a debt, that is an expense that robs you of the resources to accomplish good things for your community. Donors and members do not like to think of their contribution going to pay off past debts.

At one time I was with an organization that was in danger of running up a deficit. In order to maintain the staff, the organization took on contracts that would employ those people. we called it, “selling our staff into slavery.” Eventually these contracts took on more and more of the staff time and as a consequence we were no longer really fulfilling our mission. Again, this strategy was a dangerous distraction from the primary mission of the organization. Weaning the organization off this program resulted in anguish and layoffs.

If your society is successful, and it has a large and visible constituency, it is probably true that some other organizations and individuals will be interested in donating funds or providing sponsorships or contra. The point to be made here is that the strength of your organization is likely its committed membership and donorship base. Can the membership, with their annual fees, pay for all of the core activities of your association? Can you make the majority of your programs, courses and events pay-as-you-go? Try. This way you are never vulnerable as long as you are acting in the interests of your members.

Here is an issue for many associations and societies that should not be considered trivial. Do you have a membership? Is your membership fee automatically increased every year by at least the cost-of-living? Or does the adjustment to the membership fee require approval at the annual general meeting? If so, is the result that membership fees have remained flat for years? Why is the latter frequently the case? Bite the bullet and amend the bylaws to allow the membership fee to be easily changed so that it can always cover the expenses for providing reasonable core services.

Ensure that it is an easy administrative detail to increase membership fees annually to match changes to the cost-of-living or Consumer Price Index

Other funding may allow for enhancements to your association; but if third-party funding is suddenly removed, only the enhancements need to be cut from the operation.

Why am I making so much of this, especially when none of this affects a start-up? It is not unusual for an eager organization, which is doing worthy community work, to attract some regular funding through a grant. At the time, everyone is thrilled. The problem occurs after five years, when everyone is comfortable with the arrival of the annual grant cheque, the organization has an executive director on staff, and the newsletter is a designer’s glossy dream with pages of paid ads. Nothing is forever and the grant (for whatever reason) suddenly dries up. No one on the current board remembers the days before the flow of the grant funding. It is hard to immediately fire the staff and crank up the volunteer systems to ensure that the core programs continue. Our hope is that our experiences will encourage your leadership to avoid this trap.

Is your society really a business? It certainly is. It has revenues and expenses. It has owners in the form of people who are invested in your organization’s success. It will need to market memberships and programs. It is responsible for delivering its services with excellence. Although you believe that you have identified a niche market, you are in competition with all other similar organizations for the time and dollars of your supporters. Unlike a business, profits are not distributed to the shareholders. Instead, you need to ensure that you have enough resources and funding to provide services without disruption in lean times. I recommend that you develop a substantial surplus to be used in the support of your cause and to sustain the society when things do not go well or there is a special need.

Develop a substantial surplus to be used in the support of your cause and to sustain the society when things do not go well or there is a special need


There is not a ‘silver bullet’ approach that can magically provide needed funding for your organization. Fundraising is not our area of expertise. I (Robert) have participated at a senior level in organizations that have successfully raised money from various sources. I have been taught by the best fundraisers in the business. This, then, is a short primer on how fundraising works and what you and your organization might expect if you hope to benefit from asking for financial support. While much of this book contains lots of original material, this chapter will be familiar to every student of fundraising. I include it because I find that many people don’t understand the concepts and develop unrealistic hopes for fundraising.

Logic Model

If you are familiar with a logic model, you may find it helpful to understand the process of fundraising. A logic model proposes a sequence of actions for you to describe what your organization is and will do. You will also describe how investments link to results. Five core components of a logic model are:

  1. INPUTS: resources, contributions, donations, sponsor investments, grants that go into your organization’s programs or services
  2. OUTPUTS: activities, services, events, and products that reach the targeted population or participants
  3. OUTCOMES: results or changes for individuals, groups, communities, organizations, or systems
  4. ASSUMPTIONS: the beliefs you have about your organization’s programs or services, the people involved, the context, and the way you think the programs or services will work
  5. EXTERNAL FACTORS: the environment in which your organization exists that interact with and influence the programs or services

A logic model provides consistent anticipation of where you are and what you need to be successful. In terms of fundraising, it provides everything you need to successfully connect with and influence potential funding sources. Among those are sponsors, grant-making organizations, and donors.

Sponsorship, Grants and Donorship


A sponsor is not a donor. A sponsor is an organization or an individual that provides support to you in return for something you will do for the sponsor. Usually you will provide the sponsor with recognition. For the most part, sponsors seek recognition that will enhance the sponsor’s visibility and prestige in the community. While it may sound crass or cold, sponsorships are often considered business marketing expenses. Why it isn’t crass or cold is that sponsors have lots of choices in spending their marketing dollars. Because they choose to spend them on you means that your organization reflects a perception that the sponsor or his or her target market values.

Raising money through sponsorships is very different from asking for donations. Sponsorships require a strategy that results in a mutually beneficial business arrangement, not a gift.

The support you receive from the sponsor is not a gift. It is the result of a deal you make with the sponsor. Think of a sponsorship as a mutually beneficial business arrangement. Since a sponsorship is not a gift—it is an investment on the sponsor’s part—you do not structure your proposal based on the outcomes of your organization. The process of attracting sponsor investment is that of selling value to the sponsor.

The huge advantage of selling sponsorships is that you will not be trying to tap the sponsor’s relatively small budget for donations to worthy causes. Instead you will be competing for part of the sponsor’s marketing budget. Most businesses are willing to spend money if they can see that it will result in increased profits that exceed the cost of the sponsorship.

When you are researching potential sponsors, you will be trying to find out how they are spending their marketing and advertising budget.

In order to convince them that they should invest with you, you will have to offer equal or better value than other marketing strategies. Consider how a sponsor might determine the best media for their advertising message: radio, television, print media, outdoor signage, social media. You won’t be very successful unless you study and learn the language and metrics of the advertising world. For instance, your sponsor has a geographical or demographical target market. When buying advertising, the sponsor is not interested in the total number of people (eyeballs) who will see an ad on a television program. When looking at the investment, the sponsor is interested at the cost per thousand people only in his or her target market. If you can make a compelling case that the dollars are better spent with you, you will be successful in selling sponsorships.

Marketing budgets are often planned a year in advance, so don’t expect to see short-term results from a sponsorship campaign. Even when you find eager sponsors, try to make your pitches more than 18 months in advance of the need.

Because you are promising the delivery of recognition and visibility, you will have to deliver what you promise. The whole process of securing sponsorships and fulfilling the obligation will take some of your resources over the life of the project. Plan for this. Ongoing care-and-feeding of sponsors is both an obligation and an advantage. Having agreed to support your organization, project, or event, the sponsor now has a vested interest in your success. If you have public events, likely those sponsors will appreciate having a presence or participating. Could you use some support for a related event or project? Likely your sponsors can offer the services of their marketing department for design and printing. Be creative in offering sponsors the opportunity to contribute to your success and, at the same time, increase their own profile.

Keep your sponsors abreast of the developments in your organization. If they loved supporting one event or project you ran, chances are you will have other opportunities for future mutually beneficial business arrangements. If you can benefit from a sponsorship program, be creative in looking for opportunities for sponsors. If you don’t you may be leaving money on the table. Of course, if you are running an event or a conference, you will be thinking of sponsors to host meals, receptions, sessions, and your print materials. People always think of sponsors for their conferences—now, what else is there about your organization that might attract sponsorship dollars?

Consider selling naming rights. This might be the name of an annual lecture, a student scholarship, a new building (or an existing one), a room in the building, a seat in a theatre, a bench in a park, or a facility like a swimming pool. Planetariums have raised money for their theatre by selling the stars in the projected sky. When your organization is thinking about honouring a past volunteer by naming something after that person, you may want to consider if it would be better to offer that name to a sponsor in return for funding. If a facility is named by the sponsor, be sure that the amount of the sponsorship is enough so that the interest on the dollars received will still be supporting your organization a decade or more in the future (because the name will still be used).

In addition to providing visibility, there may be other things you can do for sponsorship dollars. Do you have an interesting building or some other facility? Perhaps a sponsor might like to use your venue to meet with business associates. Your boardroom might become a Sponsors’ Office that is available in the hours when you don’t need it. If you are running a festival, perhaps you could set up a Sponsors’ Tent for the sponsors and their guests. The concept is that you are providing great value to the sponsor at little extra cost to your organization.

In the social profit world, people are often very humble about their value to the community. If you are doing wonderful things for your community and people truly love you, sponsors may see great value in aligning with you. I mention this because, by offering sponsorships, you may be offering more value than you imagine. As you structure your sponsorship program, be sure not to undervalue your work.

Since a sponsorship is a deal, anyone in the organization may be permitted to sell sponsorships—as long as these people know what can and cannot be offered in return. Obtaining sponsorships is not usually done by the board (although board members may offer their contacts).

Having said all of the above, there are sponsors who will support you just because they think you are worthy—even though they know there will be little financial return on their investment. In effect, they are called sponsors, but their support is really a donation.

A few last words about your sponsorship program.

  • If you are going to share your public image with sponsors, you should be careful about what sponsors you choose.
  • Remember that the care-and-feeding of sponsors will require your resources.
  • If sponsorships are for you, probably you should plan to nurture your family of sponsors for a long time.
  • All offerings to your family of sponsors should be made in a consistent and even-handed manner.

Is someone accountable for your sponsorship program? Do you have policies that scope what is possible for the sponsorship program? Be sure to think through your whole sponsorship program, not just a pitch to a single sponsor.


Providing funding is the reason grant-making programs exist. A large number of government and non-government agencies, corporations, foundations, and even individuals offer financial support through grants. I am concerned when I learn that an organization depends almost entirely on grant funding. If you are in some financial difficulty, people will no doubt tell you that the solution to your problems is to secure one or more grants. Let’s put this advice into perspective. If aspects of your mission and the grant-maker are almost identical, your organization and the grantor can do excellent business together. It is probably worth your while to monitor who is offering grants that relate to your business, and when appropriate, go ahead and apply.

What you need to be thinking when you are considering seeking support from grants is: Granting agencies don’t provide support for your mission, they provide funding if your association can be effective in supporting their mission.

The business of winning a grant begins with research. Grant-makers have very specific goals and objectives. Make sure your goals and objectives are aligned with the funding source. Pick up the phone and have a conversation with the person who is managing the grant program you believe is a good fit. Working with grant-makers is relationship building. Start off on the right foot by doing diligence to ensure your project or program fits well with the funding source’s objectives. It is helpful to learn all you can about the grantor, and what has been funded in the past. If you merely fill out the application and post it (or email it) without any personal knowledge of the people who will receive it you will reduce your chances of success.

Once you have determined that your project or program is appropriate for the grant award, read the application material thoroughly. The big mistake that I have seen as a grant reviewer is that the applicant focuses on how wonderful their organization is, and what amazing things they want to do with the money. Instead, try to imagine you are in the shoes of the people writing the grant application form. What, exactly, is the grantor seeking? Then figure out what you are going to be able to do to fulfill their intentions. Again, talk to the people at the grant office. Likely these people will be helpful with your application. The truth is that they want successful applicants!

I often tell the story of serving on the adjudication committee for a large government grant process. We began by going through the stack of applications and scoring the replies to each question. Only the highest scoring applications received any further consideration. As you fill out the application, see if you are truly acing all of the important points. If you cannot, chances are you are wasting your time. Can you guess who else is also likely applying for the same pot of money? If you expect to win at this game, you want the grantor to read your application and say, “This is exactly what we are looking for!”

Please don’t pin your hopes and your future on successful grant proposals. As the years pass, the people in the grantor’s office change, and so does the focus of those agencies. The fact that you received a grant one year does not mean that you will the next. In fact, the grantors do not like to feel that by receiving their funding, you are now solely dependent on them—as if they are your employer. Many grant-makers are now limiting the number of years that a particular organization can receive funding.

Should you use grants at all? Certainly—just try not to depend on those grantors for your survival.

When I ran a planetarium, we wrote lots of grant applications. Someone on staff would dedicate a day or two to write the best application possible; and then forget about it. The planetarium was fairly successful with grant applications. For every 10 or 15 applications, one would be accepted. After the letter arrived announcing that the application was successful, it was on the agenda for the next staff meeting. The question discussed was, “Are we going to accept this grant?” Why wouldn’t we celebrate and automatically accept the grant? Even though the grant would enable the planetarium to do something new that we would like, it would take resources away from the things we’d planned to do for that period—things that were essential to our real mission. Sometimes the cost to the core program was too great, and the grant was declined. On the other hand, there were some grants that really advanced our work, such as full support for an intern program, and an employment program that permitted the hiring of very qualified fabricators for a new display area that was under construction.

When you agree to accept a grant, your work begins. If you ever expect to receive further funding from this grantor, you must fulfill all of your obligations. Remember what it is that the grantor is trying to achieve (not just what you are doing with the money). If you can, exceed their expectations. Also provide all of the required reports in a timely and thoughtful manner. Use every opportunity to keep in touch. You are doing more than fulfilling the terms of the grant, you are building a relationship that can serve you well for years. I have had grantor call me at the end of their grant-period to say that there is some leftover money and ask, could I use it? Keep in mind that the people at granting agencies talk to each other. Your reputation (good or bad) with one may influence your success with others.


The big difference between a sponsor and a donor is that the sponsor agrees to a deal, but a donor is asked to provide a gift.

Major Gifts

If your project requires major funding, it is usually secured by high-net-worth donors writing large cheques. In most cases, those people decided to provide support because they were asked. Learning who to ask, who should do the asking, how much to ask for, and how to do this effectively is the reason that many organizations decide to hire a donor relations professional or a fundraiser consultant.

The first shock for many boards that decide to hire fundraising consultants is that the fundraiser is not going to go and raise the money. The consultant is going to coach the board in the process.

I remember listening to the late Max Tapper—one of Canada’s great fundraisers, and the person who taught me much of this process—explaining to a board that fundraising begins with the people most responsible for the organization: the board itself. Their influence in their community, Max explained, is like a stone dropped in a pond: the ripples are largest close to the stone, and extend out from there to the whole community. The asking begins with the members of the board approaching their friends and colleagues. I recall being present at three meetings with other professionals who were giving a similar talk to boards. The result in each case was that the board decided that major fundraising was not something they wanted to do.

The first thing someone who is being asked wants to know is, “How much have you given?” Professional fundraising consultants prefer the organization to have a very large board of high-net-worth and well-connected people. This philosophy conflicts with the more modern view of the board as a smaller body comprised of people who take seriously the business of governing. Fundraising is not their first priority. However, if the primary purpose of your organization is to raise money for a worthy purpose, the board may well be front-and-center of fundraising activities. A good compromise is to maintain a small governing board and strike a fundraising committee. If the CEO or ED of your organization is responsible for revenues, the committee will be accountable to him or her. You can call it anything, such as The Capital Campaign Cabinet. This is the group that will have the people with the community connections necessary to achieve the funding you need.

The process of asking for support requires research. Because research includes discovering information about many influential people in your community, these discussions and the associated records must be kept secure and visible only to a very small circle. Despite the fact that almost all major development projects use this process, it is by design kept very quiet. Because many of you may not know how this works, I’ll briefly outline the process.

It doesn’t take too much work to discover who are the major donors in your community. Collect the annual reports and programs of your local museum, ballet, theatres, zoo, etc. Many will list their donors and even reveal the level of support. If your fundraising cabinet is truly connected, they will probably know who are the potential donors. This will produce a list; but before any asks are made, more research is needed.

The rule of fundraising is: people give to people, not to organizations. When you have that list, the next question is: who can ask? You will begin with the members of your cabinet and determine the pathway of trusted friends and colleagues between your cabinet members and the person to be asked. Having learned the pathway, and decided on the person who will ask the donor, the next question is: how much should be requested? The research involves investigating whatever is available about the donor’s giving record, perhaps estimating that person’s worth, and being sensitive to how well their business has done recently. No wonder this discussion must be kept confidential.

The next step depends on a number of factors, but is probably a variation on this. The person who is going to make the ask writes a letter that says, “I would like to talk to you about making a gift of $20,000 (or whatever is appropriate) to an organization that is very important to me.” The rest of the letter is fairly brief and describes why the donation is necessary. This is followed up by a phone call and then a personal visit. One visit may not be enough. Sometimes this early contact is just the beginning of a process of wooing the donor. The volunteer who is making the ask may need to be coached in the important step of asking for the cheque.

That visit to meet with the donor may include a member of the staff, but the staffer is there only to provide technical support and answer questions. Unlike selling sponsorships, it is seldom appropriate for staff to ask for money. To donors it seems as if the person is asking for money to fund their employment.

Why does someone make that large financial gift? The main reason is because they value the friendship of the person asking. If that person is a respected member of the community, the donor is probably honoured to be part of this worthy community development. Of course, the donor must also come to appreciate the value of whatever it is that is being created with the gift. Sherry related a story to me about one such friend-to-friend appeal. It turns out that the donor had a deep connection to the organization because it influenced his experiences as a child growing up in a poor, single mom family. Because he had not ever had the opportunity to reflect on the importance of this organization to his childhood and who he became, he had not thought about donating. The board member friend left his office with a $500,000 cheque.

Maintaining good records of everything associated with your donorship program is essential for future fundraising. I am still receiving personal correspondence from a high school I attended over 50 years ago. They regularly contact me to be sure that I am alive, interested, and that I haven’t moved.

When you have a sudden need for money, who do you approach? Of course it is your existing donors. Someone will say that we approached them only a few months ago and we cannot go back. Nonsense.

The Ongoing Relationship

The ongoing relationship with your existing family of donors is very different from your sponsors. The most important response to a gift is an appropriate thanks. Even if the donor insists that the gift be anonymous, the person asking must give thanks. Consider honouring donors by inviting them to special events, some of which might be just for donors. Somehow, keep them up-to-date with news of your organization. Sooner or later you will want to ask them again, and you want them always to feel like they are valued members of your family.

Other Elements of a Fundraising Program.

The visible part of a fundraising program is usually the public activities——the bake sale, the raffle, the fundraising dinner, the silent auction, the direct mail campaign, the telemarketing program, the bowl-a-thon. For most organizations, when the subject of fundraising arises, these are the options that come to mind.

Have you been part of these activities? It is hard work to find the right venue, assemble the prizes, get the invitations out, sell all those raffle tickets (or whatever is the program). Probably it means that you have to motivate an army of willing volunteers and actually deliver what you promise. Sometimes you will hear people complain that the amount of work does not justify the small number of dollars raised. So is it worth the trouble? In most cases, the answer is yes. The first reason is that it did bring in some much-needed unencumbered cash. Second, it energized the community of supportive volunteers whose personal involvement has re-dedicated their commitment to your organization. And third, the program had some buzz and publicity that raised the profile of your need. If you also have that inner fundraising cabinet asking for large cheques, this visible support by the community will give your major donors the comfort that their money is going to the right place.

What else can you do? The answer is a lot; but it requires some imagination to figure out what can work well with your special organization or project. For instance, when I worked for the Vancouver Island Marmot Foundation—we had the job of recovering Canada’s most endangered species—our fundraisers developed an adopt-a-marmot program. It started small, but this is an endearing animal, and the plan was to grow the program to the point that it would be providing major annual support for the Foundation. Instead of just hearing about it, you can see in operation. I encourage you to read about my marmots here—and please consider joining the Adopt-a-Marmot Club and experience the program for yourself:

Planned Giving

As I write, that huge population bubble, the Baby Boomers, are in retirement or quickly reaching retirement age. Many of them have planned for their retirement years. They are also making their wills. As they look back on their careers, they may be thinking about their legacy. If your organization is seen by them to be making a valuable contribution, they might appreciate the opportunity to include your association in their will. This is just a brief comment to be sure that if this is a reasonable consideration for your organization, you are not leaving any money on the table.

Membership fees

For many readers, your annual membership dues structure provides one primary way your association is financed. If yours is a membership organization, and for some reason you find that you have to take a public stand on some issue, other forms of funding may dry up. Usually I recommend that an association should not be dependent on anything but their members for core funding. This is why the membership fee—not programs, not donations, not historical bequests—should cover the core servicing of its members.

Members must perceive value for the fees. Fees should cover the cost of servicing all of the members and funding the programs that must be supplied as a part of membership (not including the assumption that volunteers will do a lot of the work).

Fees should be increased to cover inflation, and it should be automatic every year. Never avoid this because the increase might cause concern among membership. The catch-up, sometime later, will be too hard to bear. Do it.

The War Chest, Nest Egg, Rainy-Day Fund, or Reserve

Some organizations that receive government funding find that if they do not spend the money allocated to them this year, next year’s funding will be reduced. So, at the end of the year there is a spending frenzy to ensure the budget is spent, but care is taken not to overdo it and create a deficit. Some boards believe that, as a non-profit, they are bound to spend all of the income every year. Eventually, this kind of planning is suicidal.

Hard times happen. When things are going well, be sure to designate some funds for future purposes.

In addition to hard times, your office equipment will eventually have to be replaced, or your facility will need refurbishing, or something. Someday you will have a necessary expense that is beyond your annual budget.

All that I want to do here is encourage you not to delay putting aside some funds for unexpected costs, depreciation of your facilities, and for future development.

Public Visibility

In this and like communities, public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed. Consequently, he who moulds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. — Abraham Lincoln

Public Relations and Promotion

Although I don’t know the affairs of your society, I am sure that in some way it is in the business of working for a better community. A community is described as geographic (local, regional, global) or demographic (professional, trade, interest). The business plan of the association should involve promotion. Recruiting new members includes publicizing events. Other issues may require announcements to the public regarding your policies or positions. If you expect to raise funds or be politically effective, you may want the public to understand and support your plans or your vision. Much of this can be accomplished at little cost by using the media to communicate your message.

You may want to investigate other low cost methods for public relations, such as word-of-mouth campaigns generated on Twitter or Pinterest, sponsored advertising, e-mail, etc. In this section, I am focusing on methods that involve going to the traditional media outlets (e.g., local radio stations, television news, magazines, news papers) with a story, position, or idea you’d like them to cover. Remember that with advertising, you can control the message. When you use news releases to attract attention, you lose some control over how the story will be presented. There are some ways to ensure you put your best foot forward to the media. The strength of your organization is likely its volunteer corps of committed members. A large constituency can be very attractive to the media. It is possible for you, and the people who care about and support your social profit association, to be much more effective in developing a positive public profile than that of a corporate giant with a large advertising budget.

Your group should develop skills in promotion. These skills can be deliberately taught as part of member-development.

Media Relations

What aspects of your operation would be attractive to the media? A good relationship with the media is symbiotic. Your association may want to take advantage of the media to communicate to the public and thus gain support for causes, to promote events, and to attract members. If your activities are newsworthy, the media can be a powerful means of reaching the public.

Your responsibility to the media: Provide Compelling Programming

The way to ensure that media will play their part is to learn how to become effective in helping them provided better programming. Always remember that this is your responsibility to the media: compelling programming.

Using the media as a public relations outlet can be a cost-effective way of conveying a message. It is certainly less costly than paid advertising. You should be aware that there is a downside. When advertising is purchased, the client has considerable control over the appearance and content of the ad. When the media is approached with a news release or other method, the message will be filtered through a number of journalistic processes. By the time the message reaches the public it has likely been edited, altered, and it may even be placed in an undesirable context.

There are no guarantees. If you decide to use the media, accept that sometimes you will be either disappointed with the results, or you may actually be so horrified that you will want to go into damage-control mode. When Sherry Jennings was an executive with the U.S. National Honey Board, a reporter attended a beekeeper’s meeting. At this meeting, there were discussions about using chemicals to treat disease in beehives. If you have been following the issues about honeybees, you may conclude that this is a necessity. However, at this particular meeting, one faction of ‘purists’ was loudly renouncing the practice. In particular, the purists claimed those who used chemicals did not follow accepted safety rules and may be posing a risk to human health. Whether true or not, the journalist was not interested in learning the full story. Instead, he pursued the version he heard and The Boston Globe ran a graphic showing a jar of honey with a skull-and-crossbones on the label. Damage control began. This is an example of this form of communication, and if it backfires you should not blame yourselves or your colleagues. Just accept the risks. If you behave well, on balance you will come out ahead. In this case, the U.S. honey industry had a very good reputation for quality and safety—and national data from testing to back it up. But what this story may also illustrate is the importance of instructing your spokespersons in the art of effective public speaking.

It is worth noting that our form of government is democracy. This means that issues of public policy are debated by politicians in adversarial arenas: the various houses and legislatures across the land. The media enjoy this and we are accustomed to seeing people, often with violently opposing views, expressing themselves in the media. When, following the example of our leaders, people feel that their ideals or their organizations are being attacked in public, they often react to the occasion with a public response. Be cautioned that the media will encourage public debate, but it does not have to be your automatic reaction. If you are reacting in order to set the record straight, don’t. Yesterday’s news is already forgotten, and there is no record. (Yes, know there are times when you may choose to respond, but be aware that this is not a public conversation. Your reaction is actually a whole new news story. This is damage control, and is beyond the scope of this book. The risks are high, and you must have disciplined troops.)

If you are reacting in the media to set the record straight, don’t.

Sometimes your objectives may put you in an adversarial position with some other organization. The point to make here is that you should never underestimate the resources or craftiness of your adversary. Do not allow your sense of righteousness to blind you to the possible maneuvers of the opposition. They may not play fair. Remember, no one promised you fair-play.

Be guided by this principle: act, or react, in a public forum only because by doing so your strategic objectives are furthered. Otherwise you are usually best to bite your tongue and be silent. This can be hard to do when all of your friends are incensed by some isolated incident. Your mind has chosen some appropriate phrases that will reduce your opposition to dust and the media are calling for a statement. Be warned that, if you give in to this pressure, the message that actually reaches the public may be disappointingly distant from what you intend.

Act, or react, in a public forum only because by doing so your strategic objectives are furthered.

Note that the term ‘press’ refers to print media (printing presses). If you hold a ‘press conference’ or send out a ‘press release’ you seem to be excluding the electronic media (radio, television, bloggers, online-only publications). Sometimes it does not matter, but sometimes archaic terms insult members of the electronic media. It is better to refer to a ‘news release’ and a ‘news conference.’ This is a preferable term because you are not doing it for the press or the media; you are really doing it for the public. Today, a single influential blogger can cause something to ‘go viral’ in minutes. You want to make sure your news doesn’t inadvertently exclude them because you come across as old-fashioned in your approach.

If you are going to use the media, it is useful to know who can help you. Maintaining an up-to-date media list is part of the job. After a while you will come to know who is interested in the information that you are providing. Discovering this, and coming to know these people personally, is the business of media relations. If you need to approach the media only occasionally, it might be useful to recruit the volunteer assistance of a public relations firm that maintains a good media list. Or, you might consider using an online newswire. It used to be that newswires were only accessed by journalists or companies that subscribed to them. Newswires today publish news releases on the Internet and submit them to other services such as Google News. Anyone searching the Internet will see your news release.

Sometimes you will have something to present to the public, and it has to be today. If you know your media list, and these people have learned from experience that you operate with integrity, a single call to an assignment editor (or whomever is appropriate) to explain what you need will get the story out.

Note that whenever you are talking to the media, everything you say is ‘on the record.’ Always. It is even when you say it isn’t, or when the person that you are talking to promises that the conversation is off the record. Behave yourself in public because everyone is a potential journalist. Anyone with a smart phone or an iPad can record what you say or what you do. U.S. Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney learned this the hard way. In what he thought was a private dinner party, he made some derogatory remarks about the lower socioeconomic classification. He was videotaped on a smart phone. The next day, everyone knew what he said. It may have been one reason he lost the election. Everyone you know may hear or see a part of your conversation; even if you think you are among close confidants. You may decide to ignore this warning (and I have myself) but you must use your own judgment as to whom you may trust when speaking in a group of people.

Note that whenever you are talking in public, everything you say is ‘on the record.’ Always.

This section is about media relations. It means that all of this works best if you establish good professional relationships with the people in the media. Relationships are about people. As a news provider, you must provide good news stories, but it helps to remember that your people are supposed to work with their people. If you expect them to care about you, it is useful for you to use every contact with the media to come to know the individuals and learn about their business.

The best reputation that you can earn with the media is that when you call them, or they call you, they can count on you to give them the straight goods (have integrity). Another thing you want the media to count on is that you will always provide them with a good story or good programming. If this is your reputation, they will call you when they are interested in matters that relate to your mandate, and they will be pleased to hear from you when you have something to say. This section is to assist you to achieve that reputation.

The News Release

The key to the news release (formerly called the ‘press release’) is that it contains news.

Sooner or later you will be in a meeting where someone says, “We should put out a press release on that.” You may want to announce something which is important to you——and maybe it is important to a lot of people——but journalists need to see it as news for the public. If it is not news, you will create a poor impression with journalists. The most popular way to send news releases to journalists today is e-mail. Their inboxes are flooded with boring announcements every day. Do not add to that.

Sometimes you can see a way to tell your story as news and present it in a manner that is beneficial to your organization. The ability to do this is a commendable talent. Journalists call this process finding an angle to the story. Critics call it putting a spin on the story. If someone calls you a spin doctor (and you are not a radio station DJ), consider it a compliment even though it may sound like an insult.

The form and style of a release is almost identical to a newspaper news story (but not a feature article). Even if most of the releases are destined for electronic media—the people who work in the media are all journalists at heart and understand the style. The best way to become familiar with this style is to read newspaper stories in major papers (where their writers are instructed by style guides), and to study the form. Your news release should be relatively short (400-500 words). Omit needless words, fluff, and jargon. One release should contain one story. If you have a bunch of stories, publish them as separate releases.

One of the important elements of the news release is making it easy for editors to know about you and how to ask questions if they want. The source of the news release (your organization) should be obvious from the beginning. It is also a good idea to include a high-resolution logo in multiple formats. You’ll want to ensure the editors and reporters know how to reach you. At the top include, ‘For more information contact:’ and put the name, office telephone, mobile telephone, and e-mail, of someone who is instantly conversant with the material. Of utmost importance is someone who will be available when the media call. This person should be an authorized spokesperson because whatever he or she says can and will be used. Usually the best person is the one who researched and wrote the release or the official spokesperson for your association.

Your subject line, or headline, is very important. It should be a grabby headline. In a few words it states what is sensational about the story. If you can, customize the subject line with the journalist’s name. With the amount of spam today, you should make sure your subject line is short and simple. Don’t expect your subject line or headline to be printed—you wrote it only to attract attention to your release. The headline is not part of your news release and should not contain information that is not also in the body of the release. Often it is useful to have a sub-headline. This can say more than the main headline and it may relate some compelling fact about the story. The headline might hook the reader, the sub-head makes sure the hook is set.

The remainder of the release is the story, and it should be prepared so that it is suitable for reproduction with no further editing. Amazingly, often that is exactly what happens, especially in smaller local papers.

The first paragraph tells the whole story. Usually wordsmithing this paragraph takes more time than all of the rest of the release. It must continue to interest the reader, it must signal a compelling story, it must be short and punchy, and if the reader stops after reading that paragraph, she or he will have all the important facts of the story. Each of the subsequent paragraphs should illuminate one aspect of the story. These paragraphs appear in the order of descending importance. It is often useful to include quotes from some of the principal people in the story. It is appropriate for you to write those quotes, as long as you check with the persons who are supposed to be the authors. There is no need for a concluding paragraph.

Use an easy-to-read typeface (a serif font such as Times, 12 point type, wide margins) and try to confine the release to 400-500 words. It is reasonable to provide some back-up material (often called a media kit). This information can include an association profile and history, biographies of the board members with head shots, or backgrounders on the topic.

Do not work so hard on the release that reporters would be wasting their time to call for more information, or that it would be difficult for them to research more facts and write a piece with their own spin on it. The story should command the readers’ attention and tell the public the important facts. It should not be an exhaustive examination of all aspects of the situation. If you are not sure about whether to include something, leave it out. Keep it sparse, and avoid clever prose and jargon.

The point of publishing the release is gaining some coverage for your story or generate some other reaction. It may be that you want some follow-up interviews. Do not assume that the release has done the job simply by being delivered. After the release has been in the hands of the recipients for a day or so, you should call or e-mail the key people to see if they received the release, and if they require additional information. You may even ask if they are going to use it (in the manner that you intended). If the answer is no, ask why, and accept what is said. You may prompt for clarification, but do not argue with their reasoning. Learn from the response. You may find that you sent it to the wrong person. If you think some further follow-up is possible, be sure to do it. Frequently, it is this follow-up which produces the response you desire.

The Media Conference

There are two reasons to call a media conference. One reason is you and your organization are at the centre of a public issue and the media are clamoring for a statement. In this case, you may be able to restore some order by saying when and where you will make a statement. This buys some time to prepare a cogent position, and it insures that everyone receives the same story at the same time from the same spokespersons. It is essential that everyone involved respects this process, and no one is giving private statements to any media.

Editors, reporters and journalists are not in the business of promoting your organization

The other, and more common reason for a media conference, is for an organization to make an announcement. In this case, the hope is for receiving some free publicity for something like an important new issue in your association. If you proceed on this basis you will not have many people at your event. Editors and reporters are not in the business of promoting your issues, regardless of how valuable you are to the community. You need a better strategy. Here is a strategy.

Before you begin to plan a media conference that will gain you the desired public attention, you need to be able to cast your announcement as a news story or a human-interest story. Then you should plan to present the story by staging a visual event. This event must be some sort of community turning point, and the media will have to be there to witness it on behalf of their readers, viewers or listeners.

If you are having difficulty imagining how to proceed, perhaps you are looking too closely at the details of your current issue. Remember, the work your organization is important to the community because your business is to change the world for the better. This is a powerful mission, and your current project is an important step in that process—isn’t it? Now, think of an event that allows the public to see that important step.

The event is the key element of the media conference. Often the event is something that you will have to dream up. Here are some things to consider as you are dreaming.

The actual event should be short and it is a show. Do you know how to stage a show? It should not last much more than fifteen minutes, and the crucial part should be towards the conclusion. This is because reporters usually have a busy schedule, and will not have too much time for your event. Also, for television, they want a few seconds of video that tells the whole story. Although it is corny and overdone, this is why ribbon-cuttings or sod-turnings events work so well. In ten seconds of television, the audience knows that a new public facility (or whatever) is now open or a major project is underway.

Knowing when to start is always a problem because some of the media that you hoped would be there will arrive late. Start about five minutes late, but no more. The first part of your agenda should be introductions and background. This is not essential to the story, it gives the latecomers time to show up, and it keeps those who arrived on time from feeling penalized. The event should build toward the moment that you want the public to experience.

Give them a taste of whatever it is that you are announcing

The event should give the audience a taste of whatever it is that you are announcing. Sometimes this requires some creativity on your part. Ask yourself, what is the future that you are trying to create? Can you show a little of it? Can you make the event really special—something that has enough drama to capture the publics’ attention, something that people will talk about? Work on this; encourage your creative people to go over-the-top in their planning. Think big. Once I was involved with civic boosterism and we wanted to announce a conference to examine the benefits of living in a winter-city (Winnipeg). A local ice supplier was persuaded to deliver three tons of shaved ice to the Legislature grounds in July. The Minister of Culture announced the conference—to be held in November—by joyfully sliding down the artificial mountain of snow. “Winter is fun,” she crowed; and we received blanket coverage.

Consider the location of the event. Can you make it relevant to the story, or at least interesting? Can people travel there easily? How will the media get there? Is there easy parking? For stories in odd locations, you may want to provide transportation (bus, air) to and from a site. In this case, the media may have to make appointments with you.

Who are the stars of the event? Is there someone who will attract the media, such as a prominent politician or a personality? Do not allow the desire for a personality to cloud the issue; but sometimes it makes a difference to the public to have someone they know and love be seen to be a part of your project. If you require a high profile over a period of time, you may find it useful to deliberately pick a capable spokesperson for your team, and promote both your project and the person. This way you create your own in-house personality.

Have an appreciative audience for the event. This means that you will have to be able to call out the troops. This begins with the organizers, club members, families, and friends. These participants need to know that they must be there early, be enthusiastic, and be polite. They are there to applaud vigorously at the appropriate times, even though the announcement may not be news to them. They are not there to grab any food you are serving before the media see it, or to give their own news stories. They should understand that their presence is making a real contribution. It is visible proof that there is an audience and community interest for whatever is being presented. If they commit to being there, you are relying on them even if the weather becomes foul. Their performance needs to organized, along with everything else. Consider a rehearsal.

Another way to ensure that there is a large audience for an event is to have a large number of performing participants. For example, if you enlist the school band to provide the music, you may invite the band members’ family and friends to show up too. If this is desirable, encourage it by being sure that you schedule the event when they will be available; and that there is parking, bathrooms and that you plan for whatever else is necessary to facilitate their participation.

Hold the event at a time when it is convenient for the media, and at a time when there are few other news stories. You will need to be vigilant about other breaking stories in your community. If you need some advice, it helps to ask an assignment editor. Tuesday morning at eleven o’clock seems to work well. Tuesday is often a quiet news day, late morning gives the assignment editors time to send reporters and camera crews, and afterwards there is lots of time for preparation for the evening television news.

Have your people identify everyone who attends the conference. It is useful to put together a media package to hand out and to have a registration desk. The members of the media will have to register in order to pick up their package. Knowing who was there will permit some follow-up.

Consider assigning one of your people to each representative of the media. These guides will see that the media view what is important, and that they have access to the right people for interviews. If there is a need for some follow-up it will be noted and done. After the event, the guides should be debriefed for comments and opinions that they heard. This course of action is not always advisable, but may apply if there are controversial aspects to your event or if the event allows the media to wander around and see a number of things over a period of time.

Immediately after the event, the media will often expect to hold some quick and informal interviews. Be prepared because this is where you will receive some of the coverage that you are seeking. It helps to have several spokespersons.

Having planned the conference, it is important that the media show up. Send an invitation that will arrive about four or five working days before the event. This is not a wedding invitation. It should be a short, carefully worded letter: personalized and signed by a leading member of your association, probably the president or the person most familiar to the media. It should contain enough of the story to whet their appetite. Two days before the event, call the reporters and assignment editors to be sure that they will have someone show up. Often you will be told that they cannot guarantee that, or even that it is not likely that they can have anyone there. Be cheerful, and ask them to do their best. It helps if you tell them a little tidbit of news to show that excitement is building. Early on the morning of the event, a quick call to remind the assignment editors may make the difference. Once, when announcing a development to our new planetarium interactive gallery, we goofed and held our event in the midst of a national political party’s convention in our city. We were told that all of the camera crews for a major TV station had to be at the convention centre and we were out of luck. Nevertheless, we persisted with our reminders. Ten minutes before our event we discovered that both of their mobile crews showed up (to the surprise of each other)—both were finding the politicians boring, and both hoped that we might give them a better story. We did.

As a cautionary note, you will hear that if you really want coverage, remember that the media like to be fed well and served liquor. Do not believe it. Certainly a cup of coffee, tea, or fruit juice, and donuts or Danishes, is appreciated in the late morning. But bribes of any kind will not produce coverage. There is really only one thing that will attract the media, and that is a good story. Focus your attention on providing that. Staging an event requires good planning and organization. Ensure that your team knows what to do, and can perform reliably and cheerfully.

The success of your conference is not measured by how many members of the media showed up, but by the amount and quality of the coverage that you receive. This should be monitored. Generally speaking, the most effective coverage is a favourable spot on the evening television news. Next is a well placed story in a major daily newspaper—the best is to have a story with a picture on the front of a section. If that is all you get, you have aced it. Anything else is a bonus.

Nowadays it may be worthwhile to monitor the blogosphere, the twitterverse and hashtags, Facebook, Google +, and other social media sites for coverage. The local authors for these sites may or may not be amateurs, but some have a huge readership. Be sure that they are informed and invited. Your official spokesperson should consider becoming an active contributor to social media sites.

If there is lots of interest in what you are doing, try to arrange for a number of follow-up media interviews in the privacy of your office, or in radio and television studios, or wherever the interviewers would like to meet with you.

The Media Interview

One of the most effective ways of promoting a cause or an event is to make yourself available for media interviews. Except for your time and travel, your costs are minimal. Although it takes some skill, this can be mastered by anyone willing to focus their attention on what must be done to succeed.

An interview with electronic media can be a session in a radio or television studio, a recording (or a live hit) is done at your site of business, or by Skype or other Internet communication tool. The Internet is emerging as an electronic medium for audio and video programming. The traditional media is comprised of newspapers, radio, television, and magazines. These organizations are likely to send a reporter, and perhaps a photographer or camera crew, to see you. One way to make yourself appreciated is to offer to go to the best place for the interview. While a radio station could do a phone-in interview, they would usually prefer if you would be willing to go to the studio. If you are talking about a development at a special site, it is often more effective for you and the media to go to the location. Think this through and make sure that you go dressed for the trip, and that you bring any props you may need.

An excellent way to keep your story before the public is to produce a program for radio, television or the Internet. Consider offering to write a regular column for a newspaper or magazine. Nowadays many people are creating or writing material for e-zines and Internet broadcasts or narrowcasts. Any of these projects will require a major commitment of time, and some real talent for producing compelling material for your medium of choice. I mention this only because it may suggest opportunities for your organization and because I’ve enjoyed doing regular television and radio spots and writing a newspaper column. More recently I’ve contributed to blogs and online video.

One of the ways to be invited to an interview is to begin by having your organization publish a news release. Then someone from your organization (not the person to be interviewed) should call to offer a spokesperson for the interview.

You should not automatically agree to an interview simply because someone from the media calls and says that they would like talk to you. There is only one valid reason to allow yourself to participate in a media interview: you have something that you want to express through that particular medium.

Usually the interview arises because you have something to promote, or the interviewer invited you and you were so flattered that you could not say no, or you are the spokesperson for an organization and the press or electronic media want some answers to a current issue. The important thing to remember is that you must decide what you want to say before the interview. This decision—and your knowledge of what must be said—will give you control of the encounter.

You must decide what you want to say before the interview. This decision will give you control of the encounter.

Unless the issue is contentious, the interview will not be an oral examination. However, if you feel it is, you will passively sit there, waiting for the questions and then answer them as competently as possible. This is not the way to participate in an interview. By doing this, you are forcing the poor interviewer to search his or her mind for something to ask. Then these questions become the orals that you dreaded; and it is your own fault. If you think that the course of an interview is that the interviewer asks a question, then you answer, then the interviewer asks another, and so on; you are not ready for the interview. As you will see, your role is to actively work to communicate your message. You do not help the interviewer, or your cause, by politely and passively answering the questions.

Here is how to make it worse. I find that many people would like to be the sage that the media must approach for some wise words of wisdom. This role requires a sense of humour, vast skill with the media, probably an existing public presence, talent as an actor, and some real knowledge. It is a tough act (although it should look easy) and it is not for beginners. You should remember that by presenting yourself as an ivory-tower authority you may intimidate the interviewer and make this person grope for questions that are worthy of your stature and knowledge. Because the media have identified you as the spokesperson for a cause or an organization, that association may seem to force you into playing this role of an authority. The way to avoid this situation is to remember to look for things to say that will be of interest to the audience. To talk about anything else, regardless of the questions, is a waste of everyone’s time.

Here is how to make the experience easy, fun, and productive.

First, you must always keep in mind what it is that the interview needs (whether or not the interviewer knows it.) What is it that the media needs? They need effective programming. To be effective, it must be sufficiently compelling or interesting that the viewers, listeners or readers cannot tear themselves away from it. If you understand how to do this, read no further, your interviews will seem brilliant and you will be sought after for more.

Do not participate in a media interview unless you are convinced that at least one of the following three conditions exist:

  • You are involved with an event (or cause or organization) which will benefit from public exposure,
  • You have a worthy opinion on a matter of public interest,
  • You are so famous that the public is satisfied just being exposed to you. If this is you, just be yourself—anything you do will be fine, that is all that is required of you.

If you are not a celebrity, you need to sell some aspect of the event (cause or organization), or promote your opinion. The job of selling a worthy concept is your valid reason for being in the interview. Your success should be measured, not by how good you looked, but by how well you advanced your cause. Since this is the objective, you must not forget it—even in the heat of the moment. And let nothing the interviewer may do persuade you from saying what you are there to say.

Here is how.

Convince yourself that the concept or opinion is something to be enthusiastic about. Before it can mean anything to the audience it must be meaningful to you. Figure out why it is important to you, then figure out why it should be important to the listeners, viewers or readers. This latter step is important to making your message relevant.

Now explain it to yourself in words. Focus on no more than two or three key messages. You can practice by explaining it to someone else—a friend. Pick a friend for practicing because the real audience is friendly. Believe it, it is true. During the practice and then during the actual interview be enthusiastic. Watch how you explain your subject. If you can obtain a recording of your first interview you will find this very revealing; but do not judge yourself too harshly.

Allow your enthusiasm to make you animated. During the interview, rivet your attention on the interviewer. Do not lounge back in your seat and drone on. Instead sit up, open your eyes, express your feelings with your face, your hands (only a little, and don’t use your hands to conduct what your voice is saying), and your body—words are only part of the communication. You want the interviewer to really understand what you have to say, and this means you must work hard at communicating. The enthusiasm that you exhibit must be generated by the significance of the concept or opinion, not simply your silliness.

You have the power to control the interview because you have something to express. As long as you are saying interesting things you will seldom be interrupted. After all, by providing effective programming you are making the interviewer look good.

If the questions are allowing you to say the things that you find interesting let the interviewer carry on that train of thought. If not, simply change the subject. Do not be afraid to say, “…but what is really interesting here is…” and say whatever you feel like saying. If you have practiced your two to three key messages, this is much easier to do. Just be honest—and interested.

Use props. Newspapers like images (perhaps provided on a flash stick), and on television you can use interesting objects, video clips, or images. For TV never provide vertical format pictures. If you are using presentation software, format material for HD. Sometimes it helps if you give advance warning of props.

Props are interesting, and sometimes it takes a long time to discuss them. Take the time that is required to make the props meaningful. Your willingness to go to the trouble to find props will make you very popular with the media. Whatever you decide to take, think about why anyone would be interested. Perhaps rehearse the words you might use. No, don’t write it out and make it sound like a prepared pitch. Just think it through. Be flexible in case things do not turn out the way you planned.

The public is not interested in losers

You must appear cheerful and confident. The public is not interested in losers. Even if you have to announce something very grim you can still be looking forward to better days, or you can be proud of what you and your colleagues accomplished despite conditions. This cannot be an act. You must find that core of optimism and confidence within you before the interview. If you cannot, probably you are not a worthy spokesperson. Others may depend on you and your conviction.

Most of the time the interview is an enjoyable affair. You have the opportunity to express yourself to a large group of people. It is wonderful for the ego.

It may not be enjoyable if the issue in question is contentious. All of the foregoing applies, and sometimes that is enough. The problems occur because the interviewer will not simply let you dodge questions by saying something with cheerful confidence that is interesting, relevant, but may not be the answer. In this case you must give a frank answer to the questions. Plan your answers in advance. Having answered a question with candor, and while you still seem to have the floor, you may go on to express something that is important to you. If that is truly interesting and relevant the public might hear about it.

And that brings up an important point. Unless you are on live radio or TV there is no guarantee that your words will be presented to the public, or that they will appear as you spoke them, or that they will be in the context that you imagined. Do not expect it and you will not be disappointed. The best way to be sure that your message gets through is to make it so compelling and relevant that the editor cannot resist it.

In summary: you do not need a storehouse of facts—those who do and insist on expressing it bore the audience. You need some meaningful opinions with some discussion and authority to support them. Deliver your comments with confidence and enthusiasm. Do not wait for the correct questions to express yourself. Use whatever the interviewer begins with as a springboard to say what you want to communicate.

Here are some of the circumstances you may encounter.

Most interviewers are happy if you give them an entertaining interview. You might even suggest the area you want to talk about. You might as well—you will discuss those areas whether asked or not. You will find that the only reason these interviewers ever ask a question is simply to get you going again after you have concluded an idea. This is the normal situation. If you are prepared, it is enjoyable for you, the interviewer, and the audience.

Sometimes the interviewer has done some homework and has a series of prepared questions. Interestingly, there is a pattern here. Since this person has done some work, and since you are presented as an expert (or at least an official spokesperson), invariably the interviewer will want to have a chat with you before and will want to talk to you about the questions. You will then have the opportunity to say, “I don’t really know much about that…” or, “A more interesting angle is…” Remember that they want a good interview. In this case they are more interested in good discussion, not stumping you.

Open mike shows are fun. The real problem is generating enough interest to keep the calls coming. You should feel free to be sensational and controversial. Be sure to respect the opinions of those who do not agree with you. Try to stick to issues and opinions, and not personalities. You must be honest in your opinions and do not bluff when you do not know an answer. If someone wants a fact that is not at your fingertips consider suggesting that the caller phone you at your office. In most cases, even if you give your telephone number over the air you will not be deluged with calls. It will also make you seem very candid, and willing to help.

Call-in shows are really like a personal telephone conversation between you and the caller—with everyone else listening in. Pay attention to the caller’s question and interrupt only if you want something clarified, not to comment; and plan your response. When you speak you will find that you are in complete charge of the situation. If the caller wants to interrupt or argue they cannot because the technician will turn them down. If the issue is contentious, use the caller’s speaking time to make notes. When a caller has several points there is a temptation to jump in and answer them as they are made. Do not. Wait your turn, then deal with the issues one at a time. You will look (sound) better and you will usually have the last word. The host of the show will get impatient with callers who seem to repeat themselves or want to make speeches. Actually you will find that you are so much in command of the situation that you can easily handle some very difficult matters. So fear not. And try to find things to say that will get people so worked up—or just so interested—that they will have to call.

A call-in show can go for hours. Actually you will be surprised at how few calls will be answered. There is not much time left after the commercial announcements, news weather and sports. In addition, the host usually has some stuff to talk to the audience about that has nothing to do with you.

The electronic media often like sound bites. Theses are small items that are prepared for TV (and sometimes radio) programs. The item should be 30 seconds or shorter. Always find out how long you will be on (if the interviewer knows). In the case of these snippets you must be succinct. It takes good statements to survive the editor. Know what must be said in advance. Since you will have to act like a TV pitch-person you will need to be mentally prepared by the time the camera or audio recorder rolls.

As I write this, many organizations and individuals are becoming Internet broadcasters: both with streaming video and audio podcasts. For you, the only difference between this and a radio or television interview is that you may not have to go to the host’s studio. With a good Internet connection you can do your part in your office or home. If this is an option, consider acquiring a good web camera and a broadcast microphone. You may need a headset to avoid feedback. Consider your room lighting and whatever will be visible in the video frame behind you during the interview. Rehearse your systems well with a colleague in advance and make sure you know how to easily handle all the controls. Having gone to all this trouble, you may like these new systems well enough to become an Internet broadcaster yourself and create your own programming.

Participating in a media interview does not mean that the community has been reached or significantly influenced. You should know that surprisingly few people actually hear or see interviews on day-time radio or television. Many people do see items that appear in TV newscasts. Sometimes media interviews are posted on the Internet, and this can result in coverage that goes well beyond the life of the event. If this is the case, you may decide to circulate the URL of the item to your constituency. If only one person you know sees something in print that mentions you, soon all of your acquaintances will see copies of it. This is not a true indication of readership.

Finally there is the matter of FEAR. “How will I come across?” The trappings of the interview (camera crews, recording equipment, etc.) can be intimidating. There is no easy solution, but you should keep in mind a few points. First, the whole point of the media is to communicate your message, not to employ the broadcasters, writers and technicians who work in the media. Your purpose is to communicate to the interviewer, and by doing this, communicate to the public. Second, decide that the trappings of the media are your tools and you will not be intimidated. For instance, if you are to be on TV and you have a prop which needs a table near you, go ahead and ask for the table. Talk to the interviewer, producer or cameraperson to be sure that the prop will look good on camera.

The media is your best instructor. Pay attention to successful interviews, particularly on television where you can see the whole event. As you watch, try to determine what made the interview work well. You will notice that the top interviewers usually invite guests who come so well prepared that the interviewer looks good. What seems spontaneous is often the result of good planning by the interviewee.

Before the interview you will be thinking about what you plan to say, and during it you will be busy communicating as hard as you can. You will find that with this approach there is almost no time to be afraid.

A Final Word About Damage Control

Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, your association gets into trouble. Perhaps an event did not achieve the planned revenue, and now you have a huge deficit. Another organization with a competing philosophy has publicly attacked your society. An employee or volunteer has been accused of behaving very badly. A popular commentator in the media has written a very negative review about one or more of your programs.

While serious damage control is well beyond the scope of this book, I have been there, and suggest you carefully think through the answers to a few questions. Thinking through means undertaking to answer the question, and then asking the followup question, “…and then what?” You must keep doing this for several iterations. This process is surprisingly good at predicting the future—even when it is not the future you may be wishing to create. The purpose is to encourage you to avoid reacting emotionally, and to be deliberate in thinking through any remedies you imagine require some action.

  1. What is the remedy that you will employ?
  2. Are you concerned about the public perception of the matter? Do you know what is the public’s perception now, and what it is likely to become when you apply your remedy?
  3. Chances are that you don’t yet know your remedy. So what is your strategy for deciding, what will your proposed plan cost, and how long do you have before you need to act?
  4. Is the media pressing for answers? Do you know the facts? Can you avoid acting until you have the information you need? Is there the chance that your proposed action will make the situation worse? Do you need to do anything at all?

Some last thoughts

There cannot be a conclusion to this book. As I look over the years that I’ve spent with volunteer organizations I keep remembering hard learned lessons. If I tried to write them all I’d never finish. There are a few loose ends that seem valuable, but didn’t logically fit anywhere. So, here they are.

A Word Of Advice To Members Who Have a Long Service Record

Have you held a high office in your organization for a long time? Isn’t it time for you to let someone else occupy your position?

After you have successfully participated in or led some active committees, or perhaps served on the executive of the society for a term or two, consider another role. At this point in your service to your organization, your main contribution should be to help newer members to achieve these offices and responsibilities. Your knowledge and experience is most valuable if you continue to participate and lead from behind. If you are holding an office ‘because no one else wants the job’ then you must declare this to the board, plan to resign the post (and do it!), and mentor someone for the job.

You serve best by proving that no one in indispensable. It is true that newer members will not do as well as you—at first. It is better they be your scion than your rival. Eventually some will grow to make contributions you have not thought about. Your role is to encourage that growth.

Nothing in this essay should suggest that potentially contributing members should retire from active duty to make way for ‘new blood.’ That rhetoric is silly and is often counter-productive. Just recognize that in order to show leadership or to contribute you don’t need to be in the driver’s seat.

If you think that your reward for service is that driver’s seat, you should reexamine your motives and move on.

As an old hand at this, you will often recognize opportunities or some problem before the others do. Gently, make sure these things receive attention.

A Word To The Acknowledged Leaders in Your Community

Have you achieved some profile in the community because of your accomplishments? Probably you have a valuable role to play with the membership of this society that you value.

Assisting with the recruiting of new members enlarges the constituency of people who share your values.

As a result of your leadership in the community and the fame of your many accomplishments, you are well known among the members and even potential members. Be aware that people will want to be able to meet you, to hear your thoughts (please, not on organizational politics), and to contribute to your good works.

The simple act of your being present at meetings is a contribution. This short section is to recommend that you regularly show up regardless of the topic of the event or meeting. Actively seek out and talk (and listen) to the newer members.

By showing up at gatherings, and by encouraging the activities of the members, you will be assisting with the recruiting of new members and providing needed recognition for the work of the association. Thus you will be helping to enlarge the constituency of people who share your values. This is not a small contribution. The importance of your participation will be hard to quantify, but it will be more than you suspect. Participate often!

Because of your personal reputation, you have the power to fuel factions and rivalries. Try to stay above any of that. Let the statutory leaders of the organization determine policies and direction; and become involved only when your opinion is sought in a legitimate forum.

A Word to Board Leaders About Succession Planning

While the bylaws will ensure that there is a board, I’d like your organization to do better. Succession includes planning the future slate of officers. It is best when the future chairs (or presidents) know for several years when they will assume that office.

Consider this scenario. It is a few weeks before the Annual General Meeting. Someone telephones the past president to remind her that the the bylaws say that she is the chair of the nominating committee and her committee is expected to propose a slate of officers and members of the board for the coming year. There will be some vacancies that need to be filled. This is followed by a flurry of meetings and eventually some people are persuaded to join the board. Sound familiar?

What is wrong with this scenario? First, the bylaws specify the minimum requirements for legally carrying out the business of the association—they are not there to provide advice and consultation to the leadership. Second, these new board members arrive with little or no preparation for the vital job of governing your association.

As someone who teaches governance, I’ve come to recognize the necessary function of the board’s role be able to understand and to articulate the culture and values of the association. Board members who, themselves, are struggling to learn the new job of being a board member, are not in a position to govern wisely for many months.

As best as you can, plan for succession on the board. One way to do that is expand the responsibilities of your nominating committee. Keep it small, and populate it only with those who really know the value and history of your association. This group could be active throughout the year and constantly watching for the future board members. Potential nominees might be invited to attend a number of board meetings before their elected term. Consider holding training or orientation sessions for future board members.

For most organizations, people are not running for the job on a board—this is task that is thoughtfully undertaken as a part of community service. Consider charging your nominating committee with ensuring that excellent people are identified, and then are prepared to be competent board members.


From Robert J Ballantyne

Over the years, I discovered the contents of this book from the time I spent with many people. When I (Robert Ballantyne) joined the Montreal Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (in 1963), I learned more than just astronomy. One of the organizers was Isabel K. Williamson. From the position of Editor of the newsletter, Skyward, Miss Williamson (none of us young folks would have thought of calling her, Isabel) developed that little club into a dynamic organization that was accomplishing some real astronomy and successfully nurturing many young people. She understood what she was doing, and took the time to teach me many of the concepts that are now expressed in this book. I am very grateful for all that I learned from Miss Williamson—although it would be years before I found practical applications for the information. This, then, is my belated thanks. While associated with the Montreal Centre, and when some trouble was brewing, I recall spending lots of time with Constantine Papacosmas and David Levy pouring over the Bylaws. This was when I first realized their importance to an organization.

In 1966, the director of Montreal’s Dow Planetarium, Donald D. Davis, accepted me as part of his stable of astronomical lecturers, and later encouraged me to write and produce public shows. In Toronto, Beatrice Fisher, a publicist at the Royal Ontario Museum, decided to coach me to perform in media interviews and to become a spokesperson for the McLaughlin Planetarium. While I appeared on all the local and national programs, I remember that it was during many hours with broadcaster Doug Hall, on both his radio and television programs, that I learned how dance in a media interview. In Winnipeg, I recall enjoyable hours on the air with Peter Warren and Bill Guest. Bill and I hosted the syndicated live television coverage of the 1979 Total Eclipse of the Sun. My years as a show producer, planetarium director, and museum director, gave me the opportunity to work with and for some extraordinary people. They include Henry C. King, Bill and Celeste Peters, Ian C. McLennan, H. David Hemphill and Max Tapper. I recall discovering (for myself) how much I knew when I was mentoring our intern, Ron Waldren. Nancy Vincent was the volunteer coordinator at the Museum in Winnipeg, and she taught me how a large volunteer program should work. It wasn’t until I met Winnipeg’s amazing and dynamic Dorothy Dobbie, that I discovered that I could have a personal role as a volunteer and as a leader in community affairs.

Working with leaders in the environmental movement put me in close contact with people who have made a real difference to our world. They include Julie Gelfand, Ric and Dona Careless, Tony Barrett, Linda Coady, Andrew Bryant, Stan Coleman, Wayne Soper, Stuart Prescott, Bill Tieleman, and Harvey McKinnon.

More recently, my quest to find ways to better govern social profit organizations brought me to learn Policy Governance from the authors, John and Miriam Carver, and to work with my amazing partners at the Xylem Group: Sherry Jennings, Caroline Oliver, Vijay Mistry, John Bruce, Susan Mogensen, Linda Stier, and Stacy Sjogren.

From Sherry S. Jennings

I echo Robert’s sentiments about John and Miriam Carver’s work and our brilliant colleagues in the Xylem Group.

Two phases of my life also shaped my commentary and stories in this book. The first phase was during the early 1990’s working with the U.S. National Honey Board (NHB). Chairman Dwight Stoller and CEO Bob Smith discovered John Carver’s book, Boards That Make a Difference. Both were dissatisfied with the efficiency of the board’s work. Both agreed that the board spent a lot of time “rubber stamping” items on the agenda and not a lot of time creating meaningful direction. Board members Binford Weaver, John Miller, Neil Miller, and Doug McGinnis were key to supporting the effort. Because the book was released in 1990, not much was available on how to implement and practice Carver’s Policy Governance® (PG) model of governing. The board’s leadership and I learned together through strategic successes facilitated by Kerry Tucker of Nuffer, Smith, Tucker. There were a few missteps, too. Binford Weaver’s lovely wife Bennie Lou pulled me aside after a disappointing board session. In her lovely Texas drawl she admonished, “Sherry, you’ve got to let people dabble their toes in the water before you ask them to dive into the deep end.” That message characterizes what Robert and I have come to understand about teaching PG — board members need to visualize the shared and compelling end — before taking the plunge into the work of crafting policies. As Robert says, “Boards need to envision what can be, rather than what is.”

The second phase of my life centers around my community work. Rotarian Nanci Garnand introduced me to the Four Way Test and the profound way Rotary affects communities locally and around the world. Past District Governor Harold (Alex) Alexander showed me how to recruit, engage, and reward volunteers. Past District Governor David Stocks modeled Ken Blanchard’s vision of leadership, “Leadership is something you do with people and not to them. I know Robert’s ideas and principles laid out in this compendium of essays work. How? Because I’ve seen them applied effectively by Rotarian Tom Carroll. Tom saw a need in our community for a different sort of Rotary club. As a Rotarian with a bit more experience, I helped Tom navigate the process of getting a new club started. Tom set records in Rotary for the efficiency, competence, and speed in which he got the new club chartered and running. In 2011, the club chartered with 35 members. In 2014, the club is 85 members strong and growing. The club’s very first fundraiser netted enough money to enable generous grants to several community assistance programs. Follow Robert’s advice and you can experience how this works firsthand!

About the Authors

About Robert J Ballantyne

Robert J Ballantyne

Robert J Ballantyne

While in his early twenties, Robert was able to combine his desire to tell stories with film (he still has his 16mm Bolex camera) and his love of astronomy when he was hired by the Planetarium Dow in Montreal. Over the next 20 years he produced planetarium shows in Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg. During his 8 years in Toronto he learned how to be a spokesperson for the McLaughlin Planetarium. Then he was off to direct the Manitoba Planetarium in Winnipeg for a decade. While in that city he was elected president of Winnipeg AM, and then president of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. He was appointed the honorary chair of the Cross Canada Science fair, and later elected president of the Canadian Nature Federation. For a year he was the Interim CEO of the Marmot Recovery Foundation. Along the way he has performed several radio series and written a newspaper column. Since 1989 he has been a consultant working out of Bowen Island near Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. In 1998 John and Miriam Carver trained him in the process to implement Policy Governance®. Robert is a founding partner of The Xylem-Group. Currently (2014) he is the president of BC Spaces for Nature.

About Sherry S. Jennings

Sherry Jennings

Sherry Jennings

Sherry Jennings is the founder and principal consultant of Sound Governance. Sound Governance is part of The Xylem Group — an international think tank on governance, leadership, and accountability. Her clients benefit from positive, strength-based strategies to determine the factors and forces that bring about success. Sherry has over 13 years of experience in consulting with organization leaders on developing sound organizational policies and practices. Sherry has assisted a wide variety of clients and industries—agriculture, arts, banking, education, healthcare, human services, international marketing and trade, public lands, utilities, technology, and more. Prior to starting her private practice, Sherry served as an executive of a national nonprofit trade association serving nearly 200,000 members.

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