In episode 74 of Mission: Impact, Carol Hamilton and her guest, Veronica LaFemina discuss
Veronica LaFemina is Founder and CEO of LaFemina & Co., an advisory firm supporting nonprofits and social impact businesses at the intersection of strategy, culture, communications, and change management. Veronica partners with organizations and their leaders to go beyond what “looks good on paper” to focus on what works well in real life. She is a leader, strategist, facilitator, trusted advisor, and certified change management professional with nearly two decades of experience as a senior executive at national U.S. nonprofit organizations and a high-impact consultant. Her work has been featured by Inc. Magazine, the Today Show, NPR, CNN, Capterra, and in news outlets nationwide.
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Carol: My guest today on Mission Impact is Veronica LaFemina. Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit holistic strategy consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All of this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact. Veronica and I talk about why big change initiatives often fail. We explore why a map of how to get from A to B may not be sufficient, why the role of a key leader visibly supporting the change is so key and why radio silence is a bad sign.
In this conversation I really appreciated Veronica’s point that with a large change initiative the “launch day” is really the middle of a roll out – not an ending. And I appreciated what she said about preparing middle managers to answer questions from their staff. As a former middle manager, I can only think of a few times when leadership took the time to do that – to make sure we were as fully informed as we could be so that we could answer our staff’s questions. When you do not have answers – or your answer is I don’t know – it can undermine trust. And it really provides the opportunity for our brains as storytelling machines to go to town. Nature abhors a vacuum – and an information vacuum will be filled by speculation, rumor and other stories – then can become perceived as fact very easily. This is rarely malicious – it is just how we are wired – and in absence of information we will likely fill in the gaps with our story of what is going on to allay our anxieties about the unknown and to feel more of a sense of control and agency. And then we will likely believe our own stories – often not even realizing that it is just our thoughts and speculation about the situation.
The example that Veronica uses through most of our conversation is a technology project – which on the surface can seem like a technical not an adaptive change. Yet even with a change in tools we have to change our habits and some of our ways of being. And while this example may seem more simple than the very complex changes to culture that many organizations are attempting in becoming more equitable and anti-racist, there are many parallels to the common challenges and things that get in the way.
These include sustained leadership support, working to cultivate the conditions for success, recognizing what you are asking of people in what they will need to do to shift from one way of being to another, celebrating the bright spots and small wins.
Welcome, Veronica. Welcome to Mission Impact.
Veronica: Thanks, Carol I'm so happy to be here with you today.
Carol: So I'd like to start out each podcast conversation with what drew you to the work that you do, what motivates you and what would you describe as your why?
Veronica: It's a great question. I like to joke that service has been in my DNA. I sort of was born into it. A family where service and being involved in the community was always a really important part of our lives. And so whether that was through volunteering, whether that was through scouts or church or community projects. I have many fond memories of being involved in figuring out how we can help our neighbors' lives be better, what we can each do to make our community a better place.
So how that's carried over in my professional life is I am very passionate about finding better ways of working so that we can ensure that folks in the nonprofit sector and the social impact world have the tools and support they need. And that we're really focused on getting to our goals, like on, on meeting the mission that we're here for. So, really mine is. A strong family basis and just some good reinforcement from the universe along the way that this is the right track to be on. I love that.
Carol: When I talk to guests so often, there's something early on that, that set them on their, this, this path and for me it was probably being the younger sister of a, a person with a disability and just watching them having to navigate the world and, and how, Systems are not necessarily set up for everybody, and how can we make that better?
How can we smooth the path for folks and make life more accessible, easier and and then, the same in, in the workplace. Like how, how can we get out of our own way to get further and closer to our mission?
Veronica: I love that and I resonate with that a lot too. Just the idea that there's so much potential, right? There's so much opportunity. I feel like I really see the world in our sector as a place where so much is possible, and if we can remove barriers, if we can take away unnecessary restrictions, unnecessary boxes that we're putting ourselves in, there's just so.
Much that is available to us in the form of human creativity, innovation, and the opportunity to solve some of the really big problems we have in our country and in our communities, in our world. So I love hearing your story too, Carol. That's really empowering and exciting. I
Carol: Removing barriers and smoothing the way is top of mind because I was just listening to a Hidden Brain podcast interview where they were talking about how Rather than pushing actually removing barriers makes it easier for people to, to do behavior change whether that's at the individual level or or at the organizational level.
And one of the things that you've worked a lot on is helping organizations. initiate those big change processes, which unfortunately too often don't go as planned. Don't end up with the results that people expected. I think the statistics are. I looked them up. They're pretty bad.
That the, the, the guesstimate, I guess, or maybe it's based on research that 70% of change efforts fail. What do you think are some of the things that, that, that do get in the way of organizations being able to move forward, change that they're really, that they really want and yet somehow it's not sticking.
Veronica: I am so passionate about this topic because I think in the social impact sector in particular, We get really excited about all of the ideas we have about a new program, a new way of working in our community that we can sort of dream and envision the impact of, but we don't always remember that in order to get there, we have to go through the process of going from where we're we are right now to that destination.
So we sometimes think it's as simple as, well, if I just draw a map, we'll know how to get there. But that's not true. And so I have worked in communications and change management and strategy work for almost 20 years both as a consultant and in-house and executive leadership roles. And I remember that feeling of frustration, like, why isn't this working?
We've, we've been thoughtful, we've planned well, we've done all these things, and I'm using air quotes here like that. Best practices tell you to do. Nothing was really working. Or when something was working, we couldn't always replicate it, right? The situation would change, the environment would change.
And so it was tough to understand what is most effective about this. So several years ago I went and got a change management certification because I was like, well, I've been doing change work my whole life. Now I wanna know what these guys, they, these large training companies or research companies are saying.
And it turns out that Prosci, which is where I got my certification, has been doing longitudinal research and why change fails for the past 25, 26 years. So it was interesting to me as a practitioner to see so much of my experience echoed in that research. One of the main reasons that change fails in organizations is the lack of a visible and engaged executive sponsor.
And if people aren't familiar with that term, an executive sponsor is usually someone who's on the senior most leadership team of an organization who is charged with being like the face, the voice, the person who's gonna make it happen, right? They've got the authority and ideally the budget to make the change happen.
And they may get really excited and come into the first couple meetings, kick off the project team, get everyone amped and ready to go. And then they disappear. And that lack of commitment and stamina at the executive level to stick with a change through its whole process is a leading reason why change doesn't work in organizations.
So, a lot of times a board or. An executive director might think, oh, okay, we've got these five big initiatives we're gonna launch this year. we're gonna have one quarter. We'll each take about three months. We'll just brush our hands, get it done, and everyone will be working differently.
And wouldn't it be nice if humans worked that way? But we just don't. So, so I often talk to leaders about the fact that if you are going to undertake a change, that could be something like, Implementing a new CRM or other technology that your team use needs to use, or something really big, like a cultural initiative where you're trying to put inclusion, diversity, equity, and access, like top of mind and as a part of how your organization works, how long are you willing to stick with that?
Is it three months? Is it six months? What if that change takes 18 months? What if it takes, what if it takes three years? That is a really important question. Executive sponsors and the people who are stuck influencing executive sponsors need to be asking themselves, what stamina do I have to be present to be engaged, to be vocal?
Because as soon as that person starts to disappear, staff automatically deprioritize. That change, they automatically say, well, if it's not that important and this leader is onto something new, then I need to shift my focus. I have to change my priorities to just follow them. So leaders, I sometimes call these leaders like hit and run change leaders where they may have great intentions, but they're not being honest with themselves about their capacity to stick with it, for the change, for the length of the change.
Carol: What you said at the very, very beginning where you said, five in one year that just made me go, ugh. Right. Maybe not so much. When I'm first talking to potential folks to work with, asking them what else is going on. Because if they're gonna do something, around the work that I do, whether it's strategic planning or mapping out their impact or some other project, but they.
Also are in the midst of doing a rebranding, or they're also in the midst of changing that CRM, which can be a big, actually a culture change. Huge. It's not gonna work to have it all going on at the same time. And Right. The leader doesn't have that same focus on what's most important.
And then that signals to staff, again, to follow the leader. What are they prioritizing today?
Veronica: And I, I think too it is normal and human to believe that we have the capacity to do way more than we can. And that's because when we think about our own lives even, right?
We think about everything that we get done in a day, or everything that we get done in a year, and we are like, well, surely as a group of humans, we could do more. But actually it is the opposite, right? When we're crafting change in our own lives, we know the audience pretty well, right? We know how to make adjustments so that we're increasing our motivation or increasing our ability, making things easier for ourselves to do so that we'll actually do the behavior we're aiming for.
But when we're working at an organizational level, even if your organization, if it's three people or if it's 30,000 people, We have to be aware of the needs that humans have when it comes to change and how we're probably not meeting them a lot of the time. When I talk to leaders, there are these concerns about, well, that takes so much longer.
I have all this pressure to deliver and perform and my. My response to that is if you have a PR pressure to deliver and perform, right, whether, again, whether it's from your board, whether it's from a key donor or someone in, a community funder, things like that, then they should want you to be able to get it right.
So the change sticks, right? So that we're not ticking a box Yes. Acquired new CRM. Like the, the aim of that is not that you turn the switch on for your new system. It's that the human beings who need to use it are using it effectively in making that a way of working for the organization. And I would say that's another big reason why change fails, is that organizations leaders are not clearly defining what success looks like, or they're picking the wrong measure, right?
So launch day is the success check instead of, six months after launch. X percent of employees are effectively using this technology every day or every week in their lives, right? They're not really accounting for the fact that this isn't just something we bought that is gonna sit on the shelf.
Like this is something that needs to be a way of working, and that takes time because as humans, we need practice. We're really great at understanding something intellectually and then never practicing it. Therefore, we're not sure if we're capable of doing that.
Carol:, I mean, I, I'm thinking back to a, a project that I was on when I was inside an organization and the amount of time and energy and resources that were put into the, to the planning, the deciding what, and it was a technology project, deciding what features we were gonna have, working all of that through getting to launch date.
But there was almost no thought or energy from the folks who were leading the project in. How are we gonna train people? There was a one day training, but then how are we gonna follow up a week later to say, have you actually gotten into the new CRM and have you tried this? Have you entered any data?
Have you tried to run a report? Any of that thing to actually do exactly what you're talking about, or change in behavior. Because the behavior that we saw beforehand was that people would run reports and then manage everything through spreadsheets. So the information always was lost and disconnected, which is obviously the exact opposite of what having a system like that is supposed to do.
But as you say, just having it doesn't create the end result unless you build the conditions for that.
Veronica: Right. And presumably, so here's what I'll say. Like presumably we have a good reason for this change, right? Well, let's give ourselves the benefit of the doubt that it has been a really thoughtful conversation about introducing a new piece of technology.
Or we do wanna be more inclusive and equitable as an organization. Like let's assume our hearts and our brains are relatively in the right place. Sometimes what happens is we treat these just as the projects that take us from Genesis to, okay, we did the launch day. We even did training. Check we did that and we didn't actually think about the fact that change management is the act of moving people, right?
Moving people from one way of being to another, which by the way is something we all could be really great at in the social impact sector, cuz that's so much of our work outside of our orgs too. And so, again, it's really common to not have solid communication strategies and training strategies in place.
Right? We. Sort of expect that we say it once or we announce to everybody at the same time, and that that will be enough and it isn't, right. There are reasons that we know we have to repeat things to supporters or donors seven or more times, right? For them to actually hear what we're saying. We know in the world of social media, like if we wanna get our organization seen, we have to keep getting out there and sharing the message and connecting and engaging in a real conversation with folks.
But especially, I mean, it's always been true, but I would say especially in remote workplaces, we forget how early we need to start engaging the other humans who we are working with to ensure we're not missing something. Because when you're deep in the weeds, it's really easy to believe that you've designed this perfect solution.
But you could get great intel by talking to people who are on the ground working with that system, or who are going to be really involved in carrying out that change. We don't always have that luxury, sometimes there are changes that are confidential in nature or, have to have some embargo date on them.
But that doesn't mean that we can't then plan to have a, like we can't have an appropriate strategy for how we'll communicate and train in that situation. so often, right? Again, it's like, hey, we're doing this thing and then there's blow back, and executive leaders or board members are flummoxed.
They don't know where that's coming from because they've just been thinking about and planning for whatever this is for six or nine months, and they're forgetting that this is brand new. To everyone else. And so we can't expect people to be open to a completely new way of doing things if we've spent very little time helping them understand why this change is needed, what we hope they'll do to help us make this happen.
Getting ready to teach them what they need, creating the knowledge that's there, giving them time to practice, right? We practiced again, practice. Is something we're so good at as kids, and then we just like to leave it by the wayside in our grownup years. Some knowledge and time to practice, like you're not gonna get it perfect a week after training.
None of us are that adept at a completely new system for the most part. And then also reinforcing it, right? The announcement isn't the end. It's actually a middle point milestone. Because, hey, we're flipping the switch on that thing, but it's all of the communication and conversation and, and really setting our managers, our people, managers up for success and to be the leaders we need them to be as we're having these conversations.
I mean, nothing sets a change back more than a manager saying to their team, well, I don't know. This is the first I'm hearing of it too. And when that's the thing you're hearing around your org, you can bet that you're going to be doing some repair work, right? Really doing some work to recover, trust and recover enthusiasm or momentum toward whatever change you're looking to move forward.
Carol: You're, what you're describing brings to mind a process that I was part of where in a volunteer organization we were going through a leadership change and I was on the committee that was looking for the next leader. And we had to keep reminding ourselves that we were in all of this.
It was, there was strict confidentiality around a lot of it. Who were you talking to and all of that? But we were in all the details. We were starting to be able to see the next phase, but the rest of the group was not part of that conversation. And so they were gonna be in a totally different spot when we made the big announcement.
Carol: And so what were things that we could do then? And I'm wondering if you talked about it being a middle phase. What are some of those things that organizations really need to think about if they really think about the whole arc? If the, if the launch is just the middle, then what, what's the second half?
Veronica: Sure. So what I'll, what I'll first say, right? So if the first part is really thinking through how we want this change to go in the first place, getting clear about what the priorities are and what success looks like, right? So that we can then use that to lay groundwork or start having conversations.
In the example you're talking about, Carol, we may not be able to say, who we're talking to or how many folks we've interviewed even, but we certainly can reinforce that the board is having conversations or hear, enough information to help folks come along and understand that this isn't something we've forgotten about.
When we look at, after Flip the Switch day, right? And not every change has that launch moment. Some of them are, are, gradual and, and build and become more robust over time. But in situations where we do have a, the new tech is live today or that thing, there are a couple of really key things to prepare for.
So one is that training your managers, right, your people managers, to be able to speak about the change with their teams really matters. We know from Prosci research and from other research out there that. Staff want to hear from the senior most level executive at the organization about why we're doing this change and what it means for the future of the organization.
So, from the vision holder of the organization, that's who they wanna hear the big picture from. What they wanna hear from their boss is, how's this gonna change my job? What's gonna be different for me? And most managers? Have not been put through formal training programs about how to communicate effectively about change, right?
Or how to just manage change on their teams. So thinking about what tools, right? And by tools I'm saying like what talking points? What emails, what kinds of Q and A documents can you provide to those managers? And then train them on, right? Have conversations with them, ideally in advance of the change so that when it's announced to the whole staff or when there's a big switch flip, they're able to immediately start having conversations with their team members about what's happening, what's expected of us, what this means Those tools can also include timelines, right?
So things like for the next month there will be opportunities for training and here are the training our team needs to take. My expectation is that everyone on our team will complete their training by X date and we'll come together and share and ask questions so that way I can communicate back to whoever's developed our training about things we're still not sure about.
It should include regular check-in communications. I think we have this perfectionistic mindset sometimes when we think about it as a launch and then we put out the big announcement that everything's gotta go perfectly. And again, that's an unrealistic expectation, right? What we want often is feedback or questions or concerns that people may have so we can then understand how to continue providing information or support.
That will help address those needs. The worst thing that can happen when you announce a change is that you get no feedback or commentary. Because what that means is people aren't talking to you as the leader, but they sure are talking to each other on Slack channels or teams, channels or texting each other and saying, can you believe this?
I can't believe they're adding one more thing to our plate. So really thinking through, not just that month after the new thing gets launched, but. What do you want to communicate six months from now? What do you hope it looks like and how can you continue to ensure that you as the leader, are showing up and talking about the continued importance of this, sharing some signs of success, showcasing folks on the team who've made great progress or doing great work with this change.
So not just like the project team that launched it, but hey Carol, like came up with this fantastic new report that we're using in our. Area of the business because that was made possible by this new system, right? It unlocked opportunity and information. And so using all of that as a way to continue that forward momentum, get people engaged and motivated because even if they're motivated on day one, it's a lot harder to be motivated two months later when you haven't done your training requirements yet.
So making it as easy as possible and providing those motivating factors is really important.
Carol: And I love that point about engaging with the managers beforehand to help them prepare. It gives them a chance to ask their questions, have their visceral reaction to the plan if they, if they weren't aware of it before so that they can work through their emotions before they're then having to answer questions from their team.
I think there's a lot that is really just taking that step, which, There, there's some steps there, right? That you lined out, but in, in a lot of ways, it's not that complicated. And could really make such a difference in people being ready. thinking about what are the waves of folks as you, as you ripple this out, I think of the The innovation there's a graph, I'll have to look it up on what it is when, when you go from the early adopters to the, to the, the laggard, the laggards are over here, but the people in the middle and there's this big gap.
And oftentimes, to be able to, in an organization, bridge that gap would be to do exactly the, some of the things that you're talking about.
Veronica: And I, I think too, one of the great benefits of the time we're in now is that we have seen that our organizations can change, right? There's been some extreme external pressure for that in some cases, but, organizations that were struggling for a decade prior to considering how they would make telework or work from homework figured it out in an emergency situation.
And that doesn't mean you should keep working under emergency protocols, right? You have to figure out a way to make it part of your. Work going forward, but we have the capacity to change. And so giving ourselves, setting ourselves up for success by not, like purposely doing these things that make change fail is really important.
I think this happens sometimes with executive leaders who, they're not ready themselves. Right. They might get pressure from the board. They might not believe in it. They might prefer their Excel spreadsheets to using a CRM that feels complicated. And so when leaders are not ready and are not willing to hold themselves accountable to doing the things that they ask everyone in the organization to do, they're like, your staff aren't missing that.
People see what's happening. So being. Honest with yourself about, are you ready to do this right now? And if not, what would it take to get ready? What, what does it mean for you to be willing to learn something new? Honestly, a lot of the time now, that might mean that, that doesn't mean that, every single person is doing things the exact same way in the organization, but nothing like we're, the.
The words I'm looking for, I guess, are like, nothing moves more like wildfire through an organization than like when someone is doing a workaround or someone is like, flouting the system and no one's, no one cares, right? Because then they're like, well, why am I spending all this time. Entering data this way or trying to be, trying to follow things.
When, leadership, like clearly it's not a priority for them, right? So it's very, like I talk to, with leaders, I work with about the importance of our, of having a high say, do ratio, right? So if we're saying we're gonna do these things, then we actually need to follow through. Otherwise we're just like having the feel good moment of having addressed it verbally instead of it becoming a real way of life.
And, Change management takes trade offs. It does, and I, a lot of leaders don't like to hear that. They wanna think, well, we can say yes to all these things and get it done. But really great change management requires that we say no to certain things, or we say not yet, or we say that comes next after this part gets done.
It's now that we can't have multiple changes going on at once. But if we overcommit, if we say yes to everything, then none of it sticks. And that means a legacy for you as a leader of someone who had a lot of great ideas, but not a lot of true impact. And I believe we want a sector full of leaders who have great ideas that have great impact too.
Carol: I just, it makes me think of the need to just integrate that and have it become normal. Right. No longer the thing you have to think of or the checkout list you have to look through and read to remind you how to do the thing. It just becomes the new, new normal and. And going back to that, the senior leader's sponsorship, but also commitment to a change.
I mean, a lot of organizations over the last several years have spent a lot of time and energy focused on trying to build and reshape their cultures to be more inclusive. And I'm part of a collective that works on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Work and, and a couple of my colleagues were working with an organization and there were a lot of and mostly we, we were still at the leader level trying to move forward with them.
And it just became clear. Not that they weren't committed, they had the, the say they had that, but there were some ways in which the organization worked and overworked chronically. That was never gonna really allow them to focus on it and do the things that they needed to do to make the changes.
And so we ended up actually exiting out of the project and, and not working further with staff because we didn't want to be in the position where we'd raised expectations from staff without that leader's commitment. To really take the time, energy and, and fundamentally shift how the organization was working to make it possible to do things differently.
Veronica: Well, and there's something really important what you said there, Carol, which is we have to be pretty self-aware as leaders in this space. It's hard, right? Because for many of us who've been working in social impact for a long time, there is a culture around. Well, we have to, we like to use the phrase we have to all the time, and I, as a facilitator, hate the phrase we have to, because if we're saying we have to, it means we actually don't have any idea how we're gonna do it.
But we just think it's important to keep on our strategic plan list or peg board or things like that have to, is not a priority. That's a check box. And so many of these initiatives deserve. More time, more attention, more thoughtfulness. And if we can't give them that time and space, it doesn't mean that they aren't important, but it means we need to rectify some stuff to really be honest with ourselves about what we're capable of, right?
Like we have a constant drive, like a constant productivity culture, right? Like, well, if I. Just do this one more thing for a client that we serve, or if I, I just push a little harder and launch this new program. Like us, we get so spun up in the busyness of it that we fail to recognize that we're actually preventing the change that we're wanting to make happen, happen.
Like we're, we're working against human nature, we're working against how organizations work and that. Sets us up for some heartbreak, right? Like we, when our heart is so big that our hands cannot keep up with that, the appetite that our heart has created. We have to be, we have to be honest with ourselves about capacity.
And that's, talking to leaders right now, I'm really heartened to hear more leaders, more executive directors and CEOs really thinking through, How am I gonna have this conversation with my board? How am I gonna have the conversation with them about how we are trying to do so much that none of it's gonna stick, right?
Or that we're, attempting to like, grab some duct tape and rub a few pennies together and, and make something happen. But like, if your staff aren't well informed, if you aren't an organization that is practiced and changing the way you work. Everything else becomes harder, right? Your staff are the face of your organization to the community, to the folks you serve.
And so like when they're not well informed, when they're not on board, when they're feeling insecure or stuck or out of the loop, that all really flows out into the work you do on the mission side. So, if you're, if you're a leader who's like, well, but we're like the mission and we've just gotta keep going.
Well, right. Okay. But to do that effectively, we have to make sure that the people who power this organization know what's needed, know why we're doing it, and have the tools and information and support to do it effectively. Otherwise, it's just like a bunch of stats we throw in an annual report that don't really mean what we are, what we are hoping to accomplish with our impact.
Carol: You mentioned the have to, we have to do it being a red flag for you that, that it's probably not actually gonna happen. Are there other things that you hear or people say that make you step back and say, oh, wait a second. Let's dig into that a little bit more. Oh,
Veronica: One of my, I mean, again, another big reason. Change fails because we designate the wrong executive sponsor. Mm-hmm. And what it normally sounds like is something like, we really like diversity, equity and inclusion are part of our values. We strongly believe this is important. We wanna be an equity led or equity centered organization.
And our employee resource group, right? Our culture committee. Our diversity committee, they're gonna lead that effort. Well, you. That employee resource group is often staffed by super enthusiastic, really smart, really incredible staff members who probably don't have positional or budget authority to do anything in the organization without the executive team being heavily involved.
And so when we delegate responsibility for leading an initiative, that group can be such an essential part of helping us move forward with change. But it is. Super unfair to put that on the shoulders of staff who already are giving extra time already out of their like willingness and commitment and desire and their values.
Like they wanna make this organization better. They're already doing that. And then you're saying, but we're not gonna give you any of the executive support or the budget or the authority to make any of this happen. So, when I talk to leaders and they're looking to delegate who that executive sponsorship will be like, it's someone without who may not be on the executive team.
I could even be a board member. We have to have a really serious conversation about how well that board member understands the workings of the organization. Are staff willing to speak up to this person to tell them what they think won't work? Because if you can't have honest conversations, As you're crafting these changes, what you end up with is a bunch of people saying yes to things that won't work, and then you don't find it out for six plus months because they're so terrified to talk to the board about it because of how the power structures that exist between board members and staff.
So I would say that's another big one I hear quite a lot. And, and the other one would be more, as we're. It's getting through it right as we've done our, our latch and, and things like that. It'll be people on the training end saying, well, we, we did the training. We gave the training on this particular topic.
We put it together. It worked, but not like verifying. Not having those check-ins about, okay, but what are we testing for Exactly right. What is it that we were training to do? Are we just training someone how to generically use this platform? Or are we training them? How do we use it here? What that means for all our policies and processes, right?
So when different members of the team get very pigeonholed, And while we, we did the training or I made a communications plan, instead of really thinking about it holistically, like we're working together to move this group of humans to a new way of working they are not being like, what I need right now as training or I could really use this piece of communication.
It's all gotta work in an immigrated way. And so, when I hear leadership teams or teams being pretty fragmented right? Or pretty siloed from one another. That's another moment I take to say, like this is an all in thing. We've all gotta be on the same page. If we are expecting the whole organization, like if we can't be on the same page, it's super unlikely that the rest of the organization is all gonna be able to come together around this.
So let's spend that time and energy now figuring out what's needed, but then also how we cross over, how we communicate, how we're gonna bring feedback back to the group. So that we can have the result we're looking for. Right. Which is a new way of working with this
Carol: organization. And you bring up a whole other topic, which is The, the leadership team that is a team in name only, but I don't think we're coming to the end here, so I don't think we could open up that whole can of worms.
But. Any, any, any other you've told us the main things. Let me see if I can name them out. The executive sponsor, you need one. They need commitment. Whoever you're working with needs, resources, and launch is just the middle. How are you continuing to support people as they change their behavior?
What I'm thinking of would be like, how can you create it so it's more of just in time versus a one-time training? Yes, job aids are different, resources, the way that people go now they Google something and they look something up on YouTube for a three to three minute how to do whatever the thing they're looking for.
So, What, what did I miss? Anything or is there one other important one that we need to name? I
Veronica: would just say, a lot of it is do we have all the right resources, right? The right resources for a change include budget. So not just the budget we spent on the new CRM, but like the time, the train, additional training, the additional resources we may need to pull in to help us prepare and be ready to implement this change.
And also the resources include. Really well informed managers, right? Like we, if we think about the kinds of leaders, we need those managers to be and recognize that very often they're not supported in that endeavor, then we can really think about like, how can we ensure that that is our primary thing, the thing we start with, instead of being an afterthought that comes at the end, like these people are the front line.
Of ensuring this change happens. How can we surround, protect, and support them with the right tools and materials? And so, the switching from a project mindset of change to how humans change mindset of change is a really important way of considering change management in our organizations.
And why change fails, like, Humans are not, waterfall Gantt charts. They just, they don't work that way. So how can, how, come on, why not, right? Like, how can we apply the right methodology, the right approach, the right tool to the right situation so that we're not left confused at the end of why things didn't work.
Carol: You were talking, I also had the, what came to mind was the last part of a yoga class where you do Shavasana and you lie down so that you can integrate the practice that you've had from that previous 45 minutes or half hour. Mm-hmm. So make sure that you have that in your not project project.
So at the end of every episode, I ask a, a, a random icebreaker question, so I've got one here for you. Who would you most like to sit next to on a 10 hour flight and why?
Veronica: Oh, gosh, that is so, that's a really good one and so tricky, Carol. Okay, so I. I've been thinking a lot lately about Juliet Gordon Lowe, who founded the Girl Scouts and what she would think about the world we live in now and the position and like, and just space that girls and women take up and what leadership looks like today.
So I think I would probably choose her because when you think about the movements that have truly grown and blossomed and continued to evolve over time, I really think the Girl Scouts are like a huge inspiration. An example of what it looks like to do the modern expression of your mission.
So I would be curious, like to get her perspective on what, what it looks like, what does it look like to her now? Is this what she envisioned? How has it changed? And what, what change was she hoping to make in the world? Because I think. She didn't get to see all of this and what exists today.
So the opportunity to talk with the founder of the movement that has become such an integral part of our society would be really fascinating for me.
Carol: I'm sure that would be, that would be a fascinating, fascinating conversation. So what are you excited about? What's coming up for you? What's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Veronica: I am really enjoying doing a lot more one-on-one work with executive leaders these days. So, as someone with a communications background and then moved into strategy work, I find myself continually moving upstream to say, how can we remove barriers?, what is it that's needed? And I'm finding that so many of the executive leaders I talk to are incredibly exhausted.
They know that. Everyone's looking to them for their vision and direction, and they know it's in there, but they're struggling to get it out and to make time with the day-to-day chaos that goes into running a nonprofit a lot of times. So I'm really enjoying that one-on-one work. One-on-one work with strategic leaders, both, as a strategic advisor capacity and in coaching.
And then I'm also really enjoying spending more time talking to folks like you Carol, on, on podcasts. And I've had a couple of speaking engagements coming up lately and, and some coming later in the year. So the opportunity to write and speak about these ways of improving the ways that we think and plan and work so that we're.
Letting go of the stuff that's not working. We're letting go of the expectations of how things should be and instead being willing to embrace different ways, being willing to say, maybe we did that way, that way for 30 years, but I'm, I'm ready and willing to try something new. So that has been great for me and obviously I really enjoy connecting with folks on LinkedIn as well.
Lots of great conversations over there that you are always such a great contributor to as well. So I love getting to exchange ideas and perspectives with folks who connect with me there.
Carol: All right. Well thank you so much. I really appreciate the conversation and might have to have you back for another one about one of the other juicy topics that comes up through our LinkedIn conversations.
Veronica: I'm here for it, Carol.
Carol: Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Veronica, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as Cindy Rivera Grazer of 100 Ninjas for her production support. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with a colleague or friend. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 68 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Amanda Kaiser discuss:
Amanda Kaiser is a member engagement strategist and author of Elevating Engagement: Uncommon Strategies for Creating Thriving Member Communities. As a researcher, author, and co-creator of the Incubator Series and the New Member Engagement Study, she is at the forefront of exploring how member and attendee engagement is rapidly changing within professional communities.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Amanda Kaiser. Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. Amanda and I talk about engaging members especially in today’s shifting realities. We explore why organizations need to shift from solely focusing on the value they provide and give equal emphasis on the experience they are creating, why focusing on how people are feeling at each stage of engagement is so important, and some simple things folks can do to improve the experience of their members and volunteers.
Welcome, Amanda. Welcome to Mission Impact.
Amanda Kaiser: Thanks, Carol. It's so great to be here.
Carol: So I'd like to start out with a question around what drew you to the work that you do? What would, what would you say motivates you and what would you describe as your why?
Amanda: Oh, that's really interesting. I feel like, as a recovering marketer, I need to have that one pithy sentence, but I don't, I'm gonna go on a quick ramble here. My career journey is really squiggly like everybody else's. And, I started out at Crayola. And then eventually moved into my people, which is the association community, and, and worked as a director of marketing for a national association and, and loved it. And while I was there, I wanted to do a bunch of member research and we didn't have the budget and the, the CEO at the time said, well, you call our members and you talk to them, which I was really afraid of doing at the time. But the more, the more I talked to our members and interviewed them. The more I started actually loving the work. So I opened a qualitative research agency for associations and conducted about 477 interviews, about 33 research projects, and I love that. But the thing that kept drawing me was the importance of member engagement every single conversation, no matter. The type of association, , the, the, whether it's professional or trade and where people were at their career level. But every conversation kept coming back to member engagement. And the more I thought about it, the, the more I wanted to just move into what is member engagement? How and why it doesn't work sometimes and why it does work sometimes. And, and that's that, that's kind of. Sorry that was a lot longer than a short squiggly answer.
Carol: Well, our careers are long. Are long and squiggly, at least mine has been. So, yes, definitely appreciate that. And I mean, building on that interest in, in member engagement, you recently published a book called Elevating Engagement on Common Strategies for Creating a Thriving Member community. What would you say are some of the common mishaps or mistakes that you see organizations making when it comes to their member engagement?
Amanda: Yeah, so I don't think that associations are alone in this. I think it's happening at organizations and just about every single industry you can imagine from the really, really big ones to the really, really small ones, and that is so there's a formula for engagement, and the formula is value plus experiences equals engagement. And for decades now, I think we've been all banging the drum on value. We've got to have the right value proposition. Our value has to change with our members' needs. We need to be able to communicate value. We need everything's value, value. And man, we've all been leaning into that really hard.
And the thing that is the biggest opportunity for us now is to start I don't know, imbuing experiences into all of that wonderful value. So yes, we're, we're, I think the biggest opportunity is for associations. And not just associations, everybody, but associations we're talking about today is to really start punching up the creation of positive experiences for our members.
Carol: And I have folks who are in more traditional nonprofits as well as associations in the audience. And I think, but I think the same principles really apply, maybe you have a membership program, but maybe it's you're, you're. Your volunteers that you're trying to engage or, or different constituencies that you're trying to engage and, and thinking about those in different ways. Can you say what you, you talked about the equation of value plus experience and I can imagine, thinking about, of my experience of being inside organizations. Yeah. It was all about, what, what. What's the next conference gonna look like? Who's speaking? What's the next white paper that we're publishing? What's the next course that we're rolling out in terms of workshops or training or e-learning? And so very focused on content delivery, on knowledge helping people increase their skills, their knowledge , and I think I was on the learning side when I was inside the organization, so we did approach, experience somewhat from the lens of trying to incorporate adult learning principles into the whole thing.But I, I don't know that we put it front and center. So I'm curious how you see, like, how is that different? How, how would people know? , if we're gonna have those be more equal. What does leaning into experience look like?
Amanda: Yeah, so everything you just mentioned is critically important. we, we need to have the, the learning and we need to have the keynote and we need to have the hotel, and we need to have all of that when I'm talking about experience, there's so let's just, cuz we're talking about events, so let's, let's just talk about one of those places where you can add an experience that maybe people get and sometimes maybe people don't get. It might be inconsistent. And that is at the registration table. So for really big conferences there's huge registration booths and like a whole lot of lines. And then for maybe a small conference or a chapter, you see the registration table, and sometimes when we're working behind the registration table, we're trying so hard to get people their badges and their bags and their, and their programs really quickly that we just, we're just, we're doing the transaction. We're just trying to get everybody served. And, and the experience part of it is, can you, can you do it with some small talk? And if you can't even do it with some small talk, that's totally. Can you at least do it with a smile so that, that's, that's one example of how you just add in an experience in the course of doing everything else that you're doing. And there's, there's other things, you know associations and nonprofits, they do have these fleets of volunteers, whether you call them a volunteer or not. And, and so another thing that you could, that you could do that's relatively easy is you could say to your speakers, let's say you've got 50 speakers. For the time that they're at the podium or on the stage in, in a way, they're sort of speaking for the association and you can say to them, Hey, we've got a member culture, or We're trying to have a member culture that is. Open and generous and kind and enthusiastic and energetic. And can, can you, can you try to model that? Just try to, keep those, keep those adjectives, keep those emotions in, in your brain, and as you're speaking, just try to model that. And, and I think a lot of your speakers would, and that's just, one, one more away. That, that you can add some experiential stuff into the stuff that you're already.
Carol: Well, and you named having a member culture and people and someone being able to name even what their intention is around that. And I don't, I just wonder how many organizations have even spent any time thinking about what member culture do they wanna cultivate?
Amanda: Yeah. So we are all about talking about STA staff culture, but communities have cultures too, right? Members definitely have cultures too. I think there's a, there's a couple of ways to, to get at that. And one of the things that I love to do is I love to sit back and say, okay, so at each of the member stages, how do we want our members to feel? And so, you can, you can do this at a staff meeting or you can do it at a board meeting. You can say, hey new members are joining and at the one year mark how do we want them to feel? Or the day after they join, how do we want them to feel? And, answering that question will start to help you get not only that experience, but also the culture part of it. Because, because in order for us. To have the feelings that we want them to feel, likely there's, there's a, there's a, a culture that is supporting that, and I guess some, some, some examples of when I, when I first glommed onto this culture idea was when I did a bunch of research with chapters, so chap members of chapters, and the one story that kept coming back to me over and over and over and over again. I'm a brand new member, and I decided to go to my very first chapter meeting, and I, I walked into the room and, and all, and it hadn't, the event hadn't started yet and everybody was sort of like clustered at the front talking and I didn't know anybody and I was so awkward and it just felt so ugh. And so I found a seat and tried. appear like I was listening in on their conversations and I just, I just never went back. And, and so that's, it's a cultural thing. The new member is perceiving cliquishness and it's probably not happening at all. But, had there been a culture of welcoming a new face and introducing them around, then that thing wouldn't have happened.
Carol: Right. I mean, the people who are all catching up with each other at the front of the room who haven't seen each other for a month or whatnot aren't thinking that they're being exclusionary or that they're coming off as cliquish, but the fact that they didn't have, and so a simple thing I would imagine that, that they could have done would be to intentionally have someone, or several, someones on the lookout for new people to be able to, welcome them, introduce them to people. But yeah, I think I just have that intention. And, and you talked about also the, the, the assembly line that goes to a big conference or even a, like you said, even a small conference, there's often. That volunteer or or person, whoever's doing the managing is much more worried about, did I get everything in the stuff that I'm supposed to hand to them? Versus I'm interacting with a person, they're nervous about being here. How can I make that experience a little more enjoyable, welcoming and helping them navigate that first interaction?
Amanda: Yeah. Another way to think about it is it's a transition. So your memory is coming in off the street and then maybe they just flew all day and they had to catch a taxi in there, or maybe they had a Dr a drive through downtown Washington, DC and, and they're just frazzled. And so, so sometimes it's helpful to think like, oh, let's help them make that transition from perhaps grumpy or at least super tired and frazzled too, being ready to be their best self when they go ahead and enter our event.
Carol: Having some empathy for where they've been or putting, putting yourself in, in their shoes and, and you talked about the stages, kind of, of a, of a member journey. What, what are some of those and, and what are those key points where, or organizations can do a better job of, of creating the culture that they probably do think that they are creating or want to? Yeah.
Amanda: Yeah, so, so I identified six stages of the member journey, and the first stage is to observe and so at that point, members join. And what they're doing is they're looking at everything. They're looking at your websites, they're looking at your emails. They might read a short article or watch a video, and they're just, they're just taking everything in. The second stage is assessed. And so at that point, they're taking a lot in and they're starting to ask themselves this question and that question. Is this the community of people like me? Is this for me? Am I gonna be proud to be here? Do I think sometime in the future I'm gonna feel like I belong? Like I found friends, like I've found colleagues. The third stage is participation. And so at this stage they've an, they answered that question like, oh yeah, there's a lot of potential here and I want to be. And so they dip their toe in the water and they participate and it's just a little thing. They might come to a virtual event and write a little note in the chat. They might rest, yeah, write in a comment on social media or on an article. It's just a little dipping the toe in the water that contributes to another stage, and that's when they're ready to start bringing much more of themselves. And so your contributors, contributors. , they're your speakers, they're your writers, they're the people you're interviewing. They might do short videos for you. They're all of those folks. And an under leverage stage is collaboration. So as we advance in our careers, We start bumping up against thorny, hairy problems, really difficult problems to solve. Problems that that just, they, they just keep showing up year after year after year. And what folks at that stage of their careers like to do is they like to get together with others and problem solve. They don't necessarily wanna listen. Stage on the stage anymore, they want to work together and problem solve. And so sometimes associations lose their members at that stage because they're not necessarily offering a lot of problem solving activities. And so those, that group that's really invested in solving a problem, might splinter off. And then the final stage is lead. And lead is what I would think of as your typical volunteers, however you define them. But in the book, there's a lot of folks that want to lead. They wanna volunteer, but they can't volunteer in the shape of the volunteer box that you've put them in. And so I talk a lot about how you open up volunteerism to a lot more people who are really ready to step into that role. So, at each stage you asked that question of like, where, where are the barriers that association should be on lookout for. And what I try to do in the book is really identify when people make the no-go decision to engage and when people make and why people make the, the yes decision to engage. And so, it's a little bit different at every single stage. However, the through line running through it all is usually an experiential thing. Usually there's something going on where people stand back and they say, oh, Oh, no, I, I don't feel like I belong here. I don't feel like these are my people. Even if everybody has my title, there's still a million ways that you can thank them, these are not my people. I don't feel like my contributions are wanted, I don't feel supported. And then, the reverse is true. So the reason why people stay is because they say, oh, This is my community. I am super proud to be here. I want to collaborate. I want to give my time. I want to give my ideas. My ideas are valued. I'm supported, and all of those wonderful things.
Carol: What are some of those things at the, at the very beginning stages that observe and assess? And I love that question and I didn't fully write it down, but is this the community? Well, I, where will I feel like I belong? And just thinking about all the different groups that I've been part of. Associations that I've joined and then dropped out of I don't think that I ever necessarily said that specifically, but it certainly, if looking back on the ones that I'm no longer participating in it would be that sense of even after trying, still feeling on the outside. So that's such an interesting topic, and of course, there's so much conversation now in the broad, broad, more broadly around inclusion and, and how people either feel included or not. But yeah, just that experience made me feel like these are my folks, or these are not my folks. It's pretty visceral.
Amanda: It is. And it's quick. You start to observe and you assess super, super quickly, and that's what members talk about. One of, one of the, the things that was a real big surprise for me, Is when I worked for an association, there was, there was this, this thought that you had a year to engage them before they made the decision to renew. But in my research, what I'm finding is they make the decision to engage and then consequently the decision to renew. really quickly, maybe as quickly as three days, maybe as quickly as three weeks. But it's, it's within those first couple of touches that they're making the decision to renew, which is pretty amazing. But I know what you're talking about. So when I first started this business and started my speaking career, I felt like I needed to do some brushing up. And I decided to join Toastmasters, and there's three clubs in my local area. And somewhere along the way somebody said, Hey, go to all of the clubs and just figure out which one you like. And they were all fine, but the one that I went to had the very best new member experience. So I showed up for the very first time and they had a welcomer at the door. Person chit chatted with me and asked me why I was there and what my speaking goals were, and then they took me 10 feet and showed me the bagel and juice table, and then they walked me another 10 feet and found me an empty seat, and it introduced me to the person right next to me. And then that person took it away and, and asked me more questions, and, and there was, there was no, none of that. . Ooh, awkward. How do I fit? Where do I go? What should I do? How do I fit in? None of that. They, they, they took care of it all. It's, it's, and it's, and it's really interesting how quickly you can say, oh yeah, the, these po these are, these folks are great. They're gonna be my friends.
Carol: Yeah. And it's amazing how that act of I've been so. Events, and I've probably been guilty of this myself, where somebody asked me a question, I'm a staff person, and I'm like, oh, it's over there. Versus, oh, let me take you over there and make sure that you, you find it. Yeah. And that. What will probably be three minutes or five minutes, depending on how far the thing is away makes such a difference because then you're, you're arm in arm with the person, you're next to them, you're, you're, you're with them on their journey and they feel supported. Yes. I love that. What are some things that, so we've been talking a lot about events, and of course things have changed a lot around events. Not everyone, not everything's in person these days. I'm actually finding that I'm doing a lot more of my networking through the Zoom screen than I am in an in-person event. But what are other ways that organizations can create that sense of welcome outside of events in that critical beginning period.
Amanda: Yeah, absolutely. I'm so glad you asked that question because I love virtual events. I know, I know There's a lot of people out there that are like, oh no, zoom fatigue. One more zoom. But, but for me, I love presenting. I love interacting. I love being in the virtual room just as much as I love being in person. So I got together during the deep dark doldrums of Covid with my partner's, matchbox Virtual Media, and we can, we. We ran a series called the Virtual Networking Incubator, and there's actually at the end we wrote a report that talks about how you make really engaging virtual meetings. And then we wanted to take that environment that was, so difficult in virtual to do really good virtual networking and then apply it back in person. So now that we've done it, it's really difficult. What are the learnings that we can take back in person? And, and so a lot of, what we learned was the, the, the, the tone. So there's the welcome when you come into the room, but then there's even the welcome in the tone setting before you even come to an event or before you log onto a webinar. Or any virtual event. So what we were trying to do is we were trying to have a super participatory event. We knew we wanted a lot of psychological safety. We want, because we were experimenting, so we wanted people to feel free just to shout half baked ideas off the top of their head. And we went into it, very much defining how we hope for the culture. Would emerge and we started at the very beginning. So every, every single email that went out, we tried to make it super kind, super funny. If we made a mistake at any point, we totally would fess up to it and we're like, Hey, we totally made this mistake and that's okay cuz we're all experimenting here. so there we did a lot of things like that. And then when we, when we started having the event, We, we just, we leaned hard into the chat. So if I was talking, we had 150 people, which was awesome. But it also posed a bit of a problem because now we're trying to network with 150 people. And so my solution was, let's lean real hard into the chat. And, and so we would do, lots of warmups and progressive participation and just, really thinking about. How do we get even the most introverted of introverts feeling super comfortable to play with us? And so yeah, I, I guess the, the quick answer is, start thinking about how you welcome new members at the first possible point. if, if the very first touch they get is an invoice or receipt, what can you do? Warm it up, make it more surprising, exciting, something maybe, maybe you, maybe you don't send that receipt first and you send them a quick, loom that's 30 seconds of you just saying, Hey Carol, so glad that you just joined. just, all of those things. And, and I'm sure that there are some big associations and big nonprofits listening to this right now and saying, oh my gosh, we've got 10,000 new members joining every single day. We can't possibly do that. Well, there's some really interesting technology I think that will help you scale those things and still have the, still have an experiential common component that makes people feel like, oh, this is a great organization. They're so warm and kind and wonderful.
Carol: Yeah. To me, what I, what I'm hearing is really about humanizing that experience. So it's not, you're not just another email to deal with or another name in a database, but you're, there's an actual person behind that and, and they have hopes and, and. Goals for themselves that they're trying to achieve through joining. And, and just taking a little bit more time to recognize who's on the other side of that email can be so important. You talked about the participation stage where people are just starting to dip their toe in. I think the last stages contribute, collaborate, and lead. To me, those are the more obvious ones, the folks who are, who get super involved. And, and then, then they prob once they're involved and they have a good experience, you probably have them for life. Maybe not. But it feels like that participation stage is a real critical inflection point.
Amanda: It is. So let's talk about online communities because that I think is the most public demonstration of what your member culture is. And I am a huge advocate of highly moderated online communities, and I. In, in, in the, what the moderator brings to an online community is the moderator mo models. They model how to be a good online community participant. And, and so I love to see, and I've been a, a, a part of a couple of online communities where the moderators, and sometimes it's one, it's, the owner of a company or, or the CEO. Or the community manager, or sometimes it's, it's sort of a fleet of trained moderators. And, and what they do is they are welcoming new members and they are also they're, they're raising up ideas. So let's say somebody contributed a really good post, but nobody responded in the background. They might be going and saying, Hey, hey, Bob, I know you've got something to say about this. Here. Here's the link. Can you jump on? Or they might wait a few days and they might say to the whole community, Hey, Mike just said this really interesting thing and I'm, I'm just gonna bring it back to the forefront and, and ask you guys, what, where are you on this? I think this is a really interesting thing. So the reason why I think highly moderated communities are so important is that a lot of times if you've got an online community, New members are starting to get that digest and they will read that digest. And that's another, cue of like, oh, okay. so-and-so reacted a, a little bit harshly that, that feel, that fe just feels like that was, somebody maybe got slightly ashamed here. I'm gonna hang back and watch a little bit. And if it happens again, then I know it's a dangerous thing to be part of this community. The other thing is, moderators can't tell when people are posting for the very first time and they can support them in, in a lot of different ways. They can say, oh, that, so glad to see you here posting. I know we've got a lot of really, you know thoughtful people here in the community who are gonna answer your question and. and, and that just, that just, it helps to, it helps new members to be validated. It helps them to be welcomed. It helps, it makes me feel good when somebody shines a light on their post or their reply back and, and lets them know that Yeah. You know that like, Hey, I'm, I'm on the right track. It's always nice to have that.
Carol: Yeah, I think that's so important because I feel like at least in my experience, especially for associations that have been around for a long time I, in, in a lot of instances in the way I've experienced that the online communities, is that they've been something that just got added on. Oh, well we need to do this because it's an easy way for people to participate, but it's often a corner. Nobody's really supporting it. And what I see as a real contrast to that is a lot of for-profit organizations creating communities saying that their c. Focused and actually doing a much better job of really doing what you're talking about in terms of cultivating that online community and, and pulling people in. And it's just so interesting when I go to association conferences where I feel like I've been hearing this gloom and doom about associations and membership and all of it. And, and then on in the for-profit field, this whole thing is growing. Field of organizations, creating communities around their expertise, their brand, a person. So it's an interesting contrast.
Amanda: Yeah, that's why I am, I am, I am so hot on some, this really big opportunity for associations to. To take on the role of being. So one of the, the, the drum that I've been beating lately is have everybody in your association become a Chief Experience Officer. You don't have to give them that title, but this is the mindset I want everybody to start thinking about being a Chief Experience officer. And, and today I was, I was writing an article and I, and what I wanted to do is what I wanted to point to. big companies, big brands, not because they're big and they have a lot of resources, but because they're well known, and so everybody, everybody could sort of say yes, this is a company that has where everybody, from, from the CEO, all the way down to the person that stocks the shelves. This is a company where everybody has taken on the role of chief experience officers. And so I, I thought about it and I thought, I would say Trader Joe's is one of those companies, and I would say Apple is probably one of those companies. And, then I was floundering a little bit and I came up with a couple of more examples, but one of the things that really struck me was. For the examples that I did come up with, these folks are absolute, these companies and brands are leaders in their industry. They're leaders in their vertical. There's nobody else like them. They've set themselves apart and they've done it because not only are they offering value, the value has to be there, but they're also making sure that they offer experiences and they're empowering. Staff offer these really great experiences or motivate their staff, or they're building a culture that, where they're celebrating the, this idea of, you know, customer, consumer, engagement. And so for associations that are starting to feel like, oh my goodness, in, in my, in my profession, in my industry, all of my sponsors are starting to nip at my heels. And, we were starting to have a lot. A, a lot of competition. We associations are perfectly, perfectly positioned to lean into the experiential part of things. And when we do that well, there's a lot of support to say, Hey that, that really sets you apart. It sets you apart so much from all of your other competition.
Carol: And what's so interesting about those two examples is that really the businesses that they're in are so transactional, right? Yes. Groceries and electronics, I mean, to in, in, could be the most vanilla thing. At all. But then they do have, it is a very, very different experience to go to a Trader Joe's than any other grocery store that I, I normally go to Right. So, I was very excited when one moved into my neighborhood where we hadn't had one for a long time. So, yeah. Yeah,
Amanda: Yeah, yeah. Totally. I. So I've gotta tell this, this story of Trader Joe's. My favorite aunt was at a Trader Joe's, and she always gets this one salad dressing. And she went in and the salad dressing wasn't there. And so I think there's, some, somebody, stocking broccoli or something and she said, oh my, my favorite salad dressing, do you happen to have any outback? And the person said, oh no, it wasn't selling well. And so we actually discontinued it. And I can't imagine what was on my aunt's face, but I, I'm, I'm sure she, Devastated and that that person said, but we've got this new flavor and people are raving over it. I'm gonna give you a bottle when you get to check out, tell them that I gave you this as a sample and they won't charge you for it and you can try it out. And we're really so sorry that we discontinued the one that we love. But I hope you love this one too. I can't think of another place where that would ever happen. And so, there's, the, the person stocking broccoli is Trader Joe's chief Experience Officer. And, and I just, I just love that because. It, to me, when I say, Hey, everybody can become the c e o, it's, it's not just for the C-suite, it's for, it's for all of us. And, and I like to, whenever I'm talking about membership, a lot of times people will talk about strategies for member engagement and then everybody will look at the membership people. No, no, no, no, no engagement experiences. It's for everybody in the association. If you are in accounting, you are, you're, you're having, you. Contact with members, if you're in it, you're having contact with members. If you're in research, of course you're having contact with members. And so every single one of us can be a Chief Experience Officer.
Carol: I also appreciated how you described Opportunities for those smaller, you, you, you had mentioned before the big boxes that we've put volunteers in and expected them to sign up for a three year term, a very heavy commitment. But something like being a part of a team of moderators on an online community would be a much lower lift and easier for someone to say yes to.
Amanda: Yes. Yeah. So When a new member, I'm gonna get back to the volunteer thing through the new member lens again, when a new member joins, one of the things they love to do is they love to see people like them. And, so I conducted a piece of research called the New Member Engagement Study with my partner's Dynamic Benchmarking. And one of the things that we found compared to the first time we conducted the research, which was four years ago, Is now. So four years ago, associations did these new member webinars, like a new member welcome webinar, very static, not much interaction between the members and the person giving the webinar. Sometimes they were just prerecorded. Now those have evolved so much. Associations are, they're leaning into responsiveness. They're leaning into connection. I love what I'm seeing here because a lot of these, they were calling them virtual onboarding events. And so new members will come to these events. And a lot of the hosts are saying, Hey, tell me a little bit about yourself and what are your goals and why did you join? And they're taking all of that information and then constructing, maybe a little bit of a tour. Like, oh, I, you, you talked about this. Maybe you'd be interested in our salary survey. Or, or, Hey, let me, I'm gonna drop a couple of links into the chat for some articles. I think that you would really. . But what they're also doing is they're, they're naming Chad ambassadors. So maybe there's somebody who's been in the association for six months or a year, they're really excited about their very first volunteer activity. But they can't, of course they're not gonna be a board member or even a committee committee member yet, and they, they don't want that yet. They, they want, maybe something a little bit more practical. And so we can invite them to be chat ambassadors and we will train them and we'll, we'll tell them what a chat ambassador does. And so, . So there's, a, a six month member, one year member talking to brand new members about welcoming them, pulsing up their ideas, bringing things to the attention of the person who's speaking. So, so, there's, there's a lot of there's, there's so many cool roles that. Members would be delighted to do it because it's fun and exciting and interesting for them. And that would also be really helpful for our organizations.
Carol: Yeah, and it's so interesting. It makes me think of a program that we ran At the association, the last association that I worked at, and it was a very intensive year long professional development for early career folks. And when we first started it it was a coach mentor to one to many models. And when we first started, , all the mentors that were being recruited were, 30 years in the field, 25 years in the field. And over time, what we found was that the coaches who were much more successful were five to 10 years ahead of the folks who were in the program because they could still remember being new in the field and having to learn all the acronyms and having to, , not being sure about things. Someone 35 years in, that's a distant memory. So I love that idea of just six months if you can, you can contribute. You're still remembering what it was like to be a new member. You're still feeling new yourself, but you're just a little bit further ahead of the person that you're helping out at that onboarding. And that in an interactive onboarding event. Cuz I, when I said that I have been doing a lot more networking virtually when organizations have taken. It was already a poorly designed learning experience in person and then plunked it online. It made it even worse. But when, when there is intention about how it's designed and how the conversations are being cultivated, and, how everyone is, is actually feeling like they're part of, part of a. A group versus standing off and looking at something it's, it's totally different.
So I'm gonna shift gears now coming to the end here. And we talked about Trader Joe's. So at the end of each conversation, I ask a random icebreaker question. I now have two boxes of random icebreaker questions that I ask. So we were talking about Trader Joe's, so my question for you is, what's the weirdest thing you've ever eaten? Oh,
Amanda: Gosh. Okay, so I'm probably dating myself at this point, but I did a semester abroad in Australia. And while I was there I traveled in, into the bushes. They called it, with a guide and a bunch of other novice Americans, and it was, I think it. earlier, right about the time that Crocodile Dundee had become super, super famous, and man, our guide leaned into that. And this guy, I, oh gosh, he, he found grubs, he found all kinds of things and cooked it over the campfire. So I, I, have proudly sampled my own Australian grub.
Carol: Well, okay, I'm impressed. I'm impressed. . So, what's coming up for you in your work? What are you excited about? What's, what's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Amanda: Yeah, so we've, we've been talking a lot about it, and that's the, that's the book. So I, I took all of this research, all of these experiments that I've been doing over the last 10 years and wrote, tried to pour everything that was into my brain out into a book. And so the book has been published. It's out there on all of your favorite online book sellers Worldwide. And it's called Elevating Engagement uncommon strategies for creating a Thriving member community. It's a pretty quick, quick read. I'd, I'd say about two hours-ish. And in what I, what I wanted to do is I wanted to make it engaging. So there are. There's lots of stories in there, and there is a, my fictional hero, her name is Kat Taylor. She actually demonstrates or you get to walk through every single stage of engagement through Kat's eyes. And what Kat is, is, is really an amalgamation of hundreds of stories that are just like hers. And so you, so you really get a sense of. How, how members are feeling at every single one of these stages where they're making that so critical. Go, no go decision to engage.
Carol: And I can attest it is, it is a very accessible and quick read. But there are lots and lots in there and so many actionable Approaches that, that is, that are built in. And I love following Kat on her, on her journey through her professional, professional life through the book. So, well, thank you so much. Thank you, Amanda.
Amanda: Thank you. This is, it's so delightful to talk to you.
Carol: I appreciated how Amanda described the common experience of someone trying out your organization for the first time. Do they feel welcomed? Does the welcome extend beyond a quick hello, here is your name tag at the registration desk? Think about the events you hold – could you have 1-2 people designated to keep an eye out for newcomers and engage them in conversation and help introduce them to one to two people at the event. I also appreciated her point about the often missed opportunity of purposely engaging and moderating your member online community. For associations, this is often one of the most immediate and obvious benefits that the association offers. I have been a member of online communities and message boards that are dominated by a few frequent posters. When those who engage frequently are pretty homogeneous – the cases I am thinking of it is a couple white men who post long treatises in response to questions. What they offer is often useful yet it can create the impression that there isn’t room for other voices – or if you do not have time to write 3-4 paragraphs you might as well not bother. The for profit memberships I am part of seem to all prioritize having a community manager. This person posts open ended questions regularly prompting and spurring group conversation. More active community managers might pay attention to who is posting for the first time and immediately respond so when a person takes the chance to shift from lurker to engaged they have a positive experience. They might also tag people in the community to ask how they are doing or when they might have a perspective to offer for an inquiry. Curating the community a little more can help intentionally create the culture that Amanda talks about and avoid having the culture determined by a few frequent posters. This could be a volunteer role that you prepare folks for and have a team of community managers rather than just 1 paid person.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Amanda Kaiser, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. We want to hear from you! Take a minute to give us feedback or ask a question at missionimpactpodcast.com/feedback, and until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 28 of Mission: Impact, some of the topics that Carol and her guest, Peggy Hoffman discussed include:
Peggy Hoffman is president of Mariner Management, an association management company which is home to two associations and provides an array of support and training to associations and most importantly member volunteers. Peggy has provided training and counsel to dozens of global, national and local membership associations over the past 30 years. She often draws on her own team’s research on volunteerism, member communities and association innovation. Peggy not only enjoys working with association volunteers but is an active volunteer for her professional association – including serving as a chapter past president – so she’ll draw from experience on both levels. Read her full bio at MarinerManagement.com and connect with Peggy on Twitter @peggyhoffman or LinkedIn. And ask her about triathlons, dance or living with three sons.
Important Guest Links:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission: Impact is Peggy Hoffman. Peggy is president of Mariner Management, an association management company which is home to two associations and provides an array of support and training to associations and most importantly member volunteers. Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All of this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact. Peggy and I talk about why volunteers and chapters are the heart and soul of associations and yet a somewhat neglected aspect of working in a membership organization, how the role of geographically based chapters is undergoing so much change, and what implications the rise of online professional development has for local chapters.
Welcome Peggy. Welcome to the podcast.
Peggy Hoffman: It's great to be here, so appreciate you inviting
Carol: Yeah. Should be fun. A fun conversation. We've been in the same circles for a long time and it'll, I'm really excited to dig into the work that you do in associates. Space of associations, but I really like to start each podcast with what motivates you to do the work that you do? What's your why? What, how, what drew you to this particular aspect? And we'll get to this in a minute, of the work that you do with organizations.
Peggy: Okay. So I guess. I'm going to start by saying that once I stumbled into associations, one of the things that I gravitated towards was membership and specifically working with chapters. So I landed at a trade association that had these incredible state groups or regional. And I began working with them and realizing that there were just, they have so many challenges in front of them. So when we decided to start our own business, it was as a management company specifically to be a management service for chapters. So we didn't want any national organizations, but we just wanted to work with chapters in our area. And that business, it was amazing. I mean, they don't have big budgets, but they have big hearts. So naturally because of that, I've spent so much time working with volunteers because they were hiring me to be their staff. Right. So the wonderful journey of trying to support these geographic components of larger organizations meant really getting hands-on with how volunteers operate and think. And I don't know if that's just pretty exciting to work with people who are giving time. So I guess my, my, why is if I can support somebody who's giving their time, that's like a bonus.
Carol: , the volunteer and the chapter, I feel like there's so much at the heart and soul of so many organizations, and yet I feel like it's really a neglected aspect of association management and it's so critical for member engagement. It's so critical for people to be able to connect with people locally. First maybe, for listeners who are maybe less familiar, can you just describe those two arenas, how you, how you define that.
Peggy: Yes, that's a great question, actually. And what I really love about that question is that we are in this tremendous mode of change. I know we've heard that. But what's really interesting is there's so many structures within associations that are challenged and that challenge is leading to some really cool innovation. And when you talk about the bucket of volunteers and you're talking about the bucket of the bucket, we call chapters or components the same thing. What is a component in the context of what we're talking about? We're talking about the component of geography. Cause really components are a way of members connecting and it's usually around an issue and interest, a discipline or a geography. So we're really. We're focused more on the geography question. And so it's any entity that allows a subsection of members or key stakeholders within a membership-based organization to collect. So that means some of these groups are completely independent, but carry the same or similar mission name. Sometimes it needs an absolute integrated subsection. There's there, there's relationships where there's charters and there's mostly, but there's affiliation or groups. So lots of different ways of doing that legally, but at the core it's meeting the same member who could be met nationally. It could be. Locally. And sometimes the membership has contingent in. Sometimes it's not mean I can be a member of both or neither or a combination. So the chapter is a, is a, is a moniker. If you will. That may, that means that we're collecting a subsection of our members into that geography. The interesting thing is the traditional model, which was born in a time when we didn't have the internet, is the problem right now because we're, we've, with the legacy systems and for many of these organizations, the key work of it is done by the volunteers. Now we know that about associations, but the chapter level I think it was. The recent benchmarking it's you have to assume that less than half of the chapters out there have staff. So it is largely the will of the passion of volunteers and a volunteer is any stakeholder in an organization, membership based organization. That opps to give time freely and I mean also free. Yeah. Yeah. And I think most people think of chapters as those regionally based Entities. And yet, you can also slice and dice memberships often through an interest around a particular topic, whether it's whether the organization calls some special interest groups or communities of practice or cohorts, there are different ways that people describe that. But, and, and, and in each case there, that volunteer component is just so important. Absolutely. Absolutely. And it's really, really interesting because of one of the dynamics that- What's really interesting about the comment that you just made about this idea of the coagulating. Issue interests, discipline or geography is that one of the changes that is slowly happening, it needs to happen with more with more Gusto is this idea of not siloing off the geographic components from the other ones, you'd see pretty much the communities of practice, the SIGs, those things that have been more baked in and the chapters have oftentimes can be an arms length. And what we began to understand is that the models. percolate to the top for many associations, not all are going to be the, the, the less structured geographic components, which means they're going to begin to act even more like the other components.
Carol: And so interesting. I did, of course the pandemic and everything moving online just, just changed everything overnight. And I did an event for a regionally based association. So one that is the Mid-Atlantic of the thing, the Mid-Atlantic facilitators network and they were doing webinars. So of course that has no geography limits to it. And it was just a very pertinent topic, right. At the beginning of the pandemic of how to facilitate effectively online. And they had people from around the world and this was a local association. So in some ways it feels like some of those things, maybe aren't as relevant as they used to be. And of course, People are still gonna want to be able to meet in person and, and, those geography challenges, we're not going to always do everything online.
Peggy: It’s both, but the blurring of the geographic boundaries is huge. It's it's. It's going to be, what's going to be the catalyst to either kill a chapter or have a chapter thrive, but it's also the catalyst for more competition and we know how nonprofits sometimes butt heads. And I think we're, we're, we're in a situation where that can happen. So the savvy association is going to jump out in front of it right away. Right. And say, okay, how do we begin coordinating the services, our programs, or our, our chapters or components are offering in a way that creates congeniality, right? Bridging all of it for everybody versus feeling like you're in a state of competence. Exactly. Exactly. And I think we do know that the Delta variant aside and other elements aside, we do know that people are going to get back together again, which is actually delightful and, and, and, and. Gonna be well received by, by many folks, but we also think, and Carol, this is the interesting thing. We think that it's going to change the nature of getting together for chapters. In other words because I can get online education so much more readily. And in the case of the one you just talked about, I can be in an online thing. That's perfect to many of us, but get the perspective from, from a different, different area. Right. Then maybe the importance of the chapters is less about education and more about the other elements, whether it is how do we grapple with a very local issue or how do we do networking or how do we do career development or career pathway development, or how do we, how do we really reach the students? Right. So it could shift some of the priorities for our geographic components, which I. It's not a bad thing at all, but we have to be aware of it.
Carol: I know for me thinking about going to in-person events the bar is just way higher for what we're actually doing in person is the event actually designed to leverage the fact that we are in the same room together. And if it's not, I'm not going to travel two hours, cause even in a G, even in the DC area, it's going to take me an hour there, be there. And then an hour back it's half my day. so the bar for me is just way higher.
Peggy: And so now think about that because of the implication there, and I don't think you're alone and I'm certainly the same way. So there's at least two of us in this world. Right? So here's the thing: think about how we are currently resourcing and training volunteers. Because it's still largely volunteer. And even if it's not volunteer, if there's a, if there's a skeleton staff for a chapter, it's often an admin person, right. So how are we resourcing and training them for that new reality? We've been talking in some of the trainings I've been doing, because we do a fair amount of the chapter leader, training chapter staff and chapter volunteers. We've been talking well, at least I've been beating the drum for at least two years on. You've got to do something different at your events. You've got to create events that are experienced. You've got, you've got to stop thinking that I can just fill a room and, and in class, in classroom style and have somebody, screaming, scream at you. Lecture, you
Carol: talk nicely to you, but I haven't, so
Peggy: bam, I get now you're absolutely right. It becomes way more. So am I leveraging, I liked the way you put that. Am I leveraging the fact that I'm in person on this event design? Yeah. And I think it's, it's not just a matter of going back to the way it used to be, because, maybe those networking events worked for a few people, but they actually never worked for a lot of people. So how can we think about those things differently? How can we help, help people have conversations? have, give them a little bit of structure. I mean, people had learned how to do this in, in the online space, through zoom, et cetera. Just a little bit, just a prompt question to get people started can really be helpful. Exactly. Exactly. So it's good. It's going to be really interesting. It's going to change. It's going to change how we train, how we resource it's going to also require in some ways, a refresh to the volunteer pool. Right. And that's such a critical thing because I think it's one of the biggest ones. Big challenge.
Carol: I don't know if the biggest challenge you can tell me with any volunteer-led organization or one that depends a lot on volunteers is that oftentimes those refreshing recruitment cultivation of some pathway to leadership they, most groups don't, don't have it, don't know how to do it. And so then they wonder why, the 20% are the, are doing the 80.
Peggy: Exactly. And that is one of the, definitely one of the top. Challenges for these member components is getting the volunteer workforce that has been a problem that's been really growing in the last I'd say five to almost 10 years. And, and the, the, the. Challenge is now is that because we're in this murky area of what really is the value prop at the local level, it's harder to articulate why it would be great for you to volunteer for this organization. So we've just put things on top of each other. Now, all of this makes of course, Carol, this sound like doom and gloom. On the other side of things there is there's real opportunity for local volunteers, local chapters, local members, and the COVID is one of the coming out of COVID. One of the silver linings is we saw some of those in action, right? We saw, for example, I'm in Texas and this is not, this is not an exception by any means at all, but in Texas, one of 'em AGCS, that's the general contractors groups, did this amazing pivot and went from this basically, education. Forced development to a source for PPE and set up and turn their office into a collection zone and, and an incredible member value point. Then you have, you have some folks out in Ohio for the dental hygienist and that group Basically got the most important legislation or regulatory changes around the protection of, or of dental hygienists on the job.
And then another one of their chapters actually was managed on Facebook to get a vibrant post of yours, the temp job that you, that you need filled and post that you're ready. And they did this incredible moment, matchmaking for folks in the area. So what we're, what we're seeing is that being local to it's like it is just like with health care, it's just like with everything being local became the ability to answer the immediate need of a member. So. The real question is do we, is it time to take those checklists of you did this, this, this, and this, and throw it away and begin saying what the member needs at the moment? Because I think honestly, we saw it and I think chapters can step up because they're driven by volunteers. That's the huge thing. That's the passion that allows them to pivot. If they've been given the permission and some resources. Yeah. There's often, I feel like there's often a tension between a regionally based or a locally-based chapter and the national organization. And, maybe some of those checklists are, are part of it. Why would you say you often see that, or at least I've certainly experienced it in the organizations I've worked in that tension between the two. Well, I think it's, it's really interesting. How are we just, so in, in terms of the work that Marriner is doing we are just, we just began this next iteration of the chapter benchmarking study. And we started with two CEO round tables, virtual round tables. Brought CEOs together to have a conversation around what is this thing about chapters? And, and, we basically were asking the question you just asked.
Carol: Now we did start by saying, what are the orthodoxies around chapters that are just so, what would you say some of those are?
Peggy: So that was the, that was the, Chapter four, the third rail chapters are our political minefield. The problem is that you've got these groups and often too way too often. The leaders that you have sitting up here, making decisions come from that group, and while they put the national or the global hat on, they never take off the chapter hat. So. They see that they see through a lens that is a little bit clouded, a little bit myopic to a certain degree. Right. And so if you start to say something needs to change, well, my chakra was barred or I, and, and meanwhile, you're talking, you're having to convince volunteers to vote members to vote on change. And they don't like to do that anyway in too many cases. It's politically fraught. And so it's easier to kick the can down the road than it is to make a substantive change. But the other critical element is these CEOs bless them. Could not with one, maybe two exceptions. Could not articulate the value of chapters because we have no data around what the chapters are bringing that we can put on our balance sheets. We can put in our operations, we have the expense side. Oh yes. Because we have. That's assigned to it. We might have a chapter leader conference. We might have a shared relationship. We might have a revenue sharing relationship around events or activities. but on the income side, we're not doing any good data collection and data analysis that shows us how that contributes to the value proposition? That generates those important dollar driven pieces, membership, acquisition, membership, membership retention fundraising goals, all those things. So, most of the CEOs have this political problem and they have no data. And so what happens is you get this, you get all these people in the room. Chapters are so important. I came up with it. I wouldn't have been a member or all that stuff. And so, that anecdote becomes the data and we all know, and if it is not data. So that was the key. The other orthodoxy which I thought was a sad orthodoxy is, well, chapters are good and they're mostly bad and that's just the way it is. And you'll live. And that to me is sad because that goes back to, I don't know what the ROI is and therefore, and it's politically difficult, so I'm just gonna live with this. And, and, and, and the assumption is it can't get better. So that's the other orthodoxy we have to live with. It's bad. We can't get better. And one, several members of these two CEO round tables said if they had their druthers, they would just ditch them. And so. Would that be an ortho, what that an, of a mindset it's going to be competitive because you're not in the game together you're surviving alongside, and even the most open-minded of the CEOs. And there were many open-minded CEOs in the effort of figuring it out. All of those really good, important answers didn't seem to, it seems so insurmountable. And so I'm just going to wait and hope that because I guess, because I see some good things, like 1 group said, when it comes right down to advocacy the states that have really rolled up, rolled their sleeves up and, and, and talk with us on a regular basis, we're able to make some significant headways.So they, so they do, they do glean onto that. But the competition comes because we don't know, and we're just living, living next to each other. The other thing is, there's nothing worse. Carolyn, absolutely nothing worse than having your leaders who have to make important decisions, be your members because they will whine the entire time. And so the members are notorious, they think they're not getting a good deal and members who are volunteering for chapters have that double, double down on that. And so they create their own negative language that pushes along this competition.
Carol: And yet you gave a couple examples about how that locality of those chapters, they were able to just jump on needs that were immediate, that would have taken a national organization. There's so many layers of decision making and all of that. They were able to just move really quickly, especially because in this case, I think that volunteer. Group. It can either mean that you're moving incredibly slowly or yes, you can also move very quickly.
Peggy: Right. And the other interesting thing is we did a so ma Marriner and bill highway the highway being a software tech company that does have a banking solution in this space, in any case. We've been doing a series of webinars, monthly webinars for chapter organizations. And I bring this up only because one of the things we keep doing is I say, we look for the bright spots. But we're looking for where our system's working. And one of the, and what, one of the pieces we did was the trickle up and what we were talking about was we were going at it and we were finding where there were successful national programs that actually had been born and bred at the local level. So. PMI is an outreach program and is a great example. The education I'm going to call the action. The education theater group developed this. They had when the floods came through in Houston and the schools were decimated, their theater props and programs were decimated by another group, another state nearby did a match list. Do you have something extra? There's a school there. It needs it. That program is now a school to school support program that went national. So, and, and, and you look at what the landscapes or landscapers have done. So in other words not only can they pivot quickly, but they can also be some pretty good R and D. And by the way, you can do a, you can do an ROI on all of those scenarios.
Carol: Yeah, absolutely. And you've been doing some research recently on what you call the volunteer learning journey. Why, why would you say this is important for those who work with volunteers or our volunteers and trying to cultivate other volunteers?
Peggy: One of the things that we have done so I'm gonna, I'm going to first point back to a couple of, of. Of good resources. One is the mutually beneficial volunteering study done in 2017 with the ASAE foundation in which we talked about the readiness of volunteers and that impact on associations, then we did. Now to a chapter benchmarking study, I alluded earlier to the fact that we're in the third iteration now, and we did the CEO's and we're going to be going into the actual survey piece just shortly. But yeah. In the two previous ones one of the issues that came up was volunteer readiness, right? And then we've also over the last 10 years I have worked with thousands and thousands of chapters through chapter training programs and constantly come back to volunteer readiness. And so one of the things that, and we did was a series on financial problems for chapters in which we have looked at fraud, security, risks, those kinds of things. And what's the, what's the, what's the bottom line behind that, the preparedness or readiness of volunteers. So you see this theme that, if the volunteer is the key workforce for the chapter programs, and we're not properly preparing them, what's the issue, how do we resolve that?
Carol: How would you, how would you define volunteer readiness?
Peggy: So I would define volunteer readiness. Excuse me. I would define a volunteer readiness based on their ability to successfully complete the job at hand. So I'm going to be treasurer of a chapter organization. Not only can I, do I know, how do I know? Do I know how the organization is financially set up? Can I read a peanut? Can I make good decisions? Can I make good financial decisions based on risk analysis? Right? Because I mean, I can spend this money and I've got these reserves, like it's been over here, there's just, how do I invest these dollars? And, and how do I. For example, let's look at, look at the pandemic. Cause the one group that we manage, I mean, the first thing we did was the treasurer and I sat down and we pulled up and we did what's plan B, how do we, what's our scenario planning for this year because we don't know how it's going to unfold. So scenario planning. So as a treasurer, when I, the first day I'm in that job, Do I have that set of skills and that ability, and if I don't have the exact set of skills, do I at least know? I don't have them and can seek, can ask the questions because you're not going to know everything you need for every particular. That's okay. Right. But do I know, do I know? So, so readiness is about my ability to do that job and not even stellar. I've just, I just call it success. Like if my goal was this and I'm a volunteer, can I get us to this? Would it be great to get here? Fine, but I'm ready as I get to where we have to get? Not where we necessarily want to get. When we started figuring out why are volunteers not ready? Or why do we get volunteers? the whole, the whole thing. And we need a president and nobody's hand raises and someone sneezes. Oh, good. Peggy. You're going to be president now you're president, but you're not ready. Right. But, there's no other choice. Right. So we kept looking, so all of these associations are offering varying levels. But, it's hard to get volunteers to, to really buy into that support. And that's when I saw something that Christine matters with the crystal lake partners. I had done it with, she had talked about learning journeys for getting beyond basically the concept of the journey map, which by the way, you've done some fabulous work on taking that, I think, and applying it to the learner. Is there a learner journey and I'm looking at this going, is there a volunteer learner? So she and I got together, we pulled together a brain trust of folks, looked at how they were doing it, looked at what we understood about volunteer readiness and realized that the missing piece, as we looked at this, is tying that training to the volunteer motivation. And that's of course what learning journeys do, right. They say, what, where is it? You want to go? What's your motivation for getting there? What, what, and so tie it. So that's really where it came out of. It was trying to find how to take these two issues? where's the, where's the puzzle piece that puts them together.
Carol: And one thing that I appreciate, and we'll, we'll link to the resource that you're talking about. Cause it's really a wonderful piece on working with volunteers. And this could, this, there are so many applications to this. You did this within an association context, but I was looking at it and I haven't yet. On the leadership development committee of my congregation. Right. And so we're thinking about volunteer cultivation and how do we give people some baby steps and not say, oh, you're a new member. Let's get you on the board. No, we don't want to be in that position. And how do we help people take those steps? So I really liked how you broke it down with, maybe that first step. And I can't remember exactly what the categories were, but then, then. They need these couple of competencies and, or this interest. And so that's going to match to more of a micro volunteering or an ad hoc role. And, and I think that that is a hard thing. Where folks are. So organizations are so used to these big roles that people have traditionally had. And how do you break it into smaller chunks that are more manageable and in people's lives today? For a million reasons, folks just don't have the bandwidth that they have available. I don't know, 15, 20 years ago when people were able to step into a board role for three and four years and things like.
Peggy: So there was a lot of stability in people's lives. Obviously, in comparison, a lot of stability, you were in jobs and there's a lot of middle management opportunities there until you were in jobs and you're pretty steady. And you didn't, you weren't looking to change jobs unless something really happened. And the employers there, they, they gave you a little bit more leeway on a lot of things. So volunteering and not only that, but there were generational things. So the boss had volunteered and been on the board. So it's natural that you're going to do that. Right. And lava fell, all those things changed, which is why there is the bandwidth issue. But I think the other thing that we completely underestimate is. Everything we know about volunteers, particularly what we do when we start looking at volunteers over the last 10 years. Okay. Everything we know is that there is this critical importance of connecting with what's in it for me. And I don't mean that in a negative way. Gotta go to my motivation and my motivation is going to be tied to something. I can see an outcome. And so much of our volunteering does not have a demonstrative outcome and it does not plug directly with the motivation. So we can't get people to be on the board because what it looks like is sitting in meetings and it's just keeping the organization going well, I don't want to just keep your organization going. I don't want to do anything. All of a sudden if, if, if we can start making, even that board position looks and demonstrates how there is an outcome we're going to get folks to do that? The reality is that busy people always have time but they have time for the things that match their motivation. One of the things I tell real quickly Carol is we were looking for a treasurer at the local level. It's a Maryland based chapter and we were looking for a treasurer and we were having. Difficult time. That's not an easy position to fill because there are, that's one of the board positions that actually has some key competencies, right? So there was an individual who I, who I knew could do this and would do a good job. And Talking with this individual and they didn't want any more board positions and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And then he just happened to say to me, “How come we didn't give out a student scholarship this year?” Cause we always gave that student scholarships and I said, I'm going to give it a student scholarship. Because, and I, and I went through the whole thing and I, it was basically a financial decision, right. And I said, we were there and we fell down here and here, and I just said free, frankly, the right treasurer would get this going and we can rebuild that account and we'd have the giving out student scholarships. And so the neck, I think it was the next day, got an email from him and said, okay, so when does a treasurer position begin? Why? Because now he saw a reason he was, and he did, he did. We got the student scholarship program back up and running.
Carol: Well, yeah. And, to help people think through, especially in a professional context, what are some things that they're going to be able to learn through volunteering that they don't have the opportunity to do in their day-to-day jobs? So, thinking again, I mentioned my congregation and when I first joined people asked me to do lots of different things that I didn't want to do. So I was, I felt like I was like, no, no, no, no, no. So I was like, I got to figure out what I'm, what I want to say yes to. And they were doing their first strategic plan and I was like, Ooh, I want to do that. And of course, that's actually what I do now. Right? This was 20 years ago. And so in my day job, I have no opportunity to be involved in the strategy of the organization. But in this volunteer role, I was going to be able to be a leader. And develop, explore that and develop all sorts of skills that I just wouldn't have the opportunity in my day-to-day. So helping people, whether it's skills or Networking is just such a big amorphous concept, but how is this going to help you build and get connected with people who can help you sponsor you, mentor you and help you solve problems. But yeah, to take what these things are. Jobs or even smaller ones and how people think, well, what are the components that, that that I can connect to, that's going to move me forward, from that professional point of view or. I just moved here and I don't have any friends that I want to make some friends with and let me do that, through, through volunteering.
Peggy: You know what, it's just like the fundraising when you first get called to give, let's say to in my case, my NPR station is WAMU. WAMU. And the first gift that you're asked is, is 25 bucks or five bucks or whatever. And then they, they wrap you up. And pretty soon you're an annual giver of a substantive chunk of money. And I keep telling chapters and national organizations that you, you, you, you gotta do the fundraising model and, and microbes. Get you into it. you had mentioned, you had referred to that, the pathway in which we talk about the emerging volunteer, the learning volunteer, and then you get into leadership. And one of the things that we saw in the mutually beneficial volunteering study, which actually reflected the results from the earlier volunteer study way back in 2008 that ASAE did, which is one of the, one of the. Five reasons for not saying yes is not seeing a picture, not seeing the pathway. And so part of that work came out of this idea of let's paint a password for let's paint. Let's paint the picture and demonstrate a pathway. And there's some really exciting things because if you take that pathway you see, for example, wraps, which is the regulatory professionals they've done this and they're not alone. Other groups have done this. I believe PMI is amongst them, but you take that pathway. And then you start doing digital badging based on that. Right. And now you're actually, you're actually connecting people to the, to a recognition that they can carry with them really from a CV perspective. Right. But then you take someone like NAGP, they're building out a as, as part of their learning management system and they're making some changes right now, but they're building it. Levels of training for volunteers at wraps is doing something similar. So you and I talked to one of the magicians who was looking, who just was looking at that model and saying, wow, you mean, we could do like many, many certificates, right? As I get through this level. So all of a sudden you see what that, that pathway does. It professionalizes the volunteering in our associations and nonprofits. And by professionalizing it, that boosts the motivation to get the learning and the education that you need to be successful in the job. So we're all we're, we're, we're coming at this from all these different directions.
Carol: Yeah, for sure. So on each episode, I like to play a game where I ask one random icebreaker question. And since I think I've known you long enough that I can ask this question. So who are the three people you would want on your team? If there was a zombie apocalypse? Ooh.
Peggy: Mark Shropshire who no one knows, except that he is my personal trainer. And I mean, strong and, and, and not, Sufficiently un-empathetic that he could destroy anything in the way. So that's good. So definitely, definitely that I'm gonna go with maybe a strange strange one. And I, I'm going to actually go with an association professional. I know Lindsay Curry and you might say, well, why, why would you pick her. I have never seen anybody able to get around a topic with such dexterity and in a way to come up with the question and I have seven feelings if they were, it was Zombieland. She has a way to get them to go now. What are you asking us there? And I need a really strong, another strong, no, you know what, you know what I'm going gonna, I'm gonna also go with my husband. And you might say why, and it goes, if something happens, I think I would just assume that it happened to both of us, but I would throw them out there first just to be on, to be doing the real side. But, having somebody close to you that knows you that knows your vulnerabilities and your strengths. And in that moment can say, can call on your strengths so that you can get past your vulnerability. I think that would be priceless.
Carol: That's awesome. That's awesome. So what are you excited about? What's coming up for you what's what's emerging in your work these days, so, oh
Peggy: My gosh. There is actually a lot of really exciting work. I'm going to mention three very quick things. One is the chapter benchmarking study because we have brought the CEO voices. And so we're going to do the CEO voice. We're going to do the traditional CRP. That's the component relations professional. That's the association staff position. And you can opt in to have us then go to your chapter leaders. So it's a 360, if you will approach a conversation around chapters, chapter values, chapter optimization. So we're very excited about that. We just launched the ASAE foundation Research, which is going with an incredibly robust brain trust of association CEOs. We're going to design the set of models that will work for associations for volunteerism. So in other words, we're asking the question. What is effective and what model brings out effectiveness for what organizations. So there's not going to be one mile. So, those are two kinds of research projects, but, but listen to those, those are like innovation, right? They're changing. The other thing I want to mention. Just getting started with camp to program camp is the California marriage and family therapist. We're doing a chapter coaching pro program, which I think is going to be really cool. I get a chance to work one-on-one one-on-one with chapters. So those were the, those are the three exciting things. But I, I want to, I guess I want to mention that. there's a balance in life. And so the other exciting thing that the other journey I'm on is I started in January learning titles. And when you put yourself in a place to learn something new and you can screw up with that, anybody like, you don't feel bad about it. it's just you during this learning space and it's a really, really wonderful mind, body centering thing, but also all of the elements about this there's There's w one of the elements is constantly keeping your knees bent and being grounded so that, you can move in any direction. Right. And giving in yielding, and yet being a spring strong anyway, enough of that. But that's,
Carol: That'll help you with the zombies too. Yes. I love it. I love it. Well, Peggy, it was great having you on thank you so much. And we will definitely link to those resources that you mentioned. And then let us know when the newest benchmarking study comes out and we can include it for folks. So definitely appreciate all you all you have to offer. Right?
Peggy: Well, thank you for your time today. This was a fun conversation. It's always good catching up with you. And it was fun today, too.
I appreciated the perspective Peggy brought on the volunteer learning journey. Whether your organization has chapters or has volunteers in other programmatic elements of your work, thinking through their learning journey could be really useful. We will link to the resource that Peggy’s group created about this and it provides a really useful framework for thinking about how to cultivate and develop volunteers. And how to have them move from volunteers to leaders within your organization. From a new volunteer that is just getting familiar with your organization and the work you do – what are the skills and competencies they need? How will your orientation and training program help them develop those skills? How might you be able to break down what used to be a large role into smaller more doable parts? Is it clear for someone wanting to get involved what the steps are? Whom they should reach out to? What support can you provide your volunteers as they become more engaged and encourage them to step into new and larger roles within your organization? Have you built a ladder people can climb? Or a pathway for them? The clearer you are able to make the pathway, the more likely people will say yes when you invite them into volunteering.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Peggy as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes.
I want to thank Nora Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support.
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I am Carol Hamilton, nonprofit consultant and podcast host. My passion is helping organizations cultivate healthy, inclusive cultures that live their values, fostering learning, creativity and results. Find me at Grace Social Sector Consulting and download free resources.
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