Over the past few months I've gotten involved with a wonderful patient advocacy group. I was recently looking at one of their community chat boards and one of the posts struck me. It was from another volunteer who noted that she hadn't been connected with the organization in about four years. She went on to say that she felt bad because when she had first been involved, she was incredibly active. This volunteer had raised money through participation in a marathon, attended conferences and done several other things to help the organization. Her final comment was that she really should have pushed herself to stay involved and hoped she would be accepted back into the good graces of the organization.
I felt genuinely bad for her. Here was a generous person that had done a great deal to contribute so much and now, as supposed to feeling excited and positive about re-connecting, she was worried. As someone who was now living out the experience of being both a volunteer and professionally working as a volunteer manager, it was a helpful wake-up call.
My experience was a helpful reminder that as volunteer managers we need to stress some "golden rules" for volunteering. In other words, let's be sure we're treating our volunteers exactly as we'd want to be treated if we in their position. I believe we can do that by ensuring that these messages are being delivered by our words and actions:
Our door is always open and you are always welcome: Volunteers will come and go - that's simply a reality of this work. It's going to happen due to time, other commitments, priorities - or anything else. Our role is not to judge the validity or soundness of those reasons. One of my best mentors had a statement that fits well here: If it's true for you, it's true. In other words, the reason your volunteer stepped away was important to him or her. Therefore it's important. Our role is to welcome them back to the fold and celebrate their re-connection with our work.
Every contribution matters and is valued: The subject of thanking and appreciating our volunteer's efforts has been well covered by many others (and me in some other blogs). But it's worth saying again. Any offer of time, resources, and energy that can help your organization move forward should be valued no matter what. No matter what.
There are no "shoulds" around here: Volunteers should do so because they want and not due to their thinking or feeling they "should volunteer" out of some implied obligation. Our job is to create an environment that encourages a spirit of giving generously. It should be one that helps us create relationships with our volunteers that enable us to understand what they can and want to offer and how we can best connect them with the needs of our organization.
Please don't take this to mean that we as managers of volunteers should ask nothing of our volunteers or worse yet, be doormats for the occasionally badly behaved volunteers (you know they're out there). On the contrary. I do believe however, that by practicing these Golden Rules you have the opportunity to create a truly collaborative and authentic partnership with your volunteers.
You had me at hello...
The line above is from the 1996 hit movie Jerry Maguire starring Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger. Looking back, this film produced several lines that have become part of our everyday vernacular. For example, who hasn't said "Show me the money!" as they went out to close a deal? Or maybe you remember the famous interrogation scene in the Dark Knight when the Joker maniacally shares with Batman that he has no desire to kill him because " you complete me." And finally, there's "help me to help you," the battle cry of all good consultants. Jerry says this as he tries to understand the needs of his one remaining client.
But back to the incredibly romantic "you had me at hello" finale. After coming to several important realizations, Jerry walks into a room full of women and delivers a meaningful and impassioned speech to win back his now estranged wife, Dorothy. It's a powerful speech but I'll admit it - it's hard not to choke up when Dorothy says "shut up - just shut up - you had me at Hello." Cue the violins, hugs all around etc...
I'm no psychologist but I think there's a reason this scene resonates with us and moves us. The idea that the very first sentence - in fact the very first word - of his "pitch" could have won over such a tough audience is powerful. Yes, I realize we're applying a great deal of meaning to a Romantic Comedy here. It's the movies, it's Tom Cruise, it's 1996 (he would have texted her from the airport if the movies was made today) so I recognize it's pretty far from everyday reality.
But let's face it, we're all in sales at various times in our lives personally and professionally. Whether our goal is to win over the officer at the BigCo Foundation or persuade the one we love to spend their lives with us, we're often engaged in the fine art of persuasion. What could be more powerful than knowing - or at least buying into the idea - that the opening line of a speech or presentation could have such power, connection and the ability to move hearts and minds?
Since my hunch is that most folks that read this will be mere mortals and not movies stars, here are three suggestion to help you deliver your version of "hello" when you do your next big pitch. Chances are the President of BigCo (substitute the name of Your Big Prospect) won't say "you had me at hello" but you may have a better chance of sealing the deal if you:
1. Know Your Client/Prospect: In Jerry's case, he had some history with Dorothy and they both knew the other's history and baggage - he even addresses this in his speech. Do all the back research possible on your prospects so you know their hot buttons, what works and doesn't work for them and pretty much anything else you can find. And don't just Google them! Network, ask around, email your linkedin contacts that know people they know and do some serious Bond-style sleuthing.
2. Know How Can You Help Them: Now that you know everything about your prospective partner, you of course know how to deliver. In the business world, this can be fairly straight forward: Come up with a solution to their problem. In a nonprofit setting, be able to define HOW and WHY your service or program connects with the objectives of a funder or collaborator. It's critical that your offering be delivered flawlessly to the point where they'll brag about their partnership with your organization. It's equally important to confidently ask for the value that your organization brings to the table.
3. Say It Right Up Front: While anticipation can be fun in certain circumstances , this isn't one of them. I noted in a recent post that the average attention span for adults has dwindled from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds as of 2013. Tell your prospect why you and you and your organization are a fit right up front when you've got the best shot that they're paying complete attention. Even better, can you find that word or sentence that can capture the essence of what you offer (your own version of the "Maguire Hello")? It's worth it to spend some time on this possibility. Once your prospect or client knows you've got what they want, let the rest of your pitch be the icing on their birthday cake.
See you at the movies!
Robert Grabel. Disqualified.
21 seconds over the time 8 minute 30 second time limit.
Those are words I'll never forget as they taught me a valuable lesson.
I was participating in a comedic speech contest at my Toastmasters club. If you're not familiar with this fantastic organization, they're typically referred to as that organization that helps you get better at public speaking. It's really much more. They're about presenting. They're about leadership. Ultimately, they're about supporting you on your quest to be better.
Toastmasters holds contests regularly to encourage your improvement. These are opportunities to compete against your fellow Toastmasters in situations ranging from comedic speeches, such as the one I was participating in, to extended presentations and even extemporaneous debate. One aspect of the contests I find incredibly helpful is the laser-like focus on timing. There is a set amount of time designated to deliver your message.
Four years ago I was disqualified from a contest because my speech went 21 seconds over the 8 minutes and 30 seconds allotted for a speech. I was told by members of the audience, judges and even fellow contestants that I had this thing won. But I blew it because I decided to improvise just a bit - that put me over the time limit.
Why does this matter? Because EVERY SECOND COUNTS.
Individuals (a.k.a. your audience, prospects, funders, partners) have an extremely limited attention span. And it's getting worse. As a general rule, various sources note that the average attention span for adults (in 2013) was just 8 seconds, down from 12 in 2000. And since we're talking about speaking and presenting, interesting to note that in a study done by Lloyds Bank, when adults were tested on their ability to stay on task (i.e. household chores), average attention span has decreased from 12 minutes a decade ago to 5 minutes today.
As the modern day presenter of ideas seeking engagement or better yet action, you've got to make the most of every second you have in front of your audience. And at a certain point, stop talking. Because they're not listening. This goes for live presentations and pitches. This goes for phone calls or meetings. This goes for social media.
How can you be more effective at this?
1. Write and use a script. I can hear you groaning and saying how boring that is. Sorry but that's what works. And "works" goes beyond words. It's also how long it takes to deliver them, the right inflections and the right tone. If you're live, it's body language. Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA, developed the 7%-38%-55% Rule, to identify the relative impact of words, tone and body language respectively when speaking. All this can apply just as well to the tone of your email, the characters in your tweets or posts, and ultimately, the clarity of your message.
2. Stick to your script. No matter what! I hear you growling again. Often it becomes tempting to just "go with the flow" because a presentation is going so smoothly. That idea works well when you're on vacation or jamming to your favorite band. But not here. A few months ago, I was visiting with the president of a company we hoped would form a riding team for a cycling event. We knew so many of the same people that I decided to go with the flow as we drifted into an extended session of "who knows who." We got so far off message that it became nearly impossible - and rather awkward - to steer back to the business at hand. Don't let this happen to you no matter how comfortable it may seem.
3. Know when to Stop Talking and Start Listening. Give yourself set cues to allow for feedback throughout a presentation and of course, at the end. Be comfortable with the silence even if it's killing you. Ultimately where your script ends is where Rapport, Relationship and Real Communication begins. So let it happen.
Many of us appreciate the value of setting and working towards S.M.A.R.T. goals. S.M.A.R.T. goals are generally considered those that are:
S - Specific M - Measurable
A - Achievable (or Attainable)
R - Reachable (or Realistic)
T - Time sensitive
The S.M.A.R.T. approach is now used in nonprofit and for-profit settings typically around performance expectations. For example, in the banking world - at least back when I was in it - these were called compliance covenants. They would spell out revenue, expense and other operational targets that were to be met. The borrower needed to achieve these or the loan could be called in.
In nonprofit settings, S.M.A.R.T. is often used to drive programmatic goals. For example, Teens Run Westchester, a non profit I'm involved in, leans heavily on this concept. We utilize it in connection with long distance running benchmarks to demonstrate goal setting in everyday life. Finally, many of us know that S.M.A.R.T goals can be part of what we, as well as well as our grantors, use to evaluate the efficacy of our work.
When I moved from the corporate world to the nonprofit arena 13 years ago, I was glad to see this. As I've noted in other posts, moving stories of our missions help to engage key audiences, however, measurable results are essential to long term sustainability.
I've had the good fortune of working with organizations that produced results that fit the S.M.A.R.T model. At the same time, I've had the experience of working with some where measuring results wasn't a focus. Conversely, I've also been in situations where the need for measurable data became the focal point of the organization's work - S.M.A.R.T. gone to the wrong extreme.
While I'm in total agreement with the need for measured accountability, it's essential that we not lose sight of "why we do what we do." Next time you're setting your goals, make sure they stack up to another view of S.M.A.R.T., ask:
S - Special. Are your goals special - an inspiring vision of what the world can be if you achieve them? Do they motivate and excite your volunteers, staff, leaders and everyone that's connected with your work?
M - Meaningful. Are you going beyond the numbers (in driving for quantity, don't lose sight of delivering quality) and targeting impact that makes a real difference in the lives of individuals and families that benefit from your work?
A - Aspirational. Do your goals speak to you and your organization always striving to be better and delivering on your mission? Are your goals helping you move from acceptable to outstanding delivery?
R - Responsive and Relationship Oriented. Ok, I couldn't decide on just one becuase I like them both! But hey, my blog, my rules...Do your goals your allow your organization to be flexible and responsive to those you serve? Is your organization building relationships - and most importantly - the right ones with key volunteers, donors, community members and partners?
T - Truth and Authenticity. These are the cornerstones of every good business - for profit and nonprofit. Whether you're talking about the execution of your programs, or the quality of your leadership, how you show up every day matters. Are you and your team going through the motions or authentically engaged in excellence? Hopefully the latter.
I hope these questions and suggestions get you thinking and planning in some new ways as we head into 2015. With attention and focus, they can help to make you and your organization extra - or even Super SMART.
Robert Grabel is the President of Nonprofit Now! You can find his posts here and at www.robertgrabel.com
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