Elevating Engagement with Amanda Kaiser
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.
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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 65 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Lisa G. Hazirjian discuss:
● Some common mistakes and misconceptions nonprofits have about policy advocacy
● Simple steps to take to get to know policy makers better and build relationships
● How to build a ladder of engagement for your supporters and volunteers
Lisa Hazirjian, PhD, founded Win Together Consulting to help progressive change makers develop strategy, build power, engage supporters, and leverage strengths to achieve their goals. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Public Policy Studies, Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies, and Ph.D. in U.S. History from Duke University, and is working toward a Nonprofit Leadership Certificate from the Harvard Kennedy School. You can reach Lisa at email@example.com.
Important Links and Resources:
● Win Together Consulting
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Lisa Hazirjian. 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.
Lisa and I talk about public policy advocacy for nonprofits. We explore how anger and sadness can be a catalyst for action, how nonprofits – specifically c3s in the US – can incorporate advocacy into their work and to further their mission, why it is so important to think about why your issue could matter to a decision maker – from their point of view, some simple steps you can take to start building a relationship with policy makers, and how to identify and build a ladder of engagement for your supporters
Welcome Lisa. Welcome to the podcast.
Lisa Hazirjian: Thank you so much, Carol. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here today.
Carol: I'd like to start out with a question around what drew you to the work that you do? What would you say motivates you and what would you describe as your why?
Lisa: A lot of answers to that question, but they really all come back to two things. One of which is really at, at a few key points in my life needing to find an outlet for a lot of sadness and anger during times of loss. And the other being my training as a historian, I did a career change. I have a PhD in modern US history and I studied social movements and public policy and how they influenced one another. And the moment when all of that came together Was 2008. The moment really lasted about six months starting with a tenure track job offer which was great. Except at the university where I was offered a job. This is back before marriage equality. And I would be moving with my partner now, my wife and the university didn't offer domestic partner benefits and that. Could have been a big issue. And so I asked if they might be able to come up with some way for my wife to get onto the university's health insurance policy. I pointed to a couple of examples of other universities that had made these kinds of accommodations. And long story short the response, I got a few days. The immediate response I got was being yelled at, which was not good. But the ultimate response was being told the university is no longer considering your candidacy for this position. And I. That was very upsetting as you can imagine.
And this was 2008 and I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands because the contract I had had just ended. And I didn't know what I was going to be doing, but. I was approached and asked to pull volunteers together for the Obama campaign to have a presence at the Cleveland Pride Parade and Festival and I did that. And I did that specifically. Because Barack Obama was a candidate who, although he did not at the time support marriage equality yet he did support an employment non-discrimination act that we still don't have. Still trying to get what's now the Equality Act passed. But for me, this was a way, not just to get something for myself, but to get something for everyone to fight, to have a president who would sign a much needed non-discrimination act. And that became the thing that I put all of my emotions into for the next several months. And really saw a lot of the things I had studied coming into action in terms of what it means to do.
Marshall your leadership skills in a way that draws in hundreds of people to build the collective power you need to achieve a goal, which in this case was getting Ohio for, for the campaign. After the campaign I took some time to take stock and realized that I should build myself an off-ramp from academia and an on-ramp into professional advocacy work.
Carol: I feel like that's an off-ramp that a lot of people are exploring these days. But that's a different conversation.
Lisa: I would say it is a different conversation. And I can recommend someone to talk to you about that.
Carol: I appreciate that story and I do think that a lot of advocacy work does start with something you're angry about or something that pisses you off, or sadness or any of those things that can be a catalyst to, okay, well I can sit in this, or I can try to move things forward and. Said, have things be different for me, but have things be different for a wider group of people, which is, which is so important. My exit from history, I was a history major back in college, was much less dramatic than yours. I was doing my thesis for my BA and at the library, the big library downtown in Philadelphia and reading magazines from the late 1800s. I was looking at the role of advice being given to women on parenting in that time period in Germany. And I found that I was allergic to old paper. So a life of being an art for sure was not going to be in my future. So, not quite the same, but got that commonality, that background. So as you said, you've shifted into doing political ad advocacy work and, and helping people with their political campaigns. With, with nonprofit organizations, and I think there are a lot of misconceptions that people have about what's allowed, what isn't allowed. What would you say are some of those, some of the biggest misconceptions that you run into in terms of advocacy work and organization, non profit organizations that you work?
Lisa: It's interesting. I mean, I think plenty of people before me have said that one of the biggest misconceptions out there is this idea that nonprofits can't do policy advocacy. And that's just absolutely not the case. Of course they can. And I would argue they should, right? Nonprofits have a lot more knowledge and experience in a whole range of fields than our areas where public policy is made than most of the people who are making those decisions.
And when nonprofits bring their voices and bring the voices of the people they serve into those conversations. To try to advance policies. They're really doing a service to everyone cuz it's not like lawmakers can be experts on everything, none of us can. AndI'm, I'm not an attorney and if I were, I would have a disclaimer that I'm not giving legal advice. But, but the short of it is that, As long as you aren't endorsing a particular political candidate doing anything to try to affect the to try to elect person X over person y it's very likely that you're perfectly legally compliant. And it's nearly impossible for most organizations, even full-time advocacy organizations. Run up against the IRS limits on how much time and money you can spend on advocacy.
But that misconception aside, cause that's one that comes up over and over. I actually think another really really major misconception is, progressive nonprofits can't get anything done unless Democrats are in power. Or the flip side of that, that having democrats in power means that progressive nonprofits can get things done. Neither one of those is completely true. And, both of them miss the reality that there are a lot of things competing for attention at legislatures, and at the end of the day, it's anyone's ability to influence those decision makers that matters.
And there are a few things that nonprofits can do that can really help with that. And one of them is simply, Having supporters who are constituents of those key lawmakers and the other is speaking their language. So when I was executive director of the North Carolina AIDS Action Network I, I did not harbor any illusion that many of the Republican lawmakers in control at the North Carolina General Assembly were going to be moved by A lot of the things that motivated me, the fact that I had lots of gay male friends living with HIV, for example. But I did think that they would probably be moved by the idea that it would be great if our kids could grow up in a world where, once they are adults, they're not worried about HIV. And that in the meantime it'd be great if the state wasn't spending as much money dealing with HIV. And having those messages that resonated with the lawmakers really, really made a big difference.
Carol: A couple things. Obviously our conversation is all grounded in the context of the United States. I do have folks who listen to the podcast from around the world. So for this topic, it's all within the particular laws and institutions that we have here. You mentioned the IRS, the Internal Revenue Service, that's what it's called. And I think the limits that you were talking about also are particular to one type of nonprofit, which is, I don't know the percentages, but I'm guessing the most common is the c3 within that code. And then of course our politics in terms of our two-party system and all of that. But with all of that in mind I think about what you're saying, taking all of those particularities of the US aside, what you're talking about or really thinking about what matters to the decision makers that you're trying to speak to, and share your message. Share your, trying to move things forward, getting in their shoes, thinking about how they're looking at things where there might be common ground. I mean, that's something that folks could do
Lisa: anywhere. Absolutely. No, that's, that's exactly right. And , I have some colleagues in Canada who, who I've talked with about similar things , and different particulars about how the government is structured, what parties might be called, et cetera, but the same basic principles. And I would add that, a lot of these tips for doing better public policy advocacy also apply to just any mission advocacy, including fundraising. I think many of us have had the experience of sitting down and trying to figure out how to translate how we talk about our work and our mission in the day-to-day. The language of whatever major funder we might be applying for funding from and just , speaking their language is half the battle there.
Carol: What matters to them and, and how do you, I mean, so that, that. What are some of the, specific or concrete steps that people can take to start being able to shift their perspective and get a better understanding of the folks that they're trying to influence?
Lisa: So I mean, always sort of trying to ground ourselves in who's our audience. Who is it? Who, whose help We really need. Because if it was just us , right? If it was just our staff, our board, the people we serve, the people on our email list, then we could just mobilize everyone and do it. But when we need to persuade. People who are on that, on the outside of that us, that we really need to think about who are these people? And , these days it's not that hard. Everyone's got a website. It's , you can start doing things. I think one step that is really useful is to. To do like a really quick survey of the people who receive your email. Your email blasts and simply asks like, Hey, do any of our policy makers at the local level, county, state, or whatever the kinds of divisions of government might be in other countries? Because. a good chance that there are people who are receiving your emails, who do have relationships.
And that's important in two ways. The first being they're really gonna know and understand those people a lot better. And second many times the best messenger is somebody who already has a good relationship. With that lawmaker. So that's, that's just one, one really simple thing that people can do.
Carol: And all those steps that you take to build, build that relationship, start to get to know the person. And I was listening to another podcast last week, and this was more in terms of kind of. , business networking and, but the person had a, had a principle of no ask before one year of, of being in relationship with that person. So not like, okay, I'm gonna knock on your door and I'm gonna ask you immediately for something that, that and, and she used the word political capital, although it wasn't, capital p and I don't know what you think about that or. . It, it, that's just, that's just one framework for thinking about it. But what I did appreciate about it was that you need to invest something in that relationship before you're asking something of the person.
Lisa: So, I mean, I would not wait a year, not wait a month. Okay. If you need something, you ask, but I, but I definitely concur that it is always better to start building a relationship before you need something. And I, I recently, well a little while back wrote a blog piece that the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits put out. It actually came out shortly after the November election here in the US and it was simply a sort of , why and how to congratulate the people who just won. And , basically saying like, this is a great opportunity just to get on their radar, tell them a sentence about what you do, what you care about, make sure you're gonna get their emails. And it's just, it's going from being a complete stranger. To have that initial point of contact, which can be really important later on when something comes up and you and you really need to have a more substantive conversation. .
Carol: So I think some other things I really appreciated that post of yours and cuz it's so simple, right? And anybody can, any, can, anybody can do that. But not everybody's going. Which will be the differentiating thing. And then other simple things helping, celebrating wins, and thanking someone for, for lots of different things. Just all those little bits and pieces that you can do to start cultivating that relationship.
Lisa: That’s exactly right.
Carol: Are you saying some of the big mistakes that people make?
Lisa: Well, one of the biggest mistakes I've made and have really learned from is Limiting trying to do everything ourselves and limiting opportunities for other people to get involved. , the reality, I, I love that part of your tagline is that, that this podcast is for progressive nonprofits and associations, organizations , wanna achieve big things without being martyrs through the cause. And I have definitely been in positions where I have. Worked myself to the brink of needing to be admitted to the hospital for rehydration and rest. And that is not healthy and it is not sustainable. But it's not necessary either. The reality is that whatever it is that we're doing, whatever.
Mission is whatever our immediate goals are, there are other people out there who want us to be successful and there are a lot of people out there who wanna help and we just need to ask. And the reality is that when we give people. Strategic opportunities to help out at whatever level of engagement works for them.
Whether it's , let me take three minutes and do something, or let me take three hours and do something once a week. Or let me take three hours one time in my life. Whatever it is, that gives us so much more capacity. to get things done. And so II, I think one of the most important things that any organization can do is think about the best ways to engage their supporters more frequently in more meaningful ways.
Carol: , and I appreciate what you're saying around, it's not necessary, but I would also say especially in this work and probably any work, the more people you have involved, the more effective you're gonna be anyway. Oh, absolutely. But I see a lot of times like organizations that let's say they're an environmental organization and they do environmental education and they have this assumption.
So we bring these kids out, they're doing environmental education, they're gonna talk to their parents, and their parents are gonna become advocates for the environment. And it's like, there's so many leaps between the one to the other that , maybe one or two of the folks will have that ultimate outcome.
But if there's so many little breadcrumbs that you could, you could, or. . Steps that you could offer people, but I find it's hard for people to think of what those little steps
Lisa: are. Sure. And I, so, yes. And . Okay. . I, I think that there are a, another mistake I see a lot are organizations who have a ton of ideas, let's do this thing and let's do this thing.
And here's another thing we can do, and here's another thing that we can do. And all of, and some of those ideas can be fabulously creative and innovative and do a good job of leveraging their strengths, but they aren't necessarily attached to a core strategy. To achieve a particular campaign milestone or particular goal nor are they attached to a more overarching organizational goal of building long-term power.
And , I, I, I want to destigmatize the word power because the reality is, Power is what you make of it. And having the power to make the world a better place in whatever way your nonprofit or association is trying to do should be celebrated. And one thing that I help organizations do is take a step back, and this is a place where my training as a historian really helps.
Even though you stopped in those archives , you can understand that as a historian you develop this perspective that is simultaneously very long range. And has a ton of attention to details of how change happens over time. Like that is very much what historians do. And it's what successful advocacy organizations Do if they're doing a great job of developing strategy, is they think ahead a few years down the road to the impact they wanna have, and they backfill and think about, okay, well we can't.
We don't have the resources we need right now. We don't have the capacity we need right now to achieve this big thing that we wanna achieve by 2025, let's say. But we can get there. Let's think about the steps to take to get there. And it could mean just growing the number of people who. Who are part of your organization, who you're in dialogue with, who you can mobilize in support of a goal.
It can mean building out, cultivating a group of people who can talk to the media and be effective storytellers on behalf of your organization. It can. People who can bring some specialized skills that you need. You brought up an environmental piece. It could be that you need the capacity to just get water samples from across the entire state.
And it turns out that. That's something where you can teach everyday people to go out and help be water monitors. I have very little expertise in this. I'm just using this as an example. Sure. . .
Carol: I was thinking about what you were saying, and I think one of the things that the nonprofit sector does not struggle with is a deficit of ideas.
And a deficit of things that they could do or ways that they could try to move their issue forward. But can you give me an example of when folks have taken those ideas but really built a strategy to move their issue forward, and how they've engaged people.
Lisa: You like the pregnant pause? . . Well, I, I'm gonna give you an example that I know well which again, is drawing from my own work with the North Carolina AIDS Action Network. When I was hired I was the, the first The, the first full-time staff person the, the first executive director staff of one, and the first thing I did was ask like, Who, who are we?
Who are all the people who've ever been involved in this formerly all volunteer thing, and it was a list of 243 people who I either was able to find an email or a phone number for. And I started building and I, I started building for a very particular need that we were aware might be coming down the pike.
A program that at the time was called the AIDS Drug Assistance Program had There have been funding crises in many of the states in the US including North Carolina that resulted in waiting lists and and we were anticipating a state budget battle that I needed to prepare for, and I knew that No matter how great a one pager I developed and no matter how much of a collegial relationship I was able to form with the heads of the Health and Human Services appropriation subcommittees that at, at the end of the day, I was gonna need more to convince them.
And, and so I started tapping the people who we already had as folks who had ever done something and using them as my starting point to recruiting more people across the state, just needing numbers and also needing breadth of coverage, particularly in the district. Of the legislators who sat on that super important health and human services appropriation subcommittee.
So I was very intentional about going to those particular corners of the state and finding constituents of those specific people so that when the moment came around, I kept on chasing after Nelson dollar trying to talk to him, and he kept on not talking to me. and I kept on trying to schedule an appointment.
We had a, a list, a deep list of people who lived in his district and we mobilized them to make phone calls into his office. And , gave them a little bit of training about what to say on the phone. And I gave it a couple of days, and then I went back to the office to make an appointment and the legislative aid said, oh , we've been getting a lot of calls about that issue.
Let me fit you into his schedule. And II, I mentioned this because a lot of us who got a lot of education might have some letters after our name, are under the illusion that all we have to do is, is. Develop a compelling argument. But actually we need to actually force people to listen to our argument.
And , I I I like to say that there can't be persuasion without the pressure to actually listen to you. And so that's a case of doing that base building, that intentional base building to create the pressure for a key legislator to. and that
Carol: base building. I mean, I'm on a lot of newsletter lists and, and , get advocacy alerts.
And some I respond to and some I don't. And I, I don't consider myself , someone who's really that, that that'sI've, I, I would say probably I'm a reluctant advocate. And so even something like that, I feel like. It takes some steps to get people comfortable to pick up the phone, send an email, do any of those things, and contact decision makers.
And it is one of the things that we talked about beforehand, that, that. I think it is relevant in a lot of different circumstances is this notion of a letter, a ladder of engagement. And you talked about before the kind of thing someone can do in three minutes, or maybe it's three hours in a week or maybe it's three hours one time.
Can you talk a little bit more about that and, and kind of. cultivate your base. That's a, that, that, there's a lot of things that could go into that Right. To actually have it be successful.
Lisa: Sure. . No, I would love to talk about that. And, and, and I will say that when I was with, with N C A N, with the AIDS Action Network, just about every board meeting my staff and I would tell a story about that.
Explained the roles of in the end it was me and a community organizer and a communications person. And we would tell a story that demonstrated what each of us did in the organization. But it also talked about our ladder of engagement. And the story would go something like this. , it would go something like Our community organizer went to this event in the community and met a bunch of people and had conversations with them and moved some of those people from being members of the general public to being people who we had the ability to get in touch with.
By getting their contact information, getting them signed up to receive our emails. And at the same time he invited them to become part of our volunteer team, where we would ask people if they would make a commitment to. Devote three hours one time in the next three months to helping us out. And so we wanted to give people a sense of, we're not asking for your whole lives, but we also don't wanna bother trying to get you out to things if you're not thinking that.
, sometime in the next three months, don't wanna do this. And that was.
The beginning of us explaining our ladder of engagement, the first rung is simply putting your foot on that bottom rung and saying let me get on your email list. Let me get on your text list. Here's how to hear from me.
But maybe you might grab on higher on that ladder and say, what? I have this intention of becoming a volunteer and stating that And then we would move people. And , I would say the next real step our communications person would move people from being signed up to getting people to take that first click action.
The getting people to respond to an action alert, getting people to share something on Facebook and. and we, we really developed a few different ladders of engagement and one of them was more of a base building lane of volunteering with us at community events to do the same thing our community organizer had done.
Go around with clip petitions, postcards, et cetera, and bring more people involved. And another piece was more storytelling oriented. Get people involved in telling their stories about why our work mattered to them, and why the policies we advocated for were important in their lives. But the basic concept is to have a predefined.
Set of steps that people can take from not being anywhere on the ladder to climbing up that ladder to positions of. Increasing responsibility and importance to the success of what you do? I personally am okay with letting people skip a few steps. Sure. But, not be all the way at the top. Because having those steps is important for getting some proof of concept that somebody is going to be reliable and be effective at particular things.
And there's also a certain amount of skill building that one wants to do. If you have someone who's volunteering as a phone banker you want them to be really good at it before they host their own phone bank and need to support other people who are doing it for the first time.
Carol: Well, I love the specificity of, of that.
, the email one, I think , or contact information. I think a lot of people are probably already doing building their list, building how they get in touch with people. But that next step of the way that you talked about three hours in the next three months it's memorable for one.
And it's possible to, it's, it's. I mean, it's a commitment, right? It's not nothing. It's not, I'm just gonna ask you to do this little thing that doesn't really matter to you. It's, it's, it's more than, It's something you need to advocate and actively say yes to. And yet it's not so huge that it becomes you get paralyzed by, oh my God, they're asking me to do something and I'm not ready.
. And I, and I love the idea of also that , through that One, you're seeing who does step up. And then two, you're having a chance to build their skills as they, as you, as you go. And then also , seeing, do they follow through? Do they say what they're gonna do? , and I think that's applicable in so many different parts of the work that nonprofits do.
Ofsomeone may be trying to build their board and I often talk to groups about, okay, so get them involved in some other way. A committee, a campaign , some specific things that you can see how they are to work with. Do they follow through? Do you have to chase after them? , what, what?
What's, what's their work style? Does it fit, is it contributing, is it draining? Before you ask them for something really big, that could have just a huge impact on your organization. Oh
Lisa: my gosh. Well, that is excellent advice You're offering Carol , but there's another piece that I wanna put out there.
So, and, and really just talking with youI remember. The community organizer who was on staff when I ultimately left CAN he reminded me one day that. The first time he met me, he was an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and I was a guest speaker in a class he was taking.
And that was his first awareness of me and what I was doing. And he waited tables at a local diner. andI bumped into him there and then he showed up as a volunteer. And was someone who I saw had some real natural abilities in this area and got him involved more. And then he had a job where we were coalition partners and , I.
And finally I was able to hire him at, at one point. But so he went all the way from being a member of the general public in a classroom. And getting involved as a volunteer and then being a volunteer leader to ultimately being staff. And I, I, one thing that I'm really proud of to this day about the program that we built and what our supporter engagement program looked like is the number of people who.
Were involved as volunteers or interns who now work in the field. It's actually a really great way to build the profession, a really great way to help people build their leadership skills.
Carol: Absolutely. And I helped an association build their ladder of engagement. And this wasn't from a policy point of view, but from a volunteer leadership point of view.
And it was just okay, you have the first step is to become a member, maybe, or maybe even the first step is to come to an event that the association holds or, or even. Well, I guess the first step before that would be it'd be in the field and , be, become aware of the organization, come to an event.
And then use the resources of the organization to step up to volunteer to be a presenter or write something for, and it could be at the local level or, or regional level. And it's just like one small step, as you say, after another of taking increasing risk. Responsibility. And then in that case for that person building their visibility over the course of their career and their leadership skills.
But I think it's also one of the things that we tried to do, as we were mapping that volunteer leader experience and also thinking at each step, what is, what is the person. , not only what they're contributing, but what they're gaining through that experience of the, the, and, and being explicit about the skills that they're able to learn.
As they go and how, what they're doing ultimately is contributing to that bigger picture.
Lisa: Well that, that piece is huge. And one thing that's always been important to me whenever I do any training, well first of all, I always believe that if you have volunteers, you need to actually spend some time training them before you just throw them into whatever they're doing.
But then, yes, please . For me, the training should always have a why as well as a how. Hmm. And have the big picture of what we are doing because here's how this little thing that we're gonna be doing fits into the bigger picture. And then with, with the, how I like to have let me explain it.
Let me demonstrate it. Let's have your role play it. Let's evaluate. Okay, now you're ready. And I think that that is super important to the quality of volunteer experience that people have as well as being important to helping to really build those skills. , to me, one sign of a great volunteer program is an intention of.
Of having this ladder of engagement where a volunteer who's come three times Has an opportunity to say, yes, I would like to take on the next level of responsibility where I can be the person who trains and coaches new volunteers doing the same thing. And that expands the organizational capacity so much.
And These are still folks who might just be giving three hours a month. If you have 10 people doing that, that's a huge amount of capacity that you're adding. .
You're, you're, you're creating more and more ripples that they, that they can contribute to. And I think another thing that you were talking about, the why and the how I I. I work with groups helping them with their strategic planning and, and it's a, it's a process, right? There are lots of steps to it.
And one of the things that I've realized recently is that I, it's so obvious to me what the why is that I forget to, to tell people. The why of all these steps that we're taking through the process. And so I had an instance recently where there was a, there was just a real misalignment of expectations because I hadn't done a good job of explaining why.
And I think for any of us who do the thing that they do you get to be very familiar with it. And it all seems just as obvious. I don't know what anything is, and so it's easy to forget. So I appreciate that of course
Lisa: Of course. And what, even though I said it as I just listened to you, I realized that what you are saying applies to a situation I am in right now.
Carol: Well, I think I'm gonna make it my mantra for 2023, the why and the how , not just the how. Well,
Lisa: Great, great. It is good, it is a good mantra. I just need to apply it to all aspects of my life, not just. That particular one.
Carol: Right. Right. And I, I, what I also appreciate about what you're talking about, we started talking about , decision makers that you're trying to influence and looking for how, where the commonality is. But I think it's really with your base, it's also looking for what, what's gonna. Influence them to take action. Those, those smaller steps that you're asking people to take. And some people I was thinking also, I was focusing on skills, but. Some people may be very motivated by that. Other people, it may be other things of, being part of a community that's, that's, that's taking action , seeing those and, and you, I think it's, it's hard to go to wins cuz. I don't know, policy campaigns, there's often, it's, it's often a very long process before you really get the big triumph. So finding those small wins as you go to keep people moving and motivated, but thinking about different things that will engage people and motivate them. People at the same time of being strategic, of not trying to do all the things for all the people.
Lisa: No, I mean that, that's right. And, and listen, you're very much in touch with the reality that That policy change can be glacial except when we don't want it to be Right. like having this bullet train of bad policy coming right at us .
Carol: Although the people on the other side will probably think, well actually we've been building towards that for the last 50 years.
Lisa: No, and and, and you're exactly right. You're a hundred percent right about that. But , I think that The way I and other people who have volunteered have experienced these policy campaigns. Part of the win, again, is just the opportunity to be helping them, let me try that again. I think that for a lot of people, the win is simply being able to do something with other people to help move closer to that eventual win. And because of the isolation and the frustration of being by yourself, being frustrated by something and just feeling helpless. That's terrible. I hate it. , other people hate it. And so for me, and I'm like, look, let's just, let's create, create ways to bring folks together.
And I'm, I'm thinking about back, I think it might have been 2016 when the North Carolina legislature passed HB two, which. National press. It was one of these anti-trans bills. And I was pissed. Lots of people were pissed. And , I decided, all right, I gotta do something. What can I do? What's, what's gonna be helpful? And I decided just to take some skills. That I had learned in, in other campaigns to do some grassroots fundraising to try to unseat some of the co-sponsors of that odious bill. And so I just put together this little , grassroots fundraising thing where I invited people to join me. I had a friend who was able to. Like the community room and her neighborhood for us, I did a little training. We made phone calls just to our own personal contacts, and we raised about $5,000 one evening for some of these candidates to help get them elected. And , in the grand scheme of a campaign for State House or state Senate, that's not a ton of money. But it's also, A significant amount of money. And We all felt like we helped with getting a few good people elected, but also it just meant that we could all be in a shared space and do something ourselves. And everyone we called to help make a donation was also someone who we knew was feeling like, oh, this HB two thing stinks. I wanna do something, but I don't know what to do. So it had those multiple layers or ripples as you said, that reallyI knew that, wellI can donate money, but I, I have onlyI work in the nonprofit sector, how much money can I possibly donate? Well , but I know people and they can donate and they know people and they can donate. Right.
Carol: And so again, that's that . Pulling people in as you talked about, you don't have to do it all yourself. Absolutely. And that actually part of the joy is. Doing it together. . And bringing people together and creating that sense of community. So I really appreciate that. So I'd like to end each episode by playing a game where I ask you an icebreaker question from my little box of icebreaker questions. So we were talking about skills before. What's a skill that you learned when you were young that you would say that you still use today?
Lisa: I'm such a different adult than the kid I was. But there's a really obvious answer. Okay. So the skill that I first used when I was in the fifth grade was simply the skill of not accepting that something has to be the way someone says it has to be. Hmm. And I'm, I'm thinking of a kid, a boy. This is important to the story. A boy from my neighborhood who is in my grade at school decided that girls couldn't play in the fifth grade softball game. And when pressed by me for a reason, why, coming up with this excuse that you had to have a glove, me saying, well, why can't we just borrow gloves? People who are at bat and him saying You have to have your own glove. And so goodie two shoes, I cut recess, to go home and get my own baseball glove. Which I did. But then when I walked out of the door, instead of making a right to go back to school, I made a left. We went to our neighbor's house and knocked on the door and asked to borrow their kids' gloves and went down the street and did it again. I walked back to school with my arms full of baseball gloves. And so at those, those skills of not accepting injustice in the world, doing something so that I get justice for myself, but also taking the step of making sure. , other people have justice too.
Carol: I love that story. That's perfect. I mean, here you were in fifth grade, ? Yep. It's taking, standing up for something you believed in and then doing a neighborhood canvas to collect resources for your cause. . I love it. That's great. That's great. So what are you excited about? What's, what's coming up next for you in your work? What's emerging in the work that you're in?
Lisa: So I am super excited. I have decided that 2023 should be my year of being part of more teams. And I'm excited about a couple of ways in which I see that happening. One is already happening, which is that I'm going to be leading a team of nonprofit. Professionals from various parts of North Carolina where I'm based and leading them through a three month a three month workshop, advocacy academy that we're calling it to help them develop advocacy campaigns that also help them build long-term power. So that's super exciting to me.
And then I'm, I'm really trying to vision into existence. A few more partnerships with organizations and really on the lookout for organizations that are ready to move beyond that. Oh, we've got an idea, we've got an idea. And instead get into the mode of saying, Let's put a pit in this and think about what our desired outcomes are, what we need to get there, actually put together a campaign strategy, take steps, learn the skills we need. And I'm open to doing training and strategic planning, and that's stuff that I've been doing for years. But I, I've recognized that the work that is most fulfilling to me is when I. Have a more sustained engagement with an organization and really be embedded in that team for at least three months to really work alongside folks and ask the questions that prod people and make observations and congratulate people on their great ideas and help make things successful. So I'm, I'm excited. Looking forward and embracing that work. All right. Well,
Carol: Thank you so much, Lisa. It was great having you on the podcast
Lisa:. Hey, this was awesome, Carol. Thank you so much as well.
Carol: I appreciated how Lisa described intentionally building a ladder of engagement. Recognizing that there are a lot of people who want to help and want to get involved but maybe don’t know how. How to shift someone from an email on your mailing list to someone who more actively shows up for your organization. I appreciated the specificity of her ask – are you willing to do something in the next 3 months. And then provide a menu of options – something that takes 3 minutes, something that takes three hours. And by building a pathway of slowly increasing involvement and responsibility you provide folks a way in and you also have the opportunity to get to know them and vet them. See whether they follow through. Do they show up? Do they do what they say they will do? Do you have to chase them?
I have seen smaller organizations want to invite folks on to their board immediately. First being on the board should be just one way to be involved in the organization – even if it is an all volunteer group. And you are taking a huge risk if that is your first ask of folks. It is a big ask for one so one that likely folks who don’t know you that well will say no to. AND you don’t know the person very well either and don’t know how they will or will not contribute to the work of the board. Find smaller ways for folks to be involved. Invite non-board members onto board sponsored committees and work groups. And realize that not everyone is going to make their way all the way up the ladder – some will be perfectly happy showing up for a one off event occasionally or responding to an action alert.
And this ladder of engagement can be for advocacy – but it can be for a lot of other things as well. I am on a lot of email lists for organizations that I support. And I get a lot of donation request emails from them. What I don’t see as often is small ways for me to get involved highlighted or featured. Most organizations put a lot of time into thinking about how to make it easy for me to give them money. Not as many organizations have put the thought into making it easy for me to give them time in meaningful ways. This is a big missed opportunity.
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 Lisa, 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. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it on your favorite social media platform and tag us. 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 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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My passion is helping nonprofit organizations and associations have a greater mission impact.
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