Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About

You ain’t seen nothing yet.

In just 7 days, this PR stunt by a tiny UK Charity has achieved double the cumulative views over World Vision’s YouTube channel, has had their hashtag trending worldwide on twitter and is causing a commotion of commentary - all without any real brand, mission, reputation or even budget. When was the last time the charity you give to or work for did this?

Don’t worry. They will soon. 

The Pilion Trust is leading the conversation today, and five minutes ago, you never knew they existed. To debate the validity of the video, its message or impact is missing the point. It’s what the video is a product of, what it represents and the future it speaks of that’s worth the attention.

Is this a natural extension of 717, 000 British charities working in the UK all competing for the same relative size of the donation pool? With 60% of our charitable giving going to 1% of all charities, the need to raise your flag bigger than the charity next to you is a matter of survival. We’re in a (perceived) zero-sum charitable giving era, if I’m winning then you’re losing. Hoist your flag higher and you just may survive. 

Could this also be the natural extension of a multi-billion dollar fundraising industry who can’t, for the sake of their job security, shop anything but the cause they’re paid to sell? Could it be that having no voice to speak on behalf of ‘charity’ besides the ones who need you to give to their charity produces a mindset where we’re not interested in nurturing a more philanthropic or generous culture in Canada. The proverbial giving needle hasn’t really moved significantly as a percentage of GDP in decades, and that has to be in part because who is trying to actually do this without first trying to sell their cause? 

Or could this also be the result of the ‘industry’ often more concerned with self preservation than it is with provoking change and leading the conversation in innovative ways. The phrasing the Pillions Trust used for this video was ‘an experiment”, the website is nothing to rave about and really their staffing and infrastructure seem close to negligible. Yesterday you didn’t know they existed. But they’re super responsive in the channels that matter (Twitter and YouTube) and they’re leading the conversation for today. With less on the line they can look at what’s the best way to achieve the desired outcome, and not what’s best for our charity. The former is the question we need to be asking; all the time. So we do the same. We mass mail, use sad faces and over ask because the data tells us “it’s working.” And it is, it’s gaining more than it’s losing, for now. Innovation is for tomorrow. The Pillions Trust didn’t get me to see this video by spamming me, cold calling, or even through me going to their site. They did it by getting it by creating content that I sought out, that Buzzfeed wanted to cary, that friends wanted to post. 

In short, it’s some mix of having a perceived fixed pool of resources (16 billion in giving in Canada), few (if any) groups working to expand that pool in a cause neutral or truly donor focussed way, and an industry more generally interested in self preservation and walled gardens than desired outcome, that produces an environment where shock art like this is completely necessary. 

The future belongs to those who are willing to lead the conversation. I hope it can be led by measuring impact, telling the right stories and meeting donors where they are at (instead of where we’d like them to be). I hope we focus less on us and more on the ‘them’ we’re serving - the outcome we’re working for. If shock art like the above is a part of this conversation, so be it. The change we’re working for deserves to have more YouTube views than the Kardashians - and in today’s ADHD world, if it means wearing a profane sign around our neck, then perhaps that’s the game that needs to be played. Perhaps.

There are a number of things we can do as ‘regular people’ to reverse or at least slow these trends. If forced to fly over, to start: give in principle, with your head and with your heart: set aside regularly an amount month, have it pulled from your account into a separate fund reserved for benevolence (I use but I’m bias). With your own foundation you’re giving on principle not just when asked, it’ll help you establish a regular rhythm of giving that works for you, not based solely on a cycle of appeals. Second, be vocal with your charities - don’t let them get away with bad spam, gimmicks or other - unless of course you like it. Spam works because more people respond to it than don’t. We can help change this. We can get smarter. And third, lets reward the risky, and the causal focussed. Give to those taking the chances to create the change you want to be a part of. Give to those who are breaking status quo, are getting results or at least willing to try new approaches to get those results. 

There are a lot of things that are ‘right’ about this campaign. More than anything it’s a useful commentary on our culture at present, a foreshadowing of what’s to come and a proposal for a new direction. We have the opportunity to change the above: to help change a zero-sum giving model, to individually nurture a more charitable culture in Canada and to urge people to make giving, a part of everyday living. For now, congratulations F*** the Poor on leading the conversation - if only for today.

BIO: Jeff Golby works for Chimp Foundation, an online bank that allows people to manage and amplify their charitable giving. His role is to create a space where creativity, law, charity, money and trust come together in a way that inspires and motivates people to give.
Comments (1)

It’s #complicated.

Welcome to the world of charity, where everyone is a critic, your books are all subject the mob's ‘quest for truth’ and where the complex realities of the real world don’t apply to you: your solutions have to be explainable in a sound bite.

The public shaming of PHS highlights once again our misguided views of doing good. It highlights how we consider it the public duty to tell any group who has dedicated their lives to literally solving the most complicated societal issues they’re doing it wrong if we don’t like something, and how we always want the black and white, the ‘cut and dry’ when dealing in a very grey world. I can’t go line by line down the audit to defend the actions of a man and organization I’ve never met or dealt with. What I can do is suggest that our witch hunt is completely misguided and supremely detrimental to the sector and society at large.

Lets forget for a moment the irony of our government “stepping in” and firing an independent charitable organization’s leadership because of excessive spending, the very government that spends millions suing their own teachers, providing compensation for disgraced politicians and more. And lets focus on three obvious ways the conversation is being steered down a destructive path. 

Suggesting PHS ‘stole’ from public funds or “took money away from the homeless” to pay for cruises is entirely misleading. Money was allocated for admin costs (9%) at the governments’ demand (more on this later) and PHS delivered a service that the government deemed to be “highly effective” for 9%. By this logic we are suggesting that any appropriation of funds not spent on the homeless is stealing from the homeless. Somehow the person on the DTES is a criminal and a thief for spending money we deem inappropriately because it was ‘meant for the poor’ but your GP receiving a salary of $300 000 and up (that comes from that same theoretical purse) is somehow not ? It’s a complete double standard. We’ve decided that either you can help the poor on the "government dime" or you can be rich, you cannot be both. 

Second, criticizing a 9% overhead on a 28 million dollar budget and wondering why perhaps their accountants aren’t top notch is foolishness. The day that Nike makes shoes and returns a 91% profit after all expenses are paid is the day that they get enshrined as the greatest company ever to exist. The government has forced PHS to deliver an incredibly complicated service, manage a 28 million dollar budget and operate in the toughest neighbourhood in Canada, and do so while only spending 9% on non program expenses. 91% goes towards programs - a ratio mandated by the government - and we wonder why they’re not ‘better run’? What percentage of funds do you think your 28 million dollar corporation wastes? Dan Pallota said it best: "we have confused frugality with morality."

Finally, it’s just none of our damn business. If you think receiving government support gives the public and reporters the moral authority to investigate, criticize and “uncover” the scandal in an organization then you better start witch hunting every mining company, every film company, oil co, every tech co, medical clinic and so on. The government tasked the PHS to deliver an incredibly complicated service and gave the rule of only 9% can go to non program expense. PHS agreed to this, and delivered. The governments own audit deemed their program delivery exceptional. How they manage the 9% is irrelevant to you.

To be clear, skimming off the top is obviously wrong, as is excessive spending along with mismanagement. Charities, like businesses need to keep clear financial records and comply to the laws of the land. But context is key. For every one charity that keeps poor records (due to a mandated 9% overhead ratio and or just a bad attitude) there are thousands of businesses who fall the same, one is not worse than the other. No one is above reproach and it may be that Mark and the PHS crew needed to go. But the conversation principally needs to be one around quality of service performed, agreements being kept and results delivered. Any other conversation is a distraction. Let us focus on the real issues at hand, the complexity of the problems on the downtown east side, the new ways we need to fund the organizations working there and the innovation needed to tackle the biggest problems facing humanity. 

BIO: Jeff Golby works for Chimp Foundation, an online bank that allows people to manage and amplify their charitable giving. His role is to create a space where creativity, law, charity, money and trust come together in a way that inspires and motivates people to give.

How to Shake things up and get Your Employees Attention

Are your employees rolling their eyes every time you demand something from them? Are they sick and tired of their duties? Do you feel like your company is not productive enough because of your employees? Then maybe it’s time to shake things up a bit.
Have you ever thought of finding a way to engage them? Today’s business environment can only thrive if people work at their best potential.
Unfortunately, very few managers, CEOs, and entrepreneurs pay attention to the needs and wants of their staff – how can you expect results if you’re not committed enough to providing a pleasant work space for your employees? The secret to a successful enterprise is engagement, and that can only be achieved if you’re ready to make a change.

Be a useful leader:

Most business owners don’t like to get involved and they’d rather stick to giving orders. Is that such a good idea?
Do you think that just because employees fear you they will give it their best? Think again because in today’s modern environment, people who are not pleased with their jobs will leave. Successful leaders must be willing to swallow their pride and work hand in hand with their staff to boost productivity and lead their companies to the top of the pyramid. One of the best ways of getting your workers’ attention is to become an equal participant. Here’s what you can do to drive engagement:
  • Organize periodic group meetings.
  • Welcome the ideas of your staff.
  • Encourage them to speak up their mind.
  • Set up weekly brainstorming sessions.
  • Provide constructive criticism.
  • Admit if you’re being wrong (that proves you’re humane just like the rest of them).

Add excitement at the workplace:

A devoted business owner should always be ready to switch things up every once in a while. Working non-stop from 9 to 5 and engaging in the same routine every single day will eventually affect the creativity of your people; and let’s be honest: you need that creativity to make your company famous. Every devoted boss should add some excitement at the workplace.
Ask your employees to go home in the middle of their schedule, take them to lunch, or go bowling. Think of a smart idea and you’ll definitely manage to grab attention. You might be the world’s toughest boss but it’s nice for employees to know that you do have a softer side too.

Redecorate the workspace:

One of the best ways for a company to grab the attention of their employees is to completely redecorate their workspaces. New desks, ergonomic chairs, a relaxation room, and maybe a splash of colours will certainly appeal to the senses of your people. Include a sofa, a lunch corner, provide coffee, and make the office space more vibrant and welcoming.
As human beings, we are greatly influenced by what we see and feel. A dull work environment can’t motivate, yet a beautiful desk with nice furniture and a pleasant ambiance can really awake our creative spirit.

Organize competitions and award the best:

Another way of boosting productivity and keeping employees engaged is to organize daily competitions. It’s amazing how fast can people work when they’re bosses are willing to award their efforts. CEOs should constantly think of smart ways to make their teams stay united and thus help their companies thrive.
Lack of motivation will never lead to success – in every business domain the employees will want to make a name of themselves and strive to attain greatness. For that to happen, you must foster creativity and support their ideas.

Support communication:

The key to attaining success depends on communication. Major corporations are no longer creating individual offices for workers and they’d rather build joint workspaces to foster communication and bear creativity. Studies have shown that working in groups can be a lot more productive than working alone. Ergo, it’s best to sustain communication if you want results. Implement the following steps and you’ll reap great benefits:
  • Conflicts must be handled with diplomacy – at some point, conflicts will emerge. Try not to start screaming at your employees and be a diplomat. Point out the mistake and together find a reasonable solution.
  • Cultural differences must be respected – hiring people from all over the world is not uncommon anymore. Don’t discriminate your employees, and treat everyone equally.
  • Good feedback is always welcomed
  • Trust your employees
Getting your employees’ attention is something attainable without using a demanding attitude. As a manager, CEO, co-founder, or supervisor, it’s your job to make their lives at the workplace fulfilling. Shaking things up, grabbing their attention, fostering creativity, and giving them a reason to work for your company will keep them engaged.
In the long run, employee engagement will greatly boost productivity.
Author: William Taylor regularly contributes articles to for Employee Engagement and Staff Survey Experts.

Taking the plunge: Employee giving campaigns in your nonprofit organization

While many of us spent New Year’s Day relaxing, Michael Messenger, executive vice-president of World Vision Canada, donned an orange tutu and ran into Lake Ontario for World Vision’s annual Courage Polar Bear Dip that raises money for Rwandan water projects. When Messenger was asked to be World Vision’s spokesman at the dip, he agreed but “wanting to speak with integrity to something I was asking others to be involved with, I realized I had to be part of the experience.” He took the plunge and this year his team raised $22,000.
While some employees may feel they already give to an organization simply by means of their employment, many nonprofit staff play a key role above and beyond their jobs, and many nonprofit organizations and charities are inviting their staff to participate in employee giving campaigns. We talked with a number of people across the charitable sector who have run successful employee fundraising campaigns to find out why and how they did it.

First things first

Let's set the record straight right away: Employees should be under no obligation to give. As Rachel Smith-Spencer, director of advancement for the Stratford Festival says, “No one owes you philanthropic support. These truly are gifts. It’s as simple as that.” She adds that donations have nothing to do with performance. Messenger agrees: “No one says your commitment to your nonprofit employer is measured by your giving.”
Cynthia Armour of Elderstone Resource Development, a leadership and management company working with the nonprofit sector, says, “Never let anyone feel that it is a stroke against them if they don’t make a donation. Maybe they just paid $1,000 to the mechanics the day you ask. We shouldn’t judge anyone.”
At the same time, Dr. Lucy Miller, president and CEO of the United Way of Calgary and Area, notes that “Smart CEOs organize campaigns where everyone can give in some way. Employees might not give money. Giving comes in all forms. It’s about participation, not about how much you give.”

Why ask staff?

Armour likens fundraising to dropping a stone in a pond and watching the ripple effect. She suggests that fundraisers always start at the centre of the circle: “Charities should always start with their ‘family’ first.”Fred Martin, director of development for Conrad Grebel University College at the University of Waterlooagrees, even using the same terminology: “If we are a charity asking others to give, why wouldn’t we ask our family to give first?”
“There is a difference between being paid for the work you do – your job – and your personal commitment," says Miller. "How can I go out and say to people in the community that they should support our work – if they ask me, ‘do you support it?’, it’s not enough to say I work there.”
Many staff are passionate about the work they do - in fact, according to Messenger, “Donating time or money is a way to deepen my connection with something I believe in, in a meaningful and personal way.”Shane Bauman agrees, saying he gave to his former employer Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship“because I strongly believed in their mission. Also, I wanted to help out colleagues who were struggling to raise funds.”
As Miller points out, employee donations can effectively say, “We believe in this enough to actually invest in it, to give of our time and personal resources.” This “putting our money where our collective mouth is,” as Messenger calls it, speaks volumes to other potential funders, demonstrating that those who know the organization best support it.
While the importance of board members financially supporting their organization is well known, nonprofit fundraising consultants Custom Development Solutions suggest that staff support is at least equally important. “In fact, staff participation can sometimes make an even stronger impression on foundations, corporations, and individual donor prospects.”
Finally and perhaps most easily forgotten, staff fundraising campaigns are important because, like any other donor, staff often do not give unless they are asked. A 2011 whitepaper issued by Blackbaud, a software/service provider for nonprofits, notes, “Too often, a nonprofit organization fails to even ask its employees for contributions, or the organization might ask its employees to give in a very soft, indirect manner. Employees give when there is a trigger to give, such as an employee giving campaign that has been carefully crafted for this important audience.”

How to ask

While Armour says that there is no one-size-fits-all letter or template for how to ask, there are some key elements to keep in mind when asking staff to contribute to a fundraising campaign:
  • Walk in their shoes. Be sensitive in the request, acknowledging and recognizing employees’ existing commitment to the organization.
  • Segment your ask. Just as you would with any group of potential donors, consider years of service, department and other factors to tailor your request.
  • Ask senior management first. Blackbaud calls this the “silent phase” of your employee giving campaign and suggests all senior management should make a donation before asking staff.
  • Offer the same treatment as you would any other donor, in terms of respect, privacy, recognition and energy invested in the request.
  • Show how an individual’s participation is important to the success of the organization, says Miller, and encourage participation rather than dollar amounts.
  • Make it absolutely clear that performance reviews or advancement within the organization are in no way tied to giving.
  • A direct supervisor should not make a fundraising request of their staff, if at all possible, says Smith-Spencer.
  • Size doesn’t matter. Miller has seen employee giving campaigns in organizations with even two staff where employees consider how they can personally contribute to the organization’s mission.
One of the most common and effective means of inviting staff to contribute to an employee giving campaign is through a letter with a follow up ask. The Stratford Festival sends its employees customized case-driven letters about the importance of their work. The letters explain what staff make possible and offer a snapshot of the organization’s goals and needs, giving employees an opportunity to financially support one of four areas. Smith-Spencer says, “It’s not a complicated letter,” and notes that more than 200 staff members are donors to the festival.
Conrad Grebel University College sends an annual letter to staff asking them to contribute to the operations or scholarship funds, but staff also received the same letter as other college constituencies during the college’s current capital building campaign. Martin says, “We’ve had good participation in all areas.”
Other organizations invite staff to become involved in various fundraising activities. World Vision, for instance, often has staff competitions such as chili cook-offs, to raise money during their 30-Hour Famine campaigns. Team World Vision participates in sporting events such as marathons to raise funds for World Vision’s programs. Many staff also sponsor a child through the organization.

Make it easy to give

“Convenience is a major motivator for an employee to make the leap to becoming a donor,” notes Blackbaud. The simplest way organizations can expedite this process is by offering payroll deductions. “Almost everyone can give $1 per paycheque,” says Miller.
World Vision even offers a vacation buy-back program where staff can give up a week’s salary to the organization and take an extra week off.
A significant aspect to making it easier for staff to give is to fairly compensate them. “Organizations can get into trouble if they ask staff to work harder while paying them less and asking them to make a donation on top of that,” says Martin. Armour says she is not surprised if staff who feel underpaid don’t give but suggests it may depend on how they have been brought along in the fundraising process.

Make it meaningful

Some people may not contribute to an employee fundraising campaign because they don’t understand what the funds are being raised for. “A campaign should not just be about giving but also about building knowledge and capacity around what you are raising money for,” says Miller. Her staff are invited to pay to attend a lunch-hour poverty simulation that helps staff realize how big the issues are and the impact their donations can have.
According to Blackbaud, when employees see the impact of their donations and that the organization is a good steward of funds, they are far more likely to increase the frequency and lifespan of their giving.

It’s not all about money

Particularly when organizations are just beginning to invite staff to give, Armour recommends offering different ways to contribute. One easy way might be suggesting that staff document and claim overtime or mileage, and then donate the reimbursed funds back to the organization to receive a charitable receipt. The United Way offers staff opportunities such as organizing a potluck that will raise money, being involved in a game over a lunch hour, or paying for admission to a social event.

Make it fun

2012 survey found that more than 50% of employers have increased the number of events and activities associated with employee giving campaigns. Such events build staff morale and increase employee engagement while raising funds and educating about the work those funds support.
Such activities add fun and keep the program fresh, something that especially appeals to Millenial employees. Miller advises that activities should help staff look forward to coming to work.

Involve staff

Much of the staff fundraising activity at World Vision is initiated internally by the staff themselves.  “A number of our staff here are of Filipino background. After Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, these staff from various parts of the organization came together and spent hours of their own time leading a volunteer effort to raise funds for relief and connecting with local Filipino people,” Messenger recalls.
Involving staff in an employee giving campaign means that everyone can see themselves as having a role in development and fundraising. Armour says the first step is to give staff advance notice of fundraising campaigns, and invite them to think about how they can see themselves helping. Martin finds that when staff receive fundraising letters, they can also offer information about their area of work that assists the development team. They also see a connection between fundraising and budget available for projects or operations.
At its best, an employee giving campaign helps staff realize the difference they can make when they contribute together to something that matters to them. Perhaps it’s time for your organization to take the plunge?

Note: Giving to other organizations

Many nonprofits offer their staff opportunities to get involved in campaigns on behalf of other charities. The Stratford Festival has two such campaigns: one for Big Brothers/Big Sisters, an organization that is prominent in their town and that sponsors six weeks of bowling for charity annually, and the other being an annual United Way fundraising luncheon. Smith-Spencer says, “We are careful about supporting organizations that are important in our community and to the employees who work here. We support initiatives to which the staff have assigned value.”
Susan Fish is a writer/editor at Storywell, a company that helps individuals and organization tell their story well. She has written for the nonprofit sector for almost two decades and loves a good story.

Seven tips to help you facilitate an effective meeting

You’re fretting about that upcoming meeting you’re facilitating. You’re scared you’ll lose control, that you’ll go overtime, or that no decisions will be made. Bad meetings are unfortunately very common in the nonprofit and charity sector. This is despite the fact that many nonprofits and charities strive to be accountable, collaborative, and inclusive, which are hallmarks of a good meeting culture. But your meetings don’t have to be bad. Here are seven tips that can help you lead an effective meeting.

1. Know your role and own it.

A facilitator’s job is to help the group reach the best outcome possible. You get to decide when and for how long the group will talk about each agenda topic, as well as who talks. You also decide how the group will discuss each topic. Do you want to have a debate? Do you want the group to talk in small groups or one large group? Do you think it’s time to vote?
Own that power. If you let the group discuss and decide how to proceed on process, then you could lose control of the meeting. People generally don’t want to make decisions about how to make decisions. They want you to lead that process so they can get on with the important stuff - making the decision.
That said, you can still ask for advice on how to proceed. For instance, you can say something like “are we ready to do a vote on this?” If you need extra help then call a five minute break and ask one skilled person to help you decide on next steps. Good facilitators constantly read the group to ensure the team feels good with their process-decisions. But ultimately, the decision on how to proceed is yours.
Despite all this talk of power, you’re not a dictator. A facilitator does not make decisions for the group, and usually facilitators don’t even share their own opinion. In other words, the facilitator does not respond directly to a meeting participant with a comment like “I disagree with your proposal to host a workshop next week.” If you have a vested interest in the outcome, it's probably best not to take on the role of facilitator.

2. The agenda is key.

A lack of preparation into agenda setting is a key reason why meetings go sour.
Set the agenda in advance. Ask members for agenda items at least a week before the so they have time to think of some topics and develop a thoughtful proposal to present to people prior to the meeting.
Collate the agenda items, add your own, and send your proposed agenda to members prior to the meeting so they can give feedback.
Prepare people to speak to their topic. Ask them to do their research, prepare their presentation, bring handouts and be ready to answer questions. It is surprisingly common to have folks suggest agenda items yet not be prepared to speak to the matter. Don’t waste people’s time.
Don’t overload the agenda. Topics usually take longer than allocated, and people love a facilitator who concludes the meeting early.
Put the most important agenda items near the start of the meeting. This ensures the topic is discussed and you debate the matter while energy is still high.

3. Logistics matter.

Eliminating logistical problems requires attention to detail. Don’t be the facilitator who has everyone waiting half an hour because someone has to buy that Mac connector cord that your presenter forgot to bring.
Make sure the room is appropriate and as comfortable as possible. If using an off-site meeting room, it should be located near public transit and/or parking that is easy to find. It’s distracting when people frequently leave to fill their meter. Meetings should take place in a quiet room, meaning cafes and restaurants are not good choices. Do the chairs move or are they nailed to the floor in classroom format? Is there air conditioning? I once organized an 80-person event in a government building and found out just before the event through a casual conversation with a receptionist that the building’s air conditioning was off on weekends and it cost $2,000 to have it turned on for that day. Don’t repeat my mistake.
If you are showing a PowerPoint presentation, have it saved in three formats (PC, Mac, and PDF). Collect, order and/or confirm all AV equipment, laptops, and connector cords. Bring a USB stick and an extension cord. Check that markers work and that you have flip chart paper and/or whiteboards are available in the room.
Arrive 30 minutes early to set up.

4. Respect the rules.

Know and abide by the group’s formal decision-making structure. Some common decision-making structures include:
  • Consensus. Everyone agrees, or everyone agrees not to oppose a decision.
  • 80% voting majority. The decision is approved if 80% of people vote for it.
  • 51% majority. The decision is approved if 51% of people vote for it.
  • One or two people hold the power. This is fairly typical in hierarchical decision-making environments, such as many large nonprofit organizations.
Make sure everyone else in the group understands the decision-making process as well. Don’t pretend that everyone has the authority to make a decision.
You can also identify the individuals who have special authority or influence over specific agenda topics. For instance, if you’re talking about implementing a communications plan for a fundraising event, both the fundraising director and communications director should be comfortable with the proposal.
At the start of the meeting it’s useful to be clear about expectations: “We’re making decisions using consensus today” or “This is an advisory meeting; Bob and Farah over here will be listening to your feedback and finalizing their decision in the next few days.”

5. Respect the culture and the code.

There’s more to decision making than just knowing a group’s official decision-making process. Each group has their own unique way of dealing with meetings. Observe the meeting culture and match it.
Here’s some examples of how meeting culture can vary.
Some groups LOVE creative exercises, such as theatre of the oppressed tools and fun introductions. This could be answering questions like “what’s something that no else in this room knows about you?” At more formal meetings, this often does not work. Some professionals won't want to talk about their personal lives or do anything more innovative than small group work.
Some groups like to make decisions in advance. For instance, many community and labour groups have staff interview representatives from key groups and craft proposals based upon these interviews. The proposal is usually developed, adapted, and informally agreed upon prior to the meeting. Approval of the decision at the meeting is often just a formality. Controversial decisions that wouldn't get approval have already been discarded. Other groups might see this process as undemocratic.
Some groups have a culture of loose facilitation, where the facilitator rarely intervenes and allows for members to stray a little. Other groups have a culture of tight facilitation, where the facilitator might keep rigid track of who is speaking and how long they can speak for. For instance, Robert’s Rules of Order is a very formal decision-making code that is often used by legislative bodies and some groups that abide by a 51% majority decision making system. Robert’s Rules of Order would be inappropriate in an activist group that makes all decisions using consensus.
The variations on meeting culture are endless. The best way to find out a group’s culture is to ask questions and observe their other meetings. Then abide by the code.

6. A three-part process to getting through any agenda item.

For each agenda time follow this simple, three-step process: get the information out, track solutions, then make decisions. Let’s explore these three points.
First, ensure everyone has the information they need to make a good decision. You could encourage the sharing of information by having a participant offer a one-page proposal or deliver a PowerPoint. It’s also useful to allow other participants to share any additional information they know about the topic. Finally, allow participants to ask clarifying questions. If there are some gaping holes or unanswered questions then consider postponing the item so the needed information can be collected.
Second, allow for debate and discussion. The most common way to do this is for everyone to stay in one group and discuss and critique possible solutions. This stage is messy. Sometimes people will suggest new ideas, while others will critique current proposals.
During this discussion you should be doing a few key things:
  • Track for solutions. That means you should be writing down any solutions that people are proposing.
  • Gauge where people are at on the solutions that are being identified. For instance, if a proposal is suggested do people nod in agreement or cross their arms and look stony-faced? Do people keep talking about one proposal in a positive way?
  • Make sure people stay on topic. It’s your job to keep everyone on track. Let one person go off topic and soon others will stray. If someone goes off topic I let them finish and then say “let’s deal with that later. Right now let’s focus on this topic.”
Third, when you sense the group is ready to start moving toward an actual decision.
How do you know when the group is ready to decide? Some signs include:
  • more than a few people are talking about implementing an idea.
  • there’s lots of nodding when someone talks about a proposal.
  • a clear proposal or series of proposals have surfaced.
  • people are repeating themselves.
Once you’re reached this point, state the proposals out loud and, ideally, write them down so people know what the options are. If necessary, you can amalgamate common proposals.
Then vote. If there are multiple proposals, it can help to ask everyone to vote once for their favorite proposal. If there’s a clear winner then you’re home free.
If you don’t have the votes to approve a proposal then it can help to ask the people who are opposing the most popular proposal to suggest ways this proposal could be improved so that they would support it. You could either make alterations at this point or send it to a designated team to come up with a better proposal to present at a future meeting. Delaying a decision is aways better than implementing a bad decision.
It’s wise to gauge whether the proposal has the support needed for successful implementation. Important decisions - such as deciding the group’s priority political campaign - should get the group’s near unanimous support, even if 51% is all that’s needed for formal approval.

7. Deal with the difficult people.

Difficult people might speak out of turn, get unnecessarily angry, talk too much, take over the meeting, or sabotage decisions.
As the facilitator, it is your job to deal with them and keep the rest of the group on track.
Here are some tips:
Know in advance if there are people attending who can be resistant to new ideas or the decision-making process. This gives you time to mentally prepare.
Use the power of the group. You could ask a few of the more influential participants to back you up if you need to ask the disrupter to change their behavior. For instance, I once was in a situation where one participant kept trying to take over the agenda and change the topic. Instead of trying to engage in a power struggle over the agenda I asked the group if they wanted to stay on the current topic or move to the topic this person was suggesting. The group said they wanted to stay on the current topic.
Refer to the ground rules. For instance, if someone is constantly interrupting others, it is helpful to go back to the ground rules that were presented at the beginning of the meeting. Two of those ground rules could be 1) no interrupting others and 2) make sure everyone has a chance to voice their opinion. If they break the rules then you can remind them that the group agreed that these were the rules of the meeting.
You - or someone in the group - could even have a one-on-one conversation with the problem person so that you are aware of their concerns and they know that disruptive behavior is detrimental to the productivity of the meeting. Sometimes people simply don't understand how effective meetings work.
Sometimes difficult people have genuine concerns and the group’s failure to act on their ideas has prompted this person to be difficult because they feel ignored. These larger issues should be addressed by the group.

Source: Jessica Bell
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