Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What's Your Deal, Baby?

Image via Cambridge YMCA

This HuffPost article by Leila de Bruyne got me thinking because there's a lot of good information to be mined from it, like the lesson that when we volunteer in another country we should be mindful that we're not actually doing for free what a resident would be doing for a living.

That would definitely be poor social communication.

Are Overseas Programs Desperate for Volunteers?

I don't know. I've never looked into it because my focus is primarily on my backyard here in California. And here, like many other places, small nonprofits can have problems recruiting volunteers, despite the pool of (sometimes reluctant), court-ordered community service folks.

So, when we get our mitts on a volunteer or intern, we may be so overjoyed at being able to get that one pesky task done at last, or thrilled to be able to off-load that chore and clear our checklist a little, that we may not take that volunteer's interests into account.

Why Are You Here?

I've mentioned before that I believe it's a mistake to put a new volunteer to work without taking the time to interview. Just because you aren't paying them or don't expect them to stick around (your court-ordered community service 'volunteers'), doesn't meant you shouldn't take the time to get to know them beyond their names.

Why did they choose your nonprofit? Does it align with any other goals? What do they hope to achieve for themselves by working here? What expectations might they have about the work they'll be doing?

Naturally, the answers may be a little disappointing. Maybe she picked your nonprofit because she figured the work would be easy. Maybe he doesn't have any goals beyond serving his time or getting the community service box ticked off on his high school list of things-to-do. Perhaps the expectations are for simple tasks, quickly accomplished.

And then, again, maybe the answers will surprise you, and give you a moment's pause to consider what this person should be giving their effort to.

How About An Exit Interview?

Have you ever asked a volunteer if their efforts had caused any change in how they perceive your nonprofit, nonprofits in general, or your mission in particular? Whether they would be likely to volunteer in the future and in what ways?

Each volunteer is important beyond the work they do for you. Each one has the power to encourage you and others, continue to support your work, become a future staffer or long-term donor.

Attitude - Yours and Theirs

Keep that thought in mind as you consider them, particularly if they are younger - many of us who are parents tend to group younger volunteers with our own kids and this is a mistake. Older volunteers are more likely to give time to causes that resonate with them, but knowing they share your vision in general terms doesn't make their viewpoints, goals, and expectations any less worth hearing. They may be just different enough to provide some good perspective. And in any case, it can only help to know how your stakeholders view your work.

There's a lot to be said for taking a turn at volunteer work out of the country, but there's definitely a lot that can be learned right in your own backyard, from your own volunteers.

By The Way

I'm glad to announce my first guest blogger here at Social Media Birdbrain. Her name is Erin Palmer and she works with Villanova University in Florida. I'm looking forward to her post on finding a nonprofit role model.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Are You Mental? Of Course You Are

This week didn't have to have a Friday the 13th in it for me to know it was going to be challenging. Dog sick. Car sick. As early as Tuesday, I knew I was in for it. But while waiting to hear from my dog's vet and my car's mechanic, I came across a couple of interesting items that might have some bearing on social communications, among other things in your small nonprofit world.

Automatic Drive

This piece from the UK based PsyBlog describes how keeping ourselves a little bit in the dark about our progress can help us keep our motivation high. The results of the study mentioned show that everything has its good and bad sides, and cognitive biases are no different. Although biases like the Dunning-Kruger effect and the worse-than-average effect can be problematic, the bias to over or under estimate our progress can help us to maximize our efforts toward our goals. After you've read the article, think about how these biases may be affecting your mission goals.

Predictably Irrational

This book by Dan Ariely, a professor at Duke, was on my list for a while and I finally got around to starting it while hanging about in the vet and mechanic waiting rooms. Ariely is an excellent writer, with a talent for breaking down his experiments and their results into something easily-digestible. And what does he experiment on?

The 'hidden forces that shape our decisions.'

I don't think you'll have to go far to understand how knowing why and how we choose to do one thing over another can affect how you perceive yourself and your stakeholders. Further, I think reading this book may have influence on how you structure projects or experiment with social communications.

For example, in one experiment on procrastination, he and his team discovered that students who are dictated deadlines for papers ended up scoring better than those who set their own deadlines (second-best grades) and those who had no deadlines (worst grades):
"Interestingly, these results suggest that although almost everyone has problems with procrastination, those who recognize and admit their weakness are in a better position to utilize available tools for precommitment and by doing so, help themselves overcome it."
The insights and experiments are extremely well-drawn and Ariely logically extends the results to such societal conundrums as sex-education and healthcare. Well worth reading. Here he is on YouTube:

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Now More Than Ever

This is what I believe in

We have been better. We can still be better. Strive for it.

By The Way

70% still believe, only 30% don't believe, only 70% still believe - it's all in the perspective. Remember this when you're engaging your small nonprofit in social communications.