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Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

Elliott* emailed a coworker about a report the new boss wanted and remarked on her unrealistic, demanding ways.  The coworker sent the final report attached to a long chain of emails, which mistakenly included his comment, copied to the boss.

Elliott knew that his coworker didn’t intend to send this (his coworker had sent him similar remarks about her via email), but accident or not, the damage had been done, and his supervisor immediately reprimanded him for his poor attitude and “not being a team player.”

Although Elliott was apologetic, staff meetings seemed stressful after that, and he felt that in her eyes, he either couldn’t do anything right, or was just barely tolerated.  A couple of months later, his annual review reflected that feeling as well.

Elliott didn’t believe that his manager had been on board long enough (less than half a year) to give him an annual review, but he reported to her, and that was company policy.  He got “average” or “below average” in each category – a far cry below his previous year’s review.

Shortly after that, the company fell on difficult times, and when layoffs came around, he was in the round of people let go.  While most of the staff affected were those employed with the company less than two years, Elliott had nearly five years with the company, but was told that his position would be “redundant with the restructuring planned.”

In addition to regular job searching techniques that I provide clients, I worked with Elliott on how we could Fix It! at his new position, to help him avoid making the same mistakes again, or getting caught in a similar trap.  In the end, the quality of his work mattered very little, once he had been viewed negatively by his manager.

The first thing I advised Elliott to do was to upgrade his phone to a smart phone, so that he could entirely separate his personal communications from his work communications – phone calls and emails.  With a smart phone, there would be no reason for him ever to make any personal calls or emails using company equipment (which can be – and often is – monitored).  I also advised him to limit the amount of time spent during work hours on any personal communications, including social media channels, such as Facebook.

Second, I googled Elliott via several different searches, including combinations of his name, nickname(s), past employers, clubs, schools, associations, emails, etc. and showed him what results I got.  He was surprised at the results when I included the photo sites as well.  This was an eye opener to Elliott about the power of the web and social media in general, and the need for discretion online.  When I explained that many employers ask for permission to check credit sites and other protected information, so they will learn much more than I was able to find, this became even more of a wake-up call.

Obviously, Elliott didn’t need to be told not to put any disparaging comments in writing in the future.  Not only did he recently suffer the consequences, but there have been several examples in the press of foolish postings online.  However, I did mention the need for good etiquette in the workplace and how far networking can help down the line.  A recent study showed that basic courtesy appears to be sadly lacking, in most people’s opinions, which makes it that much more appreciated when displayed.

It took Elliott much longer to find his next position, due to his not having a strong reference from his previous job, as well as being let go, but once he got hired, he made a point to display a positive outlook and demeanor, and keep his private life – and communications – separate from his work life as much as possible.

He has been complimented for his professionalism on more than one occasion, and plans on keeping it that way.

Faye* had been in her position for nearly a year, when she felt blindsided with the news that she was being let go from her position.  The reasons that she was given were all totally unfounded, she felt.  She even considered consulting an attorney, but decided to start with her direct supervisor, since the news came from top management.

For example, she was told that she failed to reach her stated goals, and this was completely untrue.  She hoped that her director would advocate for her, since he knew her work better than upper management.

It would take a couple of days for Faye to pull together all of her necessary figures and have everything completely and accurately prepared.  She asked for a meeting with the necessary parties at the end of the week, which would give her enough time to have an adequate rebuttal, she believed.

The day before her meeting, Faye learned that not only had upper management decided to remove her, but her director had been given a termination notice as well.  Apparently, the nonprofit organization’s budget was suffering so terribly, the board had decided to make drastic reductions.

Faye heard talk of a possible audit, as well as chatter of how she wasn’t the first person in her position to be removed in under a year for an ambiguous “failure to perform,” reason, and she felt betrayed . . . and a bit naïve.  She also wondered about the overall health of the organization.

Rather than consult an attorney and try to fight for a job with an organization that might not even be able to pay her if she won, Faye decided to consult me on how to seek a job with a healthier organization overall.

I coached her that certainly part of due diligence is to search a nonprofit’s 990, but that is only the beginning.  More research must be done.  Particularly with the news that many nonprofits may have fraudulently filed their paperwork in order to meet recent deadlines.

Faye and I spent time reviewing certain warning signs about certain types of organizations and/or job listings that will indicate she should Forget It! and not bother applying, because they may well be a very transient organization.  This included questions to include during interviews for organizations, to ensure that they plan on being around several years from now.  (Are they preparing for the future, or are they scarcely catching up to yesterday in a desperate attempt?)

She also found useful the LinkedIn organizational listings of employees, which showed their longevity with the organizations, indicating their general health.  Also, simply whether or not an organization bothered to have its own LinkedIn listing was an indicator of how seriously it took itself in the world of social media, for one thing.

While older, larger organizations tend to be viewed as more stable, Faye didn’t limit herself only to these, and she ended up working at a mid-sized nonprofit that was less than twenty years old.  It has a well-rounded combination of new and veteran employees, and she feels more secure than she has in a while.

If you’ve been laid off, what signs of stability or other factors do you strive for with your next employer?

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

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Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

Similar Posts:

Wanda* and Yvette* progress from interviews to offers

Whitney*, Yolanda* and Zelda* grapple with employers taking advantage of the recession

Edward* and Gabrielle* strive for recognition from their bosses


Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basket

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Most fundraisers know not to rely on only one source of income, whether it’s grants, mail, events, etc. The same applies with social media and marketing. While Facebook is a valuable tool, it’s essential to expand your reach as much as possible.

Facebook is where many organizations ventured into social media initially, and some learned the hard way that if you don’t follow its rules, your account can be suspended or terminated for various violations, including:

•     adding/inviting too many friends at once
•     exporting your friends’ emails out of Facebook
•     exceeding the 500 “limit” on the number of fans (groups – prior to pages)
•     creating duplicate accounts (many people made a “personal” and a separate “business” account)

Policies have existed that stopped service for other fundraising or marketing efforts as well. Some have been temporary, such as when Verizon made a unilateral decision to block text messages sent by a single nonprofit that they deemed “controversial or unsavory,” despite the fact that they were being sent to constituents who had subscribed to receive them. This represented a significant market share of recipients who were blocked, but enough voices protested that Verizon soon reversed their decision.

Other decisions are not so temporary, such as the Girl Scouts’ continuing refusal to allow girls to sell cookies online, which leaves a large part of the market out of reach, despite protests to the contrary. In cases like this, it’s all the more important that an organization diversify to compensate.

A more recent decision announced about Delicious deciding to end operations of its site was met with a swift and immediate reaction by its many users, to the point of starting a petition in an attempt to buy it from Yahoo so that it could continue operating.

Further information was later revealed – although Yahoo took days to respond – that Delicious will continue to exist, and Yahoo appears to be seeking a buyer. This prompted discussion on the Chronicle of Philanthropy about how to compensate for Delicious and other social media tools that might disappear one day.

It is essential to have a backup plan for each one of your tools and applications, just as you would for your staff if a member of your team was out on vacation or sick.

For example, your social media manager no doubt schedules your posts to your Facebook page(s), Twitter account(s) and other channels via a dashboard, such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck or some other platform, as well as using a preferred URL shortener like bit.ly or ow.ly.

Although your staff has become accustomed to whichever you are currently using, what if service were down on that application/platform? If your organization had an account with at least one other company already in place, then your service to your constituents would be more likely to go uninterrupted. (Some of these companies recently altered terms for what types of service they would provide for free vs. what would now cost a monthly or annual fee, so many organizations had to alter or expand their accounts anyway.)

Another unexpected change to your marketing plan could be that you might even find part of your logo, slogan or color challenged and have to alter or remove it – at least for a while, as you fight it out in court.

It’s important to remember that all of your social media and marketing efforts should be viewed as supplemental to your organization’s website, and all roads should lead back here, where you have ultimate control over your message. Driving traffic home should be your overall goal with online endeavors.

As you make plans and navigate your 2011marketing, social media and fundraising campaigns, track them the best that you can, in order to measure your areas of difficulty as well as your successes. You also want to understand which channels are getting the best response rates, and much more.

Analytics don’t have to be as difficult as they might seem, and when done correctly, they will help you to modify your website and overall strategy so that they are working for you, instead of the other way around.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

“We’ve been doing it this way for a long time now,” Reggie’s* boss told him.  “We don’t need you to come in and change what we’re doing – just make it MORE successful!”  At this reaction to his suggestions on ways to raise money, Reggie was at a loss.

Reggie worked at a small nonprofit which was managed by the founding director, who knew its entire history and was used to things operating “the way they always have.”  He approached me for counseling after hearing me teach a seminar at a conference, because he was regrettably considering leaving his job of only six months.

“I love all these new ideas I’ve been hearing today,” Reggie told me, “Unfortunately, I don’t believe I’ll be able to implement any of them where I work!

“When I suggested that we test different packages against one another,” Reggie lamented, “I was told that it would ‘cost too much money to run essentially two or three of the same thing’!”  He became very frustrated that he was expected to raise more money, yet held to repeating what had already been done for years.

Upon further scrutiny, we realized that Reggie’s organization’s base income relied very heavily on direct mail, while his executive director pursued several grants and met with the few major donors they had.  It was clear that this director was not willing to permit any significant changes in the mail program that had been paying the bills for so many years.

Reggie also conceded that, if there was a way that he felt that he could actually do his job, he’d rather not leave it.  He liked the organization and believed in its mission, and the location and hours worked well with his current family situation.  Currently, though, he didn’t feel that he would raise significant enough funds with his hands tied to get a favorable review anyway, so unless he could find a way to change something, he felt that he may as well pre-empt the failure that was sure to come.

I asked Reggie if he was willing to put the additional time that would be invested in a job search into extra time at this job instead – pursuing other means of income for his organization.  Although his director was insistent on the mail being done “the way it’s always been,” there was still room for expansion in their funding sources.  Since Reggie liked to write, what if he wrote and submitted additional grant proposals, for example?

Another source of funding that was woefully lacking at his organization that seemed to interest Reggie was online giving.  This would also be an investment of time – and planning with others in his IT department.  Since there wasn’t a lot of ownership in this area, though, Reggie wouldn’t be stepping on anyone’s toes – and he could develop the program mostly according to his ideas . . . learned at the conference.

Reggie liked both ideas and was careful to put the emphasis on helping with grants when proposing it to his director, who welcomed the assistance in possibly getting more funding.  She was more skeptical about online giving, but permitted him to pursue it – as long as it didn’t interfere with his other duties.

Although Reggie did spend more hours in the office taking these projects on board, he was able to Fix It! and stay in the location close to his home and work for an organization that interested him.  His grant proposals yielded a couple of new small funders, and the director is more pleased than she expected to be to have online giving up and running on their website.  While initial gifts are still small and sparse, they continue to increase each quarter, and Reggie’s review was quite positive after his first year.

Suzanne* was hired to assist with managing special events at her nonprofit, and she did it quite well: She booked speakers and venues, sent out invitations and announcements, tracked RSVPs, etc.  She was not only adept on the phone, but with personal and mass email, as well as social media.  She sat outside her manager’s office, and they worked well together.

When the organization hit difficult economic times – as many have – they relocated to new office space, and Suzanne’s cubicle moved to sit with many, many other assistants in a central location.  She missed being next to her director, but didn’t anticipate much difficulty.  After all, they could talk on the phone or simply email one another.

What Suzanne didn’t realize at first was how little work many other people did in comparison to her.  Initially, she simply thought that she was having trouble concentrating on her work with so many other people nearby.  Later, she saw that a good portion of most of their day was spent talking – and not just talking, but gossiping.

It seemed that the conversations couldn’t simply be about the organization’s events, or current events, or even the weather – someone was always criticizing someone else’s department or a specific individual.  The topic didn’t really matter, either: today it might be her outfit; tomorrow it was his marriage; the next day, it was how bad a mother she was; his haircut, and so on . . .

Suzanne decided early on at this new location that she would never make a personal phone call at her desk, yet she knew that leaving the area to take a call on her cell phone simply made her fodder for the conversation, because she had already witnessed too often that the absent person was the one talked about most.  Her resolution was to communicate very little personally, and text anytime she had to talk to friends while at work.

While this solution did limit the amount of personal information her co-workers had about her, it didn’t bring the desired result of keeping Suzanne from the animosity she witnessed.  They judged her as being distant and aloof, and, as she feared, they resented being compared to her diligence on the job.

What resulted was a systematic turn of events, where Suzanne was left out of various office-wide updates, such as how to work new equipment that all other assistants were briefed on (“Oh, didn’t you know about that orientation meeting?”), and continuing, increasing contempt, mixed with gossip, which was frequently about her.  It now seemed that, if something failed to get communicated to the powers-that-be, for example, one of the assistants often claimed that it was last given to Suzanne to deliver it.

Suzanne decided that if she was going to spend so much energy in addition to her job, she’d rather it be spent looking for a way out of that environment, so opted to Forget It! and we began her job search immediately.

When she was a final candidate for the position she ultimately accepted, Suzanne told her director the reason for her departure, and, although she was sorry to see her go, her boss was understanding and provided a strong reference.  They still remain in touch with one another.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

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Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

Similar Posts:

Deirdra* and Edith* handle unhealthy work environments

My Director Will Never Go For That

The three basic types of nonprofit workers


How Many Kinds of Phonathons Are There, Anyway?

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Doris* trained her new committee members to get comfortable speaking to donors by starting them talking on the phone. She wanted them to have repeat exposure for the practice, so she designed a thank-a-thon, and it was very successful!

After Doris’ committee spent time – together – that week, chatting with donors to express their gratitude for gifts already given, it was a much smaller step later that year to have them back when it was time to call other supporters and ask them to give or renew to the organization. By then, the committee members had more knowledge of the organization and its mission, so that they could converse, rather than sound scripted or fearful.

Eventually, the most talented of the volunteers moved up to join the board and accompanied her on donor visits. However, this was not only an excellent way to start them in training, but also to reach out and touch more donors than she possibly could herself – both by thanking them and later by soliciting them!

Ethan* also ended up holding an atypical phonathon . . . by accident. While he was discussing what event he and his committee could put on next season to attract donors, learn about his organization’s mission, and ultimately give to the cause, nobody could reach consensus on the type of event that would be best.

After several more suggestions, it became apparent that most people agreed on two things:

●      The committee members were very supportive of the mission and would encourage their friends and associates to attend, contribute, etc.
●      These were extremely busy, professional people, who had full calendars, and a high attendance at any one function seemed unlikely.

Some suggested conducting a non-event, which would pay respect to people’s lower budgets in a tight economy, but it was decided that losing the personal touch would hurt the bottom line.

During the week of the phonathon, Ethan not only invested in dinner and prizes for the committee members, but he backed up these efforts with an email appeal and a direct mail piece.

Similar to software used during a marathon by individual runners, each volunteer was given temporary accounts, so that they could either send “Thank You” or “Sorry I Missed You” emails to their contacts, and it integrated with the organization software – yet it bore the name of the recipient’s friend, [johnsmith@company.org]. Because the software was accessible and user-friendly, a great many (new) names and contact information were entered into the database during this event.

Direct mail follow up also brought in a good amount of donations after the event. Either after voicemail was reached, or the constituent replied, “Send me something in the mail,” a form was filled out (and data entered into the system) and mailed with a return envelope.

Ethan says it worked out so well, the committee has decided to repeat their peer-to-peer call-a-thon for the following year.

There are also non profits that have established annual (or ongoing) phonathon events, either with paid or volunteer workers. They call current and lapsed donors, as well as non donors, and consider phonathon simply just another part of their Annual Giving program.

Fiona* takes phonathon very seriously, and has made several changes to her event that have paid off well over the years.

“For one thing,” she says, “I noticed that getting the donor to commit on the phone with a credit card right now was crucial, rather than sending them information in the mail, and hoping they’d come through. Even if they intend to, people forget. Also, our average credit card gift on the phone is higher than the gifts by mail.”

Fiona was already giving incentives to the phonathon workers for gifts acquired at $X amount or above, but she changed the incentive plan to credit card gifts only, and saw a drastic difference – within a year, the percentage of gifts on credit card had doubled, as had overall income!

Some additional factors most likely helped, she believes. For example, Fiona paid close attention to the script, encouraging callers to ask, “WHICH credit card would you like to put this on?” instead of “Would you like to put this on your credit card?”

By the same token, when asking people to contribute, Fiona would have callers mention two suggested amounts, based on giving history, followed by “HOW MUCH would you be able to contribute?” rather than “Would you be able to contribute?”

Fiona also took care to have callers track and/or verify all contact information and follow up with a direct mail piece, either thanking people or allowing them to pay by mail. She took it a step further than simply sending a reply envelope, however, and included a trackable hyperlink, encouraging people to donate online. She had also researched and learned that her online gifts were larger than those by mail.

While the nature of phonathon has changed, and no two events are exactly the same, this event still has a place in many non profit organizations. It’s simply important to adapt it to your needs and schedule, rather than dismiss it with entirely negative connotations.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

Fix It Or Forget It?

Friday, November 19th, 2010

Whitney,* a middle marketing manager, attended a staff briefing, where the VP was explaining various processes performed by each department.  She counted him using the word minion in his presentation at least half a dozen times.

There is evidence that the pendulum is slowly swinging back in favor of employees, but a great many employers have used the desperate times of the last few years to take advantage.  This doesn’t look to fare well for them as the market opens up again.

Companies would do better to view their employees more as they do their customers: assets.  Over the next year or two, the organizations that will retain more people and avoid large turnovers will be the ones who made a point to communicate regularly, openly and honestly with their staff, and this isn’t strictly about salary.

Being appreciated for a job well done is something that everyone wants, whether they are in non profit or for profit.  Certainly, pay is also a factor for nearly everyone, but it is simply one of several means of demonstrating respect for a worker’s time, experience and skill, along with title, benefits, vacation, etc.

This week’s Fix It Or Forget It? stories come from contributors who have found it difficult to be with employers who make it known that they “hold all the cards”:

Yolanda* tells of a staff meeting she attended a couple of years ago, when the economy was seriously troubled.  She is a middle aged woman in an all-women department.  Her (woman) director paused during the agenda and yielded the floor to a specific staff member, to make an announcement.  It turned out that she delivered the news that she was pregnant, and everyone congratulated her.  What followed was abrupt and unexpected, however.

“As the director attempted to close the pregnancy news and return to the meeting, I guess, she turned to another young woman on staff and (jokingly?) informed her that she’d better not be thinking about going on maternity leave anytime soon!  Then, she turned to the other/older side of the table – what she apparently deemed ‘the barren women’ (?) – and remarked, ‘I know I don’t have to worry about (all of) you!’ and laughed.  It was difficult to know what was most offensive,” Yolanda recounts.

The meeting progressed, and at the conclusion, Yolanda decided that taking any further action regarding someone so insensitive would probably prove pointless, and possibly antagonistic.  She decided to Fix It! by making a concerted effort to leave all personal details out of her conversations, her office and her computer, opting not to have any personal communications, such as documents, email or phone calls, other than on her handheld device.

Yolanda wanted to keep her job in this economy, but saw no reason to engage someone who would probably only use personal information against her, so why provide any at all?  She’s tried to keep things as distant and professional as possible.

Zelda* started in her position a few years ago initially as a temporary hire, and was glad to get the position, considering the economy.  She made the most of her Administrative Assistant post at her non profit, always seeking additional work, and was hired on permanently in less than a year, although it was made clear to her that there would be no increase in her pay, unfortunately.

Zelda was enterprising in her position, however, and learned enough about social media that she created the organization’s Facebook and Twitter channels and built a fairly significant following over the next year and a half.  She also diligently documented her work and was successful in acquiring a summer intern to further the project at no cost to the organization.

When it became clear to management that the organization had to take social media seriously (because Zelda had made it so successful by now), she responded to their request and wrote up a proposal for a permanent staff position of Social Media Director.  Zelda fully expected to be considered for the position, although she could understand the legal requirements of publicly posting the position and interviewing other applicants prior to management’s deciding who to hire.

Zelda was stunned when her director later informed her that the job description needed to be amended to require a college degree, and since she didn’t have one, she would be ineligible to apply; however, he expected her to train the new Social Media Director, once s/he was hired, on everything she had accomplished thus far!

Zelda decided to Forget It! and immediately began scanning job listings for people with expertise in social media.  It turned out that there are quite a few now, and her wait wasn’t as long as it might have been a couple of years ago.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

___________________________________________________________________________________
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

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