If At First You Don’t Succeed, Figure Out Why

As a planning group, we have been working on the Eastside Village PDX  since last summer. And although all major decisions are made by the entire 20+ member group (i.e. Village name, geographic boundaries, age for members), we quickly decided to divide into committees in order to have a way to meet and work in small groups.

Members chose the committee they wanted to work on, based on the objectives that were listed as the responsibility for each of the committees. For example, the Programs & Services Committee was responsible for researching services for seniors already being delivered within the Village’s service area, and also for developing, distributing and analyzing the results of a community needs assessment survey.  The Business & Revenue Committee was charged with developing a draft operating budget for the Village’s first 3 years and writing the business plan.  The Outreach Committee was responsible for developing a Speakers’ Bureau and a very long list of other PR and marketing tasks, and the Fundraising Committee had the tasks of writing grants and managing our fundraising events & campaigns.

In some cases this structure worked admirably. We got the first grant we applied for and raised some money through an end-of-year campaign. We set up a Speakers Bureau and got some publicity in local papers.  We developed a preliminary operating budget and have almost completed the first draft on the business plan.  All good things. All progress.

But overall, there were problems with this structure.  People had to sit on too many committees and go to too many meetings, it was too hard for the coordinating team to oversee, and it was difficult for some people to find the right fit for themselves, especially the “behind-the-scenes” people (aka the introverts).

We learned that fit was a problem when the committee working on the survey ran into a wall.  As long as the committee’s activities were confined to researching surveys from other Villages and deciding what items to include in our own, everything was copacetic and the committee members were all happy campers. But as soon as the second phase came into play—developing and setting up the distribution plan for the survey–all forward movement came to an erupt stop.  Why? Because setting up a distribution plan requires OUTREACH.  You actually have to email, call and meet with community organizations, businesses, churches, and senior centers to ask them if they will help get the survey out to their customers/members.  You don’t just get to stay behind the scenes in your small group and do research.

I admit to being dumbfounded when this happened. After all, setting up a distribution plan had been part of this committee’s to-do list from the start.  How did these people think that was going to happen if they didn’t do outreach?  The answer: They had convinced themselves that  the OUTREACH Committee was going to do it for them.  So, when they learned this wasn’t the case, they didn’t know what to do except protest, drag their feet, and ultimately quit.

To be fair, some of the less introverted members of the committee admirably rose to the challenge and started doing survey outreach.  But for the die-hard introverts, being asked to do outreach–even as part of a team, even with someone else accompanying them, even for their own project–was just too difficult.  And unfortunately, despite offering to take them off the survey team and find behind the scenes work for them, several of them still left, which was very sad.

In many ways, this was the first real crisis the coordinating team has faced and it motivated us to do a lot of analysis to try to figure out what happened and how to prevent it from happening again. One of the outcomes is that from now on we will be much more careful to match volunteers with tasks that fit their temperaments.  We have also discarded our committee structure and re-divided our work into projects and ongoing activities, which gives volunteers much more control over what they do and how public they need to be.    But enough for today.  I’ll share detailed information about our new organizational structure in my next blog post.

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