Planning Group Organization: Take Two

In my last post, If at First You Don’t Succeed, Figure Out Why, I concluded with the statement:  “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.  I’ll share detailed information about our new organizational structure in my next blog post.”

Since this is that next blog post, it should be fairly obvious what it’s about—namely, the new organizational structure we’re trying with the Eastside Village PDX Planning Group. Our hope is that it will be easier to manage, more productive and give volunteers—especially those who are introverted—more specific ways to contribute that are tailored to their skills and temperaments.  So far, it’s gotten excellent reviews from the group, but it’s early days yet.

The logic behind the re-organization is that almost everything that needs to be done is either part of a project or its an ongoing activity.  What characterizes a PROJECT is that it is of limited duration and it has a beginning, middle and an end. So, for example, here are some of the current projects being worked on by Eastside Village PDX volunteers:

  • Designing, distributing and analyzing a Community Needs Assessment Survey
  • Our June 15th “It Takes a Village” event with AARP Oregon
  • Our August 2013 Rock’n’Roll Fundraiser
  • Tabling at Summer 2013 street fairs & other community events
  • Writing the business plan
  • Drafting the projected operational budget

Each of these projects has a beginning, middle and end. And although there may be many steps involved to execute each, once they are done, they’re done. Some will probably never happen again (like the community survey or the June 15th event).  Others will not be revisited until the following year or later (like summer tabling or writing the budget) and may involve a totally different team of people when that happens.

With projects, people work on them, then move to the next, where they have the opportunity to try on different roles if they like. Each project has its own timeline & project leader.  With many of the projects, there are going to be small roles to fill (like just showing up to help with day of event set-up) and large roles to fill (like being the point person for the project and coordinating it from start to finish). And though some of these projects may take considerable time to complete—like the survey project—it’s not an indefinite commitment.

The other side of the coin is what we are calling ONGOING ACTIVITIES.  These are tasks that are repeating, long-term, and operational—like entering the names of the people who attend Village 101 presentations into the database or updating the website or doing the bookkeeping and reporting on it each month to the planning group. And though an individual person may only do an activity for a finite period of time, once he or she leaves a replacement must be found, since the activity needs to go on.

Some activities take place behind the scenes, like writing grant reports or maintaining the Facebook page.  Others, like researching other Villages and interviewing their founders, require a mix of behind the scenes and outreach work. And the people who volunteer to solicit business sponsors have to be very comfortable with being out in public and making a persuasive case for support.

After listing all the activities, we discovered that they could be loosely grouped by focus or function. For example, some are marketing activities, some are financial activities,  some are research activities and so forth.  This allows us to assign someone from the coordinating team to oversee each of these  groups of activities and to work with the people doing them.

Although we describe all the people doing financial type activities as being on the “Financial Activities Team”, there will rarely be a reason for all of them to meet as a group and many of the tasks can be done solo. So if you’re the kind of person who hates going to meetings, one of these may be perfect for you. On the other hand, if you like working in a small group, being part of a team that plans social activities may be just the ticket.  Different strokes for different folks, and lots of options to choose from.

So here are the ongoing activities we have come up with so far:

Research Activities Team (members work independently on research assignments)

  • Researching other villages
  • Researching existing resources in the Village’s service area & creating database entries

 Programming Activities Team (members work primarily in small groups)

  • Planning social activities
  • Planning educational programs

 Financial Activities Team (some members work independently on discrete, assigned tasks; others work in small groups)

  • Donor recordkeeping & gift processing
  • Bookkeeping—income & expenses
  • Monthly & annual financial reporting
  • Managing transactions with fiscal sponsor
  • Grant research, writing, tracking & reporting
  • Preparing budgets for grant applications and funders
  • Planning fundraising campaigns/activities in order to finance start-up expenses and build reserve pre-launch
  • Designing supporters program & soliciting business supporters
  • Soliciting underwriters for fundraising events

 Volunteer Coordination Activities Team (members primarily work independently on discrete, assigned tasks)

  • Tracking volunteers’ hours
  • Posting volunteer opportunities on Volunteer Match
  • Inviting interested volunteers to planning group meetings
  • Ongoing recruiting of non-service-delivery volunteers, finding their niche(s), & integrating them into the group
  • Following up with Village 101 presentation attendees post-presentation to identify their skills & interests
  • Recruiting volunteers for specific activities or projects
  • Developing list of volunteer opportunities for posting on website and including in newsletters & social media

 Marketing Activities Team (members primarily work independently on discrete, assigned tasks)

  • Data entry into Insightly —mailing list, email list, team members list, volunteer lists, other lists
  • Setting up & maintaining info distribution channel to neighborhood associations
  • Setting up & maintaining info distribution channel to fraternal organizations
  • Setting up & maintaining info distribution channel to other NPOs in our service area
  • Setting up & maintaining info distribution channel to key government agencies/ representatives (local, state and federal)
  • Ongoing social media, including maintaining Facebook pages
  • Submitting online calendar listings
  • Developing & updating website
  • Collecting outreach/marketing data generated from projects and adding it to the marketing databases
  • Responding to questions, emails, phone calls
  • Designing & producing flyers & other collaterals
  • Writing & producing e-newsletter
  • Writing & sending press releases
  • Adding to and updating press lists (print and online)
  • PR: Getting media coverage for Village events
  • Researching & arranging community event co-sponsorships
  • Setting up & maintaining info distribution channel to business associations
  • Getting info from survey team. Adding on to & maintaining info distribution channel to faith-based organizations
  • Coordinating Village 101 presentations: Reserving sites, booking speakers, & promoting the presentations
  • Speakers Bureau: Delivering informational presentations; doing interviews, PR appearances

 Coordinating Activities Team (leadership tasks. Members function as a team with delegated responsibilities)

  • Maintaining the master timeline, which shows how all projects integrate over the next 6+. Collecting this info from project leaders. Helping project managers set up their timelines
  • Tracking the work activities of the different teams and assisting as needed
  • Tracking the progress of projects and assisting as needed
  • Hosting & organizing monthly planning group meeting
  • Responding to unexpected turns-of-events & plugging holes as needed
  • Maintaining relationship with the Village-to-Village Network
  • Outreach to leadership of key PDX organizations & negotiating relationships
  • Prioritizing and sequencing projects and determining how many can be in play at any one time
  • Knowing what needs to be decided next by the planning group and bringing it to a vote/ decision
  • Knowing what needs to be started next & bringing it to the planning group’s attention
  • Compiling & sending out monthly planning group agendas

As you can see, some of these activities are absolutely necessary.  They need to happen for work to progress. An example of this would be maintaining our mailing list, email list, team members list, volunteer lists, etc. Others would be “helpful to have” but we can get by until we get someone to take it on. For example, setting up an information  distribution channel to the local business associations.

As I said before, this is a new system so we don’t yet know how well it will turn out in the long-run. So far though, being able to “chunk” tasks into discrete pieces and match them to volunteers’ skills and preferences is working out for us. The person who tracks the volunteer hours does not have to be the same person who follows up with people who have been to Village 101 presentations to get their reactions and try to get them involved. Both are important, but require different skills and take different amounts of time to accomplish.

I truly believe that it takes a village to build a Village. But I guess, like in a real village, everyone doesn’t have the same job.  Figuring out the right niche for people is a critical part of Village development and of ongoing Village operations.  So, well worth the effort it takes to learn how to do it well.

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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.