Addressing the Gap

I looked at the date of my last blog post and realize it was 8 months ago.  That’s a long time by anyone’s reckoning, and certainly far too long between blog posts.

So why the big gap?  Well, the short answer is that I’ve just been too busy to blog.  Since last July, the local Village movement has absolutely exploded.  In July 2013, there were only two spoke Villages in development: Eastside Village PDX on the east side of Portland and Village Without Walls out in Washington County.  Now, 8 months later, there are SIX (6) spoke Villages in development: Eastside Village, Village Without Walls, RISE Village (11 neighborhoods south of Powell), Northeast Village PDX (multiple neighborhoods north of I-84), Viva Village! (serving Beaverton and beyond), and  an as-yet-unnamed Village in Lake Oswego.

We are also doing lots of presentations in North Portland and in the South Portland/Multnomah Village/John’s Landing area, and it seems likely that, before summer, two more spoke Villages will have gotten under way.

All of this is great and exactly what we wanted to have happen when we created Villages NW to serve as the catalyst, incubator, and hub for Villages across the metro-area. But to say it is time consuming to be midwifing EIGHT Villages would be an understatement of epic proportions.

In order to make sure another 8 months doesn’t pass before my next blog post, I have decided to open up my blog to some of the other local Village founders, so they can do some of the writing.   So stay tuned for some new voices on this blog in the days/weeks to come.

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Why Join a Village if You Can Pay for Anything You Need?

I was recently asked by someone who attended a Village 101 presentation, “I understand why people would join a Village if they wanted an affordable way to age in place. But why would someone who is affluent and can afford to pay for anything he/she might need do it?”

Even though I thought I knew the answer, I decided to post the question on the national Village-to-Village network forum and see what some of the Villages with very affluent members had to say.  Here’s one of my favorite answers:

“Financial resources do not protect against universal life changes and challenges.  Our members are joining to make new friends and feel useful after leaving the workplace; make new connections upon the loss of a spouse/ partner; have moved to a new area or are a long time resident whose friends have moved on; are faced with health issues that increase isolation or diminish financial resources; or simply have a desire to support the community.

 Having “connections” is also good for your health and well-being as shown in lots of research studies.  We also appreciate that, as we age, it’s harder to initiate things and make decisions.  Villages offer convenience with just one phone call to access programs and services already in place.   Makes life simpler.

 There are also benefits in having an economically-diverse Village where people can share both their unique and common experiences — whether it’s a special recipe, fun places to take a walk and explore the neighborhood, ways to save money (which even folks with a lot of money may wish to do), doctor recommendations, travel tips, where to give things away (even ball gowns!)   

The collective of skills found in a village volunteer corps is also quite valuable. For example, computer tech help is a popular request from all members, even members who may otherwise be well-connected or with means. Also, sometimes you do not want to burden friends. Through the Village, members know the volunteer responding to the request for help has the time and wants to help for the specific need of the member.

For those who like to travel or are away in the summer/ winter months, Village members enjoy reciprocity with other Villages around the US through the National Village Exchange — a great way to learn about a new place, get restaurant/hotel recommendations, make new friends.

 Lastly, If someone with resources is reluctant to join as a member, offer them opportunities to volunteer. They will soon see the many, many ways a Village adds to quality of life.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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.