Monday, January 2, 2017

Creating effective Multi-Person Volunteer Groups

Creating effective Multi-Person Volunteer Groups as Unincorporated groups, Incorporated Associations or "Not For Profit" entities (Trust, Company, ...)

Comments derived from my experiences of NonProfits & Volunteer groups, using my research on Australian Skeptics Inc as a small case study.


I've been involved in many ways, directly & indirectly, with a raft of different Volunteer groups, Associations and Not For Profit's over 5 decades.

Nobody escaped a childhood in the 1950's/60's without being exposed to Churches, Boy Scouts and the many 'look alike' groups for young people.

I've stood in the rain at a polling booth handing out "how to vote" cards, been part of the first protest at 'New' Parliament House to form a human chain around it, and have been active in many Professional Associations, including from cradle-to-grave of AUUG, helped run ACS in Canberra and co-founded & ran SAGE-AU in Canberra for years.
For two decades I've been a passive member of 'PCUG' and an active contributor to the "non-association" CLUG and many more.
Having owned a Home Unit in Sydney and lived in many units, flats and houses, I've negotiated the shoals & politics of Body Corporates and neighbourhood groups.

I also created and led the most successful non-Corporate Fund Raiser & resulting named 'Chair' at Uni of NSW in memory of John Lions, the creator of AUUG.

Those lifelong experiences with Managing within, and the Management of, small to large Enterprises, including "Not for Profits", led me to ask "is this as good as it gets", leading to active study of the field.
My professional experience with poor Team Leadership, ineffective Team Project Management and poor take-up and implementation of Systems led to a study of "Change Agents".

What struck me forcefully, was the consistency with which otherwise smart & informed people took on new roles and assumed "I can do this with no training, mentoring or advice".
What compounds problems in especially small groups & Associations, is this "no learning required" attitude becomes normalised and accepted, with an absence of good management & follow-up, no formal job descriptions, task guidelines and allocation and good governance, transparency, accountability and behavioural guidelines.

There were no Briefings & Job handovers between old and new committee, nor any sense that 'key people' contingency plans and succession planning were critical to growth, even survival.
Corporate Memory and the value of high-performing Teams are routinely ignored or devalued.

These functions were mostly catered for in two ways:
  • 'permanent' committee members, especially Secretary & Treasurer, who perform the these roles for years on end.
  • paid permanent staff
The worst omissions in "good management & effective operations" were the ignorance about running efficient & effective Meetings and the need to separate formal meetings, 'Ideas & Brain-Storming' and socialisation. That this is a common area of weakness in all Organisations I've worked with or for, suggests the cause.

What I saw repeated many times is "Nature Abhors a Vacuum".
In the absence of good Leadership by the elected Committee, the paid staff took over as the Power Players, which I got to observe and confirm firsthand from inside one.
Very seldom did the Committee even understand, let alone contest, this usurping of their roles.
Paid staff don't have to impede & stonewall for long to win any contest for power - Committees come and go, the only constant are the Staff.

Nobody talks about this reality of Power & Control being ceded to the paid staff, often a single individual, and subtly over years.
Even with the best of intentions, 'the' administrator will assume effective control of the Association.
I've seen Professional Managers running Body Corporates assume Control identically, consuming 75+% of fees.

In smaller groups, the 'administrator' who assumes control is either unpaid or part-time.

In the "Complete Guide" by Smith, Bucklin Inc - the people who invented the "Association Management" business in the 1930's - there's a detailed description of the evolution of Volunteer & NonProfits, the predictable challenges of evolution, growth and change.

Growth and change are linked.
If any organisation wants, or needs, to grow, it will have change thrust on it and it's customers/base, people, management, staff and processes have to accomodate the new reality.
Change Resistance and Denial/Avoidance, especially "this is how we've always done it", will inexorably lead to organisational paralysis, customer or 'base' frustration & disenchantment then inevitable collapse and dissolution.

Unless a group can let go of its past and embrace new structures, processes and people, it will be remain 'stuck', no matter how important, useful, relevant or good its message.
What nobody discusses is the reverse path, once an organisation has peaked and is de-evolving, winding back the organisation and downsizing, especially laying off paid-staff, is very difficult.

Change Management, and effective leadership of it, has been researched and written about for over a century.
It's a very well researched field with well documented results, but largely ignored in Management, especially so in Volunteer Groups and Associations.

One of the most important Theoretical books on Social & Community Change Management came late in the 20th Century, 1998, from a couple of French consultants / practitioners:
"Managing Sensitive Projects".

Any Special Interest Group that wishes to influence Public Policy or public attitudes and concerns, to be effective in their work needs to understand this framework.

The flip-side of this discussion is that very often the people who seek power within Associations or Special Interest Groups aren't interested in being Efficient or Effective.
People can have multiple simultaneously motivations & desires, even conflicting. They can start with 'pure intentions' as non-political results-focussed players and change over time.

The organisational test is "Are there precisely articulated and achievable goals which are actively progressed?".
Broadly, committee members can be classified as 'talkers' or 'doers'. Unfortunately, there are many 'doers' who are there for their own good, no other.

People's motivations for joining groups and seeking 'position' can be many and varied, including:
  • leveraging their volunteer position for their business and attempting to co-opt the Organisation to serve their business, including looting the groups' funds.
  • creating a career path well beyond that available in their workplace, e.g. a mid-level practitioner followed this path to become a Senior Industry Figure & given a Professorship.
  • ambitious but low-talent individuals unable to meet their "Power and Control" needs at work, serve on Committees to fill this deficit need, not further the aims & goals of the group.
  • leveraging an Interest or Hobby into a social support group and 'relevance multiplier'.
    • This can be any person 'seeking an outside challenge', from the unemployed, underemployed or 'trust fund babies'.
    • A particular subgroup is Middle Class "supported" wives who are looking to 'add meaning' and 'express themselves' by filling their days with 'activity'.
    • None of these subgroups have 'efficient and effective' as a primary purpose. "Busy Work" becomes normalised - being very 'active' without accomplishing much.
  •  People who define themselves by what they're "against" are drawn to protest or pro-Status Quo groups (left or right), to assert the 'Rightness' of their views and gain 'Vindication'.
    • They define themselves by polarity, "For Us or Against Us", and are unable to form lasting consensus or settlements.
    • For both the 'Left' and 'Right' versions, "the struggle" is everything. They have no 'Ultimate Goal' and if they can find their matched opposite, will struggle mightily for years.
    • Special Interest Groups dominated by these people are Ideologically driven but its fluid, without strong, clear principles. Logic & Facts don't apply, only Judgement and Emotion.
    • They are highly susceptible to internal dissent and power-plays with many self-destructing or spawning warring factions, as do many extremist Religious Sects.

Some references:

"The Complete Guide to Nonprofit Management"
by Smith, Bucklin & Associates, Inc.
This highly popular how-to book identifies and addresses the unique concerns of nonprofit organisations.
Cutting through the morass of mere theory, the experts at Smith, Bucklin & Associates, Inc., a leading nonprofit management firm,
get right to actual practice with dozens of real-world examples and case studies,
and up-to-date, vital, "combat-tested" strategies and techniques for dealing with virtually every nonprofit business management issue.
First four chapters:
  • Role of the Board
  • Strategic Planning
  • Working with volunteers & employees
  • Marketing.

"Principles of Scientific Management", Taylor, 1911.
One of the first tracts on successfully implementing radical change in the workplace.
Start small, show it works, ask for volunteers, never impose from above, wait for the change 'tipping point', some people will never change.

"Managing Sensitive Projects: A Lateral Approach", 1998.
Every day, managers must adapt to rapidly changing markets and situations.
This book deals with sensitive or difficult projects.
Stakeholder sensitive projects: a new approach to engagement [dead link, my apologies]
The Sensitive Projects framework explained, including the key diagram, copy below.

On Movements, Associations and anti-groups like "Skeptics"

You’ll also see a lot of these characteristics with small businesses, especially ones that ‘plateau’ where the principal is ‘comfortable’.

You’ve both seen how hard it is to get both ‘good people’ and with ‘a passionate interest’ in doing something.

The primary difference between unpaid and paid organisations is
  1. the owner can fire ineffective people and
  2. highly-effective people can ‘fire’ the owner by either never applying or moving on when they are stifled etc.
When a movement starts, it’s often one person who’s passion attracts others, giving The Person the status of "The Leader" early on.

Because they’ve been 'fighting the battle’ longer than anyone, for the first 5 or more years, they will always know more about the issues, know & be known by all the key players and may have a media presence.

They've also had the chance to practice their arguments in multiple arenas, so can beat anyone in a debate, especially on organisational change and 'repositioning' or changing goals.

To any newcomer, "The Leader" appears unusually knowledgeable, competent and connected - so much so that ‘hero worship’ becomes a real issue in the organisation.
If there are challengers, real or imagined, for Top Dog, what are their motives?
Are they just power-seeking or something more?
Either way, "The Leader" can impugn their motives and rely on their personal charisma and unquestioning loyalty of key members to support the demotion or ejection of the 'rival'.

The Leader will soon become practiced at making a case for why they, and they alone, are the best, even only, person for the role of “The Leader”.
They may also become very good at spotting and eliminating ‘potential threats’ to their leadership.

Some of these ‘threats’ will be real from 'players' seeking a vehicle to address their "power & control" needs or just to pilfer the coffers.
Donald Trump's take over of the Republican Party is the best recent example of power-players seeking self-aggrandisement.

Other perceived 'rivals' will be good people who ask questions and suggest new ideas.
This stirs things up for the "The Leader" and their "Power Elite", who’ve come to believe that they are "Natural Born Leaders” and “We Know Best”.

If its their first time being "The Leader", the powerful ego boost/rewards from constant praise from "The Loyal Acolytes" will be very seductive, providing another reason for them to turn their honed fighting/debating skills on anyone they feel isn’t “supporting” them enough.

"Questions Are Bad" especially within “The Inner Circle”.
"Unquestioning Loyalty" of "The Leader" is often demanded as proof of "Real Commitment to The Cause".
[c.f. “You are For Us or Against Us”]
Every group starts with just one person, which grows to a few, which then needs 'the person out front' who becomes 'the spokesperson' and then 'The Leader'.
As the organisation grows, its cash-flow and assets grow, requiring someone 'good with figures' to keep the group / organisation afloat.
As the group grows, the administrative load grows, until there is a clear need to "outsource" some functions or hire a paid administrator.
Further growth requires a larger paid staff and more committees and committee members.
Larger Associations require a full-time commitment from the volunteer leader - posing a conundrum:
Do they get paid compensation for giving up their job for 1-2 years?
Surprisingly, few 'presidents' are paid and all are paid less than the top Administrator (CEO), demonstrating who is actually in control.

It’s very sensible in those first years to ‘put your best people at the Front’, which means “The Lone Person” first becomes “The Leader” then "The Great Leader” (TGL), unchallenged and revered.
They are surrounded by an “Inner Circle”, a series of Acolytes and High Priests who’ve learned to work under TGL over time.

We know from Australian Skeptics that when serious money is thrown in, that greed/avarice can upset the balance, providing an upstart a means to destabilise the Inner Circle.

Barry Williams and Harry Edwards were an effective team while Barry was Top Dog (Editor/President) and Harry "The Doer”.
Almost everyone but Barry & Harry came and went on the Committee with Barry’s special friends, his GP and barrister, usually there tool.
This arrangement will be common place amongst Special Interest Groups.

When they came into money, Harry was put in charge of managing it, given his good personal investments and Barry's poor finances, shown by needing to live in his kids house.
Harry didn’t object to Barry becoming the full-time paid Editor, moving on from mere President to paid permanent CEO. Allowing Barry to boast "I'm the only Professional Skeptic in Australia".

Before he started, Adam Joseph’s attempt at Good Governance in 1999 was doomed to failure.
Bringing Openness, Transparency, Accountability to the organisation - and making good on a promise to rotate the Presidency and committee - wasn’t going to happen.
The NSW Skeptics has assumed for themselves the mantle of the Australian Skeptics and Barry wasn't about to let go of the power or pay-packet.

With the $1.4M Bequest from Whaley (a non-member) an opportunist, self-styled International Tax Expert & whizz Accountant - Richard Lead - was able to drive a wedge between the very successful power-couple, simply by appealing to the greed of Barry, The Great Leader. In 2016, Richard Lead became a footnote in a High Court judgement on a long-running Tax Fraud case. So much for the 'high powered accountant', Lead turns out to have been out of his depth and an errand boy selling schemes he didn't understand.

Harry didn’t see it coming and was gone so quickly, his head spun.
This was documented in 2000, 630 wds:

You don’t know what people are really like until there’s serious money on the table.
If you've ever been involved in a "Feeding Frenzy" after a death, you can relate.

Williams was, in my opinion, a ne’er do well always ‘on the make’, actively seeking Easy Money and The Big Win.
Think the “Arthur Daley” character of ‘The Minder’ TV series.

In countless Special Interest Groups, especially Single Issue/Single Person Political parties, this progression and the pitfalls are well known and documented.
While The Founder (Bob Brown, Clive Palmer, Pauline Hansen) may do a lot of good work over years, they can be seduced by the ego-rush of being “The Great Leader".
Forming a set of Loyal Acolytes around them over time.

Are they "Yes Men" or something more?
We know from "Managing Sensitive Projects" that "Allies" who support you but are willing to ask question & differ on important points, are far preferable to "Zealots", who's blind obedience and unquestioning 'loyalty' seriously distort the picture for The Leader. This will eventually cause the collapse of the organisation, as its internal view becomes more out of synch with Reality.

A culture of “Us vs Them” grows up, valuing unquestioning ‘loyalty’ over anything else.
‘Loyalty’ is code for “Unquestioning Agreement”. Something that I've ran foul of Professionally many times - showing this is not confined to Volunteer & NonProfit groups.

I have a friend who's worked for 40 years in nursing and raised two boys as a single mum. In her involvement with many 'craft' groups, she comments on “supported women” - Middle-class wives who don't work.
They can afford to be dilettantes and indulge their interests - they have time on their hands and the money to do what the want. Some of these groups become quite wealthy, worth in the millions.

When they form groups, not only are they inexperienced in Effective Leadership and High-Performing work, they prefer to spend a lot of time on doing things, they don’t seek to be efficient, fast or improve. Be clear, I am not suggesting this is a female trait, but common amongst those who can afford not to work and look to unpaid activity to define themselves and find meaning and relevance in their lives.

My cynical view about this is best summed up by an anti-poster I've seen many times in workplaces:
“Meetings, The Practical Alternative to Work”.
This is saying the main purpose of Meetings is consuming time unproductively, not Getting Things Done or creating intended outcomes.

Prior notes on the topic: Email to SAGE-AU, 19-Nov-2004

Suggestions for moving the System Administrators Guild of Australia forward, embracing the best results of other Computer Societies and avoiding their pitfalls & mistakes

Association (or 'Not for Profit') Management is a specialist area.
How many of the Board and (state) office holders have any training in it??

To break through the current 'ceiling' will require specifically addressing this - get some training for everyone, get a book written. Maybe pay some consultants for advice...

Mostly - research the area! It is not as simple as it may look.

If SAGE-AU is targeting 5,000 members, it'd be hoping for about $1M turnover:
Who on the board has any experience in running a business that size, let alone an association with volunteers and paid staff?
Notes on useful resources included below.

Some specific observations/ideas:
  • From the UNSW 'Associations Day' in the Computer Science and Engineering Faculty, where SAGE-Au was one of the Societies invited,
    it was very obvious that Lee, the admin staff, could answer all questions about process and money.
    BUT members were needed to answer member/professional questions and they dominated.
  • Marketing is firstly about measuring it's effect.
    The first thing needed when planning any marketing activity is planning how to measure it's effect...
    Have to know if initiatives pay off.
  • Goals are important.
    The ACS [Australian Computer Society] is a great example of what NOT to do.
    They've been around since ~1969 and have stagnated at ~15,000 members.
    That's an impressive $5M+ turnover, but in 10 years I've seen the fees DOUBLE.
    That's not good management, especially as they've not improved their profile, increased 'member benefits', paid for more advertising or put more money into community projects.
    The money has gone to pay wages of any increasing bureaucracy, to no good end.
  • The ACS doesn't recognise the massive decline in 'market share' [estimated 210,000 people work in IT in Oz now] as problem...
    There's a whole lot more, but for here...
    The ACS fails to thrive because it's lost its way and doesn't serve the needs of the majority of its members...

    SAGE-AU needs to learn from others mistakes and put positive programs in place to avoid them...

    Associations need paid staff and active marketing.
    To expand members, each state has to have some coherent MARKETING activity - and from the UNSW insight - it has to be done by members...
Specific Proposal:
With the IT downturn, there are a number of well respected & capable members who are 'under-employed' or would make themselves available to go and 'knock on doors'.
[see below for about Kate Behan and donating half time]
I'd like to see SAGE-AU actively market itself to those that employ Admins, like CIO's...
 That means putting together a list of places that employ admins, who employs them and then going and talking to them : face-to-face is the most effective selling/marketing technique and the most expensive.
  • An outstanding role model.
    The ACS is led by it's Victorian branch.
    Kate Behan is responsible for the culture, energy and vision of this branch.
    They (the office) has a very clear focus on "Member Benefits".
    They are not there for a cushy life or just running the office.

    Kate was a lecturer at RMIT and a sole parent to two.
    She quit to work full time in the ACS-VIC office.
    She also DONATED half her time to the society.
    As both the paid admin-staff and a member, she was able to answer all enquiries...
    She was also able to formulate marketing plans and member events that were relevant & interesting to members.

    Importantly, Kate instilled a culture and provided a succession plan.
    When she had built the office up [3 or 5 people] and moved on, it didn't fall apart or wander aimlessly...
    [Check the Smith Bucklin book - this transition from 'initiator' to organisation is very difficult usually]

Reference 1. Australian NonProfit Management firm
Enterprise Care is Australia's largest Not for Profit management consultancy exclusively providing specialist services to Not for Profit Boards, organisations and management.
Our team, comprising some of Australia's most experienced Not for Profit specialists, has an outstanding record of:
  • undertaking organisational reviews and reporting with recommendations and options;
  • devising and developing policies and practices relating to the improved governance of Not for Profit organisations;
  • conducting customised training and facilitation workshops covering governance, organisational and services issues;
  • facilitating the establishment of the strategic performance framework;
  • developing and implementing business and funding plans;
  • recruitment of key personnel; and
  • development of Board and management publications centred around best practice governance and management for Not for Profits.
By combining a profound understanding of Not for Profit fundamentals with specific insights and problem solving skills,
Enterprise Care has taken its place as the pre-eminent adviser and service provider to the Not for Profit sector.

Reference 2. Definitive Reference on NonProfit Management

"The Complete Guide to Non-Profit Management"
First four chapters:
  • Role of the Board
  • Strategic Planning
  • Working with volunteers & employees
  • Marketing.
The Complete Nuts-and-Bolts Guide to Managing Todays Bottom-Line Oriented Nonprofit Organisations

This significantly revised and expanded Second Edition of the highly popular how-to book identifies and addresses the unique concerns of nonprofit organisations.
Cutting through the morass of mere theory, the experts at Smith, Bucklin & Associates, Inc., a leading nonprofit management firm,
get right to actual practice with dozens of real-world examples and case studies, and up-to-date, vital,
"combat-tested" strategies and techniques for dealing with virtually every nonprofit business management issue, including:
  • The daily role of boards of directors
  • Fund development and marketing
  • Public and government relations
  • Educational programs and certification
  • Information services
  • Human resources management
  • Using the Internet
In addition, featured here is a refocused strategic planning chapter that presents an ongoing, organic form of planning,
as well as updated discussions of the importance of mission statements,
planning publicity campaigns and coordinating special conventions,
developing and marketing education programs, and much more.

Reference 3. Diagrams from "Managing Sensitive Projects"

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