Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Open Letter To Non-Profit Organizations About Technology

Something that has been bugging me a LOT lately is how I see some of the wonderful non-profit organizations I'm involved with making big mistakes when it comes to technology. Here's my rant.....feel free to tell me I'm nuts if you have a different perspective. I'm not feeling particularly chatty today so I'm just going to put these tips out there in plain English.

1. You don't have to trade your cow for magic beans - Sending your Office Manager or Receptionist to make complex buying decisions spells disaster. Becky can't negotiate rich media annual contracts with large publishers. Skip, your Intern, doesn't know how to pick the right web hosting for your site much less manage moving it from one host to the next. Your Receptionist or Office Manager shouldn't be deciding which payment gateway to use if for no other reason than the fact that they will make the decision with a narrow vision and without all of the data points required to put a complex technology solution in place.

You have people in your organization (members) that do tech for a living. They will help you. If you ask them they will provide valuable insight (for free!) that their business customers pay them big money for.

2. Technology isn't your enemy - Just because you don't do tech for a living doesn't mean that it's the Boogie Man. Now......some of the people that SELL technology services, hardware and software to organizations like yours ARE less-than-honest. But technology, in and of itself, isn't the enemy. See #1 above with regards to how to start putting technology to work for your group without getting taken to the cleaners.

3. Donors cannot equal vendors - Let me tell you what I think is the largest mistake organizations make when it comes to technology buying decisions. That donor in your member base that runs a software company will not donate more money to you if you buy your software from him. He will also not cancel his membership to your club and go to another one if you don't buy from him. But...he WILL likely be upset if you buy software from him, it's not the right solution, you then complain constantly and cancel your subscription to his services before the contract runs out. I see this a lot. Church Pastors think that if they buy a software system from a guy in their church that they will get a good deal and free lifetime support and free upgrades.....not hardly. This is a whole other issue that I could (and will) write a separate posting on in the future. Many times in my professional career I've been brought in to tell an organization that the software they're using isn't right for them and to help them "justify" getting rid of the vendor when that vendor company is owned by one of their largest donors. Awkward.

So in conclusion: Use the people in your organization to help you in unfamiliar territory. Get some new technology in use where it makes sense. Don't buy from friends of your group unless you want to lose that friend and potentially spend money on fees to cancel your contract later. Finally........this goes for other things besides technology. Vendor selection and management is something that non-profits "get wrong" all the time from my experience and it's a shame.

p.s. I'll tell you what I think before you make a bad decision if you email me. : )   Scott

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

12 Tips To Prevent Volunteer Churn

If you run a non-profit organization you rely heavily on un-paid volunteers to do much of the work that keeps the lights on in your group. You are no doubt accomplishing great things using volunteers and it's no doubt a full-time job keeping them happy and productive.

Consider the volunteers you have in your non-profit that have direct contact with your donors and the public!  (Oooh, that should get your attention!) They aren't ALWAYS representing your group the way you would want them to and it's sometimes due to them not being empowered, enabled, encouraged and appreciated.

Think about ways to motivate, empower and appreciate those volunteers. They want to be there and you want them there. After all, keeping them productive is part of your day-job. "Churn" is turnover and when you lose people you lose all of the knowledge they have about how to get things done.

Think about these points:

1.      Always be recruiting new volunteers. The ones you have that keep performing day in and day out are getting tired and frustrated. Some at a quicker pace than others. Get the reinforcements ready. (Better yet, keep the ones you have happy!) It's always easier to keep volunteers, or employees, than it is to find and train new ones.

2.      When a volunteer signs up to help, they are expecting to spend a certain amount of time in service. Know what that expectation is on their part regarding the length of their assignment. Be mindful of it. Either set more realistic expectations with them or adjust your own expectations of their time. This has to be a win-win for both sides.

3.      Try to be mindful that those volunteering get frustrated when they either take on, or are sent to do, a project and the effort isn’t supported by the organization. Wild goose chases that end in an aborted project prior to completion are frustrating and disappointing to the volunteer. Volunteers want to accomplish goals. They really do!

4.      Empowerment is very…..well, empowering. Volunteers love to have the support and resources they need to be successful in their work.

5.      When you get asked a question, give a prompt and complete answer. Avoiding answering the question or passing-the-buck as this is frustrating and discouraging to the volunteers.

6.      Your support staff that works for you in a full-time, paid capacity need to be in agreement with you on the importance of volunteers. Volunteers are not distractions, annoyances or threats to the administrative staff in your organization. Few things are more demotivating to a volunteer than to be given the runaround by an office worker or talked to in a demeaning tone by that same staff member when you aren’t around to see what’s happening. Train your full-time staff to assist you in supporting the volunteers and keeping the group productive and happy.

7.      Oftentimes organizations make all of the “good decisions” or make the fun calls and leave just the grunt work to the volunteers. I’ll challenge you that those same volunteers you have helping you make high-level, strategic, impactful decisions in their day jobs and they can give you some great insights if you listen to them. Heck, if you just ASK them their thoughts in the first place before you dictate the direction you want to go you’d be tapping into some potentially great insights and experience. For example, often it's the case that a non-profit will take on legal work or other skilled trade work when they have attorneys, plumbers, IT professionals, etc. all within their reach as potential help. They are sitting right under your nose most of the time and they know how to do what you need done. They do it everyday in their role at work.

8.      One thing that some volunteers really hate to see is when their work goes to waste. (See #3 above) When a volunteer proudly completes a project and the output is set on a shelf (figuratively or literally) it sends a message that you don’t care about the time that was donated to complete the deliverable. Bad, bad stuff. Be a good steward of your volunteer's time and only ask them to take on tasks that are needed.

9.      Something that has been happening a lot lately is that organizations make it very difficult and frustrating for volunteers to get reimbursed for legitimate expenses that they volunteer incurred while on assignment. If you make it hard for them to get paid back, they’ll quit going the extra mile by using their own money up front to get things done. If you frustrate the volunteer with lengthy red-tape to fill out expense reports it will permeate throughout the ranks and you’ll be known as an organization that leaves volunteers hanging when it comes to their personal money. There’s frugality and then there’s just being difficult.

10.   On the other side of things I do see organizations that get volunteers involved in meetings and decisions at the organization level where it’s probably best that only paid staff and members of the Board are shown what is happening behind the curtains. Watch this one….

11.   Use the talents of the volunteers. As I stated in #7 above, many of these people you have sweeping floors are attorneys 50 hours a week. That guy that is doing some entry-level task for you may be a senior executive at his private sector job. All-things-considered you could have your next Board Member or full-time staff resource right there within your volunteer ranks.

12.   In general, just be respectful of the volunteer’s time. Last-minute meetings being called during the volunteers family time puts the volunteer (and their spouse that will need to watch their 3 children) in a tough spot. Think about how you value your free time and know that they are already spending some of their valuable free time helping you and your organization’s efforts because they love what you do and they are passionate about what you are accomplishing together.

I could go into several examples of each of these. I could tout reasons and excuses for why these things happen in non-profits. I could also make the case that many volunteers are rude, self-righteous and demanding. Nobody will deny that.  (I know I’m not always the best helper with the right attitude.) However, if your organization relies heavily on non-paid team members then you are beholden to that same volunteer workforce to help you accomplish your mission. Managing those efforts are something you have to be good at or you will become known as a group that isn’t desirable to volunteer for.

Best of luck to you in your non-profit’s journey. I hope you find, and retain, a loyal group of helpers that are as committed to your vision as you are!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

My Daily Routine

So my friend Josh sent a link to this website to me today. http://dailyroutines.typepad.com/

Typically he sends very few links and the stuff he sends is pretty good so you might accurately say he has "an account in good standing" with me as it were. So I naturally opened the email and clicked on the link.

Now before you click on the link let me say that Josh knows I am looking to formulate my daily routine. I struggle with when to get up and when to go to bed. I struggle with when to pray, when to exercise and how much discipline to put into my routine. Josh, on the other hand, appears to have it all licked. He rides a bike to his work as a doctor and surgeon. He has the discipline to wear dress clothes including a tie when far less formal attire would seem commonplace on the job. He is disciplined....and I am not so disciplined it would appear at this time in my life. However, I am fully aware of the trappings of comparing my insides to other peoples' outsides.

Anyway, back to my point. My point is that (go ahead, click on the link if you want, but come back to the story here) if you look at the Daily Routines website you can see the recaps of the daily routines of famous writers and other people. Nuts like Churchill or Darwin and heroes like Fred Rogers and George Bush. So with a lot of prodding from friends to write something and this constant presence of a need to take inventory of my daily routine here is my blog post that you read now. I will now post my Daily Routine. Then...I will let that sink in and see if I feel like changing it. (not my post, but rather my actual routine)

Oh, one more thought before I thrill you with my Brilliant Tales of Scrawny Middle-Aged Web Dude and Father let me give you a little background on me. We know who Barack Obama and Stephen King are before reading their posts on the website so here is a little about me before you read mine. I'm a scrawny, middle-aged father of 4 young children (and one grown daughter) that works in technology and loves Little Debbies. There.

 My Daily Routine entry as if it were written on www.dailyroutines.typepad.com -

Given the fact that Scott's wife basically runs the family single-handedly it's amazing that he doesn't have the sense to wake up earlier and actually get something done in the morning. But no, he wakes up at the last minute (just a few moments before his wife yells at him from the kitchen in the middle of making breakfast for the children), stumbles into the shower and emerges just as the kids have all been sent off to school. Well played Lazy Bones...well played.

His day is a series of repetitious trips to the coffee machine, bathroom, printer and friends desks for light banter. Only sporadically does he actually sit and do anything at his laptop. Extended lunch normally consisting of the actual task of eating coupled with some window shopping at Atlantic Station or the sporting goods store. Then a good, solid 2 hours of un-focused work in the afternoon with yet another coffee break or three ending in a yawn and departure at the late, late hour of 4:00 p.m. to head home. Home - where the real work begins.

Evenings are nuts. We shall warn you now. Crazy kids running everywhere, homework, yelling, activities, exercise, projects, drama, crying and then....the Three B's. Baths, books and bed. Then, his wife wants to bring up all of the stuff she needs him to do. Trips to Kroger or the drug store. Perhaps a run to Wal-Mart. Has the trash been taken out? Does the dog need a bath? Then the second most restful time of the day, next to being at work, comes next when he spends the late evening hours between 9 and midnight surfing the web on his iPad, watching television or playing some video games on the PS3 in his basement covered with cheddar cheese popcorn fallout. 

Good solid 6 hours of sleep and then it's back up in the morning to start pumping himself full of coffee and donuts and the guilt of having done so.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution 2012

Thursday, July 12, 2012

I almost made it.......

Here it is July 12, 2012. I'm in a great job. Lots of friends. My summer is going great! My family is just awesome and I'm enjoying them so very much. What a great feeling! It's been almost a year since I've had to get on a plane (I'm sure you remember the old Townhall Days when I flew every week. Ugh.) and this afternoon I'm getting on a plane for the first time since July 19, 2011. I almost made it a full year! Anyway, just checking in to say that life is good and I'm so blessed to be able to take the time off of work to take a trip up to DC this weekend. Let me know how you're doing as well! sburkey1@gmail.com

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

It only takes a minute to change a student’s life

We moved several times when I was in junior high and high school. Each time was more difficult than before. The first time we moved I was 12 and I remember the process of “checking out” of school in the middle of the day before we moved. What happened to me on that one day when I was 12 has had such an impact on me that I’m still talking about it three decades later.
One of the teachers at my junior high school was a geography teacher named Bill Wheaton. I thought it was cool that Mr. Wheaton was missing part of one of his fingers. I imagined it to have been lost in a grizzly battle in Vietnam or in a knife fight with a vicious street gang. I spent many classes daydreaming about how Mr. Wheaton had defended a whole town against invading forces and lost part of his finger in the bloody battle that ensued. It’s silly now to think back about it. But it’s okay because I’m not an overly-serious person.
What Mr. Wheaton did for me wasn’t just in providing daydream material but it was a decision he made on my last day in that small junior high school in the early 1980’s. He made a decision that took him two minutes to make and that impacted my life for many years. As it happened, I went by to see Mr. Wheaton to get his final signature on my check-out slip and had to interrupt him in the middle of teaching another class. He signed my check-out slip and I left the classroom. As I walked down the hallway, check-out slip in hand, I heard Mr. Wheaton call me from the door of his class room. I returned and stood in front of him. He took me by the shoulder, looked me straight in the eye and said, “I want you to know that you can do anything with your life that you put your mind to. Good luck to you, son.” He then shook my hand and returned to his class. I walked to the next classroom to get the next signature on my check-out slip not knowing that my life had been changed forever by the encouraging words of this man, this teacher. Not just any teacher but an educator that cared enough to take an extra minute, to call a student back into his presence, to change the life of that student forever.

Now, I haven’t always done what I’ve wanted to do with my life. Certainly, over the years, I’ve done things in my life that I would gladly change if given the opportunity. But, many times I’ve called on the words of Mr. Wheaton and decide to “put my mind to” something for the better. Simple words came from a humble man over 30 years ago.

A childhood friend of mine from that junior high school is now an educator in that hometown of mine. Monya agreed to help deliver a letter to Mr. Wheaton that I wrote to him a couple of years ago. She told me that he was proud to receive it and glad that he had an impact on me though I’m sure that in his senior years he doesn’t likely remember which skinny little kid I was. But I remember what he did very well. Because I remember what he said, and it has meant so much to me, I will continue to look for opportunities to share an encouraging word with other young people like that teacher did with me on that day. Thank you Mr. Wheaton and thank you to the teachers that will stop to say something encouraging to a student today.

UPDATE: Here is the link to this article on CNN.com's Schools of Thought Blog - http://bit.ly/KcSqfg

Picture of Bill Wheaton and Scott Burkey
UPDATE: I was able on December 29, 2013 to sit with Bill and talk for over two hours. What a truly wonderful experience. Thanks to Monya for setting it up! Here is a photo of me and Bill. : )

Thursday, February 16, 2012

My First Best-Friend

It's my sister, Jamie's, birthday today. I've been doing a lot of reflecting on what she has meant to me over our lives together. We grew up in Arkansas in a loving home where our parents taught us about family unity, kindness and how to have fun. We laughed a lot and spent vacations together, as a family, in a car.....with no iPads or video games. It was just us...fighting and laughing and enjoying each other. Jamie was the one I played games with and made memories with from a very young age.

When the awkward teen years came Jamie was right there for me through all of the moves and new schools. She loved me even when I didn't have a lot of friends and certainly didn't feel like I fit in. I always had a friend in my little sister that showed me love unconditionally. We went to teen clubs in Houston and ran around in my Camaro with Depeche Mode blasting on a crappy cassette player. Many of the best memories I have with my sister are centered around music in some way. We shared a love for the same style of music back in the 80's and still do today. It's something special I love about Jamie.

Now Jamie is a beautiful, wonderful woman and she is still so very special to so many people. She is a super Aunt to her nieces and nephew that love her immensely. She's a wonderful mother to two amazing daughters. She's a terrific sister and a sweet sister-in-law. (Jamie - Tessa and I love you!) Jamie is a loving daughter to our parents who adore her so very much. There is likely not a better daughter that parents could ask for. She is a good employee and neighbor and friend and so much more. Jamie is loved by so many and called "friend" with true affection by some of the nicest people in the world.

But......I get to brag this morning because out of all the titles that Jamie has...sister, mother, daughter, friend, co-worker, aunt.....I have the honor of calling her my first, best-friend. Thank you Jamie for showing me what a best-friend can be and how it feels to be loved by somebody as sweet and loving as you. Happy Birthday "Jamaica".