Trying to Make Lemonade

(Hey, at least the controversy I helped uncover doesn’t involve actual lawyers.)

So, in an attempt to turn discussion in a more positive direction, I raise a topic for input and constructive suggestion: How does a volunteer group without the resources for paid staff effectively keep its members on message? What are good tools to keep focus on the group instead of individuals? In case something goes wrong, what’s a good way to restrain the over-enthusiastic without hurt feelings?


49 Responses to “Trying to Make Lemonade”

  1. Katherine Keller Says:

    How does a volunteer group without the resources for paid staff effectively keep its members on message?

    Okay, while there’s a world of difference between the FOL and ST …

    1) Staff Mailing lists which are not just for “strict” business. I mean, at ST we don’t give each other every bit of minutae about our daily lives but we do post regular updates on what we are doing and our personal lives (as relates to ST). Keeps lines of communication open.

    And it’s understood that unless you are away from a computer, you log in and check mail at least once a day.

    2) AIM/Yahoo/MSN/ICQ. I’m lucky in that I have a job that requires me to have chat software and my boss isn’t going to yell and scream if I do short bits of ST posting to the colleages on my buddy list. eg “Hey, I have this idea, and was thinking …” It’s short, sweet, to the point, and has nipped some bad ideas in the bud and encouraged me to think about growing the good ideas.

    (The key is, these chats are kept REALLY short and on topic.)

    If IM is not allowed at work, I’d say make a point of logging in to IM for at least an hour 3-4 times a night while at home. And don’t be afraid to tell your colleages if you want to keep it as business oriented as posibble.

    3) LJs and MySpaces. I don’t have every staff member of ST friended, but I do have several, and it’s a great way to surf by and see what your co-staffers are up to, what their interests are, and what other sites they may be reading and posting at.

    4) If a member of your organization is regularly posting at a certain forum, is blogging, or writing, you’ve got to put it on your to-do list to make a point to drop in and check out what they’re saying. Maybe they don’t realize that they’re “off message”, plus it’s a great way to come up with new ideas for projects. But, most importantly, it gives you a great idea of their “voice” and how they interact with others — their overall communication style.

    If I could boil everything down into one statement it would be this: It’s an unpaid part time job, and you’ve got to keep in daily contact of some sort.

  2. Chris Williams Says:

    I’m not sure if you uncovered controversy as much as generated it.

  3. Johanna Says:

    Thanks for such useful, concrete suggestions, Katherine.

    Chris, you say tomahto. (shrug) Asking for truth sometimes does that.

  4. Lea Says:

    Hash out amongst yourselves what the message is, and revisit it on a regular basis.

    Be ready for criticism, deal with whatever truth is in it, and move on. Some people will never be satified, others will be happy to see their concerns addressed.

    Be okay with not being all things to all people. It’s not possible.
    Choose guiding members carefully.

    Be ready to gently steer volunteers to a job that relies on their strengths. Someone who generates controversy cannot be excused as “at least they get us press.”

    Deal with off-message members quickly.

  5. Don MacPherson Says:

    Chris wrote:
    I’m not sure if you uncovered controversy as much as generated it.

    I’m reminded of the Bush administration’s criticism of the media for “only showing” the negatives of what’s happening in Iraq. Reporting a controversy is not even in the same ballpark as creating one. It’s making people aware of it.

  6. Lisa Jonte Says:

    “Reporting a controversy is not even in the same ballpark as creating one.”

    Besides, I brought it up early on before Lea did. I asked where the money had gone. I posted my concerns, questions and opinions, followed by Kady Mae, Johanna and Lea. And yet, nobody is calling me (or for that matter, Kady) names or telling us that we’re just genterating controversy.

    I wonder why that is? Is it possible, just possible that there are some folks out there defending Ronee a little more ardently than they might otherwise have done, if they didn’t have their own axes to grind in the opposite direction?

  7. Lisa Jonte Says:

    Bah!

    My apologies, Johanna, for derailing your thread. Please, feel free to delete the above to get things back on track.

  8. Don MacPherson Says:

    Lisa, it looks more to me that Chris took the thread in a negative direction, not you.

  9. Tommy Raiko Says:

    This isn’t, I guess, so much a concrete suggestion, but Lea’s comment above Deal with off-message members quickly does strike me as key, particularly the “quickly” part.

    It seems that a lot of volunteer-driven organizations I’ve encountered are stymied by, well, making decisions and have difficulty taking quick, decisive action. Some may fall into that because of a consensus culture, where the feeling is that everyone involved in the organization has to agree on everything the organization does before anything can be done; or because of members’ understandable non-volunteering comittments taking precedence; or because of some desire to not offend or alienate a scarce volunteer pool; or whatever else.

    Of the volunteer organizations I’ve encountered, it seems the smoothest running ones do manage to have some sort of quick decision-making structure despite being volunteer-dependent. Where a volunteer member who asks “How can we do this?” or “Can we do that?” and can get a decisive answer quickly seems to the best possible system for keeping members on-message and for preventing member restlessness.

    I dunno if this is a good suggestion or just something I’ve been mulling over. But it seems that in volunteer-organizations not only is it important to maintain basic communication with members, but also to provide some sort of effective decision-making structure to guide them.

  10. Johanna Says:

    Tommy, I think that’s a good analysis of potential causes. In my experience, valuing the volunteer labor over all else leads to the problem — sometimes, it’s better to turn people away, or guide them to other tasks than the ones they want. But that takes a lot of awareness and a good amount of tact, because it’s hard to do.

    Lea, thanks for the good advice.

  11. Ginger Mayerson Says:

    Deal with off-message members quickly

    FoL had almost a year to deal with Ronnee’s legacy and the empowerment fund issue and still had to be prompted. Has the FoL board been that busy?

  12. James Schee Says:

    I guess the only thing I can add is that I think you stress to the members to remember the difference between their view and the group’s view.

    To remember that unless they have a mouse in their pocket or are royalty, to remember the difference between I and we. So don’t make decisions on your own or try to make your view the group’s view.

  13. Johanna Says:

    hee hee “pocket mouse”. I hadn’t heard that one before.

  14. Lea Says:

    Thank my hard-earned volunteer burnout + observation. It’s tricky for volunteer organizations when an attention-seeking (or attracting member) who can’t quite behave becomes that organization’s public face.
    Happened at my church a lot, which is part of the reason I stopped going.

  15. James Schee Says:

    Really? That’s a big phrase around here when someone in a group starts going “We think/thought…” and everyone starts goofing on them saying “You got a mouse in your pocket? What’s this we stuff?”

  16. Gail Says:

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking questions, ever. I just felt that Ronee DID dispute some of the story pretty directly and her version was immediately rejected, even though it seems to me a fair point that Ms. Dragoon was not there at the time.

    It’s fine to shine a light, it’s a good thing. But if Ronee can prove, for example with produced email, that she had permission from FOL higher-ups, I’d say that blaming her complete IS in fact missing the target somewhat.

    “I wonder why that is? Is it possible, just possible that there are some folks out there defending Ronee a little more ardently than they might otherwise have done, if they didn’t have their own axes to grind in the opposite direction?”

    That might be true, Lisa, but the exact opposite is also true, that those pissed at Ronee might be attacking her with a little extra zing for the same reason. Certainly Don, for example, looks at Ronee’s story, which contradicts Ms. Dragoon’s, and declares Ronee’s story false even though some of the events took place before her tenure, if I understand correctly.

    The goal shouldn’t be personal attacks, it should be the truth, right?

    That might sound condescending, but that’s not my intent. But if Ronee can produce an email proving that she had approval then I do feel that’s pretty good evidence of her complaint, which I’ve been hearing for years, that FOL suffers from a lack of communication, worthy though they may be as an organization.

    That’s it, hope the full truth comes out, as it should

    Gail

  17. Gail Says:

    Pardon my typos, my IQ is down to almost nothing lately.

    Gail

  18. Johanna Says:

    I know you’re creating a hypothetical, but if someone had evidence, I’d expect them to show it, instead of merely claiming they had it. Especially in a situation where their credibility is near nil due to past occurrences.

    In this particular case, I’m assuming that part of the FOL delays were due to Leigh talking to the other board members, some of which have been there longer than she has, so her time of service isn’t the only relevant timeframe. But maybe we’re both merely hypothesizing.

  19. Gail Says:

    Yeah, the truth is, I don’t know and neither does anyone else here except those involved.

    When the Taki Soma thing came up, I started getting weird calls from big names in the industry that I’d never spoken with before, defending one person or the other. In the end, it just left me more confused, as everyone had an agenda and there was precious little proof of anything.

    I still don’t know why I got all those calls. But it was very very Roshomon.

    Some stuff here is directly contradicted in the two accounts, but in this Olney situation, Ronee’s been able to back up every claim she’s made, and that’s the situation I’m vastly more familiar with, obviously.

    Ronee, if you’re out there, did you happen to save any of your communication with FOL? Because that would seem to be an easy vindication of the charge that you acted 100% on your own.

    And from there, I withdraw, best wishes to everyone and may the truth win out.

    Gail

  20. Don MacPherson Says:

    Gail wrote:
    Certainly Don, for example, looks at Ronee’s story, which contradicts Ms. Dragoon’s, and declares Ronee’s story false even though some of the events took place before her tenure, if I understand correctly.

    C’mon, Gail, that’s not fair. I did not declare Ronee’s story false. I criticized her for behaving like Olney (in terms of rudeness/excuses). I pointed out Ronee has a credibility problem as well. Her over-the-top reaction compounded that credibility problem, whereas the current FOL spokeswomen’s more reasoned, calm responses granted them greater credibility.

    Also, if you read my previous comments in the other thread, I also noted that I felt the FoL didn’t handle the situation entirely professionally either, that it shouldn’t have engaged in the finger-pointing.

    I still feel the love for you, Gail, so no worries on that end. ;)

  21. Gail Says:

    Don, I actually realized I hadn’t been as clear as I should have, so bad on me for that.

    Let me phrase it differently…when presented with two stories that diverge dramatically, you said Ronee had a credibility problem, which at the very least IMPLIES that you doubted her version, is that not safe to say? I’ve read it several times and can’t come up with an alternate meaning, really.

    Even with Olney, who had cheated many of us directly, we gave him eighteen thousand posts (I wish I were kidding) to defend himself and tell his side of all of these stories of people being cheated. I just think someone accused should get a fair chance to defend themselves. If Ronee has some emails from anyone in FOL’s management structure at the time, to go ahead, then that is a serious rebuttal to the versions we’ve heard so far.

    Again, I haven’t known Ronee long, and I know Leigh (I pray I’m spelling her name right) not at all, and my sense is that both are telling the truth as they understand it. But as I say, Ronee was able to back up every single claim, and there were many, against Rick Olney, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she brings some support for her version of events, hopefully soon.

    Gail

  22. Lisa Jonte Says:

    “…it seems to me a fair point that Ms. Dragoon was not there at the time.”

    Actually, that’s incorrect. Leigh and Ronee were concurrent members of the FoL board for an entire year. Leigh was most certainly a member before the instigation of the fund.

    “The goal shouldn’t be personal attacks, it should be the truth, right? “

    Exactly. (To that end, no one that I know of currently chiding Ronee has, to my knowledge, called her a bitch or made insinuations about her sex life.) For my own part, my opinion of Ronee would grow immeasurably if she would just once admit that perhaps she hasn’t always made the best decisions, either with the fund itself or with the aftermath. She was the face of the fund after all. One can only assume that she would have taken her due credit for its success, so shouldn’t she shoulder at least some of the responsibility for its failure? Whatever the reasons for that failure?

    “That might sound condescending, but that’s not my intent.”

    Nor did I think it was.

    “But if Ronee can produce an email proving that she had approval then I do feel that’s pretty good evidence of her complaint…”

    As I understand it (for verification, ask Katie Merritt directly) Ronee did have permission to begin the process of creating the fund, but not to make it public before the administrative structure was agreed upon and in place. This certainly jibes with my own memory of things. I was more than willing to donate, but asked about administrative accountability first. I was shouted down and told, essentially, that the fund was about passion, not paperwork.

    “That’s it, hope the full truth comes out, as it should”

    In this, we agree.

    Feelings are running high all around. I am willing to admit that I don’t always handle things as calmly as I should. I also understand that people don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are. Therefore, I cannot help but hold Ronee to my own standard. Perhaps that’s unfair of me, but there it is.

  23. Gail Says:

    Hmm.

    “Actually, that’s incorrect. Leigh and Ronee were concurrent members of the FoL board for an entire year. Leigh was most certainly a member before the instigation of the fund.”

    Ronee said this in her column, “I should also point out that Leigh became a board member right before I left and really had no part in the goings on concerning the fund until later so her opinion on the matter has been formed after the fact. ”

    Not aware of which version is correct, just pointing out I didn’t make it up out of nothing.

    Ronee is responsible for her part in any wrongdoing, as all of us are, and of course, I never said any differently. If she can prove parts of the official FOL story false, I would hope that it might restore some of her credibility in some folks’ eyes.

    “Feelings are running high all around. I am willing to admit that I don’t always handle things as calmly as I should. I also understand that people don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are. Therefore, I cannot help but hold Ronee to my own standard. Perhaps that’s unfair of me, but there it is.”

    Fine.

    Gail

  24. Leigh Dragoon Says:

    This is my second year on the FOL board. You can contact Katie Merritt or Shannon Crane for verification. I have copies of FOL correspondence w/Ronee from the time period in question.

  25. Gail Says:

    Leigh, I don’t doubt you at all. I was only repeating what I’d read, along with the rest.

    It is certainly not my intent to doubt your word.

    Gail

  26. Leigh Dragoon Says:

    That’s quite all right — it’s a very valid question to be asking, I just wanted to offer people to verify the information. :)

  27. Johanna Says:

    Gail, Ronee legitimately getting rooked by Rick doesn’t necessarily mean anything in terms of excusing her poor behavior prior. Many people with convenient memory holes or a history of misrepresentation to make themselves look better suddenly become VERY clear when they’re the ones being taken advantage of. It can be both, you know: Rick owes her money, AND she handled the Fund very poorly.

    I’ve sent a query to Katie Merritt to see if she has a statement on your “ifs”. Hopefully this one gets through this time.

  28. Gail Says:

    I don’t think I claimed any differently, Johanna. I’m surprised you seem to be implying I did. The only thing I can really add, of a personal nature, is that I do remember Ronee speaking to me over some frustrations with the communication chain at FoL, which, again, has been something I’ve heard about for quite some time from various sources. Poor communication is a breeding ground for misunderstanding and more at the best of times.

    If I may ask, what ‘memory holes’ are you speaking of, exactly, however? Was there something that Ronee claimed not to remember regarding this issue? I didn’t get that impression from her post. Did you mean ‘memory holes’ in some other way? Maybe I missed it. Not sure what you’re going for there.

    Truthfully, this whole thing reminds me that good intentions might not be enough, and how easily something like this could’ve happened to me recently, when I was trying to raise funds to help Lea after her devastating house fire. We really had no oversight, just the need to raise money fast and the trust that no one involved wanted anything but to get the money in Lea’s hands as goddamn quick as possible. Passion and compassion are admirable qualities but when money’s on the line, there are standards that do need to be applied, no matter how immediate the need. Fortunately, the gentleman running the auctions to raise the money is incredibly honest, but I can certainly see how inexperience on our part could’ve caused some heartache. It’s a bit cautionary, but I think that’s a good thing. If ever I’m involved with something like that again, I’ll seek the advice of veteran fundraisers immediately.

    As well, I agree that I’m not as familiar with this situation as most of you obviously are. I was only asking the first questions that came to mind from my admittedly narrow experience, possibly not the best idea at this point on this forum. As I said previously, good luck to everyone and may the truth win out.

    Gail

  29. Gail Says:

    By the way, holy crap, can Leigh draw!

    Most of you know this stuff already but I’m late to all the best parties.

    http://www.leighdragoon.com/

    Gail

  30. Lisa Jonte Says:

    “By the way, holy crap, can Leigh draw!”

    Yeah she can!

  31. Rob S. Says:

    Wow, she sure can — thanks for the link, Gail!

  32. Kevin Huxford Says:

    Gail, I think the problem here is how all debates get off track. Someone on the previous thread compared Ronee to Rick…said she acted a lot like him…someone made a comment that was interpreted to suggest Ronee was more of a co-conspirator. So discussing Ronee’s possibly being a victim of Rick somehow got intertwined…the debate got muddy…and posts come off as saying that Ronee shouldn’t be so doubted because she’s been a victim (of Rick) too.

    So I don’t think Johanna was intending to twist your statements…just that the discussion gets twisted in all different directions by the 10+ voices leading it.

  33. Gail Says:

    I understand, and I get that Johanna was offended by Ronee’s comments, but I felt comparing her to Rick, one of the most vile people I’ve ever met, who posts racist, homophobic, and woman-hating slurs to everyone who disagrees with him AND cheats creators with astonishing regularity, was overkill.

    I don’t know all the intricacies, but it’s worth saying again that she not only did NOT use any of the money herself, but actually donated to the fund. It’s just a world of difference, isn’t it?

    After dealing with Olney’s bullshit for the past few years, I’d leap up to defend almost ANYONE compared to him that didn’t have the last name, ‘Cheney.’

    ;)

    On another note, Johanna has requested I remove her post, which Ronee placed in full on my board. As much as I loathe censoring or editing, since it’s her words, I’m fixing to do it, as soon as I figure out the editing buttons (I never use them, don’t even know where they are).

    Gail

  34. lea Says:

    Leigh Dragoon CAN draw, that’s why, if I hadn’t just that day handed off the editorship of GAM to Lisa Jonte (Friday of SDCC 2005), I’d have hired her myself.
    It’s a bonus that’s she’s a trustworthy and delightful person.

    And now–wasn’t this thread about being on-message in a volunteer organization?

    Let’s address over-enthusiasm.
    I just deleted a lot of blither and Googled over-enthusiasm instead. I came up with a slide from a http://www.uiausa.com/ (United Inventors Association) presentation that I think sums up what over-enthusiasm can do. (And did do, in the case of the Fund.)

    Do not let your enthusiasm overpower common sense!
    (The invention promotion industry relies on this. They are talking here about avoiding scams, I included this to keep the slide complete, not because it’s relevant. –Lea)
    Emotions cloud the main issues and your reasoning mechanism.
    You only hear what you want to hear.
    Over Enthusiasm can be very costly.
    Over Enthusiasm can cause you to skip vital steps and, most importantly, not listen to constructive criticism.

  35. Gail Says:

    I’m just saying I don’t feel enough without sin to cast that stone in this case, is all.

    Gail

  36. Gail Says:

    I don’t mean that as snark, by the way…I’m just saying we did the fire fundraising by the skin of our teeth in the middle of the night as well, not that it’s wrong to ask these questions. Fortunately in that case everything seemed to turn out for the best and every dime went in the right pocket.

    Gail

  37. Tim O'Shea Says:

    OK, I need even more positive vibes in this comments thread. Is everyone loving Welcome to Tranquility as much as me? Thanks for an interesting read, Gail.

    Honestly, as much as an asset that blogs and message boards are getting industry news out, I think volunteer groups are under a greater microscope than they were say 10 years ago.

    I run a volunteer committee at my son’s school, where I schedule three people a day to cover two-hour shifts at the library. I know for a fact that three to four parents are going to miss their assignment (be it because of a sick child, they forget, or whatever) in a given month with no notice. Fortunately I’m not under a microscope, or else there’d be a 30+ comment thread on a blog somewhere asking “why hasn’t Tim gotten someone to cover every shift”? I know, apples and orange comparison.

    This particular grievance with FoL is a dicey one, as it involves other people’s money/donations. But I have to wonder, how many active members does FoL have? (Note I said “active” not total) How many of the folks involved in running the group are the same folks that were doing the heavy lifting a few years ago? I honestly don’t know, but I daresay we’re fast approaching a point where the number of people posting in this thread far outnumber the folks who actively serve FoL. And anyone looking at the recent FoL coverage may not be exactly inspired to join the group, given for the most part (rightly or wrongly) it is being portrayed in a poor light. I hope I’m wrong.

    And I am not trying to pick on FoL, hell, who can disagree with a mission statement that partially says:

    “Friends of Lulu is a national organization whose main purpose is to promote and encourage female readership and participation in the comic book industry.

    Among the goals of the organization are:

    1. to increase female readership of comics
    2. to promote the work of women in comics
    3. to offer networking opportunities and general support to women in comics, and
    4. to facilitate communication among women and men who share the organization’s purpose.”

    Note point 4. To quote, Cool Hand Luke ” What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

    I like to think the folks involved with FoL are more than likely taking a lessons learned approach to the whole empowerment fund fiasco.

    We’ve got a lot of smart folks posting in this comments thread, hopefully with good ideas to help volunteer orgs (not just FoL).

    And I hope that the coverage FoL has received has not precluded constructive discourse between folks like Johanna and FoL. In that vein, Johanna, remember when you said “I look forward to meeting Ms. Crane at the NY Con and talking with her further on the subject.” I know logistically it was impossible for you and Crane to connect at the NYCC, but have you and Crane had a chance to chat yet?

  38. Lea Says:

    “I don’t mean that as snark, by the way…”

    I didn’t see/read it that way. No worries. ^_-

  39. Johanna Says:

    Unfortunately not, Tim.

  40. Gail Says:

    “OK, I need even more positive vibes in this comments thread. Is everyone loving Welcome to Tranquility as much as me? Thanks for an interesting read, Gail.”

    Thank you, Tim. I’m very fond of that book!

    Gail

  41. Dan Coyle Says:

    I’d like to announce the creation of a new fund: The Please Buy Dan Coyle a Playstation 3 Fund. The Ratchet and Clank Future cover story in EGM has convinced me I need a PS3. Please e-mail me at DanCSM99@aol.com for further details. ;-)

  42. Gail Says:

    I have a PS3, and I have to say, I hate it. I think it’s one of the least appealing video game systems ever launched. I’ve mainly been using it for a doorstop. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a new system I’ve played less at launch.

    Much prefer the 360 and even the Wii.

    True!

    Gail

  43. Tim O'Shea Says:

    My favorite wedding gift (yes, I’m now divorced, the irony of what I’m about to say does NOT escape me) was a Nintendo playstation. I got some Spider-Man game and could not get past the first level. That’s right, video games became too hard to play for me in 1993. Maybe as my seven-year-old son gets older, he can teach me. :)
    Coyle, you’re twisted. :)

  44. Lyle Says:

    Tim, it’s interesting to reread the goals for FoL…point four sticks out since WFA, Girl-Wonder and GAM seem to be accomplishing a lot more to that end.

  45. Dan Coyle Says:

    Okay, okay, let’s make it the Please Buy Dan Coyle a Wii Fund. I can’t wait to get my hands on a Wii and play with it till I get sore.

  46. Tim O'Shea Says:

    Get sore, or break a window more likely, Dan. I look at the Tiger Woods Wii game and envision even more busted TVs. How soon before Johanna blocks us from posting on this item for going waaaay off-topic.

  47. Tim O'Shea Says:

    Lyle, I meant to thank you for your perspective. And I just visited your blog (http://www.crocodilecaucus.com/wordpress/) for the first time. You find some interesting content, there (Nixon’s thoughts on All in the Family, for example!)

  48. Lyle Says:

    Thanks, Tim!

  49. Do You Have a Vision for Women in Comics? Friends of Lulu Needs Help ยป Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] 2. The Empowerment Fund fiasco in early 2007 in which a loose cannon board member announced a money-raising effort that ended in refunds, didn’t accomplish its goals, and made everyone look bad. The situation led to me questioning the need for the group in February 2007 and starting a discussion on how to solve volunteer group problems. [...]

Leave a Comment

Subscribe to comment feed.




Categories:

Pages:



Meta:

Most Recent Posts: