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Visit this page for ideas, suggestions and hints to build volunteer recruitment capacity.

~ November 2006 ~ Topics

Meeting To Get Things Done
Faulty Thinking About the Future

Meeting To Get Things Done

The bane of the modern workers life is the meeting. Here are some tips to make things happen in your next meeting and subsequent ones.

Plan early. Think about who needs to be there. A good way to determine this is to ask yourself this question: "If the person I invited sent me a bill for their hours at the meeting would I be will to pay it?" Ask people to come prepared—three questions or ideas on the topic are distributed in advance. Never regret sending reminders. Even close to the day of the session. Busy people can forget things—it is not personal.

Start on time. You set a tone for future meetings by closing the door and starting on time. Stragglers are not likely to be late for the next meeting.

Schedule only the time needed. Realistically estimate how long each item should take for discussion and decision. Then set the time based on that estimate. Avoid leaving cushion time. The tight time table forces you and the group to stay on track and not take side trips.

Encourage participation. The best meetings are those where everyone participates. To encourage that, use a round or square seating arrangement where people can sit around the table and see each other as they talk. Never stand at a meeting, it conveys the message that you are the "speaker."

Set objectives for the meeting. Write down in advance what you want to accomplish at the meeting. This is not the agenda items, but rather the outcome of the meeting. Share this central purpose with others at the meeting.

Start and end easy. The meeting should begin with relatively simple subjects or decision. End that way, too. Save the meaty stuff for the middle.

Emphasize the positive in agenda items. If the topic is one dealing with negatives turn it to a positives for discussion purposes. "We do not have enough volunteers for Thursday evening." Turn it into. "We want to increase the number of people serving on Thursday evening."

Keep individuals on topic. Put a sheet of easel paper on the wall and have a stack of post-its on the table. If a topic comes up that is not germane to the discussion, have the person raising the issue put it up on the "Parking Lot" easel paper on the wall. Deal with it, if time permits, at the end of the agenda, or put it on the next meetings agenda.

Break business into pieces. Not everyone needs to participate in every decision. If there are three choices to make, split the group of 12 people into three groups and let them discuss the pros and cons and report back to the big group. You will get better results in about half the time.

Categorize ideas. Try to separate suggestions into three categories. HOT-get going on these now—MIDDLING-might be worth pursuing but needs work—COLD-no can do.

List action items. Before leaving the meeting, compile a list of things people have agreed to do. Review this list and be prepared to share it with those attending the meeting.

Do a meeting summary. Formal minutes are for board meetings and Congressional hearings. A one or two page summary is sufficient for most business meetings.

Ask attendees for feedback. Ask people for ways you can improve the next meeting.

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Faulty Thinking About the Future

Are you thinking about where the volunteer program will be in three years or maybe ten? If you are not you should be. Planning ahead prevents catastrophes and builds strong programs. However, most people have a biased and unreliable manner of thinking. In a new book, Don't Believe Everything You Think, by Thomas Kida there is an outline of the six most common reasons why there are mistakes in our thinking about the future.

    1. We prefer stories to numbers. You can read the numbers or statistics on something, but if someone tells you a personalized story about that same topic, you believe the story, not the numbers.
    2. We seek to affirm, not question our ideas. Pick a controversial topic. We seek information that confirms our basic belief. For example, some managers of volunteer programs with stringent requirements for volunteers are quick to say there is no way to accommodate volunteers wishing to provide short term service; too many tests needed, too costly for short service, etc. Instead of raising questions and seeking ways to bring in a new constituency of volunteers. This limits the ability to seek the program into the future.
    3. We rarely appreciate the impact of "lady luck." The role of chance and coincidence are not appreciated in the process of establishing reasons for good and/or bad events—win the lottery, finding a lost item. We ignore probability theory.
    4. We misperceive the world around us. Wishful thinking can lead us to believe things that are not true. The desire to see a sports team win the big games and lead us to believe that there are loads of penalties going uncalled.
    5. We oversimplify our thinking. Absorbing facts and statistics can be mind-boggling. Lie detectors are frequently wrong. Medical tests are sometimes in error.
    6. Memory is frequently wrong. Attorneys are not anxious to use "eye-witness" testimony, as it is frequently flawed. No matter how strong the memory, it is not a snapshot of an event or occurrence. It alters over time.

Recognizing that we can engage in "faulty" thinking can help us avoid the pitfalls. General statistics, no matter how uncomfortable are still the best predictors of the future. Keeping track of attrition rates of volunteers can.

Interested in more information? Check out our online bookstore for: Episodic Volunteering: Organizing and Managing the Short-Term Volunteer Program, (now available in downloadable PDF format) by Nancy Macduff and The One Minute Answer to Volunteer Management Questions, by Mary Kay Hood.

Details for Episodic Volunteering Book Details for One Miinue Answer Book


The Points of Light Foundation has forms available to nominate volunteers and volunteer organizations for the Daily Points of Light Award. It is designed recognize individuals and groups that demonstrate unique and innovative approaches to community volunteering and citizen action, with a strong emphasis on service focused on the goals for children and young people set by the Presidents Summit for American's Future. The award is given five days a week, excluding holidays. If you would like nomination forms, call 202-729-8000.


By calling 1-800-VOLUNTEER in the U.S., individuals can be connected to their local volunteer center. This is a national interactive call routing system designed to get volunteers connected to people who can help them volunteer.

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