“All We Did is Pick Weeds in a Field”: A Painful Volunteer Engagement Lesson

 “All we did is pick weeds in a field.”

Heart sinking, I listened.

A client called after serving as volunteers for a project that I had arranged and said this.

Wait, that cannot be right! I did a site visit with the organization, one of the biggest and best run nonprofits in town-- they showed me the project and it was good -- developing an educational area in their environmental program for school kids.

You all said you wanted an environmental and youth-focused project. This was volunteer day, match-made-in-heaven perfection!

So, what happened?? 


The upshot was the volunteers were not shown their return on investment (ROI). They are there to make a social impact (investment) and need to know how the task of today relates to the mission (return). 

Sadly, in my story, the volunteers didn’t get the purpose or the connection to the mission and felt like it was a waste of their time. The organization and I had missed effectively laying the groundwork to demonstrate this because we assumed it was obvious to them like it was to us. 

We knew this task was part of the bigger picture but clearly the volunteers did not make that connection, which was our mistake-- we needed to tell them this. They saw a long, hot, boring day of “picking weeds in a field”. UGH. What a missed opportunity!

Since this is National Volunteer Week, I wanted to share this story. Many of you do mission-oriented work every day, are immersed and know how each task, however small or mundane, is part of the big picture. But many (most) of your volunteers need you to paint that picture for them. We can’t assume it’s obvious. It’s our duty to illustrate to volunteers why this work matters to the good work of the organization, no matter the task. Does this also apply to board members? No doubt -- absolutely, yes!

Volunteers want to know-- 
How am I making an impact? What is possible because I am volunteering today?

My Advice from Lessons Learned
Take time to step back out of your day to day operations mode and think about a person experiencing your organization with no context or prior knowledge. Think through these questions and decide how you can articulate this in a meaningful way to your volunteers (through words, images, demonstrations, etc.). 
  • What is the community need?
  • What does the organization do overall to meet the need?
  • What does this program do to affect the need?
  • How does this specific volunteer project relate back to that need?
  • What is possible because of today’s volunteer efforts?

These are the questions and answers that will help volunteers see there is a return on their investment. This is what they need to know to feel committed, part of the team and to stick around. It’s not hard to do but is easy to forget to do. 


Take the time to make the explanation, show the ROI, for your volunteers and watch their dedication grow!

A Sneak Peek at a Journal & Keeping One for Work

Circa 5th grade, at a sleepover at my house with about 5 girls, a friend snuck in my bedroom, found my
journal and read it. Then she told another girl at the sleepover about it. I found out because the friend who
was told, was so appalled at the invasion of privacy, that she thought I should know.  Morals form young!
That is one of my first memories of journal writing --many life lessons there, no doubt.  I never stopped
writing but I did start to hide my journal better and choose my friends more carefully.  😏
Life lesson aside, writing in the journal is not just for personal use.  For work, it can be used to let go of
worries or jot down wild ideas, or to write a pros and cons list help make an important decision. It can serve
as a way to organize thoughts and ideas that may otherwise just play ping-pong in your brain.  It can
also be a way to process serious business decisions and think through great ideas for a business or
organization’s future.   
Reading articles about the benefits of keeping a journal align with my beliefs in its mental health benefits
and its career strengthening advantages as well.
I find that handwriting the journal has more value than typing for me.  Perhaps because I find myself to be
morehonest and less edited when writing by hand versus typing.  Is that true for you?
(and my handwriting is terrible so it assures that no one could read my journal!)
Related articles:
6 Ways Keeping a Journal Can Help Your Career

So, if not already doing so,  journal away and strengthen your business mind!

A Leader Who Motivates - Let That Be You!

Are you feeling refreshed? New Years resolutions still in-hand?  Excellent! 

Happy New Year!

While you are in the mode of self-improvement and being goal-oriented, I want to share a few tips that may help you in your work with your team. 

This past summer I taught a class about motivating leadership  for the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation Institute for Organization Management.  From this class is a list of practical ways to build your leadership on a day-to day-basis. Below are some of my favorite, very practical tips, that you can use. Just creating the list gave me the ideas and reminders that I needed as well.  See what you think! 


Practical Ways to Build Your Leadership Style and Motivate Your Team

  • Be authentic
  • Get feedback on your leadership
  • Continue learning
  • Be honest and trustworthy
  • Be transparent and consistent
  • Don’t take it all too seriously; have a sense of humor
  • Be confident and courageous


  • Your arrival sets a tone everyday. Say “good morning”
  • Lead by example. They are watching you!
  • Speak to everyone daily that reports to you directly
  • Make time weekly to meet with each person that reports directly to you
  • Recognize achievements
  • Provide regular, timely feedback- Use simple, powerful words - “thank you”, “you did a nice job”
  • Listen first
  • Ask individuals what motivates them, support their advancement
  • Address conflict to keep a positive work environment

  • Set the vision for the team, be clear on the mission
  • Assure all knows their role, goals and what you expect
  • Start on the right foot - onboard team members well
  • Help people understand how their job fits in the larger context
  • Say “yes” to your team members, trust in them and their ideas
  • Update the team after meetings so all are in the loop
  • Be inclusive -- “all at the table”
  • Have positive and negative consequences to actions; ignoring bad behavior is demotivating to others

Remember that every person is motivated in some way. You cannot motivate another person, but you can set up a culture that encourages motivation.

Other Great Resources:
17 Ways Great Leaders Motivate Their People
Manager vs Leader Inforgraphic
Assessment: How Good Are Your Leadership Skills?



You can do this! Best to you in 2018.

Jump Into the Quarry?!

A few summers ago, I went to a popular, local “swim hole”. I had heard it was really fun, swimming in this huge quarry lake. There were 100 or so people swimming in the cold water that seemingly had no bottom. Others were swinging off ropes from rocky embankments into the water. People were having a great time. I love nature and love swimming so found it really cool in one respect. Though simultaneously my thought was, “Whoa, this is a liability nightmare. Who insures them?”

Makes me sound like I’d be fun at parties, right?  I chalk that up to a few summers in high school and college working at a very well-run outdoor summer camp. Clearly, it had an impact!

I joke but the dangers were real. Not too long after I was there a young woman, a competitive swimmer, drowned there. This was tragic and considering her swimming ability, exposed some real vulnerabilities. The right thing to do as a business is to plan before something goes wrong.

Risk management is a timely topic this summer, as many organizations dip their toes into less familiar settings and activities. In many cases summer activities pose a different set of risks compared year-round programs.

What can you do to keep your missions, staff, clients and communities safe? While staying positive about the upsides of your programs, spend time identifying the what ifs’. Next, identify what steps you’re taking to increase the likelihood of success, and reduce the possibility for error, accidents and harm. Finally, ask whether you’re prepared to respond if something does go wrong, from severe weather to violation of policy. (Thanks, Melanie Herman!)

A favorite resource is the The Nonprofit Risk Management Center. They describe themselves as “enabling nonprofit leaders to identify and manage risks that threaten their missions and operations, while empowering them to leverage opportunities and take bold, mission-advancing risks.”  Nice, right?

They offer a free resource library  with great information on a variety of topics such as workplace safety, youth protection issues, vendor management, insurance and more.

I suggest signing up for their weekly e-newsletter, Risk e-News, as I always find something useful there as it really goes beyond risk issues and discusses good planning and management overall. The tutorial, Accident Response, has some great basic information to help you and your team be prepared.

These will help you get started. Be prepared and be safe, all!






We Can't Do It Alone

“It’s been the most humbling and sacrificial experience I have had”, says Kisha Webster, a former principal and consultant to school districts and principals. But she is not talking about this work, as she is on hiatus from it. She is referring to her current work as a Community and Education AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer with Open Works, the makers space in the Greenmount West neighborhood.

What can we all learn from Kisha? A bunch.

Kisha is also the President of the Greenmount West Community Association and with that has also taken on leadership of the newly founded Greenmount West Community Center. The Community Center was established in just two months in response to the neighborhood kids having nothing constructive to do. Open Works found children spending a hours of their time there, hanging out, just to be in a welcoming and positive environment. Kisha and her team saw a need and addressed it.


Kisha says she originally thought that she could take on this work alone, but found it to be “so overwhelming”. She said it made her reach out to others. She is clear that the resources and expertise others bring to the table is key to the success. Kisha’s VISTA year ends mid September. She says that her goal is to set things in place and teach others, so that in her absence, things can continue to thrive. She is clear that this operation cannot rely only on her.


Kisha’s leadership shines through and her commitment and hard work is admirable and inspiring. She is leaving a meaningful imprint on a community by teaching others to do what she is gifted with -- leading, building camaraderie and making a vision a reality for the good of a community.


Kisha inspired me and left me with much to think about for my own work and volunteer efforts, so I thought I’d share her story with you. There are many take-aways from her work that are important for all of us.

3 Important Points & Resources



1.Build a program that stands without you. You are so valuable and your presence will be felt beyond your time with the organization if you build an excellent foundation with documented systems and process. Resource: How to Grow A Business That Can Run Without You


2.Good partnerships and/or strategic alliances are important and valuable. Beyond the type of partnership that means you give us money (we need those too), how does your work interconnect with that of other organizations? How can individuals support your work? How can you plan together to better serve your clients? Resource: The BridgeSpan Group has some very helpful information on this.


3.Go visit Open Works!  It is beautiful community space and has top of the line equipment for makers of all genres. They say, “We’ve built a place where anyone can build nearly anything–that’s where you come in”. Even if you are not naturally gifted in this area, it is very cool to see and they offer classes to help you hone your skills.

When you are maxed out within the capacity of our organization or need an outside perspective, KS Solutions will help. We will work at your side providing strategy, facilitation, planning and an extra set of skilled hands for a special project or to help excel your everyday work. You will feel confident that the work is in capable hands, so you can rest easy!

We offer a free 20 minute phone consultation to be a thought partner and/or talk about your projects. Contact us.