Quotes and Questions – Ignorance

Two quotes:

  • “Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.” —Benjamin Franklin
  • “The recipe for perpetual ignorance is: Be satisfied with your opinions and content with your knowledge.” —Elbert Hubbard

Two questions:

  1. Are you hanging on to opinions and ideas that you haven’t tested and proved?
  2. What are you doing to open you mind to new knowledge and information?

Oprah’s three questions for running effective meetings

Meetings, meetings, meetings! Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.

It’s estimated that on any given day in the USA, there are 11,000,000 formal meetings held. That works out to well over 200 million meetings per month. Around half of those meetings are 30 to 90 minutes in length.

Another statistic says, during the meeting, nine out of 10 people will daydream, and 73 percent of people will work on other things. That’s a lot of unproductive meeting time.

There are many ways to make meetings productive. Reportedly,
Oprah Winfrey kicks off every meeting with the same three questions to get everyone engaged and to set clear goals:

What is our intention for this meeting? What’s important? What matters?

High performers seek out clarity; they don’t sit around waiting for things to become clear. A report in the journal “Current Directions in Psychological Science” provides a formula of sorts for what should happen before, during, and after meetings.

After examining nearly 200 studies, the research team found that essentially, productive meetings come down to being clear about your reasons for meeting, while stripping out what’s unimportant to focus on what is important.

Meetings should not include agenda item like “information,” “recap,” ” review,”or “discussion.” Productive meetings often have one-sentence agendas like, “Determine the product launch date” or “Select software developer for database redesign.”

Effective meetings result in decisions: who is going to do what, and when? Clear decisions made efficiently.

At your next meeting, ask Oprah’s three questions. It works for her, it should work for you.

Free or Low-Cost ways to reward employees

Everyone likes to be appreciated!

This sounds like it should be common sense, but it doesn’t always translate to common action. This is especially true in non-profit organizations. There is an assumption that using rewards to show employee appreciation costs money; and money is generally in short supply in a non-profit. There are however, many ways to show appreciation and reward employees that cost little or nothing.

Bob Nelson, co-founder of the National Association for Employee Recognition, is passionate about recognizing and rewarding employees, and, more importantly, doesn’t believe it needs to cost much (or anything!) to do it effectively. His doctoral research focused on why managers do or don’t use praise or recognition with employees, and he has done research with employees to determine what has the most impact on them.

His book, 1001 Ways to Reward Employees: 100’s of New Ways to Praise! Revised & Updated 2nd Edition (aff), is full of simple, time-tested ways (1001) for rewarding employees, ways any manager in any organization can add to their arsenal.

Nelson lists three key principles for employee recognition:

  • Match the reward to the person
  • Match the reward to the achievement
  • Be timely and specific

If you are looking for free or inexpensive ways to reward and recognize your employees, this book is a great resource.

By-the-way: it’s also works for volunteer appreciation.

How to delegate effectively in the non-profit sector

One would think, given the human-centric focus of most nonprofit organizations, they would be great examples of post-industrial leadership styles. Rather than a top-down management style they would exhibit the best traits of current, collaborative leadership. Unfortunately, that is not often the case.

There may be a couple of reasons why this is so:

One suggestion is, nonprofit organizations tend to be more collegial, have flatter management structures, and have a kind hearted approach to their employees. Therefore, leaders in these organizations are reluctant to burden staff and volunteers with delegated work.

Another suggestion says, the type of personality, drive and ability it takes to become a nonprofit leader often adds up to “control freak” (I can relate).

However, the inability or unwillingness to delegate is one of the biggest problems managers face. Delegation is one of the most important management skills for managers and leaders. The benefits are substantial, both for the leader, for staff, and for the organization.


  • Saves time for the manager to focus on things only they can do.
  • Ensures tasks are assigned to staff with skills to do the job.
  • Gives staff opportunity to develop.
  • Motivates and engages staff.

So, how do we delegate effectively?

  1. Plan – know what needs to be done, and be able to explain it clearly to the one receiving the task. Understand the skills required to complete the task, the outcomes expected, etc. Nothing is worse than setting-up someone for failure by giving them a job that is not clearly defined, and not matched to their skill-set.
  2. Define – Ensure the person receiving the task understands what is to be achieved with specific and measurable results; how they are responsible for producing the required outcomes; the deadline for completing task/project; what their level of decision-making authority is.
  3. Monitor don’t micro-manage, but provide enough oversight to enable the job to be completed: schedule regular progress meetings; make yourself available to provide clarification; communicate effectively.
  4. Be patient – If delegating is not currently an active part of your management toolbox, it’s going to take time for it to work fully. The first time you delegate a task, staff may lack confidence in the process, and come to you more frequently, or proceed carefully, taking more time that might be necessary. Stick to it, be consistent. The more you staff gets comfortable with the process and results, the more confident and efficient they will be come. Don’t dismiss delegation at the first hiccup, but support the process to see more effective results.

When you invest the time and energy to delegate, you increase personal and organizational effectiveness.  You improve communication, build skills and competency, and strengthen employee engagement. Effective delegation makes others better and ensures that even when you are absent your leadership impact is still present.

6 Steps for Recruiting Volunteers

Volunteers play a critical role in the operations of non-profit organizations and NGOs. For many organizations, volunteers can make the difference between successfully delivering services or program or falling short of their goals.

However, it is becoming more difficult to recruit volunteers. More people are expressing a lack of time are a reason they don’t volunteer. Additionally, more organizations are in the market for volunteers.

What kinds of things can your NGO/non-profit organization do to maximize your recruiting efforts? Here are six steps for recruiting volunteers.

1. Recruit

Write a job description and post on:

  • Volunteer Websites
  • Your organization’s website, or social media pages such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.
  • Include it in your regular newsletter, whether electronic or paper.
  • Ask current committee members to circulate the posting or suggest potential names.

2. Find out what attracts a new volunteer

What sorts of things motivate people to volunteer? Understanding their needs will help you better match them to the volunteer opportunities you have. Perhaps they have a:

  • need to network with peers
  • desire to better understand local markets
  • need to give back to the profession
  • wish to enhance their career
  • need for appreciation and recognition
  • need to belong

3. Select

Interview them like you would a prospective employee. The interview is an important component to the comprehensive volunteer screening process and allow both the organization and the potential volunteer to make informed decisions about participation.

The selection process should also include reference checks and any background checks that would be considered standard for the services your organization provides. E.g., a vulnerable sector check if you service vulnerable individuals.

4. Orient and train your volunteer

In order to be effective, volunteers need to receive adequate orientation and training. Orientation familiarizes volunteers with your organization’s policies and procedures and will help them to act in alignment with your organization’s mission and values. Training helps ensure that volunteers can perform their roles effectively and minimizes potential risks posed to themselves and others.

5. Manage

A volunteer’s schedule will look different from that of staff. Generally, they are giving of their spare time. Manage the expectations up-front. Create a schedule that is mutually beneficial to the organization and to the volunteer.

6. Recognize and reward

Volunteers are motivated by much the same things that motivate all of us:  praise, affiliation, accomplishment, power and influence. Remember to say thank you to your volunteers.  Say it often.  Say it publicly.  Say it with sincerity. And, hold formal events that recognize the hard work and contributions of your volunteers. Take time to focus on them.

There are challenges that make it difficult to recruit and retain the active volunteers needed to serve the community’s needs. But with determination, focus and strategy, volunteer-run organizations can find those individuals willing to influence their cause.

Theme and Variations

As I reactivate things here at Ian’s Messy Desk, there is going to be a bit of a shift in content. While still focusing on personal development, leadership and management skills, productivity, and related tools, the overarching theme will be the not-for-profit/NGO environment.

NGO leaders face many challenges – both at a personal and organisational level. These challenges are distinct from those faced by governments or the for-profit sector. NGO leaders are often isolated and unsupported. It can be challenging to find qualified individuals willing to work in this sector. Often, someone gets thrown into a leadership role, without training or much in the way of support.

Through the content of this web-site, I hope to share some of my experience from twenty-plus years of not-for-profit management, as well as relevant experience from time spent in for-profit management.

Some things to keep in mind as you look at the content on Ian’s Messy Desk:

  1. I live in Canada. Much of my personal experience is influenced by Canadian law, practice, culture, etc. These things vary from country to country, and what works here may not work as well in a different country.
  2. I don’t know everything (the bleeding obvious). This content is based on my experience. Your mileage may vary. There are many successful ways of getting to a similar end. Take from this site what works for you, ignore what doesn’t, and add to the conversation by sharing your thoughts in the comments.
  3. I am not a lawyer, accountant, etc., etc. This content does not constitute formal recommendations. Always review your decisions with an appropriate, qualified professional
  4. Some links make money. The will be links I include in content that are affiliate links. That is, if you click the link, and purchase the product or service at the other end, I get a couple of dollars from the transaction. There are costs associated with maintaining a web-site like this, and any revenue I can generate helps with those costs. In the interest of disclosure, I will identify such links with the letters ‘aff’ in parenthesis. E.g., (aff).

I hope you find the renewed version of Ian’s Messy Desk to be useful. If you have comments and suggests, leave them on a post, or use the Contact page.

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