Three Ways to Say Two Words – Showing appreciation to your volunteers

In our recent blog “You’ve Got Issues” we urged you to clearly, completely, confidently, and creatively ‘publish’ issues central to the mission of your organization. In doing so, people with common interests will emerge to partner with you towards achieving change. We talked about the great potential that exists when people with like passions achieve synergy in addressing issues.

So, great.

Your Issue Brief has gotten the attention of all the right people. You have a passionate, dedicated, Self Directed Team planning, working, and implementing innovative strategies. Your capacity has multiplied and the reach of your organization has been extended in creative and meaningful ways.

You are moving the needle and seeing changes in your community.

You now realize that not even the sky is a limit. Let’s keep this moving forward!

Psssst. Not so fast! Yes; you have the resources, you have the ideas, you have boots on the ground, and you have accomplished so much. The temptation to steamroll on is valid. The momentum is irresistible!

But before you do, let’s make sure to adopt a cultural practice that will transform the way you interact with your volunteers and keep them highly engaged. That is – learn how to say Thank You in ways that matter.

Think beyond the mugs and appreciation lunches for a minute…

Elementary you may think. But it is a real thing that goes a long way.

We can suggest 3 simple and effective ways to show appreciation to your team of volunteers.

  1. Recognize their work at the highest organizational level. Whether it is a visit from the Executive Director, participation by the CEO, an article feature in a company-wide newsletter, or an opportunity to highlight their work on your website.
  2. Include them in employee morale building activities (e.g. holiday celebrations, etc.). The opportunity to develop relationships provides a sense of both appreciation and belonging. Connect them with your staff. This can turn out to be mutually inspiring!
  3. Give them access to personal/professional development training. Autonomy and purpose are naturally built in to a well-executed Self Directed Volunteer experience. Extend that by including them in training that could enhance their mastery in a given area.

Oh yes! The wonderful feeling that comes from doing what you are passionate about – with a meaningful thank you on top…

Can’t beat it!


To learn more about our work with Self Directed Volunteer Teams, email us at


You’ve Got Issues – How we can help you connect with the volunteers you need

Don’t write us off for saying it, but we’re pretty sure you’ve got issues.

Some people call it passion. Some people call it purpose. For now, we’re sticking with…


Truth be told, we’ve all got issues and it’s a beautiful thing!

Why beautiful? The reason is simple.

There are people out there who hold in their heart the very issues that are near and dear to you. And that, my friends, is where Self Directed Volunteer Teams and organizations find mutual satisfaction and motivation

So how do you make your issues known to people who might want to help? Great question!

We call it the Issue Brief. Through the SDV Network™ we can walk you through how to craft a compelling Issue Brief.

Here are some pointers to get you started:

Be Clear – avoid vague generalizations. Clearly articulate an area of need and how it relates to the mission of your organization.

Be Confident – put in the effort knowing that people are out there who, upon understanding your need, will be more than willing to help fill it.

Be Creative – think outside the box. Consider the external causes and internal organizational needs that would benefit greatly from another perspective.

Be Complete – let the details speak! Don’t leave out key information based on assumptions. Articulate important nuances regarding prior or current efforts, stakeholders, and timelines.


Yes, we’ve got Issues. And there are millions of capable, energetic, willing volunteers who are ready to help address issues that resonate with their own interests and passions.

So don’t keep it to yourself! Tell the world, “I’ve got issues!”

There are plenty of people waiting to go forth with you and conquer!


To learn more about our work with Self Directed Volunteer Teams and for more information on how to prepare and use an Issue Brief, contact us at

Building Your Blueprint: The Importance of Team Charters

Failure to plan is planning to fail. This is an oft-cliched saying and this is for good reason. And unfortunately it is far too easy to apply this saying to the world of self directed volunteer teams™. The process of creating an SDV team can be an exciting one. It is a process of gathering together motivated like-minded individuals that ready and raring to face an organization’s challenge. The organization is excited to have a team of individuals to meet this challenge, and the volunteers with their new roles are eager to start work right away. It becomes dangerously easy during this time to confuse momentum with productivity.

You can assemble the world’s most skilled group of construction workers, plumbers, electricians and bricklayers, but unless they unless everyone is working from the same blueprint you will never be able to build a proper house. Such is the case with the team charter. The team charter is the blueprint that the volunteer team and the organization create together and use to ensure that there desired objective is met.

So what exactly is a Team Charter?

A team charter is a document that is developed as a group, by the volunteer team and the agency, to specifically define the goal and direction of the team, it’s project and it’s scope.

The team charter is a high-level project guide document developed together by the organization and the team. It is an agreement  that clearly defines the respective expectations for the two groups. This document clearly defines, amongst other things, the team’s mission, objectives, roles, responsibilities and other attributes.

It is important that development of the team charter begins early and in such a way that all relevant stake-holders are able to be part of the development process. This ensures that both the organization and the team are fully educated on the nature of the project and that there is a collective feeling of responsibility and ‘buy-in’.

While developing the team charter can seem to be a tedious process, it is able to save countless hours in the long-run. The process will quickly bring to light possible future challenges, conflicts and most importantly ensure that everyone is working from the same blueprint.

To gain more information on how to create a Team Charter as well as to receive a sample team charter template Enroll in one of our training workshops.

How Wet Is your Well? – The Importance of Readiness Assessment

There is an old fable by Aesop that talks of two frogs. The two frogs lived together in a marsh. But one hot summer the marsh dried up, and they left it to look for another place to live in: for frogs like damp places if they can get them. By and by they came to a deep well, and one of them looked down into it, and said to the other, “This looks a nice cool place. Let us jump in and settle here.” But the other, who had a wiser head on his shoulders, replied, “Not so fast, my friend. Supposing this well dried up like the marsh, how should we get out again?”

The moral of the story: “Look before you leap.”

And yet when we talk about the benefits of using Self Directed Teams it is all too tempting to ‘leap’ directly into using them for your organization. We suggest instead taking the time to look first and truly assess whether your organization is ready to adopt the concept. The SDVN Readiness Assessment can help you to do this.
Embarking on the process of incorporating a self directed volunteer team into your organization is not a process to be taken lightly. An honest constructive look inward into your own organization and it’s readiness to start this journey will greatly mitigate against unforeseen risks. Remember that performing a readiness assessment test is not something that need, or should, be completed alone. To perform a thorough examination other stakeholders will need to be involved in the process. Doing so will indirectly help communicate to them how the model will work and help to garner support.

Our readiness assessment process focuses on eight key factors that we think of as being some of the most important:

  1.  Awareness Building & Planning
    i.e. How will the current staff ‘buy in’ to the idea of engaging volunteers in new roles? Are they open to moving from traditional volunteer roles to more autonomous ones? How will your supervisory staff react to the change?
  2. Organizational Culture
    i.e. Are there mechanisms in place to facilitate volunteers receiving feedback, coaching and accountability? Does your organization have clear attainable standards set for both staff and volunteers?
  3. Physical Infrastructure
    i.e. Do you have the physical space to accommodate volunteer team meetings? What resources are you willing to invest into the volunteer teams to aid them?
  4. Flexibility
    i.e. What are your overall recruitment plans/strategies? Are the roles that you are seeking to fulfill flexible enough to allow for non-traditional time commitments from volunteers such as one-time events or variable working hours/days.
  5. Continuum of Roles
    i.e. Is there some level of pre-service training required by some of the volunteers? Is there a suitable management system in place with volunteers prepared to supervise other volunteers/programs/projects/areas/ etc.
  6. Management Style
    i.e. Does your management style encourage personal empowerment? How willing is your organization to allow volunteers a high degree of autonomy? is your organization willing to involve volunteer teams in decision-making and regard them more as partners than subordinates?
  7. Recognition and Incentives
    i.e. Will volunteers have some choice in how they are recognized? Will personal development opportunities be available to volunteers? Are you willing to recognize the efforts of volunteers in official company literature?
  8. Volunteer Management Capacity?
    i.e. Do you have staff currently willing to devote a sufficient amount of time to volunteer engagement? Are you willing to set clear communication channels to and from volunteer teams as well as offer both training and evaluation?

As mentioned above, one of the easiest ways to get a true constructive look into the readiness of your organization is to complete our Readiness Assessment Test. This tool will give you a ‘score’ regarding your readiness as well as offer advice and provide tools to assist you in increasing your readiness. In this way you need not wonder just how much water is in your well. We can help you determine just how wet it is before you leap.

6 Ways to be a Horrible Team Facilitator

Congratulations! So you are the Team Facilitator. This is one of the most important roles in a Self Directed Volunteer™ group. Being the Team Facilitator requires you to have characteristics in order to be effective. This includes being positive, energetic, empowering, motivating, communicative and yet still humbly putting the needs of the group before their own.

So what exactly is your role as Team Facilitator? We definite it as follows:
The Team Facilitator is the volunteer team member who has received self directed team training and is responsible for facilitating the team process and coordinating with the Key Staff Person (see more on this later) to monitor outcomes of the team.

So how do you do this job effectively. This article will show you ways to be successful by examining ways to be horrible. And so without further ado, here are 6 Ways to be a Horrible Team Facilitator:

1. Dictating to the team what to do and when to do it.

As the team’s ‘leader’ it is tempting to believe that you are responsible for dictating to the team it’s future actions and timeline for delivery. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Fortunately for you this responsibility needs not be shouldered by you alone. Instead, the goal is to have the team work together collaboratively and use input from all members in determining the future direction.

2. Being (or believing yourself to be) the foundation of the team’s success

The beauty of the team format is that the successes (and challenges) are to be shared by all. As a Team Facilitator you do not have to feel personally responsible for the complete success of the team. Indeed that is a heavy burden to carry by one person. Instead, with your position, your goal is to actively encourage the team to success. Don’t just be a quarterback, but be the team’s biggest cheerleader as well.

3. Rigidly believing your way to be the best way

It is so so frustrating, when you know that best solution to a problem, but yet you have to gain the agreement of everyone on your team before you can implement it. Or even worse, be outvoted and forced to watch the group make a ‘bad’ decision. Being a Team Facilitator requires you to believe that there are no ‘bad’ decisions, but instead ‘learning experiences’. And sometimes you will be required to bite your tongue and be open to change. You’ve surrounded yourself with a team of highly qualified and capable individuals who all have the same goals as you. Be open to the possibility that there may be more than one ‘perfect solution’.

4. Being the Boss

Be the Leader

5. Assuming sole ownership

SDV Teams are special in that although there are leadership roles, there is no specific role responsible for ‘ownership’ of the whole team. Members of the team may be have responsibility for their own specific duties and area, but overall ownership of the team and it’s efforts is shared by the team. As the official spokesperson for the team don’t be tempted to feel ownership of the team and refer to it or it’s results with words such as “My”. Instead ensure that your mindset is such that you are always thinking of every part of the team as “Our”.

6. Be responsible for all dialogue

Stephen Covey, the best-selling author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People wrote:
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”.
As the Team Facilitator the members of your team will be looking to you to be the best listener. They will want to use you as a sounding board, an objective opinion-giver or even just someone to whom to vent. Yes, you are the team’s spokesperson but take care to periodically stop and ask yourself how much you are listening compared to how much you are talking.

So here we have cleverly disguised six characteristics of an effective Team Facilitator The Team Facilitator is an important but rewarding role and we want to to do everything possible to ensure that you are successful. We will be investigating more roles within Self Directed Volunteer teams™ in the future. If you should have any further questions or want to know more information then please don’t hesitate to Contact Us.

Free Collaboration Tools for your SDV Team – Part 2

Welcome back to our ongoing series of free online tools we recommend to facilitate collaboration in your Self Directed Volunteer team. In our first post we examined using a tool like Asana to assist you in project management and Evernote for information sharing. Today we’ll look at two more sharing-based tools: Dropbox and Skype.

3. Dropbox

dropboxAre your team members sharing files via email? – Consider using a tool like Dropbox
As useful as it is to share and save text information with the services mentioned previously sometimes we are going to need to share files. Typically most workers share files via email. The problem with this is when you want to work on that finance spreadsheet for the group you have to ensure that you’ve retrieved the right version from your email inbox and hope that nobody else has made conflicting changes with their own copy of the file. Imagine if instead there was one shared ‘hard-drive’ to which all of the team members had access. Team members can see changes being made in real-time and there is no possibility of ‘conflicting’ versions of files. And best of all, since this hard-drive is located ‘in the cloud’ it is regularly and automatically back-ed up such that earlier versions of each file can be retrieved as well as be made available offline.
This is exactly what DropBox does. Free use of the service does limit you to a specific amount of memory, however as you add more ‘members’ to your drop-box group your space will increase. Google has also recently made themselves a competitor to DropBox with the release of their ‘Google Drive’ service. Both options are equally useful and will ensure that your team are always working with the most up-to-date files.

4. Skype

skype Need help coordinating schedules for team meetings? – Consider using a tool like Skype
Finally, perhaps the simplest and still most important means of human to human collaboration is the human voice. As useful as it may be to ‘passively’ communicate with team-members via services such as Asana and Evernote, sometime you need real ‘face-to-face’ conversation and when this occurs your best bet is Skype. It is hard to imagine that there is anyone left who hasn’t at least heard of Skype. On the unlikely chance that you haven’t, Skype is a free service that allows you to make video and voice calls over the internet as well as instant messaging.
While many people are familiar with Skype’s use as a means to occasionally contact far-away family members, it is unfortunately very under-used in the corporate (or in this case non-profit) environment. Instead of forcing team-members to coordinate difficult schedules to meet at a physical location, meetings can take place via online video-conferencing. Instead of writing long emails to teammates, simple questions can quickly be asked and answered via instant message. And since all of your instant messages can be automatically saved and indexed it is easy to retrieve previously sent information (especially when paired with Evernote).

Most of the tools we have examined so far in this series also offer additional features for nominal fees and in many cases there are competitors offering similar services. However their majority of their creatures are completely free. So take some time today to examine these tools and carefully consider if they are a good fit for you and your team.

Have we missed anything? Are there any other free tools that you feel should be on this list? If so please let us know by e-mailing us at

Free Collaboration Tools for your SDV Team – Part 1

The beauty of being part of a Self Directed Team™ is the autonomous nature of your group. In an SDV team™ each person plays their own integral role with the combined mutual efforts accomplishing goals bigger than any one person could accomplish on their own. As your team is made up of volunteers however it is quite likely that not all of your teammates are able to see each other on a daily basis. In fact in some cases team members may not even live in the same country. This does not have to be a problem at all. Indeed being able to recruit expertise globally will open you to, literally, a whole new world of human resources. And with the wealth of free tools now available collaboration between team-members has never been easier or more cost-effective.

In this series of articles we are going to investigate  tools that we here at SDV Network™ recommend for you to use to manage, direct and collaborate with your SDV Team™. Each tool is available to you right now for absolutely free! Here are the first two tools in our series:

1. Asana

asanaAre you spending a lot of time in progress meetings? For your SDV Team™ to be productive you need to be able to easily organize your projects and tasks. This is where Asana comes in. Asana at it’s most basic is a shared task list for your team. Once you become proficient with it’s use however it becomes so much more.
Using Asana large projects can be created and then broken down into smaller tasks that can be assigned to individual team members. These tasks and projects can also be assigned attributes such as priority, estimated deadlines, resource requests, etc. Users can update their tasks as they complete them. And best of all it allows all members of the team, as well as the parent organization to see the status of the projects and tasks in real time. In this way everyone involved is ‘on the same page’ and fully informed. No more confusion over priorities or expectations. The interface is easy to use and does not require any expertise.
To find out more about Asana visit:

2. Evernote

evernoteIs all of your important information stored on paper and unorganized? It is such a cliched but still accurate statement: knowledge is power. And by working as part of a team your combined knowledge makes you a powerful asset indeed. But how do you access that knowledge? This is where the tool Evernote comes in. Evernote’s slogan is “Remember everything”. The simplest way to describe it would be as ‘a digital notepad’. But the true genius of the program lies in how you use it.
If you are similar to me and countless other typical workers you have volumes of useful, critical and just plain interesting information scattered across post-it notes, notebooks, old print-outs and other surfaces in and around your desk. Imagine digitizing all of these notes, allowing them to be easily organized and searchable. And furthermore imagine that these notes can be easily shared with and accessed by other team-members. Evernote allows you to do this.
You can cut and paste digital documents or websites and take photos of physical documents or notes. Evernote automatically organizes and indexes all of your information. The full power of Evernote is too much to be described in one blog post alone, but you can find other examples of it’s use by visiting:

So there you have it.
Two completely free services that are available right now to help you to turn your SDV team™ into a lean mean productive machine. If you are not currently using one of these services than we encourage you to take a few minutes today and do some research into their use. Hopefully this article will encourage you to pause and consider whether any of these tools are a profitable fit for your team.

Have we missed anything? Are there any other free tools that you feel should be on this list? If so please let us know by e-mailing us at

Self-Directed Teams™: An Idea Whose Time Has Come


What a great idea – a website where people working with self-directed teams™ can share ideas!

When I was working as a volunteer manager I helped to start a self-directed team to attract baby boomer volunteers. When I retired 5 years ago, I joined the team I created and have been an active member ever since.

I’m convinced that self-directed teams are an idea whose time has come. Unfortunately, most of the literature on how to create and nurture teams comes out of the world of paid work. There is very little information on creating self-directed teams of volunteers to solve problems in nonprofits and the community. This website can help to fill that void but it is up to us who are experimenting and learning about teams to share what we know. Contributing to this blog is a great way to get started.

Something exciting is happening in volunteerism. I believe that organizationally-based volunteering, like the world of paid work before it, is moving into its “post-industrial age.”  In our industrial age, staff were the “thinkers” and volunteers were the “doers” or “laborers”.” In those days, paid staff did all of the work that really mattered. They were the experts who came up with the solutions, created the programs and defined what volunteers would do. All that was left for the volunteers was to follow their orders. In volunteerism’s industrial age, volunteer work was too often low-skilled, routine and boring. Independent thinking and creativity were not required – in fact, they were discouraged.

Today, in volunteerism’s “post-industrial” age, we are beginning to look at volunteers not just as an extra pair of hands but as people with knowledge that supplements that of staff and sophisticated problem-solving skills.  Volunteer managers and staff are realizing that at least some volunteers can come up with their own solutions to problems, determine what actions to take and monitor their own progress. All of the talk today about pro-bono and skilled volunteerism is a recognition that if nonprofits are to really make a difference they have to find new ways of unleashing the higher skills of volunteers. They also need to allow volunteers to tackle the really tough issues (that in the past were thought to be appropriate only for the paid professionals) in new and creative ways.

In this new age of volunteerism, I can’t think of a better strategy than self-directed teams™ for engaging volunteers with diverse, professional skills and for providing a safe structure for them to come up with their own, creative solutions to organizational and community challenges. I hope to talk more about this in future posts.

The SDV Team: Getting to Know Each Other

When your team comes together, they may have different levels of experience with each other. It might be that they know each other well, it might be be that they know each other from events or committees, or they might not know each other at all.

What we do know is that people who get to know each other will work together even more smoothly. So, to set things off on the right note – it is good to have your team begin to see the things that they have in common with other team members.

You’ll want to do some activities to break the ice, here are some good examples:

– Ask people to get to know something relevant about each other in pairs, and introduce their partner to the group.

– Invite each member to introduce themselves, and share something from the past like the first concert they ever saw, or their favorite childhood craft.

– Share something about a previous success working on a team.

– Create a drawing that shows their interests and talents. Have each team member share their drawing and explain it to the group. Post each drawing     on the wall, and the next person who goes will link to their drawing to the last one (e.g., both like yoga).

Getting the group to find areas of shared interest will help relationships to grow and will help your project to gel faster. Do you have some activities that you do to help team members break the ice? Let us know below!

Building a Team – The Basics

So you have a community project you would like to tackle. Or you need some new thinking about a program, or even a new way to get some valuable insight. Bringing a team of self-directed volunteers together could be a great way to start. You see, when you work with a self-directed team, you are giving them the challenge – and seeing what they can come up with to address the issue at hand.

It may seem a bit daunting. You may be thinking… What if I don’t like the ideas the team comes up with? What if the team members don’t get along?  I don’t have time to supervise a team!

Well, you may actually find that the team works on its own. With the appropriate training and start, a team can be well positioned to help your project, organization, or community to benefit from the best of group work, in a short period of time, and with a significant contribution that invigorates your volunteers and helps them to give in a new way.

You would be surprised to see the ways that different types of people can work together to learn new skills, contribute existing talents, and even help others to join the team.

What you will need to start is some interested people who would like to contribute to your organization in a new way and a key staff person who will be the champion of the team, help them to get off the ground, and be the liaison between the team and your organization. You will also want to identify a leader who can act as the team leader, this can be an existing volunteer or a new person who you would like to engage.

A great way to get started is to take the Readiness Assessment ( and see how you score to start.

Self-directed teams are a great way to tap into the talents in your community. Let’s get going!