In Memory of a Class Act

It was the late 1960’s when I got to see David McCallum (be still my teenaged heart) in person in Minneapolis, MN – close enough to get this photo of him.

Fresh off his success as Illya Kuryakin in the popular TV series, The Man from Uncle, McCallum was the featured guest speaker at a national conference for volunteers (like myself) who worked with children with Down Syndrome and other intellectual and developmental disabilities. The conference was hosted by the organization now known as The Arc, and McCallum was their national spokesperson then.

I was one of several members representing YOUTH PARC: Youth Organized and United To Help the Pennsylvania Arc at this conference. Besides networking with other youth Arc volunteers throughout the U.S., the main draw was hearing this celebrity share his passion for helping the children we served.

Sadly, David McCallum passed away a few days ago. Well known for his roles in The Man from Uncle and in NCIS (as pathologist “Ducky” Mallard), among other roles in movies and TV shows, I don’t know how many others knew this side of him.

His online obituaries acknowledge this man as a talented actor, musician, renaissance man, family man, and gentleman. These tributes reinforce the wonderful man that I first met at that youth conference decades ago.

I didn’t see an actor who was full of himself. Instead, I saw a kind-hearted man who sincerely advocated for children with developmental disabilities. He was also most genuine and approachable. While you can’t see it from the cropped photo above, McCallum didn’t speak from the podium. Instead, he sat at the end of the stage with Kenny Robinson, president of the YOUTH Arc, to address the audience. I’ve treasured this beautiful memory ever since.

Thank you, David McCallum. You were a class act.

Rest in peace.

[Photo by Sybil F. Stershic]

Engagement Training & Development

Where to go when you need emotional first aid

How do we cope when we’re bombarded with crisis after crisis? Weather-related disasters, hate crimes, political and economic struggles, rampant mistrust and distrust, etc.

If you’re looking to understand how we can help ourselves and each other get through difficult times, I recommend the free online library of Global Facilitators Serving Communities (GFSC), a volunteer facilitator network providing materials, methods, and mentoring to help communities in crisis.

GFSC’s Library contains articles and guides that cover psychosocial crisis management or, more simply, “emotional first aid” topics for individuals, facilitators, and leaders, including:

  • managing grief, anxiety and stress

  • emotional recovery

  • building resilience

  • communicating, leading in crisis situations

  • caring for caregivers

GFSC’s Library materials includes insights and perspectives from different countries and cultures, with many articles available in English and Spanish.

I invite you to explore this online resource and check out one of its most popular articles: A Light in This Dark Valley Guide-A Guide for Emotional Recovery: “Fifty Things You Can Do When There is Nothing Else to Do” by Gilbert Brenson-Lazan and Maria Mercedes Sarmiento Diaz.

This is just one of many helpful articles available for individual and community development.

I also invite you to share GFSC’s Library with others you know who may be in need of emotional first aid.

[Image credit: Enrique Meseguer from Pixabay]

Engagement Training & Development

A Special Anniversary Worth Sharing

I’m excited to “share” that 10 years ago this summer my book, Share of Mind, Share of Heart: Marketing Tools of Engagement for Nonprofits, was published.

[Note: this was the second – and last – business book I wrote, disappointing my son and husband who pushed for a trilogy. Sorry, guys!]

I was encouraged by my nonprofit colleagues to write Share of Mind, Share of Heart given the favorable response to my first book on workplace engagement. The new book’s content was based on three foundational nonprofit principles I learned through extensive experience both personally (as a frontline volunteer, board member, and board chair) and professionally (as a marketing & organizational advisor, workshop instructor, and facilitator):

  • Mission matters – it provides organizational focus and intention.
  • The people behind the mission also matter – the employees and volunteers who impact the brand.
  • People’s passion for the mission should not be taken for granted – it does not ensure their continued commitment.

In an easy-to-read format, the book shares the insight and practical tools needed to engage employees and volunteers. This short actionable guide also includes thought-provoking questions and worksheets readers can use to apply the concepts in their organizations.

Share of Mind, Share of Heart was introduced on my blog (It’s Here! Help for Engaging Nonprofits’ Most Powerful Assets) in July 2012 and was later recognized as a Winner of the 2013 Small Business Book Awards.

Even post-pandemic, this book’s evergreen content is a valuable guide for nonprofit staff and volunteer leaders who want to strengthen their organization’s engagement from the inside-out.

Consider it an affordable investment and inspiring gift you can share with the nonprofits you care about. Limited print copies are still available through Firefly Bookstore.

“A book is a gift you can open again and again.” Garrison Keillor

[Photo by Toby Bloomberg of her beloved dog, Max, reading Share of Mind, Share of Heart: Marketing Tools of Engagement for Nonprofits. Such a smart dog!]




A New, Painful Perspective

Feeling overwhelmed by work responsibilities? I was until …

I got perspective. And it hit me hard.

This awakening occurred after I participated in an online discussion with a core group of indefatigable volunteer members of Global Facilitators Serving Communities (GFSC) and several Ukrainian facilitators/consultants. It’s purpose was to better understand the challenges they face and how we might help each other. The meeting took place as part of a series of supporting discussions that followed up GFSC’s online workshop, “Crisis > Change > Choice – Building Personal & Community Resilience,”  held for Ukrainian facilitators.

Professional and personal crises

Stories were shared of their frustrations in finding work opportunities in foreign countries as displaced professionals where they’re viewed as refugees. I find it difficult to imagine their experiences:

  • escaping the trauma of war while continuing to worry about family and friends who remain in the Ukraine
  • adapting to different cultures, languages, business customs
  • uncertain of how long they’ll stay and when/if they can return home
  • struggling to be respected as professionals; as one participant commented, “I’m dealing with who I was then vs. who I am now.”

Their stories reflected amazing resilience. Nonetheless, I can’t imagine not helping them.

What can I/we do?

One of the ideas that emerged from our discussion – one I’m excited to engage in – involves reaching out to colleagues in selective professional and personal networks to make helpful connections.

Even though I’m still overwhelmed by work, I now have a different perspective given what I learned from my peers in the Ukraine. As the saying goes “It’s all relative” … and it’s worth helping where we can.

If you’re interested and want to learn more, please email

[Image by stokpic from Pixabay]

Volunteers Get to the Heart of the Matter

Q: How would you facilitate a meeting-of-the-minds between two competitive nonprofits?

A: Very carefully.

That was my challenge when I was asked to facilitate a special meeting of two organizations striving to enhance their impact in their community: one was a local affiliate of an established nonprofit and the other was a grass-roots start-up. Both groups were dedicated to helping people with cancer.

Concerned with competing for limited donor and volunteer resources, the established nonprofit felt threatened and candidly admitted they wanted the new organization to just “go away.” Fortunately, they accepted the new group’s invitation to sit down together and explore how they could co-exist to serve the community.

Focusing on what matters

I remember my feelings of trepidation as I prepared for the joint meeting – I was a facilitator, not a peace-keeper! But my fears dissolved after interviewing several volunteers from each organization. Their message was clear and consistent: “We don’t care who we work for as volunteers, we just want to eradicate cancer. So find a way to work out your differences.“

These volunteers provided the critical reinforcement and reminder both nonprofits needed to hear: purpose supersedes politics. It also proved to be the perfect framework for a dynamic and fruitful dialogue.

I’m happy to share both organizations took the volunteers’ message to heart as they continue to successfully co-exist and collaborate in their efforts to help people with cancer.

[Image by Lou Kelly from Pixabay]

Nonprofits: What to Do About National Volunteer Week During COVID-19

One serious consequence of the current pandemic is that many nonprofits are unable to rely on volunteers as a significant on-site resource. In Coronavirus & Volunteers: Your Guide for Managing Uncertainty, Tobi Johnson describes this challenging situation:

“Leaders of volunteers must often balance competing priorities – the needs of volunteers, the needs of the organization, and the needs of the communities they serve.

“In many cases, organizations can’t simply shut down their facilities. And, front-line workers who rely on volunteers to supplement their work are forced to choose between having an extra pair of hands and risking disease spread to clients, co-workers, volunteers, and the families of all.”

What does this mean for National Volunteer Week being observed April 19-25, 2020?

I intended to survey nonprofit leaders about their plans to celebrate volunteers this year but posts on my local Nonprofit Agencies COVID-19 Group Facebook page were (and still are) so filled with desperate requests for masks, gloves, food, and other critical mission-related supplies that I didn’t have the heart to ask them.

Understand volunteer motivation and why it can’t be taken for granted

People don’t volunteer for the sake of being recognized. They dedicate their time and talent because they’re attracted to an organization’s mission — they want to be part of something that matters and know their efforts make a difference. As I wrote in my book, Share of Mind, Share of Heart: Marketing Tools of Engagement for Nonprofits:

“Mission matters. The people behind the mission also matter, and their passion for the mission can never be taken for granted.”

That’s why COVID-19 isn’t an excuse for not recognizing volunteers. So what can you do?

Volunteer appreciation during the pandemic … and after

A sincere and simple “thank you” message to your volunteers is what’s needed to acknowledge their continued support of your organization and mission. This can be part of, or in addition to, any special COVID-19 communication update(s) you share with volunteers and stakeholders.

Many volunteers are frustrated in not being able to directly serve as they did pre-pandemic and would rather be side-by-side with your staff than sidelined. You may also acknowledge this in your thank-you and, if applicable, offer virtual and other alternative options for them to continue supporting your nonprofit.

When the pandemic is over, many of your volunteers will be more than ready to return. You may also find yourself with new volunteers motivated to serve.

And next year, we can look forward to having have more volunteers to recognize and time to participate in more formal volunteer appreciation efforts.

[Title image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay. Thank you card image by Howard Riminton on Unsplash.]


Summer Blog Break 2019

July and August are a time to invest in sunscreen to avoid sunburn. For me, it’s also a time to invest in a break to avoid blogging burnout.

I enjoy this special time to step back from the pressure of posting. But it’s not a total vacation as I’ll be working this summer to help clients with their facilitation and training needs while continuing to stay active on Twitter (@SybilQSM), LinkedIn, and other social media.

In the meantime, I invite you to explore this blog with its abundance of evergreen content on improving employee, volunteer, and customer care with internal marketing tools of engagement.

Have a happy and safe summer!

[Image: photo by Anna Demianenko on Unsplash]


5 Ways Nonprofits Can Effectively Engage Employees and Volunteers

“Mission matters. The people behind the mission also matter, and their passion for the mission can never be taken for granted.”  [from Share of Mind, Share of Heart: Marketing Tools of Engagement for Nonprofits.]                                       

This is why engaging staff members and volunteers involves special care beyond just a “recruit ‘em & recognize ‘em” approach.

How do nonprofit leaders and managers effectively attract, develop, and retain talent? They succeed by intentionally creating a positive workplace culture. Here’s how.

1. Learn about your employees and volunteers: who they are, their interest in serving your organization, and their expectations of working with you. Ask them:

  • What appealed to you to join our organization?
  • What inspires you most about being here?
  • What do you expect to give and get from serving as an employee or volunteer?
  • Would you recommend this organization to others?

Also conduct exit interviews with people who voluntarily leave your organization so you can learn more about their employee or volunteer experience.

2. Clarify and clearly communicate what your organization expects from its staff and volunteers and what they can expect from you. Be honest about what everyone’s commitment entails.

3. Provide the necessary tools and information people need to best serve your nonprofit. This includes orientation and training; sharing the mission, vision, strategic plans, and goals; program overviews and updates; etc. Also consider how operational or policy changes may impact staff and volunteer efforts, and communicate any changes and the rationale behind them in a timely manner.

4. Recognize and acknowledge your employees’ and volunteers’ value. While designated “holidays” like Employee Appreciation Day and National Volunteer Week provide an opportunity to celebrate the people who serve your organization, it’s important to let them know they’re appreciated throughout the year.

5. Proactively listen to your staff and volunteers – ask for their feedback and ideas – and respond appropriately.

Nonprofit employees and volunteers are precious resources. Treat them carefully and with the respect they deserve.


Engaging Conversations with Volunteers

“Volunteers … work not for money but because they want to give back, make a difference, change the world.”  Sally Helgesen

While the need to give of themselves may motivate volunteers to get involved, it doesn’t ensure their continuing commitment. What keeps them involved is the quality of their experience with an organization.

The best way to understand your volunteers’ experience is to engage them in conversation. This can be done in individual conversations or, if you manage a large group of volunteers, through roundtable discussions or surveys.

Engaging conversation starters

Ask these key questions to learn what your volunteers think – and how they feel – about your nonprofit:

• What is it about this organization that appealed to you to get involved?

• What about this organization keeps you involved?

• What do you expect to give and get from your volunteer involvement?

• What do you enjoy most about your volunteer experience?

• What suggestions do you have to improve the volunteer experience?

• Would you recommend this organization to other volunteers?

What to do with volunteer feedback

Listen carefully and acknowledge your volunteers’ value – both in serving your organization and in sharing their thoughts with you. Collective responses to the first four questions provide important insight to reinforce volunteer engagement and may be used in your messaging to recruit new volunteers.

Responses to the last two questions will help you identify concerns that need immediate fixing and those that need to be addressed in the long term. Share and communicate any follow up to let your volunteers know that you heard them.

Volunteers are precious resources. Listen to them and treat them with the respect they deserve.

Engagement Training & Development

“Hoping to Help” – Lessons in Global Health Volunteering

Whether providing relief after a natural disaster or rendering humanitarian aid to countries in need, we’re familiar with the importance of international medical missions. The inspirational stories told by returning volunteers describe the desperate and challenging needs of the people served and their deep gratitude in receiving medical aid. The volunteers, themselves, are forever changed as a result of their experiences.

Presumably everyone involved benefits from such missions – the countries in need and the volunteers. But to what extent? Beyond the obvious good-will, what’s really happening in these situations and what can we learn from them?

In her new book, Hoping to Help: The Promises and Pitfalls of Global Health Volunteering, Judith N. Lasker, N.E.H. Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Lehigh University, explores the benefits and costs of such missions. She studied the impact of short-term (two weeks or less) medical missions through interviews and surveys with three key groups: the sponsoring organizations (religious, educational, non-faith based NGOs, and corporations); the people who volunteer (medical and non-medical); and the host communities. Lasker’s research covered the following:

  • the level of cultural training given to volunteers prior to their trip, ranging from thorough to insufficient background information on the host country’s situation and culture
  • how volunteer resources were deployed
  • the true costs involved, including travel, logistics, medical supplies and equipment etc., and their effects on donors, volunteers, and recipients
  • cultural sensitivity and the resulting impact on volunteers and host countries
  • needs assessments, program measurement, and outcome evaluations
  • capacity-building and the sustainability of such missions.

Was it good for you, too?
The importance of “mutuality,” in which all parties mutually benefit, is a major theme throughout the book. According to Lasker:

“Achieving mutuality is one of the many challenges sponsoring organizations must try to address. Host-community members want more than helpful visitors with skills and resources, although these are valuable and greatly appreciated. They want to be involved in the work programs undertaken by volunteer organizations, and they want to be respected. They want a relationship of equality in which each partner learns from and benefits from the other. … an ongoing relationship of respect, collaboration, and exchange, if not with individual volunteers, at least with the representatives of the [sponsoring] organizations.”

She also explored the elements of cultural sensitivity and understanding, respect, and empathy by volunteers and the sponsoring organizations participating in international missions. Lasker found that:

“to treat the volunteer’s experience or the organization’s reputation or religious priorities as on a par with, or even more important than, the benefits to hosts is to exploit poor communities for the benefit of people from wealthier countries.”

Lessons for other nonprofits
While “Hoping to Help” addresses global health volunteering, many of its recommended practices are applicable to other health and social services nonprofits:

  • Foster mutuality among ALL parties involved, including those who benefit from the mission and those who help support the mission (e.g., volunteers, employees, donors, etc.).
  • Conduct needs assessments with and among those benefiting from the services offered.
  • Strengthen volunteer training and preparation.
  • Maintain continuity of programming/services, as needed.
  • Evaluate process and outcomes, incorporating the results into continuous improvement.
  • Build capacity for the long term.

Sensitivity and empathy are also important for volunteers and nonprofit organizations. Lasker reinforces this by citing the following:

“Without the wisdom of humility, altruistic behavior can lead to self-delusion, compassion can become an obsession, and both may generate a damaging sense of hubris.”  Dr. Jack Coulehan, emeritus professor, Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at Stony Brook University.

A valuable reminder for everyone helping anyone.