by Rick Borstein
One definition of insanity is doing the same thing the same way and expecting different results.
How does that apply here?
You’ll find people in your club who object to purchasing technology because they don’t understand it. Even though they know there is a problem, they fear the solution. This is when you really need to use your selling skills.
In my society, which I consider one of the best-run societies in the United States, I occasionally run into roadblocks trying to get people to accept new ideas.
A few years ago, I tried to convince our board that we needed a new logo. The club logo didn’t work well on the web or video, and nobody had a clean version to use in print either! The argument I heard was—it’s served us well for thirty years, why should we change it?
Nobody could see that the web would become the critical medium is today. Today, our club receives most of our memberships via our website and reaches over 1200 people via a listserve advertising society events.
It was a long story, but I ultimately ended up abandoning the idea. We still don’t have a logo that works in all media or the consistent branding our club needs.
I lost that battle, but a few years ago, when our Auction Chairman resigned, we had a tougher problem on our hands.
A People Problem
Our Auction Chairman did a lot of work! He fielded innumerable emails and phone calls asking for seller numbers, created, labeled, stamped and mailed the auction postcards, worked with the hotel on room set-up, coordinated all the volunteers to staff the auction, secured an auctioneer, and stayed all day at the auction. Mind you, he did this job for over five years. I don’t think anybody understood how much he put into it and how little he complained. We were very fortunate to get this level of devotion from a club member.
Our last auction had almost 1200 bags of fish, so you can see this is a big job. And, auctions are important; they generate a lot of revenue for the club.
Knowing how much work the job entails, who would step in and take this on?
Three months went by and we did not have a new volunteer and we had to cancel our January auction. Fortunately, this woke up our membership and someone stepped forward. We didn’t want to put a new person into a difficult situation and lose someone as soon as they came onboard. What to do?
At our board meeting, we talked about ways to divide or simplify the job to make it easier. We still believed we needed one person in charge of the process. Was it possible to change the job responsibilities without losing effectiveness for the club?
I believe in using technology and services to lighten the load on the individuals who help a club run. I talked extensively to our board about this. Why burn people out doing manual work, I said, if there is a better way to do things?
The first item we tackled were the postcards. Creating the postcard, going to the printer, buying stamps and supplies and labeling and stamping 1000+ postcards is not a fun job. I did some research on-line and discovered an online printer called Postcard Services . For about $100 more than we were paying, we could mail out a full-color postcard! Wow! All I had to do was design the postcard, upload that file and an Excel file containing our mailing list, and they did the rest of the mailing—at bulk rate!
You can even design the card on-line using their system. Awesome!
You can learn more about Postcard Services in an article in our Technology Section.
Everyone on the board loved it and we got a lot of positive comments about the postcard. Nowadays, we typically group several events onto a single postcard and also email all the area hobbyitsts.
The next problem to tackle was the onerous task of providing Auction Seller Numbers prior to the auction. As I dug into this issue, I found that not only did our Auction Chairman spend a lot of time giving out auction seller numbers, but all of the information had to be retyped into our auction system the day of the auction!
I proposed to our society Board of Directors that we create an Auction Seller Number System that would allow anybody, over the web, to enter their information and receive a seller number immediately. As specified, the system would allow us to start our auction seller numbers at any arbitrary number and increments the number for each seller. Each seller would receive their exclusive number on-line and a confirmation email with their number.
Even better, our Auction Database Chairman would be able to download the list of sellers saving about two hours of retyping!
The cost to have an outside developer produce this system was $150. This seemed like a slam dunk to me! There was opposition on our board to the project, mostly from technophobes. Fortunately, we had some lay members attend the board meeting who thought it was a great idea and that seemed to swing the vote.
The system is now up and running and is simple enough for anyone to use.
What can we learn?
Sometimes to solve a problem, you have to ask a different question. We were initially trying to find a new auction chair to do exactly what the previous chair did.
Instead, we needed to find ways to make the job easier and more attractive to a new volunteer. What’s left in the job are the important people-related issues critical for success.
When you can use technology and services to lighten the load—and it is economically feasible—it’s a good decision. Hardworking volunteers respond well when you tell them they have less to do!