You pick up the last card dealt and you find a Queen of Spades and
four aces. You bet a handsome but conservative amount so as not
to tip off your good hand. As you look at your opponents over your
four aces through the smoke filled air, you see each player fold
in turn. Darn! Seems your bet was more handsome than conservative.
Then your eyes stop on the less-than-respectable poker player directly
across the table. Holding his neatly spaced cards in one hand and
twisting the end of his handlebar mustache with the other, he says,
pushing his remaining bills and coins into the pot, “I’ll see your
bid with the last of my money plus that there young stallion hitched
to the post outside.”
You’re one for keen
observation though. You think it’s likely this swindler’s horse
is well past his prime, falling short of matching your bet. You
know you will win the hand getting the pot, horse, and all. Do you
Back your chair out
in one smooth motion and swagger with confidence through the swinging
saloon doors to take a good long look at the horse’s mouth to see
if he is an acceptable match to your bet?
Smile, fanning your
cards out on the table, raking in your winnings and order another
sarsaparilla for the trail?
If you swagger outside,
press this button
If you savor your
winnings and your sarsaparilla, press this button
Sorry Partner, the
You walk through
the swinging saloon doors outside for a good, long look at the horse’s
mouth before showing your hand. You can see from his teeth your
hunch is right; he has a full set of adult teeth all worn to a point
and you estimate his age to be 15 years or moreno
match for your bid. While you’re examining the stallion, your handlebar
mustached opponent grabs the pot, causes a commotion by turning
the table over on your fellow poker players, and bursts through
the swinging saloon doors. A shot is heard. You stumble through
the saloon door, dropping like a sack of potatoes on the threshold
with a bit of buckshot in your right shoulder as the no-good, cheating
varmint gallops away.
If you would like
to rethink your choice by savoring your winnings, a sarsaparilla
and finding out what the heck poker, gift-horses, and buckshot
have to do with not-for-profits and human capitol, press this button
Smart thinkin’ partner!
Enjoy your sarsaparilla while it’s cold and frosty.
It’s obvious, in
addition to your poker skills, you know a thing or two about horses.
A walk through the swinging saloon doors outside for a good, long
look at the horse’s mouth before showing your hand would
have gotten you a bit of well placed buckshot in the back. As you
know, it has long been the practice of good horsemen to examine
a horse’s mouth, noting the types of teeth and their wear, to determine
if the horse has a lot of life left in him or is old and worn-out.
Since most of us
don’t hang out in saloons or gallop off into the night with our
poker winnings weighing down our saddle bags, it’s time for this
cow poke to explain what the heck poker, gift-horses, and buckshot
have to do with not-for-profits and human capitol! After a candid
conversation with two not-for-profit executives, to my amazement,
it is easy to understand how volunteer human capitol and gift-horses
have a lot in common. Take a short mosey with me through this article
to find out why, along with some thoughts on how to take a little
buckshot without dropping like a sack of potatoes on the threshold
of the saloon’s swinging doors. Or, keep reading if you are in town
to rustle up a few volunteers or hire a few good for-profit
Imagining the not-for-profit
world for most of us is just as much a stretch as imagining ourselves
in a smoky, Wild West saloon winning at a hand of poker. This is
beyond fanciful; it’s dad gum outrageous! Most of us would be dumb
struck if asked to run a whole organization on less money than the
average American household while organizing a bunch of volunteers
to keep all our fences mended and cattle grazing. So you won’t be
plumb lost, I’ll start out by corralling a few of the best facts
to give you a good idea of what kind of invaluable volunteers not-for-profits
need to move them dogies down the trail.
For many not-for-profit
organizations, volunteer human capitol keeps them in business. Not-for-profits
realize that dedicated, knowledgeable volunteers are not just any
old cow poke you can rustle up hanging out in front of the local
feed store. They are invaluable human capitol without which thei
organizations could not operate. Putting it in the perspective of
dollars and hours that most of us city folk talk intwo
years ago the average hourly value of a volunteer’s time was $14.83
according to The National Center for Charitable Statistics. Although
this is no comparison to the hourly wages of a for-profit programmer,
it is almost triple the current minimum wage, demonstrating
monetarily the significant value of not-for-profit volunteer staff.
In 2000, St.
Louis Senior Computer Training (SLSCT), an organization dedicated
to low cost computer training for seniors 50 years and older, depended
on one paid staff member and more than 15,000 volunteer hours to
serve their students, maintain their office and two small computer
labs. Quite plainly, those numbers show the organization could not
accomplish its mission of improving the quality of life of older
adults through computer literacy without their volunteer staff of
trainers, administrators, and technologists. The SLSCT is not a
maverick in its need for volunteers; in fact, as a small to midsize
not-for-profit organization operating nearly entirely on volunteers,
it is part of the largest not-for-profit demographic in the U.S.
Given those example
statistics, it is easy to see how volunteer human capitol can be
the deciding factor that makes or breaks many not-for-profit organizations.
You’d think then, the organization would want to take a good long
look at the “mouth” of each potential volunteer. Often though, not-for-profit
organizations see potential volunteers as gift-horses, subscribe
to the genteel idea of not looking a gift-volunteer in the mouth,
bringing them on regardless of their commitment level, experience,
skills, available time, and interest in the organization’s mission.
Whoa Nelly! As a business development and performance improvement
cow poke who’s been around these parts I can tell you, whether you
are not-for-profit or panning for a profit of gold, not looking
your gift-horse in the mouth may cause your whole organization to
go down with hoof and mouth disease. And what they are giving down
at the glue factory doesn’t exactly pay the bills…if you know what
“Great,” you say,
“Look gift-horses in the mouth, but umm, what about the buckshot.”
The buckshot includes turning away volunteers you desperately need,
or not having the time to look gift-horses in the mouth, or a hundred
other types of buckshot. Right, I understand and just like there
were no bulletproof vests in the gun slinging days of the Wild West,
there’s no sure-fire remedy to eliminate buckshot from today’s not-for-profit
world. But, there are a few darn good tricks you can put up your
sleeves when you’re deciding on whether to gamble on that gift-horse.
Know what you need before the gift-horse, potential volunteer
Ranchers don’t go out and buy horses because they’re cute. They
have a plan in mind of how the horse they buy will impact their
ranch, what it will take to keep it healthy, and when and how the
horse can contribute to the bottom line. How will you know
when a good volunteer shows up on your doorstep, if you don’t know
what type of work you need done and what will be needed to facilitate
that work? In for-profit terms, make a workforce plan.
Know what breed of gift-horse, type of volunteer, you
need for each role in your workforce plan.
A green broke bronco would not make a good, sturdy plow horsenor
would a fast talking, limited attention span, short on patience
teenager make the best computer trainer for senior adults, but she
might make a great activities leader at a children’s day camp. How
will you know when a good volunteer, who fits in your workforce
plan, shows up on your door step if you haven’t thought about what
skills and characteristics are needed to fill each role in your
workforce plan? In for-profit terms, write role descriptions.
Know where and how to round-up gift-horses for your organization.
If the gift-horses aren’t showing up on your doorstep, you may need
to go out and round them up yourself. Now that you know exactly
what you need done and what type of volunteer can fill the role,
the job of finding volunteers should be easier. A few things to
can you offer a potential volunteer; there are lots of volunteer
organizations working on worthwhile missions competing for their
time. If you talk to a potential volunteer or have a story printed
or run an ad make sure you emphasize what your organization can
do for the volunteer and not the other way around. How does
your organization stand out from the rest? In for-profit
terms, what’s your employment differentiator?
do the types of potential volunteers you want kick up their heels
or rest their heads? Go there, through an ad or story in the community
paper or web site, a press release that catches the attention of
a media geared to the likes of your type of volunteer, speak at
their monthly luncheon, attend their event, drop in at their favorite
restaurant, club, events, wherever your demographic might be. How
can you expect to have potential volunteers to choose from if they
don’t know about your organization? In for-profit terms,
advertise your employment opportunity where your demographic lives.
the types of volunteers that neighbor not-for-profit organizations
are looking for and make sure they know what type of volunteers
you need. A good referral will help you both and have the volunteer
talking about two great organizations all over town. How can
you make the most of all your volunteer search time? In
for-profit terms, leverage every opportunity.
for the desires and objections of would-be volunteers. What would-be
volunteers want and don’t like can help you revise your message,
programs, and volunteer opportunities in ways that help them grow
and feed your bottom line. How can you make your opportunity
appealing to would-be volunteers if you don’t know what they want?
In for-profit terms, talk to your employees to keep perfecting your
your current volunteers knowledgeable about your organizational
needs and encourage your volunteers to whinny, attracting new gift-horses
and clients. How can you make the most of all your volunteer
staff connections? In for-profit terms, leverage every opportunity
to involve employees in building your organization.
Know how to examine your gift-horses’ mouth to see if
they can fill a role in your workforce plan. Once you have a
potential volunteer’s attention, share your workforce plan and role
description with them. Show your poker hand when the volunteer offers
the bid of their time, before investigating them. Ask if any of
your roles interest them or if they can think of a role, not yet
in your workforce plan, that would be of interest to them. You might
be surprised and reap rewards from their answer. How can a
volunteer tell you where they can help your organization if they
don’t know what you need? In for-profit terms, if you are
not using their skills and fostering the building of the skills
you need you are wasting human capitol.
Know how to politely re-gift your gift-horse if they
can’t fill a role in your workforce plan.
If you or the potential volunteer cannot see a fit, ask additional
exploratory questions about what the potential volunteer is looking
for and use your understanding of other neighborhood not-for-profits
to recommend opportunities outside your organization. Offer to make
a call to an organization that interests themyou
never know, they might pick up a skill you need at your neighbor’s
organization and reward your kindness by coming back to your organization
at a later date. Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t see a fit
at this time but you will keep their information on file. This could
save you from some serious buckshot. How can you make the
most of all your volunteer search time? In for-profit terms,
leverage every opportunity.
Know how to keep your gift-horse happy, productive, and
contributing to your bottom line. How can you make the
most of your gift-horses and keep them on your ranch? In
for-profit terms, education stops frustration and kills turnover.
Have the role descriptions, core procedures, and basic information
on your organization written out for all new volunteers to read
and be able to refer to as they learn the ropes.
for volunteer training either through an orientation, a manual,
formal training, or one-on-one mentoring to help your new volunteers
learn their role and how the organization works on a practical,
experienced based level. Even the best volunteers need instruction
on how your organization works. Frustration, of many forms, leads
to turnover. Don’t frustrate your new volunteers by not being prepared
for them to work.
interests and skills change and grow over time. Stay tapped into
their desires and interests through discussion groups, surveys,
one-to-one chats to learn if you are using their growing skills
effectively, and if they have new ideas that would help your organization.
you’s go a long way! Maybe you cannot fund an appreciation dinner,
but a verbal thank you with a sincere smile might be all they wanted
anyway. People volunteer for all sorts of reasons, but everyone
wants to feel their efforts count and they are appreciated.
to design a volunteer program that fosters growth, mentoring, and
Think out of the corral! If you don’t have time for
all of this, don’t do it; just take time to find the one
volunteer who can find the volunteers who have the time to do the
things you need. Think about partnering with other not-for-profits
to hire or find a volunteer coordinator who finds the right volunteers
or a partnership manager to make valuable partnerships with for-profit
Now you know what
poker, gift-horses and buckshot have to do with an adventure in
the Wild West of not-for-profit volunteer human capitol. Know when
to hold your cards close to your vest and when to show them, keep
a poker face, be sure to look your gift-horses in the mouth, and
watch out for that buckshotyou never know who
will be coming through that swinging door!
Well I think I‘ll
sit here a spell. I won a little in the last hand, so I think I’ll
have another sarsaparilla, talk about the weather a little and find
out when the stagecoach from Dry Gulch is due in. Happy trails to
K. Sikes is a contributing editor for LiNE Zine and Principal of
Technologies, a consulting company that helps for-profits and
not-for-profits find gift-horses, hired wranglers, and happy trails
through business development, performance improvement, and project
management. Although she’s ridden horses and poked a few cows on
her grandpa’s farm in Texas, these days Sikes only wrangles technology
while helping clients get successfully duded up from her base in
St. Louis, Missouri. Tell her how you play your poker hand at email@example.com.
Copyright (c) 2000-2004
LiNE Zine (www.linezine.com)
Zine retains the copyright in all of the material on these web pages
as a collective work under copyright laws. You may not republish,
redistribute or exploit in any manner any material from these pages
without the express consent of LiNE Zine and the author. Contact
for reprints and permissions. You may, however, download or print
copyrighted material for your individual and non-commercial use.