Finance management needs of non-profits

finance management for NGOsRecently, I conducted a simple survey to find out more about the needs of smaller and bigger civil society organisations (CSOs) in the field of finance management. I received responses from people from very different organisations; bigger European organisations as well as smaller local groups, from Africa, Latin America and from former communist countries in Europe and the Caucasus.

I was interested to learn about their finance practice including the preparation of an annual financial statement; annual budgeting on organisational level; cash flow management; fundraising; and project budgeting, reporting and auditing. I am a nosy parker, yes indeed.

But I will use the input for the conceptualisation and development of online courses finance and organisational management for non profits. (The first course is foreseen to start online on 2 January 2018.) As I was quite surprised with some of the outcomes, I want to share some key findings here, too.

Project finance

Almost two thirds of respondents indicated that preparing a budget for a project, reporting on it and being audited on project level are easy for them to do. This is, in my experience, in line with the activity focus of most CSOs. They can design project activities and matching budgets, and can usually manage the funds they receive for these well and certainly well enough to not encounter big issues in project audits.

What surprised me is that 30% of the respondents indicated that making a project budget is a bit to very difficult for their organisation, while 37% found it a bit difficult to make a financial report for a project.

project budget for non-profits

Annual financial report

Around half of respondents mentioned that they are easily able to produce an annual financial report, with balance sheet and profit and loss overview. 22% of the respondents do not produce annual financial data, and 26% finds this a bit to very difficult. This is a picture I can easily recognise with my own experience. While most organisations can relatively easily prepare a profit & loss (income & expenditures) overview, most of them have difficulty understanding the balance sheet and face a real challenge in preparing this. As a result, most NGOs do not produce a balance sheet. In case it is needed, they hire an external party to prepare this.

Of course there is nothing wrong in hiring external expertise for tasks you cannot get delivered in-house. However, when it comes to finance this can be tricky. Without having some level of expertise it can be hard to understand the presentation of data, and it will be even harder to verify if this is the best way of presenting your organisation. After all, whereas the profit & loss statement shows to what extent you are capable of managing your incoming funds in a given year, the balance sheet shows the longer term financial health and stability of your organisation. A rather important picture for the management to understand fully, and to take action upon as and when needed. At the same time, it is a picture that funders and investors are interested to assess as well, before deciding on a grant or investment.

Other finance management issues

My survey shows that in general, finance management can be a challenge for non-profits. More than 20% have a little difficulty in managing cash flow. 31% find it hard to prepare an annual organisational budget, whereas 48% says it is very hard to raise all needed funds for the organisation’s activities and aims. Respondents mention they would like to learn more about how they can ensure their organisational costs are covered through a mixture of projects funded by different sources. In connection with this, several also state that they would like to see how one system can serve all different reporting needs.

fundraising for non-profits

Conclusion

This is a very much simplified and shortened summary of the valuable input I received. It confirms to me that both smaller and bigger non-profits face serious challenges in understanding finance and in getting their finances in good order. It is hard for them to plan their finance, probably in part also because of the challenges in fundraising. Once funds are available, a puzzle ensues to see how all human resource and organisational costs can be covered to the extent needed, and how all this can be reported in the right way to the different funders. In this seemingly endless ‘fight’ for acquiring the means to actually work on the set goals to change society for the better, it seems the finance management of civil society organisations is bound to be the underdog.

This is where I want to contribute: I aim to make civil society organisation’s (finance) management feel on top, enabling them to pursue their dreams in to the fullest extent possible in a sustainable manner. This is why I want to develop (online) courses for this group of professionals and volunteers, around different aspects of finance management. Practical courses, with theory and assignments and with personal feedback. If you are interested in joining, please do not hesitate to contact me or simply follow me online. In the coming weeks I will share regular updates about my plans and the upcoming courses. Save

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Welcome 2016!

The year 2015 has been a busy, slightly messy whirlwind for me – I got caught up in it and before I knew it it spit me out at the other end!

Looking back at the future - my fave place from which to watch the sea

Looking back at the future – my fave place from which to watch the sea

It is only now, in the very beginning of 2016, that I have started looking back in earnest, and am formulating lessons learned, do’s and most definitely some don’ts as well. Using the two questions I consider every year’s end:

  • what are things I would like to take with me to the next year?
  • what are things I would like to leave behind in the past year?

 

One of the things I very much intend to bring into 2016 is space for myself to develop professionally (and personally, certainly, also). I had given myself a present of two courses in the end of 2015 – on developing online trainings and on organising webinars, both by the truly inspirational Karin Hornstra. However, I was not able to get everything out of them as planned. Even though every time I spent time on either course I got really inspired and ideas jumped up and down in my head in their haste to get out first.

So – in 2016 I will finish these courses and give myself real time to develop ideas popping up as a result.

In order for this not to remain just a new year’s resolution I started the year by joining two massive challenges: the ‘Best Year Ever’ challenge (in Dutch, four weeks) and the ‘Passion to Profit’ challenge (in Dutch, one week). It is the first time I have joined a challenge. I was not sure what to expect but so far I can say they help me stay focused on my aims and priorities. I also learn from the stories other participants share with amazing frankness. And, last but not least, I also get inspiration from how the challenges are being set up and facilitated. I can see that once my ideas start shaping up I might organise a challenge of my own – and I have some ideas of how I might do that.

First question in 'Passion to Profit' challenge is spot on!

First question in the ‘Passion to Profit’ challenge is spot on and has me wide awake instantly!

And all this, in one week of 2016 only, basically!

Of course, the real challenge will be in keeping this up, once the work flow returns to ‘normal’. However, I am confident I can. I use this relatively quiet period to build myself a new routine, one that includes development time for me and my company. And I spend time to experience explicitly what this does for me, how this motivates me and gives me energy. I think that way I have covered my rider mind, my elephant heart and my habit path sufficiently to achieve successful change.

How about you? Do you also have a clear idea of what you want to bring into 2016 – and how to do this?

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What Facilitation Can Do

Colourful Dhaka

Colourful Dhaka

In September I was that lucky bastard who had an assignment in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I had two very different things to do there. First of all, I was to perform an audit of the financial processes and financial administration of an NGO. And secondly, I was to work with the NGO staff on organisational management issues.

The main thing to be addressed with the team members was the organisational set up, and the system of in-built checks and balances. Based on written and other information I had received beforehand, my impression was that there was definitely some room for improvement.

The question was how to go about that?

For me, the main aim was not so much to develop a new, better balanced structure on the spot. Rather, I wanted to help the team talk about management issues, checks and balances, division of tasks and responsibilities, and the like. I wanted to assist the team to reach its own conclusions about how they wanted their organisation to be structured and organised.

Of course I did want to make them see certain things. But I did not want to show them as such. I wanted to help them see.

Basically, what I wanted was to facilitate a meeting of the team discussing the organisational structure and management. And that is what I did. I prepared a sort of script and I asked questions like ‘Can you tell me what committees and boards there are in your organisation?’, ‘Do you know what the tasks and responsibilities of this committee are?’ and ‘Who has seen a written decision made by that committee?’ and many, many more (in fact, I had more questions than could fit into the two-days programme I had developed).

Organisational structure emerging

Organisational structure emerging

Step by step it became clear that the organisational structure that had been very nicely presented in a project proposal was basically a mystery to most of the team members. They did manage, in the end, to sketch a rough organigram. They also identified which information was lacking and discovered questions that needed to be asked about the management structure.

At the end of the two days we spent together (covering more organisational management issues after clarifying the organigram to the extent possible) team members said they felt very happy and excited. Most team members found that this joint discussion had created a new level of transparency which they felt to be very important and needed. This made them happy and also excited – because now new steps had to be developed and taken and they had to make themselves part of those.

I, too, was satisfied. Through the seemingly loose Q&A structure of the two-day meeting almost all issues the client had identified beforehand as important had been put on the table and discussed. More importantly, these issues had been identified as issues for concern and change by the team itself – as a result of their sharing of information, experiences and questions regarding the organisational management and structure. The team members present had been empowered by the discovery of information that was either new to them or had never before been put together in a context.

I could have given them the same amount of new information in a training on organisational management, with lots of lectures and presentations about how an NGO should be organised and structured. It might have taken less time, and would certainly have been much easier to prepare and conduct. However, my aim was also to empower and mobilise the team members. And I am convinced that facilitating their own discovery process with self-generated insights was in this case much more effective and powerful than any training could have been.

I-do-not-want-to-show

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Book Impression: Are We Aware Of All Our Options?

In my previous post I already wrote about Eldon Taylor’s book Choices and Illusions, and about how I came to read this book and write about it in the frame of the Blog Tour to lauch the paperback version of the book. I shared the Chicken and Eagle story that got me thinking about how open we are to change. Change in perspective on our potential and our future, and change in how we go about our daily business.

As I said, I am not usually an avid (or in fact, any kind of) reader of such books, but I did find two of the many other stories Taylor shares compelling. Or better put: they resonated with me.

The Chicken and the Eagle story told me that if someone comes along with a proposition that suits us perfectly, we may not be willing to engage because of the self-imposed cage we are in that prevents us from becoming aware that this proposition indeed suits us.

If we would reach the stage where we can see a different future for ourselves, we would need to be able to see alternative ways of acting to reach that different future. Taylor uses the Flowerpot Story as an example to show that it is not easy to think outside our usual box. See below for my narration, or click here for Taylor’s own version.

I have to admit that the fourth option would never, ever in my wildest dreams have occurred to me. It still does not feel like something I could do, so this is not some ‘new’ and ‘different’ behaviour that I will copy to be on my way toward a new future.

What I do take from this story, however, is the idea to consider – before you act – which action will make you feel best afterward. And I agree, the fourth option would do that for me, contrary to the other options. I think this story resonates with me because it tells us that there is always a different path to take, and a positive turn to give to everything that happens (even though it may not be immediately apparent). So, while I do not think I will go and buy a new pot for someone whose flowerpot has dented my precious head, I do think I will try to consider all, and even the wildest, options before I will take action and will try to look for the real win-win scenario. Basically, I will try not to rely on routine reactions in cases of adversity or unexpected events.

This of course is easier said than done. How can you start seeing possibilities that did not exist before? Yes, sure, if a flowerpot cracks my head I will know an alternative, but what if something else were to happen that could not be dealt with by purchasing a new flowerpot? In other words, how can we cultivate the kind of open mind needed for this approach?

For me, the answer lies in cherishing my creativity. For a long, long time I have resigned myself to the idea that ‘sorry, I am not a creative person’. I would be that person who would write dull texts, and who would stick by the rules, and never go astray.

However, the fascinating world of social media has changed my outlook on myself almost entirely. I do find tremendous fun in creating cartoons, trying out animations (see above, my first attempt at PowToon), messing with pictures and collages, and so on. And I find I learn from these playful hours (and by the way, I do use some of the outputs in other people’s learning processes), and that they open my mind to new ideas and possibilities.

For me, some social media tools help me break my routines, reformulate my thoughts in simple visuals, and reconsider my qualities. This is why I encourage others to try out different tools, too: I would like for them to experience the same joy, and the same eye openers that make me so happy sometimes.

And I think that happiness is one of the true conditions for being able to see the ‘new flowerpot’ option. After all, if you are happy about your own life and satisfied with all the people and things and activities in it, it is much easier to share and give to others.

 

For more information

Eldon Taylor has made a lifelong study of the human mind and has earned doctoral degrees in psychology and metaphysics. He is president of Progressive Awareness Research, an organization dedicated to researching techniques for accessing the immense powers of the mind. For more than 20 years, he has approached personal empowerment from the cornerstone perspective of forgiveness, gratitude, service and respect for all life. To contact Eldon in response to the story, you can reach him via his website: http://www.eldontaylor.com

 

Eldon Taylor’s New York Times Best-Seller, Choices and Illusions, is available at all fine online and retail bookstores. However, to participate in the online event that Eldon has put together, including a chance to win a customized $500 InnerTalk library, please visit: http://www.parpromos.com/pp/it/14k/index/R.html

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Book impression: Choices and Illusions

A small part of my book collection

A small part of my book collection

Not too long ago I moaned to my husband that I wished my job were to read books. (This was on a day when I desperately wanted to finish a book, obviously). The next day, I received an e-mail from someone asking me to participate in a blog tour. She would send me a book, I would read it, and write about it on my blog at the same time as all others taking part in the blog tour would. It felt like fate knocking on my door, so who was I to refuse?

That is how I came to read Eldon Taylor’s book ‘Choices and Illusions’ (published in paperback this week). I read mostly novels, detective stories and contemporary history, so this book is not something I would have selected myself for reading if I would have come across it. Fate again?

Taylor writes as if he is talking to you. He is full of stories and knowledge about research and connects these by way of meaningful issues and questions. Before you know it, the book is finished – and your companion gone.

Well, that is not entirely true. Some of the questions, issues and stories linger. I titled this post ‘impression’ because I do not think I could meaningfully summarise this intricate book. But I would like to share three things Taylor got me thinking about. Today I will write about the first thing, and tomorrow I will tell you about the other two things that keep me thinking.

The first thing (the one for today) is the fact that we cage ourselves by our beliefs of who we are, what we can and cannot do, what is appropriate and inappropriate, what is expected and not expected and so on. All those inner and outer expectations and standards limit us or at least hinder us in reaching our full potential – or even in being aware of what our full potential could be. Taylor makes clear that it is not just society that is holding us back, it is us ourselves, too, and the interconnections between us and society that prevent us from becoming who we are – or even from aspiring to.

In the book, Taylor tells the story of the Chicken and the Eagle. It is a bit more elaborate, and complex, than the one I share below:

In Taylor’s version, an eagle flies by the chicken yard and tries to convince the little eagle that she is an eagle like him. But she doesn’t buy it, and stays with the chicken that she knows. See here for Taylor’s version on YouTube.

When you read it, it is kind of a sad story. And yet, do we not all know one or too eagles that have joined the chicken in their yard? People that feel this is it, while we see so much more in them? And do we not in daily life shrug our shoulders and think it’s their choice? Or get annoyed with them, for making that choice like that? (If they are our partners, for instance, of whom we expect so much).

This story wants to say, it is not necessarily their choice. They may not be fully aware of their potential and you may seem like an eagle, coming down from the skies telling them lies. Or rather, you may seem like a salesman making a cold call. And, all the time the same may be true of you yourself. Have you met that eagle yet, who tried to tell you life could be different? And have you shown him the door – or have you invited him in? Have you made fun of those eagles you met – or have you shared your enthusiasm at new prospects with others, acknowledging the eagle for his contribution to your new insights?

When you think of it, it may seem that there were more eagles when you were young, and that at the time you tended to believe them more readily, too. Oh, those days when anything seemed within reach! Youthful optimism and recklessness – to risk the safety of the chicken yard for an uncertain adventure high in the sky! But those days are gone at a certain moment.

Not so. No, not quite so. Those days can be here again – if you let them. And that is what Taylor’s book is about: making you aware that you are the one not letting eagles near you, and that you can change this, too. The first step is in becoming aware of those ‘chicken yard beliefs’ that you have. Things you take for granted to be true – but that are not facts and that can indeed be turned around. Mantras like “I am not good enough to do that” and “I will never achieve this”. Etc.

More than two years ago, I read ‘Switch – How To Change Things When Change Is Hard’ by Chip and Dan Heath (see here for my impressions). Their model for supporting change is built around a rider, an elephant and a path. I found this model to be very useful for NGOs I work with – who are all about changing their communities and societies in one way or another.

Taylor’s book adds an element to this model and that is understanding. Understanding why others may not be so ready for change – why in fact they may, consciously or subconsciously, not be able to believe any change is possible. Understanding that the targeted groups may consist of people who think they are chicken, when you are addressing them as if they were eagles.

The book gave me two insights into how to address eagles who think they are chicken – and I will go into those in my next post, tomorrow!

For more information

Eldon Taylor has made a lifelong study of the human mind and has earned doctoral degrees in psychology and metaphysics. He is president of Progressive Awareness Research, an organization dedicated to researching techniques for accessing the immense powers of the mind. For more than 20 years, he has approached personal empowerment from the cornerstone perspective of forgiveness, gratitude, service and respect for all life. To contact Eldon in response to the story, you can reach him via his website: http://www.eldontaylor.com

 

Eldon Taylor’s New York Times Best-Seller, Choices and Illusions, is available at all fine online and retail bookstores. However, to participate in the online event that Eldon has put together, including a chance to win a customized $500 InnerTalk library, please visit: http://www.parpromos.com/pp/it/14k/index/R.html

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Reflection Shows Differences Between People

Sometimes you do something for the umpteenth time without giving it too much thought. And then some insight hits you. Well, anyway that is what happened to me in Bangladesh recently. The day after a rather full meeting day I asked the group to write down what they remembered from the day before. Discussions, topics, ideas – anything that would pop up. They divided into three groups, and each group developed a tree with branches, twigs and leaves representing their memories.

I cannot say how often I have done this exercise with a group. Many, many times. And of course I continue using it because there is always something interesting that comes to the fore when looking at the different trees depicting the same day in the minds of different people. Because the memories show what made an impression – what is considered important, new, exciting or shocking. And they show how information and impressions are processed.

reflection trees

Trees

What was different this time is that the group divided itself more or less according to their positions in the organisation. And that became very visible in their products. One tree showed a management approach to the issues discussed and included not only what was actually talked about but also things that could or should be done as a result of the discussions. Another tree was made by the television production team – a creative team with people that are focused on relations and visualising information. This, too, was obvious from the tree. It was the only tree that contained a reference to feelings and it focused on the impact of the discussions. The third tree was made by the executive producer and clearly showed the meticulous way he works and his focus on planning. He remembered all discussions in chronological order and thus his tree showed the day before as a step by step process.

Usually I work with mixed groups and then again mix the groups that create a joint tree, so I never had the opportunity before to see three different parts of one organisation visualised by their memories of the day before. And to see so clearly the differences in thinking, feeling and acting between people with completely different positions in one NGO.

It was quite mesmerising – until the moment when one group started to lecture the other about what should or should not be in their tree. (I suppose you can guess which group criticised which other group). And then I woke up and knew why it would not necessarily be a good idea to continue forming groups for the tree exercise according to ‘organisational department’ unless your second agenda is to actually do something about the dynamics between the departments and the different people. Which was not really part of my assignment in this case.

The insight I referred to above was thus that possibly unwittingly I had been organising this exercise in the right way for my assignments so far. And that if I would have an assigment focusing on organisational culture in one NGO I might tweak the groups according to department to let the participants themselves show what they are good at, what their focus is and what the differences are between the different departments and the people in them.

Collecting memories

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Do you know your value?

Value

Value

Do you know the value of your organisation or company? I am not talking about added value, or about values you have in your work. Not even about the value of the sheer existence of your organisation or company to society or clients. I am referring to ‘cold’ financial value. Do you know what you’re worth?

To give you a clue as to where to look: do you know the balance sheet of your organisation? Not by heart, but in general? Most likely, you don’t. At least in my experience of small company owners and NGOs – most of them have no idea. And in some cases they do not even produce a balance sheet at year’s end.

You may wonder what is so bad about that. Apparently, you haven’t felt a need for this to date, so why should you now?

Here is why.

If you are an NGO you may want to see whether you are building up a reserve out of small profits generated by an excess of income over expenditures. This reserve shouldn’t be too big of course – after all you are not working for profit and donors do not provide you with grants to make a profit. But a modest reserve does come in handy, even for an NGO. For instance, if you have a reserve you know that you can bridge a gap in between funder payments or possibly even a gap in between projects. Or that you can make certain investments not covered by any project grant, just because you have an amount of money available to your organisation that is not earmarked for a certain budget line. In short, a modest reserve can render your organisation more stable and can help improve sustainability of your organisation. For this reason, funders in general will not disapprove of you building up some kind of reserve as long as you are open about it and do it right.

Balance sheet

Balance sheet

You can be open about this in your annual financial statement where your balance sheet will show the size of your reserve and your profit and loss statement can show what was added to your reserve in a given year. You can also describe your organisation’s aims with the reserve: what size are you aspiring to and what is the rationale behind that? For instance, you might be looking for a reserve the size of 3 months’ operational costs so that in the event of a loss of an important grant you would have some time to start economising, downsizing, reorganising, etc.

The same is true for small companies, with as added value that having insight into your reserve may also help in case you need a bank credit or are wondering about prospects for your pension.

This is, in a nutshell, why I believe it is worthwhile to know your balance sheet value. And why you might like to invest a bit more time in your annual financial statement at the end of the year to create a balance sheet. It isn’t rocket science, but if you need assistance, do let me know!

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Finance is for Everyone

Sulaymaniyah

Sulaymaniyah

It could be construed as a cynical twist of fate that just as I left my part time job as financial manager on account of it not being my dream job I was asked to work with a Kurdish NGO in Iraq on their financial management. But in fact it turned out that this assignment combined two things I love: working with people and helping an NGO improve its effectiveness.

For NGOs proper financial management and administration is crucial for their survival in the long run. Everyone – well, almost everyone – can probably get that first nice grant to do a good thing for society. The trick is to keep the money coming in and to ensure that it contributes to the sustainability of the organisation. Of course you need great ideas and a brilliant fundraiser annex networker, but that is never going to be enough if the organisation cannot deliver on the expectations raised with the funder or the private donator.

And delivery is not just the realisation of perfectly implemented activities.

Good delivery includes getting the financial management and administration right, too.

  • Spending as planned combined with being able to justify changes.
  • Spending according to the requirements and conditions of the funder combined with being able to prove it.
  • Ensuring that, without becoming profit-based, the organisation does not in fact incur losses (for instance by not being able to cover costs of work done by the own staff for the realisation of the funded activities).

Underpinning the above are proper budgeting and proper internal procedures.

And that is where we get to the notion that financial management is – or should be – everyone’s job. After all, for proper budgeting the person making the budgets needs to be aware of the situation on the ground, the experiences of the project manager when spending the money and the time need to be taken into account. And there needs to be a match between the budget and the proposal and the donor requirements and conditions: enter the fundraiser annex networker. Without engagement and commitment of everyone the budget will not be realistic, feasible, convincing and in line with donor specifications. Inevitably, this will lead to problems in the implementation phase and in the reporting.

The same is true for procedures. Everyone should be committed to these as they form the basis for the organisation’s capacity for accountability.

Commitment needs understanding: why are these procedures in place, what do they aim to achieve or avoid? Why are they important? Everyone – yes, me too – knows that procedures can slow things down, make things more complicated than seems necessary and consume time that you’d rather spend on something ‘real’. Can we not get that signature later? Why make a contract when everything is clearly agreed? Who invented time sheets anyway?

The trick is to find a way to make everyone see that following procedures is part of their job and part of their responsibility to the organisation and its credibility and accountability. And thus in the long term its sustainability.

Financial Management Opportunities

Financial Management Opportunities

As you can see from the above Spiderscribe picture, I was lucky in that department. My group had clear ideas about what improved financial management could contribute to and what the work together could help achieve.

Steps in a financial process

Steps in a financial process

In the first session of the face-to-face part of the assignment, we identified current procedures and everybody’s role in the different steps taken. The main conclusion was that it should be a team effort and that intensive and regular communication and exchange was needed.

Of course this commitment does not mean that everything will from that moment of insight onward be clear-cut and smooth sailing. There will always be hiccups and challenges and things that do not go as planned or agreed. But once everyone is aware of their own contribution to the whole and is aware of what is needed by their colleagues and by the  organisation, you stand a good chance of overcoming the challenges you may meet along the road.

Result of a joint effort

One of the results of the assignment

Of course we did much more than just conclude that team work was needed. We also worked on accrual logic, budgeting, bookkeeping, etc. etc. And after the face-to-face training we continued working online on these topics. If you are interested in working with me on improving financial management in your organisation, please do not hesitate to contact me!

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Don’t Start Out Of The Blue – Start Online

It isn’t really necessary to know people to start working with them online. Many of you probably have communications with people on Twitter or LinkedIn or Google+ that you have never even met – and probably never will meet. It’s not hard to exchange ideas and support each other if you share a common interest.

The same is true for people that form a group because they will all show up to your face-to-face training or event. They, too, have a common interest and even if you have never met them, you can start your work with them online before you will lay eyes on them.

In fact, starting online may even enhance the process your event or training is intended to support. You can use an online start to help your participants get to know each other and to find common ground. They can start brainstorming about certain issues, and exchange ideas and experiences. They can structure their ideas and come to conclusions. They can start reading up on materials you provide and already ask questions about these. You can even instruct them online with a screencast for instance. Or you can assess the level and areas of their knowledge via a survey.

There are many possibilities. Which aims and which tools suit your process best is a matter of careful selection and some experience. And, of course, as always: trial and error.

In the workshop Flashing Start, my colleague Gerdi Keeler and I introduced a small group of mainly trainers and educators  to some easy-to-use tools that can be useful in an online start. As our main aim was to show our participants how you can engage with your group before you actually meet them, our workshop started online. During a week participants received small online assignments, each with a different aim:

  • Getting to know each other;
  • Brainstorming;
  • Structuring ideas;
  • Providing instructions; and
  • Visualising information.
Online tools for training

Tools used

For each aim we offered a different tool, or in some cases a few alternative tools that participants could choose from.

In the face-to-face part of the workshop we discussed the different tools and their possible uses.

 

Some of the more interesting points raised include:

  • In a safe online environment you share more than you would have shared in a first introduction round in a face-to-face event;
  • Online exchanges changes the way you think about some things;
  • In a safe online environment you are together, and not alone. Even though you are all sitting behind your own devices, in your own office or home;
  • In a safe online environment things start happening – conversations arise about unexpected topics;
  • It is nice and fun to learn things online, to share your products and ideas and then get feedback and reactions;
  • If others are contributing online there is a bigger (peer) pressure to also share something yourself;
  • Positive feedback by the moderator or facilitator is extremely important.

The last point points to the biggest challenges related to online starting: the role of the facilitator.

If you plan to facilitate an online start – or any other online part in a blended curriculum or process for that matter – be prepared to invest loads of time and energy!

You will need to be available in the online environment, as well as via e-mail and phone, to deal with (technical) questions and you will need to be ‘there’ to support the process by means of positive and encouraging feedback, reflection questions, follow up assignments and questions, and so on. This is not something you can easily do on the side, at a reserved time slot. You simply need to be felt to be present all the time.

However, if you are prepared to invest the energy and time needed, you will be rewarded with great results. Your face-to-face event or training can be much more focused and to the point, and your participants are fully engaged from day zero!

If you are interested in learning more about using online tools to increase your effectiveness and to make your events and trainings more attractive and engaging, check out nul100 (in Dutch).


Flip Snack booklet about Flashing Start – part 1


Flip Snack booklet about Flashing Start – part 2

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Fun and Games and the Power of Twitter

Though in and of themselves the Winter Olympics in Sochi are not necessarily that funny, it is one more occasion on which I am again amazed at the power of Twitter. No, that’s wrong. Amazed at what people can do with Twitter if they have a bit of time on their hands and a brain that is wide awake. And, OK, a sense of humour, too.

Since the start of the Olympics someone is active under the Twitter handle @SochiProb and sharing impressions of the Games and the environment in which the sports men and women and entourage are working.

It reminds me of the two Twitter accounts that appeared last summer after the team bus of the Australian Orica-GreenEdge cycling team had got stuck under the finish of the first stage of the Tour de France not that long before the riders were due to arrive there for the final sprint, deciding who would wear the yellow leader’s jersey.

You may find these tweets as funny as I do, or you may not find them so special at all.

Either way, I find it interesting to see how people can use Twitter as a medium to play a role and to see that others react to that, without even having any clue as to who the people behind the Twitter handles are. We, the audience, join the make believe, and reply to the Orica-GreenEdge team bus and to Sochi Problems as if they were our long time friends.

This ‘role playing’ is also used for educational purposes, like in the case of the Twitter account @RealTimeWWII

Of course, one cannot really compare @SochiProb to @RealTimeWWII in terms of content. But both accounts do provide us a window onto places most of us can never see for ourselves and, more importantly, both give a certain different or new perspective on a situation we all think we know about from books and television.

For me, that new perspective is a crucial step in any learning process, and it is why I like Twitter so much. Without always being aware of it, I shape my view of the world  and of the people in it every day thanks to those tweeps I follow.

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