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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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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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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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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Warm Welcome for 2014!

The start of 2014 makes me think of Dutch painter Peter Klashorst who once explained that he could see a simple white wall as “One big abstract painting”. The eye of the beholder is a powerful thing!

I did hatch some plans for this year and I do have ideas of what I want to be doing. But basically I have no detailed mental picture of what I will be looking back on one year from now. I will let the year 2014 surprise me.

Of course one could say that any year can do that – and mostly they do, in fact. For instance, one year ago I had no clue that I would deliver trainings in Moldova and Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2013 or that I would meet friends I had not seen in twenty years during a reunion in London. I did not expect to read up on chemicals management and I had no idea that trying out Instagram would lead to loads of new ideas and even form a basis for project ideas.

Still, the basic format of 2013 was clear from the beginning and many things I did or experienced were not wholly unexpected or surprising.

This year will be quite different, though. Only the first few weeks are firmly fixed. After that I will let my dreams come true by concentrating fully on the development of Changing Tides and my freelance work.

That means the biggest part of 2014 is still a big untouched canvas for me. It can still become anything and everything.

And at the same time, it already is something: a big abstract painting. To me, it looks beautiful, magical and full of unborn opportunity.

One big abstract canvas

“One big abstract painting!”

And what about you? Do you have some untouched canvases in your mental attic that fill you with anticipation? Or do you have a very clear idea of what 2014 will bring you – and of what you will bring the world in this year?

Whichever the case may be, I wish you an adventurous and successful year. May the seeds you planted in 2013 turn out to bear beautiful flowers and juicy fruits. And may you be able to look upon all those ordinary moments with the eye of an artist and see beautiful paintings all around you!

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Celebrating Your Life

As happens to the best of us, I found myself at a low ebb last week. This nagging feeling that things could be much better, if only I knew how.

And just I was trying to figure what I could do to make myself feel better, the mailman brought me a nice old-fashioned snail mail envelope. Sent by someone I know online only.

LetterHe sent me an invitation to use the remaining 40 days of 2013 to take stock of what and who inspires me, touches me, or makes me happy or proud, and what my dreams are for 2014. To make this easier, he sent me a small notebook and a felt tip pen along with his letter.

This invitation in combination with his personal message about his appreciation of my engagement, drive and sense of humour simply made my day. All this, despite the fact that we have never met in real life.

This made me realise that I have absolutely no reason to be moping around the house. Because, I, too, have people in my life that I appreciate, things that I like and that inspire me, and touch me. And all these things and people together bring me dreams, for 2014 and beyond.

All this happened almost a week ago. So what did I collect until now?

These are the people and things I am right now thankful for:

  • Roel Rotterdam, for sending me this invitation and message at the right time, among many other things
  • Ecaterina Melnicenco, for letting me dabble in social media coaching
  • Lidija Pavic-Rogosic, for taking one of my previous posts as a start for developing a very nice project proposal and also – on another level – for sharing a very nice Instagram video
  • Gerdi Keeler, for our cooperation as nul100 which brings me new ideas and inspiration almost daily
  • Barend Barentsen, for letting me ramble on about online tools in learning and all the things he could do
  • this week’s online tools: PhotoSnack and GoogleForms
  • ……

…. and there is so much more!

As it is ThanksGiving today, I would end by thanking Roel Rotterdam for his wake up call and inspiration! I wish all of you out there a happy ThanksGiving:

ThanksGiving

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Evaluations are Boring and Useless

As trainer I am always curious to learn what participants think of the workshop: was it useful? Will they do something with what they learned and planned? Am I the new role model in their lives because I was so darn inspiring?????

It has become custom to hand out so-called happy sheets at the end of a training, to collect participants’ feedback. Well, they don’t always make you happy, I can say!

Not because participants are negative, but because you so seldom get something useful out of them.

In answer to the question 'what could be better?' - made with Quozio

In answer to the question ‘what could be better?’ – made with Quozio

By the end of the workshop, participants want to get away as soon as they can. The happy sheet is a hindrance for their haste – a few more precious minutes down the drain! In order to leave as quickly as possible, most participants will use as little time and energy as feasible to score items on the happy sheet. Rarely do they take time to write something down for the open questions.

Even the scoring can sometimes be misleading. A colleague of mine once inquired what the rates 6 and 7 on a scale of 10 (perfect) meant for the participants. One of them replied: “The training was useless, but the trainer was friendly.”

And this is only natural. After all, this happy sheet doesn’t have any purpose for the participants. They hand it in, and that’s that. It is no use for them afterwards, at their work place. What do they care to remember how good I was as trainer, or how good the accommodation was, or how much they exchanged. However good the workshop was, it is history by then.

So if you want to have useful feedback on your training you should make the evaluation meaningful or fun for the participants.

One of the things you can do is to connect the evaluation moment to the future: let participants think about how and when and with whom they will use what they learned and planned. If you then ask them to visualise this you ‘force’ them to spend just a little bit more of their time on this question. After all, they will have to develop an idea and will have to come up with a visual representation of this idea. They need to make or look for a photo, draw something, shoot a video, make a cartoon…. All this will make them think more deeply about to what extent the training was useful to them and how they will actually apply their new knowledge, skills or insights.

In addition, they will have their own visual idea with them, physically – it will be in their own camera, phone, tablet or computer. It is not that happy sheet that disappears in a big black box.

If you want to remind them of their ideas and plans you can collect all the visuals and present them in a booklet form (easily made online and downloaded as PDF) one month after the end of the training.

And that could be a great time to also ask them about their thoughts of the training: what was the best working method used? What was the most significant moment, and why? What was the most novel insight they got? Which remark do they remember still? Etc.

The most significant moment

The most significant moment, made with Quozio

Of course a lot more can be said about evaluations: what are the best type of questions, the best tools to use and the best moments in or after your training to ask for feedback.

I will certainly write more on this topic and am also going to organise workshops about evaluating trainings and learning processes together with my colleague Gerdi Keeler. If you are interested, please feel free to contact me!

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Telling stories

Storytelling is all the rage nowadays. There are many places where one can learn how to tell one’s story, orally or in writing. More and more people are interested in sharing their stories through life books, or through online posts on different social media channels. Organisations and leaders are using stories as a means to convey their messages.

I experienced the power of stories first-hand some time ago at the annual high-level meeting of the Dutch Ombudsman. In this event the Ombudsman highlights the main issues of this annual report, in front of his target group: CEOs of public institutions and high-level civil servants. He doesn’t do this by sharing facts and figures, even if he does not leave those out. His focus is on the impact of the cases he deals with and on creating a sense of urgency to tackle the issues at hand. For this, he uses stories.

This year I was invited to share my story in a dialogue with the CEO of the institution I was complaining about. When I approached the Ombudsman I started by writing a long, long piece about what happened, what had gone wrong and how, and what should have happened, in my opinion. It was a technical case, and my letter was technical and full of legal humbug. I wanted this case to be taken seriously, and thought a serious approach was required, including using legal terms to make sure it was clear that I knew what I was talking about.

A serious case requires a serious approach

A serious case requires a serious approach

When I was invited to share my case at this annual event, it quickly became clear that this was not the way I was supposed to present it; I was supposed to tell a story. A story in three short pieces, to be prompted by the event’s host. After each of my pieces, the CEO would have a piece, built around the same three questions: What happened in laymen’s terms? What did this mean in daily life? What are lessons (to be) learned? In all, we had around 10 minutes. Ten minutes divided by two? For my 9 page-case?????? Impossible!

Well, it turned out it was possible. And the short version was stronger than the long one, I might add.

How did that happen?

Well, it worked out so well because of the format, and because of the great moderator of the event, and because of a very thorough preparation process.

Ombudslezing

In the preparation process I went through my case several times with a colleague of the moderator. She had read my 9 pages thoroughly and asked detailed questions. She made it clear she understood the issues, the case and my concerns.

Then she explained that we should identify the essence of it all, in order to get my message across. And we started focusing on the story.

The story is not about procedures and legal intricacies. The story is about how it is to count on a certain income and not to get it for almost a year. The story is about not knowing whether this wrong will ever be put right. The story is about the bills that pile up, the letters received and sent. The hope that thrives when at some stage someone says you’re right. And about the despair when it turns out that this stage was not the final stage. The essence is about the impact the functioning of a public institution has on an ordinary person, and the feeling that person gets that they are a number, not a human being.

Step by step my case became a story and on the event itself, I was my story, even if it was not a story about me. And the funny thing was, the CEO got into the story, too. And had gotten into it in his preparation process in fact. So while I had thought we were adversaries, fighting our own cause against each other, we became a common story, together. The power of this process was overwhelming, thanks to the great preparation and implementation from the side of the Ombudsman and the moderator of the day, Margriet Vroomans, and her colleague Esmeralda Böhm.

If you want to know how you could use storytelling in your work as facilitator, trainer or (project) manager, you should participate in the one-day training Facilitating Storytelling – Tools for the Facilitator on 28 November 2013. Look here for more information in Dutch. If you’d like to have more information in English, contact me. The training can be conducted in English, if English speakers are signing up, so do feel welcome!

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