As the sun sets on 2019 I am in reflective mood, turning my thoughts back to the last twelve months as I prepare for the Christmas break.
In some respects, 2019 has been in tough year.
In February we lost one of the leaders in our field, Susan J Ellis.
Volunteer engagement professionals around the world lost an advocate and a friend, someone who was as fearless in her evangelism for what we do as she was in challenging us to grow and move forward.
Susan was also my mentor and my friend for more than twenty years. With her death I lost someone who was incredibly important to me.
Then, just a few weeks after Susan’s death, my mum died. Mum had been taken into hospital with suspected jaundice just after Valentine’s Day. It turned out to be cancer. She lasted just eight weeks before the disease took her. It was – and still is – a massive shock to me and my family.
Losing two people who shaped my life up until now – albeit in different ways – was a real kick in the guts. Needless to say that by late April I was ready for 2019 to be over!
This year has also had its challenges on the work front. If you ever thought the life of a consultant was one that led to riches, let me tell you now that you are very wrong! Hearing of my work trips to other countries may sound like I lead a glamorous life (and I am certainly very fortunate for), but the current climate for business means I’m squeezing the financial margins all the time. International work is simply a necessity when work at home is scarce.
Some of the recent challenges in the UK are:
The legacy of the years austerity and resulting tight budgets for things like training and development
Uncertainty and nervousness caused by Brexit
The low strategic priority many organisations give to volunteering, which means the idea of engaging a consultant to develop volunteer engagement is off many people’s radar
The sometimes extremely long decision making timeframes organisations go through when they do want help – the record so far is about eighteen months from enquiry to delivery!
Of course we all have challenges and I’m not looking for sympathy or a pity party. I’m simply being honest about the challenges of what I do as I look back on the year that’s gone.
Of course it hasn’t all been doom and gloom, far from it. Running a one-person volunteer management training and consultancy business for more than eight years has been a rollercoaster ride with many more ups than downs.
Whilst 2019 was the first time in five years that I didn’t visit my beloved Australia, I did go to Canada twice and the USA three times (albeit briefly – two visits to the States were barely forty-eight hours long!). It was an immense privilege to:
Co-present the opening volunteer engagement plenary and run workshops at the Points of Light conference in St Paul, Minnesota
Deliver the opening keynote address to the Volunteer Management Professionals of Canada / PAVRO conference in Ottawa
Work with an amazing team at this years “The Future is Now: Tech trends” hybrid conference, broadcast from Hamilton, Ontario
Make my first visit to South Dakota to present at a state-wide volunteer management conference in Sioux Falls
Work with the wonderful people at the Minnesota Historical Society again
Deliver workshops in Ontario for some fantastic clients (I just missed filming of The Handmaids Tale outside the training venue by a few hours!)
Whilst it always sounds like the majority of my time is spent overseas, the reality is that I mainly work in the UK. I’ve had some wonderful clients this year and met some amazing people doing excellent volunteer engagement work. I’ve been to Scotland and Northern Ireland (hint hint Wales!) and all across England. What I see and hear from the volunteer managers I meet is inspiring and invigorating, giving me huge pride to be a part of this amazing profession.
To all of my clients a huge thank you for hiring me in 2019. I hope you’ll have me back in 2020 (hint hint)!
To everyone I have met, trained and spoken with, thank you for your time, energy and commitment. I look forward to seeing what you achieve next year.
To anyone I didn’t work with in 2019, well bookings are open now for 2020 so get in touch and let’s make it happen!
Finally, this will be my last article of 2019 with the next one going live on 10 January 2020. Thank you to all of you have have visited my blog and read the articles I have published over the last twelve months. Your continued support is both humbling and very much appreciated.
I wish you all a restful and enjoyable holiday and look forward to engaging with you throughout 2020.
I had a browse through and decided I’d give idea number twenty four a try – my everyday carry (EDC), the essentials I carry with me for work. As I like productivity, gadgets and travel the idea resonated with me and, apparently, EDC has become a popular theme online in the last few years. So here goes with a very different kind of blog article – let’s see if it drives massive traffic as the article I read promised!
Carrying my everyday essentials
I love a good bag. Right now I have three that I use to transport all those work essentials around with me.
For those times when I need to carry very little – just a laptop, notebook and not much else – I use a Bellroy laptop brief. This little bag is perfect for light travel and designed to encourage a minimalist approach to what we all need with us each day.
When I do an overseas, often long-haul, trip I need more room. Much more! So I turn to my Samsonite CityVibe 1.0 backpack. Great build quality and plenty of room for carrying everything I need for work when I am away. Importantly, even when full, it fits easily in almost all overhead lockers and racks on planes, trains and busses.
Day-to-day I use an M&S brown leather double zip briefcase. Normally I’ve got with me a lot of the stuff mentioned in this article, as well as a case full of charging leads, a portable speaker and adapters to connect my computer to projectors for training and presentations. I find most briefcases are too small to carry all this. Not this bag! It gets it all in and looks good.
Whilst I love my technology, I am a big believer in pen and paper when it comes to note taking. I’ve tried making notes on a laptop or iPad, whether using keyboard or stylus, and whilst it has some advantages, I just can’t get on with it. Often my mind wanders and I end up doing other things on the device, losing focus on the meeting or event I’m attending.
Instead, I keep things old school and rely on an A5 notebook, all wrapped up in a Bellroy notebook cover. This includes space for business cards and associated papers, as well as handy pen loop for my trusty Parker pen. As with all things Bellroy the quality is excellent and it looks great.
I have four essentials here:
My 2014 MacBookAir
It just keeps on going, year after year, and never lets me down. I could go on about all the apps I use to get stuff done on the Mac but that’s for another article (if you’re interested of course).
My iPhone X
Yes, I’m an Apple fanboy, in part because of the practicality of all my devices integrating and seamlessly linking to each other (a big time saver when you work away from the office a lot). My phone rarely leaves my side and allows me to manage a wide range of business tasks whilst away from the office.
My iPad Air 2
It’s a bit old now (for a tech product) but it does the job. The one thing my iPad is essential for is paperless speaker notes when I am presenting. It connects to my Mac and Apple’s Keynote presentation software, allowing me to control a slidedeck and see my notes without needing to cull a forest for paper notes.
I do use them as headphones for music but the main benefit for me is as good in-ears for making a receiving phone calls. They enable clear phone calls with little wind noise or distortion from other external sounds.
Entertainment on the move
I love my music. By far and away the biggest memory hog on my iPhone is Apple Music downloads. Add in podcasts (Adam Grant’s WorkLife and the F1 Beyond The Grid are two essentials) and watching Netflix etc. when staying away from home, and a good pair of ear cans are vital for me.
My headphones of choice are a silver set of Bose QC35 II noice cancellers. I don’t do a flight without them and train journeys become an oasis of focus, peace and quiet. They are not cheap but worth every penny.
The other essential item is my Kindle Paperwhite. So much easier than carrying lots of heavy books around all the time – I rarely have just one book on the go at anytime.
Food and beverage
OK so these aren’t strictly everyday carry items – more like most days – but I’ve included them because I think it’s important we all try and do our bit to reduce our consumption of non-recyclable products and, as someone who travels a lot, these three items help me with that.
First up is a good water bottle. I use a Joseph Joseph 600ml one. Big enough for a proper drink but still able to fit in a bag.
Second, a reusable coffee cup. The Keep Cup I have from John Lewis is perfect. It doesn’t leak and it holds a 350ml coffee, the standard size in most UK coffee chains. I just wish someone would make a cup holder that I can attach to my bags and then clip this into.
Finally, a new addition to the collection, reusable bamboo cutlery. I got my set from eBay and it includes a knife, fork, spoon, chopsticks, straw and cleaning brush all in a handy canvas wrap. No more cheap plastic throwaway cutlery for me.
So there are my EDC essentials. I now have two questions for you:
What are your EDC essentials?
Would you like me to try other slightly off-topic themes for my articles? Volunteer management will always remain the core of what I write about but I’m open to trying new things.
This article will be a little different from my usual musings on volunteer management and leadership. I thought it might be interesting to give you a glimpse at what it is like doing an overseas work trip as a volunteer engagement consultant.
People often say how lucky I am to be able to travel with work, and I am. It’s a privilege to work with passionate Volunteer Managers around the world and to learn from their experiences. But travel overseas isn’t always the glamorous experience it might appear. So here is a warts and all summary of six nights away in the USA last month for the 2019 Points of Light conference.
16 June 2019
Arrive at Grantham railway station in Lincolnshire around 2pm for my train to London. Thanks to it being a weekend, first class is a cheap option so I won’t have an issue cramming my suitcase into limited the limited bag space down the back of the train. If only my flights were first class too!
London Kings Cross to Heathrow via the tube and Heathrow Express is blissfully uneventful. London is so much nicer at the weekend without all the commuters striving to be the first into the office (seriously people, what’s the rush?). The struggle comes in finding the Hotel Hoppa bus stop at Heathrow Terminal Three for the service to my hotel. The Hoppa service is a great idea but so confusing to understand for a UK resident and seasoned traveller like myself that I’m amazed foreign visitors, unfamiliar with the airport, can use it at all.
After waiting for 30 minutes the bus finally turns up and a short while later I am at my hotel and getting settled in for the night, knowing I have an early start in the morning.
17 June 2019
Alarm goes off at 450am. Another wait for the Hoppa bus back to terminal three, thankfully not half-an-hour this time.
Slightly worried to receive an email from American Airlines that my connection from Chicago to Minneapolis-St Paul has been brought forward. It was already a tight one hour and 45 mins, and that’s now been reduced by 20 minutes.
Breakfast and coffee at Heathrow before boarding a lovely new 787 Dreamliner to Chicago. I spent almost 17 hours on one of these from Perth (Australia) to London last year, so today’s eight hour flight time across the Atlantic will be a breeze.
Happily my flight leaves on time and, even better, looks likely to arrive 30-45 minutes early at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. Unfortunately, as we are about 100ft off the ground the pilot has to go around because the plane landing before us hasn’t cleared the runway. That means another 30 minutes in the air and the hopes of making my tight connection take a blow.
As is typical at O’Hare, the border control queue is huge and takes ages to get through. I grab my suitcase and head for flight connections where they tell me I need to leave 45 minutes to get to my next flight as the usual train between terminals is closed for maintenance and I’ll have to re-clear security (TSA). With only 35 minutes until the connecting flight leaves, I reluctantly change my plans, re-checking myself and my bag to be put on standby for a 5pm flight (instead of my original 120pm departure) and confirmed on an 840pm fight. Endless additional hours at an airport await – such fun!
The replacement bus service (it isn’t just the UK that does these then) gets me to terminal three where I jump on the free wifi to: tell the person in Minneapolis who is picking me up that I’ll be later than planned; and advise my keynote co-presenter (the brilliant Beth Steinhorn) that I will miss that evening’s technical run through.
But what’s that airport tannoy announcement saying? Turns out my 120pm flight has been delayed to its original departure time of 145pm, about ten minutes from now. I rush to the gate and explain the situation to the gate agent – who puts me on the flight! Happy days. Much frantic messaging ensues before takeoff to rescind my earlier delay notifications.
After all that stress I arrive at Minneapolis-St Paul pretty on time. Sadly, my suitcase doesn’t, having been re-checked for one of the later flights. American Airlines make arrangements to get it back to me, hopefully that evening, and I head off to the hotel.
Checking in I explain the bag situation and ask them to take the bag in for me, even if it arrives in the middle of the night, so I don’t have to stay awake – no point making the jet lag worse. No time to rest though, as I head straight out for the technical run through with Beth and get first sight of the room where tomorrow morning we’ll be doing our keynote address to 750 people.
I then connect with my friend Barry Altland for an early dinner before heading back to the hotel for some sleep. At this point I’ve been up for about 22 hours, it’s 9pm, I have no suitcase and I need to be up at 5am as we have a final technical run through at 7am ahead of the main session at 830am. All of which means I am delighted to see an email telling me my suitcase is due to arrive at 330am!
Please make the glamour of overseas travel stop!
18 June 2019
After a few hours of bad sleep I wake at 145am having dreamt my suitcase has arrived, but was empty. I check my email and see a message that my bag has indeed been delivered. I dash down to reception where I am re-united with my clean clothes and other essentials! I unpack at 2am and grab three more hours of sleep.
After a final early morning tech run through, the keynote address kicks off on time and is a success. We showcase examples of volunteer managers as catalysts of change, featuring three stories on video and two in person thanks to our guest speakers, Jess and Joanne. Feedback is overwhelmingly positive, which is gratifying after six months of preparatory work to pull the session together.
After lunch at the food truck festival outside the venue I get to attend a session by the amazing Dana Litwin on dealing with volunteer problem behaviour, by way of cuddling penguins (or stabby footballs as Dana calls them) and a bit of singing (I said Dana was amazing).
Next up is meeting my friend Tony Goodrow, CEO of Better Impact, to discuss two possible work projects over a beer and dinner. Then straight to the Al!ve and Better Impact networking reception. I get to meet in person a few people I have known online for a while as well as re-connect with fellow blogger Meridian Swift.
Sleep comes easily when I finally reach my bed.
19 June 2019
Oooh, I get a lie-in this morning – until 6am!
Given the six hour time difference to the UK I spend breakfast dealing with email and social media before the three block walk back to the River Centre in downtown St Paul.
The morning is more sessions and networking following lunch at the food trucks again, catching up with fellow Volunteer Managers in the sunshine to the sounds of an esoteric DJ who the conference organisers have hired.
In the last session of the day I go from attendee to presenter, delivering (for the first time) my workshop, “All Volunteer Mangers Are Liars”. It seems to go across well with the 150 people in the room with yet more lovely feedback. I do like the willingness of American’s to be effusive with their praise if you do a good job.
That’s the formal programme done but it’s straight to the Intercontinental Hotel for a reception hosted for funders to which I have been invited. From there, Beth and I head out for dinner to reflect on yesterday’s keynote and discuss the thorny issue of payments for volunteers and how the rules and practices vary between the USA and UK.
Once again, I don’t struggle to sleep!
20 June 2019
Up at 6am again, clearing messages from back home before heading to the conference venue for my 830am “Philosophy Of Volunteering Workshop”. This is one of my favourite sessions to run. 150 of us have ninety minutes of fun, challenge and great conversation about the values and beliefs we have about volunteerism.
Over coffee I have a revelation in event catering as the snacks provided are maple glazed doughnuts with bacon. How have I lived for 45 years without these?!
Before we know it the 2019 Points of Life Conference concludes with a very American closing session featuring cheering, a singer, a TV news anchor, the brother of a former US President and the announcement that the 2020 conference will be in Washington DC. I’m left wondering how that style of closing event would go down at home.
The conference may be over, but work isn’t. I catch up with fellow Energize Inc. Associate Betsy McFarland who I had the privilege of seeing present a workshop earlier in the week. Betsy heads off for her flight home and I get stuck into work I need to catch up on after three days at the conference.
I treat myself to dinner at a restaurant I like in St Paul which happens to be next to the park where the city’s jazz festival is kicking off. Despite the wet weather a big crown has turned out for a rather good latin jazz band.
21 June 2019
Rising early again means I have the best part of a day until I fly home. So getting to experience the St Paul legend that is Mickey’s Diner for a late breakfast with Meridian Swift is a welcome distraction from hours of boredom before meeting my lift back to the airport.
My flight to Philadelphia passes uneventfully and I easily make my connection to a British Airways flight to London, even having time for a quick meal before the scheduled departure at 10pm. All of which means I’ve spent 15 hours awake before I even get on the plane that will take me back to the UK. There is nothing more glamorous than sitting in hotels and airports on your own waiting to go home (disengage sarcasm mode).
22 June 2019
BA do their thing and get us into Terminal Five at Heathrow nicely ahead of schedule. The connections to Kings Cross go smoothly, too smoothly in fact as I end up with over an hour to kill before my train home.
I finally make it back home about 2pm, six days from when I left. By the time I go to bed I have been awake more than 36 hours and have just the Sunday to recover before I drive to Liverpool on Monday to run some training for a client. This trip may be over, but the next is about to begin.