Easy 3-step process to evaluate a volunteer board

January 4, 2013

Business - Group - team hands

In April of 2012 I became president of our condo board, where I had served as a director for about 5 years. We had some returning board members, some new members and we had also recent changed to a new management company.

One of the issues we had with the previous condominium management company was that projects were either not completed or they took a very long time to get done. This new company seems to get tasks completed more quickly, but nevertheless, there was growing discontent that “nothing is happening” or “things are not moving fast enough”.

Using an asset-based approach to community development (ABCD), I conducted a brief appreciative assessment and presented it to the board as a report at our last meeting. They were able to see how far we had come in a few short months. One board member said that it should be sent out to all the residents as a newsletter. I am in the process of preparing that now. The technique was so simple and successful, I wanted to share it with you.

If you work with a volunteer group who is feeling, here are the steps to prepare your own ABCD evaluation of your work:

Step 1: Take an inventory of what your group has achieved

Review old meeting agendas and minutes. Review your e-mail history. Think of yourself panning for gold. Let’s face it, community work is muddy at best. Finding the little nuggets tucked into all the mud takes a bit of time and patience, but it is worth it.

As you find a significant task that has been completed add it to your list. I didn’t minor items such as light bulbs being replaced. Instead, I focused on more significant projects or tasks that we would be proud to tell our owners that we had achieved.

Step 2: Categorize your group’s achievements

For our condo board, I used these categories:

  • Policy and governance achievements
  • Major projects completed
  • Major projects initiated
  • Repairs completed
  • Additional achievements

Step 3: Organize your achievements under each category heading

I used numbered lists. The minimum I had in any category was four. The most I had was nine.

In total, we had 23 noteworthy achievements in a six-month period. Pretty impressive for a group of six volunteers, don’t you think?

When we work with condo boards, volunteer or community groups the feeling that goals are not being accomplished fast enough is more common than many of us would like to admit.

Taking an inventory of recent achievements helps you to stay accountable to those you serve. It also helps volunteers see how their contributions make a difference. Even when progress is slow, it still counts. Sometimes, it is not as slow as our perceptions might have us believe.

This type of strength-based evaluation works well with a disgruntled group who fails to recognize how far they have come in a short period of time. It is easy to focus on needs, gaps and challenges. An asset-based approaches seeks first to identify what is working well and use that as as starting point to build on. Don’t get me wrong. We still have a very long “to do” list and we have some problems that we need to solve. Sometimes, when you stop focusing obsessively on the problems and take an inventory of what is going right (as opposed to everything that is wrong), motivation levels increase, focus is renewed and people begin to enjoy their volunteer service again. That is all the more reason to take a step back and assess what we have actually done to meet the goals we set and make our community better.

This technique would work well for a team of staff, volunteers or any group who comes together to work towards a common goal.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Webinar recording: Creating Space for Strength

November 30, 2012

Our research team is thrilled to share the recording of our webinar “An Introduction to Creating Space for Strength: An Asset-Based Community Development and Research Project Focused on Calgary’s North Central Communities”.

We had over 40 people sign up for the webinar. The program lasted approximately 45 minutes and included chat dialogue from many community participants.

Thank you to everyone who attended and contributed. As promised, here is the recording. Feel free to share it with others.

5 Great resources on asset-based community development (ABCD) http://wp.me/pNAh3-1xJ

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

10 Characteristics of Community Leaders

August 21, 2012

Traits of a good leader are common across disciplines, professions and geographical regions. Community leadership is unique in its approach and goals. Community leadership is not about managing or even coordinating. And it is certainly not about dictating or imposing your own ideas onto others.

In addition to traits of superior leadership in any discipline, such as integrity and responsibility, here are ten characteristics that are particular to excellent community leaders:

1. Maximize Individuals’ Strengths

Community leaders often work with volunteers. They may be elected by members of the community,  assigned to work with a group, or they simply step forward and want to help. In any case, community leaders rarely have the luxury of choosing who they work with.

Your job involves being able to identify the strengths and interests of each person on your leadership team and maximize those talents and skills in a way that keeps your team engaged in the work. Your fellow leaders need to feel that they are making a meaningful contribution to the group, the community and the work.

2. Balance the Needs of Your Leadership Group

Some individuals may have a strong need for control. Others may have a deep need to be appreciated for their time and service. As a community leader, your job is to balance everyone’s needs, as well as keep your sights focussed on the work that needs to be done for the group to move forward.

3. Work as a Team

Let’s face it, community leadership is slow work. It is much less efficient than, say, military leadership, where underlings simply obey the orders of their superior officers. Community leadership means that one person does not do it all.

It can be useful to teach your leadership team the difference between efficiency and effectiveness. An efficient leader will take a task away from someone who is not completing their work in a timely manner. An effective leader will ensure that the person gets the support they need to complete the task. Effectiveness often takes more time than efficiency. Community leadership is about building relationships and working together. Being patient with one another and supporting one another process builds capacity and relationships. But be forewarned, this takes much more time than simply being efficient.

4. Mobilize Others

Even a leadership team can not do it all. You will likely have to work with staff and volunteers to undertake big projects. Community leadership is part education, part inspiration, part motivation and part mobilization.

Mobilizing others is not about telling them what to do, barking orders at them or dictating  how things need to get done. It is about finding a balance between what needs to be done, who can do it, who is willing and has time to do it, assigning the work and then showing appreciation for others’ efforts. Learning to have some fun while you work together is an important aspect of mobilizing and motivating others.

5. Pitch In

There is a myth that leaders lead, and do-ers do. But in a community, leading by example is often the most effective way to get full buy-in for projects. Don’t schedule a community clean-up unless you are willing to get out there with a garbage bag yourself.

Community leaders are rarely have the luxury of focussing only on policy and governance. This kind of work involves arriving early, staying late, cleaning up, and generally rolling up your sleeves to pitch in.

6. Practice Stewardship

This is about getting people to take responsibility for their physical space and surroundings. This includes natural areas, structures and spaces. Stewardship means working together to protect, preserve and take care of your community. This involves renewing, repairing, rebuilding and constantly reviewing your physical community to ensure that it is healthy, strong and well-maintained.

7. Be Accountable to the Community

Above all else community leadership is about the people who live with you and near you. The people who form the community are the beneficiaries, but also those who whom you, as a leadership are accountable.

Community leadership is not just about policies, processes or procedures. More than anything, it is about people.

Often when I guide community leaders in my work, I will ask “What do you think will happen at the next Annual General Meeting if this does — or does not — move forward?” This keeps the leadership team focussed on why they are doing what they do, and why they are really making decisions.

8. Think forward

There is a saying in some Aboriginal communities about thinking five generations ahead. Being a community leader means not only thinking for today, or even tomorrow, but being able to make wise decisions that will still benefit the residents long after the current leadership team is gone.

9. Recruit and Mentor New Leaders

Speaking of the current leadership team being gone, community leaders often get so caught up in all the work that needs to be done today, that they forget to think about tomorrow. Planning for the future is an important aspect of community leadership. Having a healthy base of volunteers and having individuals ready to take on new positions are indicators of a healthy community.

Community leadership work means building a succession plan to keep the community strong as you move forward into the future.

10. Walk Beside, Don’t Lead From Above

In some models, leadership is a position in a hierarchy. Those at the top of the hierarchy have the power and make the decisions. Community leadership is about developing every persons capacity for leadership, starting with self-leadership and self-responsibility. Those who have positions of leadership must demonstrate principles and practices of good leadership by living the example. So, the community leader does not take the prime parking spot out of a sense of entitlement. There are no special privileges that put community leaders above others who live in the community. Every member of the community has responsibilities and rights. Community leaders walk beside others and listen to them.

A community leader’s job is not to take on all the problems of the world themselves and fix everything, but rather to work together with everyone in the community, to mobilize and guide others, to facilitate solutions and thing about the long-term health of the community and its people.


Update: April 17, 2017 – This is one of the more popular posts on my blog. As of this update, it has had more than $55,000 views. If you liked it, please share or Tweet it:

10 Characteristics of Community Leaders http://wp.me/pNAh3-1tI

Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

12 Great Resources on Strength-Based Leadership

July 10, 2011

Last Thursday I did a leadership workshop with the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology Students Association (SAITA) in Calgary. We did an entire afternoon around strength-based leadership. I led the group through a personal and large-group strengths inventory. Then, we did another activity to see how people can leverage the strengths of the associations and groups they belong to. We wrapped up by helping the newly elected student leaders revisit their goals to see how they could achieve them more effectively using an asset-based approach.

A few of the participants asked for the titles of some reading materials on this topic. This post is dedicated to the wonderful leaders at SAITSA. Here are a dozen of my favorite books on asset-based or strength-based leadership. The authors may call it by different terms, but the underlying ideas are shared among these works:

Appreciative Inquiry Commons. (n.d.).   Retrieved May 1, 2008, from http://appreciativeinquiry.case.edu/

Cooperrider, D. L., Whitney, D., & Stavros, J. M. (2003). Appreciative inquiry handbook. Bedford Heights, OH: Lakeshore Publishers.

Cooperrider, D. L. (2007). Business as an agent of world benefit: Awe is what moves us forward.   Retrieved February 21, 2008, from http://appreciativeinquiry.case.edu/practice/executiveDetail.cfm?coid=10419

Cooperrider, D. L., & Whitney, D. (2008). A positive revolution in change: Appreciative inquiry.   Retrieved March 27, 2008, 2008, from http://appreciativeinquiry.case.edu/uploads/whatisai.pdf

Cramer, K. D., & Wasiak, H. (2006). Change the way you see everything through asset-based thinking. Philadelphia: Running Press.

Eliot, C. (1999). Locating the Energy for Change: An Introduction to Appreciative Inquiry. Winnipeg: International Institute for Sustainable Development / Insitut International du Developpment Durable.

Faure, M. (2006). Problem solving was never this easy: Transformational change through appreciative inquiry. Performance Improvement, 45(9), 22-31.

Kretzmann, J. P., & McKnight, J. L. (1993). Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community’s Assets. Skokie, IL: ACTA Publications.

Kretzmann, J. P., McKnight, J. L., Dobrowolski, S., & Puntenney, D. (2005). Discovering Community Power: A Guide to Mobilizing Local Assets and Your Organization’s Capacity. Asset-Based Community Development Institute, School of Education and Social Policy,
Northwestern University. http://www.abcdinstitute.org/docs/kelloggabcd.pdf

Murrell, K., L. (1999). International and intellectual roots of appreciative inquiry. Organization Development Journal, 17(3), 49-61.

Northwestern University. (n.d.). The Asset-Based Community Development Institute: School of Education and Social Policy.   Retrieved October 1, 2010, from http://www.abcdinstitute.org

Tzu, Sun. The Art of War (L. Giles, Trans.). London: Arcturus Publishing Ltd. (The original was believed to have been written between 505 B.C. and 473 B.C., though exact date unknown).


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Strength-based approaches to evaluating literacy and language learning

July 4, 2011

Looking for new ways to assess literacy and language learning that focus on students’ strengths, instead of their weaknesses? So was I. I started digging, found some resources and compiled them into an annotated bibliography, that’s just been archived on ERIC.

Alternative and Asset-Based Evaluation and Assessment in Language Teaching and Literacy: Resources for Research, Classroom Instruction and Evaluation of Language Competence

Full text report available from ERIC. (Release date: June 1, 2011): http://1.usa.gov/lf2NvT

This annotated bibliography surveys key resources and research related specifically to language learning and literacy. It focuses on resources that will be valuable to teaching professionals and researchers who specialize in the areas of foreign and second language teaching, language arts and first and second language literacy.

Significant theoretical research and applied classroom practice has been done in the field of alternative assessment, and specifically in area of using portfolios and e-portfolios (Barrett, 2010; Brear, 2007; Dominguez, 2011; JISC, 2008; Meuller, 2011; North Carolina Regional Educational Laboratory, n.d.; Shao-Ting & Heng-Tsung).

The practice of using portfolios for second and foreign language teaching has increased in popularly, with an increased understanding and adoption of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (Council of Europe, 2001). Almost simultaneously, there has been a rise in the use of similar frameworks in the field of literacy (Alberta Advanced Education and Technology, 2009; Literacy BC, n.d.)

However, there is little collaboration between those who work in literacy and those who teach second and modern languages (Eaton, 2010).

This annotated bibliography is an attempt to collect, select and share resources that may be relevant, helpful and useful to professionals working in both the second language and literacy sectors. The deeper values that guide this work are predicated on the belief that researchers and practitioners working in both fields have much in common and would benefit greatly from increased dialogue and shared resources. A bibliography is included.

Related posts:

Using Portfolios for Effective Learning

27 Great Resources on Using Portfolios for Language Learning and Literacy


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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