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Business Communication/Keep professional in a small group of volunteers


   I'm with a group that is in the middle of starting up a nonprofit.  We are in a very rural area, one of those towns where everyone knows everyone...who knows everyone's business kind of places.  

We haven't filed for an official IRS nonprofit status yet because we wanted to get a group together and organized and then move to that step.  We are having a really hard time keeping our meetings open but separate the board vs committee vs new people interested in joining....and not sure how to make a separation without coming across uninviting or "hurting" feelings.  At any given time our meetings have only about 5-8 people in them.  We are small but always looking for help or people who want to be involved.

A recent issue came up when we were discussing a fundraiser, and new people who weren't previously involved (on the board or any committee) ended up getting a vote on a split decision.  I think it really came down to no one knowing how to say "ok, thanks for all the input now 'only the board' is going to vote" because everyone felt like this would be rude or leave people feeling unwelcome especially because its such a small group.  In a group of 40 its not as noticeable when you are 1 out of 4 people not "allowed" to have a say.  

Sorry for the lengthy question, I hope it makes sense.   The point I'm trying to get to is we need some guidance how to keep our monthly meetings open and inviting to promote more people to join, but how to politely keep major decisions only among board members.   

We need to get over this hump before many of us feel comfortable filing for official status with the IRS.  I do feel the small town puts a lot of pressure on us to stay very polite and make everyone feel welcome.  It is easy to make someone mad and the next thing you know you have a bad reputation the next day!  Also, everyone involved is volunteering their time, and even though we are grateful it seems to make people feel obligated to bend to people just to keep them happy and wanting to be involved.  We cannot move forward if everyone is afraid to draw some lines in the sand, but at the same time I think being new we are scared to come across uninviting or scare people away from getting involved in the organization.  

Thank you for any advice you can give on the matter.

Dear Christina,

Thanks for your question. With local communities still reeling from the recession and the drop in government support at every level, compassionate people often decide to get involved. Some volunteer with a local or national nonprofit; others take matters into their own hands and create a nonprofit.

In their passion to help others, founders may underestimate the amount of work required to build and sustain a viable organization over the long term.

Consider this. Is creating a new nonprofit organization the best way to handle the issue you want address? Don’t answer on your own, or imagine that you know all the answers, ask others for their opinions. Here’s where the interested community members you mentioned can play a valuable role.

Ask for opinions and take note of the answers. What other organizations in your area handle this cause? What is missing in current programs? What other organizations or agencies could you partner with to share resources? Be sure to include members of the group you want to serve among those you interview. Involve board members in this research, as well.

Afterward, convene a board meeting to discuss your findings. What conclusions and ideas can be drawn that affect your decisions?

Remember to thank community members who shared their thoughts with you—let them know they made a valuable contribution to your research and planning efforts. Then, as a group, board members have more questions to address:

•   What is your mission and how will you achieve it?
•   Whom do you serve? Be specific.
•   What programs and services will the organization offer?
•   What support will you need to keep the organization and its programs going?

These are not easy questions, but they must be answered clearly and in writing. This process takes time, usually requires several drafts, and will be worth the effort. You’ll discover how to work together effectively, and you’ll make a more convincing case for your cause as a result.

Once you specify your mission, goals, and objectives, develop a start-up budget, put together a public outreach and marketing plan, and decide how to handle resource development and fundraising. Several online websites offer resources to help nonprofits start strong. Here are three sites that offer a broad array of valuable information at no charge:

•   The Foundation Center:
•   Society for Nonprofit Organizations:
•   Grant Source: you

Check out your statewide association here: Nonprofit organizations are regulated by a vast number of laws and reporting requirements—from local to federal. Someone in your organization or a reliable outside advisor needs to stay on top of these and make sure you are in compliance.

Nonprofits that clearly define their purpose and lay out a practical approach for achieving it are much more likely to succeed in their goals. Success—especially in the nonprofit world—does not happen by accident. But you can plan and prepare to be more successful. Good luck!

Maureen A. Jung, Ph.D.

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Maureen A. Jung, Ph.D.


I can answer questions related to: What to do--and what not to do--in business communication. Tips for more effective communication in print, on paper, in person, and via electronic media. Grammar, punctuation, and tone-related questions. How to Say ‘No’ without negativity. How to plan, format, write, and review your messages, letters, articles, etc.


More than 20 years' experience as a communication consultant, business writer, editor, communication trainer, and writing group leader. I've provided communication training workshops, seminars, and writing services to businesses and organizations for more than 25 years, and edited and/or researched 15 non-fiction books for other authors. I've been a columnist and contributing writer to many publications, wrote a successful $15-million health care grant for a nonprofit organization, and wrote two White House presentations.

Florida Writer's Assn.; Clay County Writers, Writing Group Leader; American Business Women's Assn.; Medical Managers of Northeast Florida; Law Office Support (Jacksonville, FL)

Comstock's Business Magazine, California History, Living Blues Magazine, American Archivist, Sacramento Business Journal, Sutter/Yuba Business Journal, California Mining Review, Red Voices, Insurgent Sociologist, Social Forces, Sacramento News and Review, Coastlines, Sociological Spectrum, etc. In 2009, I wrote the book: Many Pathways: Planting Seeds for Communities in Recovery (2009).

B.A. Sociology, Colorado State University M.A., Ph.D., Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara Fellow of the South Coast Writing Project since 1984, a think tank for writing teachers affiliated with the National Writing Project Post-graduate studies in history and archives, California State University, Sacramento

Awards and Honors
Charles Spaulding Research Prize, University of California, Santa Barbara (for my M.A. thesis); Theodore Calvin Pease Award, Society of American Archivists (for an article based on my dissertation research); Invited Contributor, California Sesquicentennial Project, for my article: "Capitalism Comes to the Diggings," published in: A Golden State, Mining and Economic Development in Gold Rush California.

Past/Present Clients
Huntley, Mullaney, Spargo & Sullivan, Inc.; Cox Ferrall, Sales Wisdom Now!; Groeteke Resources, Jacksonville; California Mining Assn.; Central Valley Rock, Sand & Gravel Assn.; Sacramento City University; SolutionsWest, ITEX Corporation; Dr. Wilson C. Riles; Capital Program Management; Small Business Resource Center, Inc.; Vanir Construction Management; Prime Time Boxing; California Rural Indian Health Board, Inc.; Trumbull Insurance Agency, etc.

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