Calling in thanks

Recently I participated in a “thank a thon”, where I called a list of donors to thank them for their gifts of time and money during the past year. This is a common tradition among nonprofit organizations. I was provided a template script for live calls and for voicemail messages. Both scripts seemed to hit the right notes of gratitude but for some reason I had difficulty with them. I knew I just needed to lend my own words to the basics of the script but it felt forced. I was better by the last call, but I can’t say I felt proud of any of the calls I made.

Having a little time off for the holidays I found myself reflecting again on my discomfort with those calls. In an attempt to release my mind from the recursive discomfort, I considered what I would have said if I’d taken the time to think through my own version of those scripts. I don’t have a story about how affordable housing made a difference in my life. I was briefly a renter as a young adult, but otherwise was raised in homes my parents owned, and I’ve owned four of my own. I have been literally sheltered by privilege.

I am truly grateful to participate in the building of a healthy society. That’s how I think of my work. Every effort matters, every effort moves us closer to completing the next home. Big dollar donors are participating in the effort, folks who volunteer their time and labor with us are participating in the effort, even the person who donates their old screwdriver to one of our retail stores is participating in the effort. I am grateful for all of them.

Our donors fund community building. When donors support efforts to create affordable housing, they are actively backing communities that foster stability, well-being, and opportunities for all. Healthy communities are foundational for healthy societies. This is work to be proud of.

Our donors fund generational impact. Safe and affordable housing is directly correlated with social benefits that are almost too many to number. Reduced trauma over housing insecurity, reduced exposure to environmental hazards, academic performance improves, graduation rates rise, greater resilience to disasters, reduced homelessness, and on and on. It really is the basic stuff that shows how a civil society cares for its citizens.

Our donors fund generational wealth building. The homes we build are permanently affordable, meaning each time the home is sold the price will always be affordable to an average income buyer. And each owner benefits from home equity and market growth when they sell. These opportunities can reverberate through generations of a family. Donor support helps make that possible.

I know it’s unlikely that any of the folks on my call list will read this post, but it’s a reminder to me at least that as difficult and frustrating as the work can get, I am forever grateful to be doing it.

Quantitative Hiring for Fun and Profit

Let’s talk about your interviewing process. Specifically, how do you evaluate candidates? Intuition? Opinion? Experience? What if I told you there is a way to evaluate your candidates that is consistent, fair, and makes it really easy to justify your hiring decisions? It’s simple but a little more time consuming. In exchange for the extra time investment, you will ensure that everyone on your hiring team is operating from the same set of assumptions about how to evaluate candidates. You’ll take candidate evaluation beyond simplistic scorecards, while allowing the hiring team to fully own the evaluation process. I’d argue that adopting this hiring process will add value to your organization because your enhanced decision making superpower will do a better job of matching candidates to positions. You’ll find the best candidate for the position.Because your new hires will be better fits for both the position and your culture, they will perform better, and maybe even stick around longer. I’m about to describe a way to quantify the qualitative. You’ll learn how to pair rank and weight your feelings. It’s awesome.

There’s two parts to this thing. Part one is your criteria. Part two is the actual candidate evaluation. This whole process takes a little more time than just deciding on which behaviorally based questions you’re going to use, or whatever. You’re gonna need your team. One way or another you’re going to need to figure out who will be participating in the the hiring process, make sure everyone is familiar with the job description, and get them all in a room together for about an hour to sort out the criteria.


Once you’ve got everyone in the room, you’ll lead the team in a brainstorming session around what they believe are the most important qualities embodied by the new hire. Take 10 minutes or so, and capture everyone’s thoughts. A whiteboard will be helpful here. Now spend a few minutes consolidating the ideas, ie, “experienced developer” and “seasoned performer” can be combined into one phrase. Aim for no more than 10–12 descriptive words or phrases. Congratulations, you just finished the qualitative portion of this exercise.

Here comes the quantitative part. Ask the team to look at the first descriptive word or phrase (D1) and compare it to the second descriptive word or phrase (D2), and ask them, if they could only choose one the descriptive qualities, which would it be? This can feel like an impossible question sometimes, but the team needs to imagine two candidates, and each embodies only one of the qualities. Which imaginary candidate would be most successful in the position? That’s the “winner”.

Now let’s pause here for a moment to consider two ways of doing this small comparative exercise. The first way is straight majority rules — ask everyone to vote for one or the other, and go with the one that gets the most votes. This method is quickest. The second way is to tell everyone that you can’t proceed until they all agree on D1 vs D2. This method is slower, but more inclusive. It also takes some group facilitation skills. I’ve done both, and I can say that in larger groups, you don’t gain much for going slow. Smaller groups can come to consensus faster, and generally buy into the overall process more deeply when made to hash out their opinions, but if time is precious, just vote.

What you’ve just done is called “pair ranking”, and it is how you’ll process the whole list of descriptors. D1 v D2; D1 v D3; D1 v D4, then D2 v D3; D2 v D4, and so on until you have matched every descriptive word/phrase against all the others. If you’ve done the majority voting selection method, you’ll have to count the total number of votes, and the number of votes for each descriptive word/phrase. This will allow you to rank each descriptive word/phrase (D count divided by total count). If you’ve done the consensus method, the formula is the same but you’ll be counting fewer hash marks. This is pretty much as difficult as the math gets in this exercise. When you do the division, you’ll end up with a number that can be expressed as a percentage. Write out your descriptive phrases in order of percentage, highest percentage first. Consider not belaboring every single descriptor that gets a percentage greater than zero. I typically stop at 10% and either ignore the leftover percentages, or spread them out among the “winners”. The point here is to have a shorter list of no less than three weighted descriptors. Five weighted descriptors is a great number to aim for, but remember that the more descriptors you use, the more time the evaluation process will consume.

With your weighted descriptors in hand, you now know which qualities to look for in your candidates, and the importance of each quality. Pretty cool, huh? That’s enough work for the team for one day. Make sure everyone on the hiring team has a copy of the weighted descriptors. At this point you can proceed with your usual method of developing interview questions, but try to develop questions that relate to the list of weighted descriptors. After all, these descriptors are by definition the most important qualities for success in the position, as determined by the smart people on your hiring team. It is a good idea to get this work done well in advance of actually interviewing candidates. The process of ranking and weighting descriptors helps anchor their importance in the minds of your hiring team, and will make the final evaluations of candidates much smoother.


Once you’ve interviewed all your candidates, reconvene the hiring team to begin to pair rank the candidates against each weighted descriptor. Start with the first candidate (C1) vs the second candidate (C2) along your most heavily weighted descriptor (D1). Which candidate better embodies D1? Tally your votes or make a hash mark by that candidate, and continue with the rankings along D1. C1 v C3; C1 v C4, etc. Keep doing the rankings until every candidate has been evaluated against every other candidate for each descriptor. Usually you can see an obvious pattern emerging about halfway through the exercise, but for the sake of completeness keep going until the last ranking. This is where your earlier decision about how many descriptors you weight comes into play. This step takes time, and if your team is unfamiliar with the process they may push back against it, preferring to stick with their intuition. Ask them to stay with you, and don’t be shy about re-explaining the overall process again. The payoff is worth it when you see the lightbulb go off in their heads and they understand what they just did.

Again, this is a good use of a whiteboard. I put descriptors on the left and candidate names across the top. Often the hashmarks can make the winner seem obvious, but usually it is a good idea to multiply hashmarks by the weight of the descriptor. So if your D1 is weighted at .5 and C1 has gathered 11 hash marks, the D1 score for C1 will be 5.5 (.5×11=5.5). Once you have all these scores calculated by descriptor and candidate, add them all up by candidate to determine the winner. Most of the time the winner will be indisputable. Occasionally two candidates will be in a horserace and the final scores will be really close. When this happens, it’s time to have some further discussions with the team to come to consensus. Regardless of whether the winner is clear or the decision needs more massaging, check in with your team for a final gut check around the decision. If you’ve been diligent about the process, by the end everyone should understand what they just did, and should be able to validate the results against their intuition.

That’s it! You’ve successfully quantified the qualitative. Sometimes you’ll have people on the hiring team who are very resistant to engaging in this process. They’ll be more trusting of the old intuition or instinct or gut feeling. Acknowledge their preference and point out that 1) their intuition or gut feeling is going to come in really useful during the pair ranking process, and 2) encourage them to track their gut feelings during the interviews and compare them to the outcome of the quantitative process. It may not always match up, but they’ll feel valued by not having their preference dismissed out of hand, and you might even make them into a convert for this method of quantifying the qualitative!


If you’ve never encountered anything like this, it’s a great idea to practice it on your own decisions first. You can use it with anything — buying a car, deciding on a place to go to dinner, deliberating between vendors, etc. Avoid getting caught up in building an Excel spreadsheet to do some of this thinking for you. Just use pencil and paper for your hash marks. It’s quick and easy for personal decisions. Don’t forget to gut check the final result.

(this post was syndicated to

The how and why of ditching Facebook

I’ve never tried meth. I hear that it makes you feel powerful and clever. And then it never lets you go. My experience with Facebook tells me that I should probably never try meth.

Facebook wasn’t instantly addictive. I don’t remember when I joined, but I was working at a university, and back then the only way to get into FB was to have a .edu email address. So I signed up and messed around a bit. I didn’t know anybody else who was using FB. I saw there were some IT students at my university trying it out, but I didn’t really know them. So I kinda shrugged and quit logging in after a couple of days.

Fast forward a few years. A few months after they opened up the site to non .edu email addresses, I logged back in. Lots more people in there. I even know some of ’em. Seemed like more folks I knew were joining every day. That was kinda fun. Lots of opportunity for poking around and seeing what old classmates were up to. Pretty soon I’m setting up FB as a sort of digital hub for my online activities. This blog’s RSS feed pointed over there. My Twitter stream went over there. Same with various other services like Flickr, Last.FM, delicious, YouTube, etc. If it had a feed it got pushed to FB. I spent a lot of time there. Never really got into all the quizzes and games and stuff. I just liked seeing what people were up to, and I liked writing clever posts. I did some of those “about me” meme things that spread like wildfire. I was pretty pleased with my cleverness, and I liked it when other folks noticed and commented on my posts.

I made a lot of “friends”…somewhere north of 300, I guess. Normal people don’t really have 300 friends, of course. But the number was kind of a badge of honor. I didn’t really want to read everything they all wrote, and some of them clearly spent more time on FB than I did. So I got good at ‘hiding’ some of my ‘friends.’ I hid quizzes and games, and blocked tons of apps. I just wanted to receive real content from people. I wanted to know how they were doing, but I didn’t really care how their “farm” was doing.

I got really, really used to being on Facebook. It started to take up more time than email, which is kinda scary. I’m a natural procrastinator, and FB didn’t help with that problem. In fact, it kind of made it explode. Stuff wasn’t getting done, but I sure knew what was going on with that dude from 3rd grade! I realized what was happening, and I tried to cut back on my FB usage. Took the app off my phone, so I didn’t have the temptation there. But it was still too easy to just quickly log on with my computer. An hour later and my ToDo list hadn’t changed. Not good.

The tough thing was that, for me, FB was a legit business tool. I started a fan page (as they were then called) for the non profit organization I worked at. I started getting folks on board with the page, and pimped it out with a few tools to help build community, and pull in donations. I helped push content to the page, and helped moderate when needed.

But FB was still stealing all my time, and I really needed to figure out how to quit. By this time other folks were handling the fan page for the day job, so I didn’t really need to be on FB for work. I looked around and figured out how to deactivate my account. Seemed like an easy win, since deactivation made it look like you were never on FB, but you could easily reactivate and be right back where you were. So I did it. Went silent for a while. Kinda liked it. There really was a short withdrawal period where I had to redirect my attention when I started feeling the FB itch. That only lasted a couple of days. (BTW, if you want to truly delete your account, and not just deactivate, follow these instructions)

I’ve reactivated my account a couple of times since then. Once was to promote a school fundraising thing my son was doing. We had a specific goal for that, which was quickly achieved, then I shut the account down again. FB really is a good tool for broadcasting information to your “friends.” But really, there’s nothing I couldn’t do with a quick email. The difference is interesting though. Using my son’s fundraiser as an example, I could’ve sent an email to folks, but that would’ve been tantamount to a pretty hard fundraising ask–if they got the email, someone was hoping they would respond. Thus the email list would be relatively short. On the other hand, I could post it to FB and get it in front of hundreds of people, just as a sort of FYI. Maybe some would respond, but there’d be no implicit pressure like with an email. Just a different environment, I guess. Definitely well suited for specific goals, but for me personally, it’s just too much of a distraction.

Now that I’ve been off of FB for a few months, I heard that my mom just joined. 🙂

Serve day

I did a different kind of work today. Today was ‘Serve Day’ at the university. That means that everyone, and I mean everyone, goes out into the local community and does manual labor. All kinds of stuff–painting, yard work, ditch digging, roofing, building stuff, etc… It’s a really big deal, since the school shuts down for a day to do this. The planning is a big deal too. This year there were close to 100 groups going out into the community. Each group numbers between a dozen to upwards of 50 people. My group was one of the bigger ones. We went up to our church (I put in a special request to get assigned there) and did all the stuff I mentioned before. I mainly did exterior painting, though I also did some weedeater work, some sweeping, and some asphalt repair. I’m pretty tired now, and I guess all the students I worked with are too. I’ll try to get some pictures up another day.

Other groups were assigned to retirement homes, daycare places, individual homes, other churches, various parks around town, etc.

On another, unrelated note, I think I’ll be ditching the Link Harvest pretty soon. I’ll still collect links and I’ll still post them on the sidebar, but I just won’t host the Harvest on anymore. I’ll be moving my posting over to and the sidebar will stay populated from that RSS feed. I’ve subscribed to the ‘most popular’ RSS feed for a while now, and I really like the interconnectedness of the site (especially this hack). I also like that when/if goes down again, I’ll still have the Link Harvest. ‘Course, if goes down, I’m outta luck. I’ll risk it.