Why Did You Write That Email?

DearHave you written an email to the SCA, one of its officers, or any other nonprofit? Did you ask yourself why you wrote that email before you hit send? More specifically, what were you trying to achieve?

In my post about appreciating people, I suggested that officers acknowledge every email even if it was just with a form response. I got a response to my post that sometimes a form email generates complaints from angry people, who are upset that they didn’t get a personal response. Because of this, some officers stopped using form email acknowledgments. Consequently, they weren’t acknowledging the emails they received at all.

Let’s not look at what the officers are doing. That was the prior post. Let’s look at the complaining people who are making the officers dread their email. Why did those people write? What were they trying to achieve? Odds are good that they didn’t achieve it.

An email exchange is hard to visualize. It’s people sitting behind their keyboards. Let’s visualize it a different way. You are on one side of a bar door. The potential email recipients are already in the bar. You’re about to open that door and look for a conversation. Even if you haven’t walked into in a bar before, you’ve seen it happen in a movie. So open that door and walk inside.

There’s a whole lot of email addresses sitting on those stools and a bartender behind the taps. Where are you going to sit? Ignore your social anxiety – these are emails and not really people. Why are you here? Do you want someone to listen? Are you hoping for sympathy, an argument or help fixing a problem? Do you want a meaningful relationship or a flirtation? If you aren’t clear on what you want, then how are you going to pick the right bar stool or the right email address?

A nonprofit usually has a number of email addresses that you can use. Options may include a general email address, an issue specific one, or the people who work/volunteer for it. Maybe you think any of those email addresses should get you the response you want because a well run organization should answer every email and tend to every member’s needs. You are assuming a world full of large budgets and ample staffing, which doesn’t exist. Email is easy and cheap to write, so organizations may receive an overwhelming amount, especially if something controversial is happening. There isn’t time to answer all of them.

Writing to a general email address is like trying to talk to the bartender on a busy Saturday night. Expect a nod and your drink, in other words a form email response. That’s all there’s time for him to do. Maybe if you just want to have your voice counted that is enough.

Suppose you want to create change? You have an idea to suggest or a problem that needs solving. Then you are looking for a meaningful relationship. How do you do that? Write emails to specific people. Ask questions so you learn about them and the organization. Listen as well as talk. Don’t yell. Maybe those people won’t have time to write to you, but maybe they will. You just need to find that one person or several people to start the process.

If what you want is to vent and get sympathy, then let’s face the hard facts. If you yell, you may not get the response you want no matter what email address you use. If you yelled at a person sitting on a bar stool, would you expect them to continue to listen and answer you reasonably? No. If the organization has ample funds and good member services, then you might get a personal, reasonable answer. However, remember that those well funded organizations are rare in the nonprofit world.

So ask these questions before you hit send on that email. Why am I sending this email? What do I hope to achieve? Picking the right bar stool and opening line won’t guarantee the answer you want, but it will increase your odds.

Brownies – Gluten Free, Dairy Free and Useful for Bribes

IMG_3205I hesitate to share this recipe. A guy once offered to have my husband’s babies because of these brownies. (Yes, it was a guy. ) I have used them as barter. People love them. It’s a useful recipe to keep to yourself. However, it is the season for giving. Maybe you have a gluten or dairy free chocolate lover who would enjoy them.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup gluten free flour
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum (if not in flour already)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup water (if using soy flour mix)
IMG_3176
Ingredients for a double batch ready to mix

Mix together the flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, salt, sugar, and cocoa powder until well mixed.  (The quality of the cocoa will affect the brownies. The better the cocoa, the richer the brownies. I’m lucky to have a Penzeys near my house. Use your favorite cocoa powder, but remember that it makes a difference.)

IMG_3179
Liquid ingredients in motion and at the right consistency

Enthusiastically beat the vanilla, vegetable oil, and eggs until the mixture starts to thicken.  You want to beat enough air into the liquid ingredients that they start to have a little bit of texture.  See the photo for how they should look in motion (not at rest).

IMG_3185
Batter using soy flour before water is added

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and beat with either a wooden spoon or two metal spoons doubled up.  The batter is going to get thick if you are using the soy flour, so you want a strong spoon.  Also if you are using the soy flour, the batter will look like this photo, and at this point you add the water. If you are using wheat flour or our oat based flour, then you won’t need to add water.

IMG_3190
Batter properly mixed

Continue to mix until the batter is smooth and moist, as shown in this picture.  (Again, if you aren’t using the soy flour, then the batter should look this way without the addition of water.) Gently fold in one cup of chocolate chips.  We use Divvies.  If you need to worry about soy allergies, Enjoy Life makes dairy and soy free chocolate chips.

IMG_3193
Consistency of batter heading into the pan

Pour the batter into a greased 8″ x 8″ or 9″x 9″ pan.  Use a wet spoon to distribute the batter and smooth the top, but do not push down.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.  (Remember if you hit a chocolate chip, it will not come out clean.  That doesn’t matter.  You’re just worried about the batter.)  This recipe can be doubled.  If you are using a 9″ x 13″ pan, bake it 35-40 minutes.

IMG_3200Cool for at least 20 minutes in the pan before slicing.  If you cut them sooner, the brownies will crumble much more.  A little bit of time makes a huge difference.  Cut with a sharp knife and remove with a spatula.  Eat them, share them, or offer as bribes.

More c0oking blog posts can be found here if you are interested in other recipes.

The Importance of the Unofficial

Tokens and awards I have received, including my favorite - the monkey who spoke no evil on a necklace
Tokens and some awards I have received. My favorite is the monkey who spoke no evil hung on a necklace, which is not an award.

The East Kingdom has a new set of awards. You need to get busy, and I don’t mean writing award letters. You need to start acknowledging people yourself. Yes, you, whoever you are.  Me too.

Awards are tricky things. They are more than official acknowledgements of work well done. They also convey a message of what it is a group values, and people without awards may feel undervalued, wholly unintentionally. It’s true for any organization, but especially for a nonprofit where volunteers don’t get raises or performance reviews.

Depending on the organization, an award can be given to a person who donated gobs of money, displayed great skill, volunteered insane amounts of time, or was a poster child for climbing the corporate ladder. Whatever their behavior was, it was rewarded. Therefore, it indicates what the organization values.

For any organization, there are downsides to relying on official awards as the primary way that people are acknowledged.

  • Volunteers or donors who don’t receive awards may feel that they aren’t valued or noticed.
  • People who have received every award possible may not continue to have their work acknowledged.
  • Official awards can take on a terrifying level of importance when they are the only means of recognition.

If there are adequate amounts of unofficial thanks, attaboys, and acknowledgements, then an organization can avoid these problems. This is especially important for the SCA as a volunteer driven nonprofit. People are our most valuable resource. They are also a renewable resource, and I don’t mean renewable by having babies or recruiting. You renew this resource with praise, thanks, and appreciation.

Anyone can renew this resource, and everyone should renew it if they care about having a healthy organization. In fundraising, there are standard ways to thank donors, which are often the most important resource of other nonprofits. The process is called stewardship. So what can you do to help steward people in the SCA? What is our standard menu of options?

First things first. If there is someone who you think deserves one of these new awards – or an old one – drop them an email to tell them that they’re awesome. Hopefully you will write a letter to recommend them for the award, but there is no guarantee that they will get the award – especially these new awards. There are a frighteningly huge number of people who deserve them. Your person may not get one anytime soon, so take responsibility for making them feel appreciated.

Here are a list of other options in escalating complexity. They aren’t the only possibilities, but if you’re not sure what to do then this is a list to consult.

  • Say “thank you” or “well done” if you see someone who deserves it, even if you don’t know them. It may take a deep breath to walk up to them, but people are rarely upset when you appreciate their work. Bonus point if you can tell them something specific about what they did.
  • Give them a shout out on social media (and tag them)
  • Write an email to thank them for their work or tell them about something that impressed you.
  • Write a paper thank you note. These are rare and show real effort even if they are brief.
  • Give them a token, which can be anything. Truly it can. The point isn’t how valuable it is or how useful. The point is that you cared to give it to them and they can keep it as a memory. Better to give them something trivial then neurose about creating the perfect token. (I am guilty of this myself.)
  • Invite them to sit down with you at an event and ask them about their work or project. Listen to them. That can be huge.
  • Invite them for a meal, give them a batch of cookies, or drop off a bottle of wine.  Food is in effect a perishable token.

I will add one last plea to anyone who is an officer from the local level up to Board members. Acknowledge every email you receive. Your response can be a simple form note that you received the message, will take it into consideration, and then thank the person for taking the time to write it as long as you put their name at the top. Do it even if the email is aggravating. Like official awards, officers create the impression of what the SCA considers to be important. Courtesy is important. Ignoring communications from our members isn’t an option. We need to keep renewing our most important resource – people.

Corn Bread – Gluten Free, Dairy Free

Corn Bread - FinishedThe final tweak to this recipe happened one night when I was tired. I thought I remembered that the baking powder was 4 tablespoons instead of 4 teaspoons.  The corn bread tried to crawl out of the pan while it was baking, but it was wonderfully light.  A couple batches later, I had the correct amount and this recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum if using our flour mix
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 canola oil (or oil of your choice)

Preheat the over to 375 degrees.  Grease a 9″x9″ pan.

Dry ingredients ready for the wet ingredients
Dry ingredients with an indentation

Mix all the dry ingredients together.  Leave an indentation in the center.

Beat all the wet ingredients together with a fork or whisk until the egg and honey are well mixed.

 

Corn Bread - Stirring
Spongy texture forming in batter

Add the wet ingredients in the center of the dry ingredients.  Beat immediately with a spoon for at least one minute.  You are watching for the batter to develop air bubbles and a spongy texture when pulled apart by the spoon.

Batter glopping into pan
Batter glopping into pan

Place the batter into the greased pan.  It won’t pour.  You will need to glop it into the pan.  Carefully move the batter around to cover the surface of the pan.  Do not push down on it or try to flatten it.

Corn Bread Fully Cooked
Corn Bread Fully Cooked

 

Bake for a total of 20 minutes.  At the ten minute mark, turn the pan around in the oven so it cooks evenly.  At 20 minutes a toothpick should come out cleanly, but ovens vary so check.  The cornbread should cut easily and can be served immediately if desired.

 

Corn Bread - Header
Corn Bread – Ready to eat!

Gluten, Dairy, Nut, Peanut, Rice Free Flour Mix

Flour - Final Product
Soy, Corn, Tapioca Flour Mixed and Ready to Go

Finding a tasty flour to use in a house with multiple food issues can be tricky. My kids can eat gluten, so we bake with it and segregate it to one small area in the kitchen. However, I needed a flour that all of us could eat for general cooking. The commercial mixes weren’t safe for all us.

Our experiment started with the basics laid out on the “Gluten Free Girl” website.  She explained that we needed a 40% protein and 60% starch (by weight) mix. If you want to create your own flour, take a look at her webpage. Below are the two flour mixes that worked for us and for many people we’ve fed who didn’t realize they were eating gluten free bake goods.  It’s simple to do, but you will want a scale to measure your ingredients.

Ingredients and tools to make the Soy, Corn, Tapioca Flour
Ingredients and tools to make the Soy, Corn, Tapioca Flour

Baking dairy free? Milk ingredients create browning and add a different feel to baked goods. We use a mix of water and honey to replicate that effect. If the recipe calls for butter and you replace it with margarine or oil, add a tablespoon or two of honey. We usually use a mixture of 3/4 water and 1/4 honey. The honey gives a nice browning and gives a slightly non-sugar sweetness that rounds out the flavor.

Flour - Unmixed
The unmixed Soy, Corn, Tapioca Flour shows the difference in colors between the ingredients

Soy, Corn, Tapioca Flour Mix
Put the following in a larger sealable (airtight) container and mix them up thoroughly by shaking. If I am baking, then I add 1 tsp xanthan gum to every cup of flour I use.  I don’t add it to the mix because I don’t need the xanthan gum if I’m using the flour as a coating or thickener.

  • Corn Starch – 454 grams or one 1 lb box
  • Tapioca – 454 grams or one 1 lb box
  • Soy Flour – 605 grams

If you are using this flour in a recipe designed for gluten flour, you will probably need to increase the liquid and bake it at a lower temperature. We usually don’t exceed 375 degrees because soy burns easily.

Buying Hints: Ener-G brand Tapioca and Potato Starch come in a 1 lb box. We’ve found soy flour that is free of all our cross-contamination issues at Honeyville at a very reasonable price, but it only comes in a very large quantity. Soy flour will keep in a freezer.

For both flour mixes, shake thoroughly to blend them.
For both flour mixes, shake thoroughly to blend them.

Potato, Oat and Tapioca Flour Mix
We developed this flour to feed a group of people that included a gluten free person and a soy free person. It has a slightly earthier taste that is very slightly like the difference between whole wheat and white flour. Again, use 1 tsp of xanthan gum per cup of flour for baking. Please note that some gluten-free people can tolerate gluten-free oat flour, but others have problems with it.

  • Potato Starch – 454 grams or one 1 lb box
  • Tapioca – 454 grams or one 1 lb box
  • Gluten Free Oat Flour – 605 grams

This flour doesn’t require increasing the liquid or baking at a lower temperature.

A Flowchart for Messages to Volunteers

How you communicate with volunteers – whether you are staff or a volunteer of a nonprofit – is as important as the actual information you convey. Here is why. Nonprofits have four basic resources that they need to survive: money, infrastructure, people, and goodwill. How you deliver that information is one of the major ways an organization can gain or lose goodwill.

Without adequate goodwill, an organization runs the risk of losing the financial support and manpower provided by volunteers. If your organization relies on volunteers, you should provide regular, well written communication that makes them feel valued. You lose goodwill when you communicate irregularly and don’t express your appreciation.

The following is a flow chart to help you write a message to volunteers or to check the message you have written.  It is also available as a pdf here.

Volunteer Messaging

A Flowchart for Messages to SCA Volunteers

How you communicate with volunteers is as important as the actual information you convey.  This is true for any nonprofit but especially the SCA.  Here is why.  Nonprofits have four basic resources that they need to survive: money, infrastructure, people, and goodwill.  If an organization communicates irregularly and doesn’t express its appreciation, then it risks losing goodwill.  Without adequate goodwill, an organization may lose volunteers.  The SCA runs almost exclusively on the work of volunteers.  It can’t afford to lose them.

In addition, the SCA rests on the concepts of chivalry and courtesy.  That mythos can’t be disregarded in a business email anymore than it can be at an event.  All communications to volunteers should make them feel valued, informed, and as if a thoughtfully run organization is looking out for them.

Writing in this style can be challenging for a person who doesn’t have experience. The following flow chart is designed to make this easier for a volunteer or staff at any nonprofit – including the SCA.  It is available as a pdf here.

Volunteer Messaging