Monday, July 31, 2006

The Adventures of Webmaster and Lady Vertigo

Just to show that I've got a fun-loving side (I know, I know, hard to believe isn't it?), Lisa and I went out to West Park in Ann Arbor on Sunday for the tenth anniversary party for our local comic book store, Vault of Midnight. The owners, Curtis and Liz, had only one requirement. You had to come dressed as a superhero (or supervillain).

Despite the heat of the day, we had a pretty remarkable turnout. One woman, covered in a veritable armor of American Express cards called herself "The Charger". She was a tremendous force for good or evil. She could either stimulate an economy or wipe it out completely. One couple, knowing the dehydrating power of the sun that day, came as the hero team of the Hydro Commando and Private Popsicle, complete with matching blue and pink cammo gear and ice chest in tow.

Now, don't go thinking that we were only there to eat. The supervillains and superheroes squared off for a fierce game of kickball. Let me tell you, you haven't lived until you've seen Daredevil sliding into home plate or Green Lantern kicking one out into left field.

I guess all this just says something about what a fun bunch of people Curtis and Liz have surrounded themselves with. If you are ever in downtown Ann Arbor, stop down at their new location on Main Street. Who knows? Maybe you'll meet one of your Saturday morning cartoon friends there. If not, you're sure to find something on the shelves which will take you back to that time.

So tell me, what super power do you wish you had?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Are You Board Yet?

Continuing on my theme of meeting with people who are passionate about what they do, yesterday I had the opportunity to have coffee with Neel Hajra of the Nonprofit Enterprise at Work. Let me tell you, Neel is excited about what he's doing. So excited, in fact, that I almost couldn't keep up with my notetaking! Note to self: Look into MP3 player with recording capabilities. In the interest of full disclosure, I did do some work for NEW a number of years ago. The "Nonprofit Directory" that I helped build is still available on the main page of the NEW website.

Neel is the Chief Operating Officer for NEW, which means he's basically in charge of the day to day operations of the organization. Within the last year or so, this has meant doing a thorough re-examination of NEW's role in the nonprofit community and how they could be more effective in that role. To that end, they are dropping a number of their offerings which, while popular, were already covered or would be covered by other institutions. They did this so they could focus on what they see as their core services: The NEW Center facilities, Resource Connect (an online database of nonprofit resources), shared services (infrastructure and backroom sharing for NP's), and their crown jewel, BoardConnect®.

This last offering sounds like an amazing opportunity to me. With it, for a nominal fee, NEW provides training to individuals who are interested in serving on the board of a nonprofit organization. Then, it acts as a matching service, trying to hook up these individuals with organizations which can use their skills.

I can hear the excuses already: I don't have the time. Don't you have to have lots of experience? What do I have to offer?

As to the first, well, it's up to you to make the time. Most of us dedicate a certain amount of time to causes which are close to our hearts. This is just another way of doing that. As to the other two, Neel told me that this is exactly what the matching process is designed to help with. Almost everyone has something to give. Maybe you have an extended network of professionals you can call upon. Maybe you have skills as a negotiator, financial analyst, or an accountant. Maybe you are just passionate about a cause and are willing to put in the time and effort to help in whatever capacity you can. Whatever you can contribute, BoardConnect will try to match you with an organization who truly needs your help.

Tell me, what have been your experiences with being on a Board? Would you do it again?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

100% and More

Ann Arbor Area Chamber of CommerceMany of you know that I recently joined the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce. One of the primary reasons for me was to get more exposure for my business and to have more opportunities to network with professionals and non-profit organizations in the area. I also wanted to find a way to give back to the Ann Arbor community. I certainly got all of that. Even better, though, I found a group of people who just floor me with their customer focus.

One of these awesome individuals is Cheryl O'Brien. She's the Membership Director for the Chamber and runs the Ambassador Corps (which I recently joined). Cheryl was the person with whom I first spoke about joining the Chamber. She set aside a full hour of her time to answer any questions I might have. Despite the fact that Cyber Data Solutions is a very small company, she made me feel that we were just as important to the Chamber as Pfizer.

It wasn't just that first day, either. She continually amazes me by paying attention to the smallest details. Just one example: Today I happened to be at the Chamber office picking up some materials for a colleague. I was chatting with Cheryl for a few minutes and, in the course of the conversation, briefly wondered about the details of a retreat that I would be attending as a part of the Leadership Ann Arbor course that I'll be taking this Fall. Unfortunately, the person in charge of Leadership wasn't immediately available and I had to get going. I didn't give the question another thought, figuring that I would find out at a later date.

This afternoon, what should appear in my email queue, but a message from Cheryl with all of the details I needed to know. I tell you, with the kind of treatment that Cheryl and the other folks at the Chamber dish out, I think I will have a long and enjoyable association with them.

So tell me, has someone really wowed you with "100% and more" recently?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Not the Only Reason...

I mentioned a few weeks back about my visit to the American Red Cross to give a pint of my precious blood. As I'm sure you already know, there are any number of altruistic reasons for making a donation, not the least of which is that your one donation can save up to three lives. You've heard that all before, so I'm not going to preach. Now I'm going to give you another reason:

Free stuff

OK, I'm not talking about the cookies and juice (though I do enjoy those, too!). What I'm referring to are the free gifts that they give you for dropping by. Over the past several years, I've received t-shirts, tote bags, and collectible pins. This last time I went, I was allowed to choose one of eight different events and receive two free tickets. I just got mine in the mail the other day. Looks like Lisa and I get free entry to the local Renaissance Festival. Should be a ton of fun!

What's the best promotional gift you've ever received?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Calling of Your Soul: Kristen Cajka

One of the many reasons I love working with nonprofits and charities is the people I get to meet. Almost inevitably, they bring a passion to the job which is usually missing from their for-profit counterparts. On Friday, I had a chance to speak with Kristen Cajka (pronounced Chy'-ka -- the first syllable rhymes with "pie") of the Greater Toledo Area Chapter of the American Red Cross. She was no exception to that high level of enthusiasm.

Kristen started out working with the Family Health Plan HMO. In the course of working with the Red Cross as a volunteer, however, she discovered a position in the public relations department that was a perfect fit. As the communications manager for the greater Toledo area chapter, she gets the word out about all the great works that the Red Cross volunteers do. She has now been employed by the Red Cross for over five years and her excitement for the job still shows in her voice and her eyes when she describes the work she does.

Similar to me, her greatest joy is working with the people -- in this case, the many volunteers that serve the Red Cross. These volunteers cover positions from disaster relief, to organizing blood drives, to maintaining the vehicles that keep everything moving. She certainly gets a lot of opportunity to meet these giving people. The American Red Cross is very much a volunteer organization. Kristen shared with me that on June 21st of this year, the Toledo area suffered serious flooding, to the extent that the Red Cross mobilized it's national disaster relief forces. Of the 68 people who responded to the event, fully 80% were volunteer workers.

Of course, as with most of us, I knew about the Red Cross blood services, and I was reasonably familiar with their disaster relief activities (though I didn't realize that they respond to over 70,000 disasters each year). What I didn't know about were some of their community outreach programs. Kristen told me about their "When I'm in Charge" program. In this class, young kids get training on how to be safe when they are home alone. For kids from 11 to 15, the Red Cross holds babysitter training classes. Wouldn't you feel safer leaving your kids with someone who has Red Cross instruction?

Kristen also gives great credit to Tim Yenrick, the executive director of the Greater Toledo Area chapter for his efforts to serve the needs of the inner city better. Many families need the training that the Red Cross offers but cannot afford even the nominal fees to take the classes. Mr. Yenrick has instituted scholarship programs to help these disadvantaged families gain some of the skills they need to stand on their own.

I have to thank Kristen sincerely for taking time out of her schedule to help me better understand all that the American Red Cross has to offer. As I mentioned earlier, her passion for her work make her a superb representative for the whole Red Cross organization. I'm sure that the enthusiasm that she carries in her soul inspires all those around her.

Who has really inspired you lately?