Volunteer Organization in a Commercial World

copy-of-susan_headshot1 I am a great fan of Bruce Temkin’s Six Laws of Customer Experience — THE FUNDAMENTAL TRUTHS THAT DEFINE HOW ORGANIZATIONS TREAT CUSTOMERS. Tempkin published his Six Laws as separate blogs in 2008 and later combined them into a single short volume.

Temkin was talking about the commercial world. Over the years, I have worked in very large corporations on contracts both for private industry and government.  One experience included a wing of GE, where I learned the value of regarding all other employees as I regarded my customers. For the past year, I have been watching how aspects of each environment—volunteer and commercial—appear to borrowing ideas from each other. So I’ve been thinking about how Tempkin’s’  laws might apply to Toastmasters International.  For purposes of this blog, I think of the individual member as a customer not only of the paid staff but also of Board members whose decisions directly affect programming that in turn affects the individual member.

First, a quick look at the Toastmasters International 501(c)(3) organization. A relatively small paid staff in California provides a wide range of services to a volunteer organization of more than 250,000 members in 106 countries. Members of its all-volunteer Board of Directors serve for two years in staggered terms. A third Vice President, a second Vice President, a Senior Vice President and a President each serve one-year terms in that office.

Now for Bruce Tempkin. Temkin’s six laws are:

1) Every interaction creates a personal reaction.
2) People are instinctively self-centered.
3) Customer familiarity breeds alignment.
4) Unengaged employees don’t create engaged customers.
5) Employees do what is measured, incented, and celebrated.
6) You can’t fake it.


Temkin says that experiences need to be designed for individuals. To the extent that members of Toastmaster decide how quickly they will progress through highly-standardized leadership and speech manuals and how much creativity they bring to each experience, this is partially true in this organization.  With exception of an advanced High Performance Leadership project, the structures and roles of leadership and speaking exercises are identical world-wide. Content of speech projects and actual delivery of leadership exercises, however,  are unique with the individual.

Temkin’s observation that “Customer segments must be prioritized” is difficult to place in the context of this volunteer organization—-until one looks at the major environments in which clubs occur. About 60% of clubs worldwide are sponsored by a corporation or other organization. Many are quite well-known. Maintaining  club membership in a large corporation or organization that not only sponsors club meetings but also offers meeting room space for semi-annual club officer training is obviously a very high priority.  Two such examples include Verizon and GEICO.

Temkin says that customer feedback needs to be the key metric. He talks about letting customer input drive priorities, decisions, and investments. In this world-wide organization and prior to the rise of the Internet, obtaining consistent, reliable feedback from members not at a Board level has been a challenge. For years, the louder, larger squeaky wheels tended to get the corporate oil. Several years ago when those wheels were Board members with little or no  experience or understanding about computer systems, priority on critical systems support for this world-wide organization was low.  Creative members in local districts began designing their own applications as work-arounds.

Temkin says that employees need to be empowered. In a word, front-line employees need to have the latitude to accommodate the needs of key customers.  In this volunteer organization heavily dominated by those with considerably less organizationally-bestowed visibility than others, simply developing the courage to be noticed for positive inputs is, for many members, a challenge in and of itself.  Figuring out just how far one can carry out actions congruent with annual Presidential themes such as “Take Control of Your Destiny,” “Focus on your Dreams,”  “Find Your Voice. Serve Your World”  and “The Courage to Conquer” is another.

The next chapter of this blog will be about people being instinctively self-centered.


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