Tag Archives: consulting

What I’ve learned as a mentor online

Since leaving Kabul, Afghanistan in August 2007, after working there for six months for UNDP, I have had the honor and pleasure of mentoring an Afghan co-worker online. She works on a water and sanitation initiative by a government agency, and I consult online with her on social media posts, I edit press releases and project proposals and reports, and I offer advice on her own professional development and career aspirations. I average an hour a week on this relationship – there are some weeks when we don’t interact and others where I need a few hours to read and edit material.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned from this online mentoring experience:

  • That we started off in a face-to-face, onsite relationship helped substantially in setting up this online relationship for success. She already knew me, understood my particular way of communicating and working, and trusted me. Those are three things that take much longer to establish entirely online, even with video conferencing. I have been an online mentor when that hasn’t been the case, and I believe those mentoring experiences were still worthwhile, but I had to do a lot more work to establish trust and find a rhythm in a purely online/remote relationship, and the relationship had to be facilitated by someone onsite, where the person I was mentoring was, to help ensure interactions happened. I just cannot deny that having that already-established real-time/onsite relationship has been a major factor in the success of this long-time virtual volunteering experience with my Afghan colleague.
  • When I don’t respond within 48 hours to a message from her, my mentee worries or, worse, feels neglected. I need to take this relationship as seriously as she does. That means I have to let her know when I am not going to be able to respond because I’m going to be traveling or away from Internet access.
  • I can’t do everything for her – I need to cultivate her skills. That means editing more with questions than corrections. And that’s hard – it would be so much quicker and easier if I just went through and corrected everything like an editor. But this is a mentoring relationship, a learning experience, and I have to keep that foremost in my mind.
  • Personal, non-work stories and photos are essential to cultivating our relationship. I send her links to vacation photos or photos of my garden, for instance. She sends me stories of her family. This keeps us as real people for each other, not just text in an email.
  • I make absolutely sure I don’t say anything that can’t be backed up with cited sources. Rumors are rampant in Afghanistan, and it’s very important that I show, by example, how to fact-check.
  • Knowing the culture in which my mentee/protogé is living has also been essential to maintaining this relationship. I’m no expert on Afghanistan or Islam, but I lived in Kabul for six months, I have read up on Afghan history (and continue to do so), I have read the Koran and continue to read Islamic scholars and others about Islam, including those I strongly disagree with, and I know there are a range of viewpoints by Muslim women about their religion. That’s been helpful in preventing me from making various cultural missteps – though I won’t for a minute say that still doesn’t happen. Knowing the culture has helped me know what is possible and what is NOT possible for her regarding activities online, travel and interacting with others, and to remember just how fragile reputations for women can be in that part of the world.
  • I try to know what’s going on in her country and her city. That’s not easy, as news about Afghanistan doesn’t show up in any newsfeed. Major news outlets do cover what’s happening in Afghanistan, but I have to go looking for it. There’s so much more to Afghanistan than bombings and oppression of women. For instance, I found a story that mentioned a Rotary Club in Kabul, and I emailed my friend to let her know about it. She’s been going to the meetings now for almost a year because I let her know about the meetings.
  • I ask her questions about her views, her life, etc. I make sure she knows, regularly, that I want to hear from her. And after those stories, I respond in a way that shows that I read what she says and value it.
  • Online mentoring is not micro-volunteering. I cringe when anyone says it’s possible to mentor a person, especially a youth, in a meaningful, impactful way by just spending a few minutes a month sending some encouraging words. Mentoring takes time, thought and careful action – it can’t be done on the fly while you are waiting for your coffee.

vvbooklittleSusan Ellis and I go into great detail about cultivating online relationships in virtual volunteering and the keys to success for online mentoring projects and programs in The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook. I’ve been researching online mentoring since the 1990s, and helped design programs for America Online and People Magazine back in that decade, as well as an elementary school-based program for an Austin, Texas school. I’ve been involved as a mentor with others since then and I keep track of online mentoring programs because of their uniqueness among virtual volunteering activities: the high-responsibility nature of the programs, the essential requirement of building trust, the added safety procedures needed for such, etc. Our book attempts to document all of the best practices for using the Internet to support and involve volunteers, including in online mentoring relationships with adults or children, and our recommendations come from the more than three decades that these practices have been happening. The book is available both in traditional print form and in digital version from Susan’s company, Energize, Inc.

Also see:

When “participatory” & “consultation” are just words

social cohesionWhen you work in humanitarian initiatives in other countries, whether your project concerns water or HIV/AIDS or maternal health or vaccines or bridge construction or government web sites or whatever, your nonprofit headquarters and your donors will emphasize over and over that you must employ ways for the local people to participate in decision-making.1,2

Yet, too often participatory decision-making doesn’t happen in developed countries, by the governments that fund overseas initiatives and demand details about how participatory decision-making was assured.

The backlash against the European Commission (the government of the European Union), manifested most recently by Brexit and the Belgian region of Wallonia rejecting a long-planned free trade pact between the EU and Canada3, are great examples of lack of participatory decision-making.

So is the anger in Portland, Oregon regarding the new contract with Portland Police Department4, 5

And so is the anger and protests regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline. The pipeline is being built by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners and will transport as many as 570,000 barrels of crude oil daily from North Dakota to Illinois. The Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now, a group that supports the pipeline, says 100% of the affected landowners in North Dakota, where part of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe lives, voluntarily signed easements to allow for construction, and the Army Corps of Engineers, the consulting agency for the project, has a list of dates it said it contacted the tribe, or tried to and never heard back.6, 7 In addition, government officials believe they have followed the consultation process promoted by the President’s office in 2010.8

But the Seattle Times says “Environmental documents filed by the company show that during its permit application the tribe was not even listed in the entities consulted during a piecemeal, fast-track review of the project by the Corps. Company contractors contacted the county weed board, the Audubon Society, county commissioners and more. But not the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, permitting documents show.” The company has not allowed the tribe’s archaeological experts to review the ground in the path of the pipeline as it comes toward Standing Rock. The tribe’s expert, Tim Mentz Sr., in a review at the invitation of a private landowner, discovered some important artifacts, including stone effigies, burial sites and rare depictions of celestial constellations. The Seattle Times says, “So confident was Energy Transfer Partners that its work would go smoothly, that it started building the pipeline last spring, long before it had all its last permits in hand.”9

There can be no argument that tribes have been historically unable to influence projects that affect them and the land they hold sacred so this feels like just yet another land grab against native people in the USA that will marginalize them and hurt their lives. Sarah Krakoff, a professor at the University of Colorado specializing in American Indian Law and Natural Resources Law, says, “Sometimes what the agencies think of as adequate and with all good intentions do not feel adequate from the tribal side. Either because the process isn’t meaningful to them, it doesn’t accord with their timeframe or decision frame.”

Even when participatory decision-making is emphasized, the actions taken that are supposed to provide ways for lots of different people to influence what’s happening can be just for show; any community activist can tell a story about meticulously capturing the input of a group through a variety of listening exercises, only to have all that feedback utterly ignored in the final plans. I don’t know that this happened in the case of the Dakota Access Pipeline, but I’ve seen it happen overseas in my own humanitarian agency work; it’s infuriating.

And even well-done participatory decision-making isn’t always enough to keep protests at bay: until 2016, the ongoing consultative processes regarding the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge between local people, including ranchers, birders, outdoor enthusiasts, environmentalists, tribal members and others was considered a model for other communities. But that process, including a landmark 2013 agreement, didn’t stop people from far outside the area from using guns and force to invade the refuge, occupy it and cause many thousands of dollars in damage, including to private property and tribal lands.10, 11

On a related note, social media posts the Dakota Access Pipeline are often tagged with #NoDAPL, and slackervism / slactivism abounds, with people posting memes in support of the the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, or adjusting their Facebook page to show they are at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation when they actually aren’t.12 It’s supposed to somehow create support for the tribe and to confuse law enforcement authorities regarding who is at Standing Rock and who isn’t, but Snopes points out that there’s no record that such has helped at all, including in attracting more “material assistance.”13

Since I’m really not fond of slacktivism, here are ways to REALLY help re: #NoDAPL without leaving your house or coffee shop or wherever you are with Internet and phone access :

(1) Call North Dakota governor Jack Dalrymple at 701-328-2200, leaving a RESPECTFUL, firm message on this subject (I find writing out the statement & reading from it helps me).

(2) Call the White House at (202) 456-1111 or (202) 456-1414 & tell President Obama to rescind the Army Corps of Engineers’ Permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline.

(3) Sign the petition at petitions.whitehouse.gov

(4) Contact the executives of Energy Transfer Partners that are building the pipeline:

Lee Hanse, Executive Vice President
Telephone: (210) 403-6455 or email: Lee.Hanse@energytransfer.com

Glenn Emery, Vice President
Telephone: (210) 403-6762 or email: Glenn.Emery@energytransfer.com

Also see:


  1. Oil workers and oil communities: counterplanning from the commons in Nigeria, Terisa E. Turner 1997
  2. LEFT BEHIND; As Oil Riches Flow, Poor Village Cries Out, New York Times
  3. Wallonia rejects EU ultimatum over Canada free trade deal, EuroNews
  4. Portland City Council approves police contract amid unruly protest, Oregon Live
  5. Why protesters are mad about the police contract, Oregon Live
  6. What to Know About the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests, Time
  7. Tribal Consultation At Heart Of Pipeline Fight, insideenergy.org
  8. Guidance for Implementing E.O. 13175, “Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments” , whitehouse.gov
  9. The violent Dakota Access Pipeline protest raged for hours — until this tribal elder stepped in, Seattle Times
  10. Audubon Society of Portland Statement on the Occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
  11. Beyond the Oregon Protests: The Search for Common Ground, Environment 360, Yale University
  12. Standing Rock Facebook Check-in, CNN
  13. Facebook check-in at Standing Rock, Snopes

Keynote speaking in South Carolina & Washington state!

logoCome here me speak this month or next!

Me in South Carolina Jan. 27 – 29, 2016
I’ll be the keynote speaker and presenting workshops at the South Carolina Association for Volunteer Administration (SCAVA) annual conference, January 27-29, 2016 in North Myrtle Beach! You do not have to be a member of SCAVA to attend. Join me!

Me in Vancouver, Washington (state – USA) Feb. 11, 2016
I’ll be the keynote speaker at the Nonprofit Network Southwest Washington / Directors of Volunteer Programs Association (DVPA) conference on Thurs., February 11 in Vancouver, Washington (state), USA.

You can book me for your conference or workshop! After February 2016, my consulting schedule is wide open. I am available for presentations, short-term consultations, long-term projects, part-time positions, and, for the right role, a full-time permanent position. Here’s what I can do for your organization/initiative.

There are free online workshops by me which you can view anytime, if you want to know more about my presentation style. Most are more than 45 minutes long:

I’m available for interviews on Skype or your preferred video conferencing tool, and, of course, by phone – I’m on West Coast time (the same as Los Angeles). I’m available for in-person, onsite interviews in and around Portland, Oregon (the area where I live), and am willing to travel most anywhere for an interview or as part of a short-term consultation.

Me in Europe in Fall 2014

Happy New Year! (and Happy birthday, Elvis!)

I’ll be in Germany in the Fall of 2014 for a visit of a few weeks. I’ll make a trip to Barcelona, Spain as well for a long weekend in that time. I’m not sure if this will be in September or October.

I would love to combine my trip with presenting or consulting! I’m willing to go wherever German wings or any discount airline flies from Cologne (Köln) or Frankfurt Am Rhein, or wherever I can take a train in 5 hours or less, provided your organization covers airfare/train fare and accommodations. That means I’m willing to travel just about anywhere in Europe: England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Turkey, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria – and more!

I will do an onsite consultation or presentation pro bono, provided your organization covers all travel and accommodation expenses! 

Right now, my dates are flexible; if an organization really wants me to come in October then that’s when I would come to Germany.  My flexibility will change, however, around April 2014, when I have to make a decision about my dates.

More about me.

More about my consulting services.

More about my training areas.

Interested? Email me at jc @ coyotecommunications.com with what you have in mind.

Me in D.C. & Philly area in April 2014

logoAt long last, I will be in the Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area! I haven’t been there since 2005!

I will be there in early April 2014, to do a presentation on April 8.  I would like to schedule trainings and meetings before and after that day in the Washington, D.C. metro area and/or in the Philly area. It’s important to get bookings as soon as possible, before I book my flights!

My presentations are lively and audience-oriented, and are focused giving participants resources that they can use immediately and a base on which to further build and improve long after the workshop is over. Workshop topics include:

  • various practices and trends in volunteerism, volunteer management and community engagement, including
    • trends in volunteer engagement and volunteer management (and how to exploit these trends)
    • inspiring and supporting all staff regarding the involvement of volunteers
    • increasing the value of the coordinator / manager of volunteers role within an organization
    • online volunteering/virtual volunteering, including screening and orienting volunteers online and risk management
    • recruiting volunteers, from specific demographics and in general
    • creating online communities and networks for volunteers
    • using real-time communications (video conferencing, online phone calls, chats and instant messaging), audio and video with volunteers
  • traditional and online communications, including:
    • building press relations / pitching stories successfully
    • writing for the press
    • networking and outreach to build credibility and support for a program or organization
    • basic public relations functions
    • outreach to particular audiences
    • strategic communications (systematic planning and utilization of a variety of information flows to deliver a message and build credibility or a brand)
    • writing worthwhile, compelling, appropriate reports for partner organizations and donors
    • crisis communications, how to address misinformation/misunderstandings, addressing online criticism, etc.
    • taking photos in the developing world, for non-photographers
    • proposal writing
    • outreach via the Internet
    • online culture and communities
    • evaluating online activities
    • creating blogs and podcasts for nonprofit organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community groups, government agencies, etc.

To talk about possible dates and my training fees, please contact me via email.

I’m also available to meet, face-to-face, for informational meetings, collaboration ideas, etc. Please contact me via email to set up a meeting in April 2014!

Thank you, Portland metro area

While updating my web site last week, I realized that I have done FAR more training here in the Portland, Oregon metro area since moving here in Fall 2009 than I did in Austin, Texas while living there from 1996 through 2000 – in fact, it was rare I presented in Austin, or the rest of Texas, when it was my home. It was a shock to realize this – I consider Austin my spiritual home, and get misty eyed at the sweet memories of living there. But, indeed, the greater metropolitan Portland area has been much kinder to me, professionally speaking.

So I want to give credit where credit is due: thank you, PDX! And a long overdue thank you to the people and organizations who have made this happen:

Here’s more information about the training I provide (both onsite and online training!).

I’m been quite hard on Portland since moving here – but the reality is that it’s a community that has believed in me. And I am oh-so-grateful for that support!

Without a Champion, Your Initiative Won’t Survive

In 1994 or so, while working with various community initiatives in San José, California, I was introduced to a concept I hadn’t heard before: that any project, initiative or program must have a champion in order to be sustainable and have real impact: a person who will advocate for that project or program with colleagues and potential supporters, that will fight for that project or program, that will argue for it, and that will be seen, through their actions, not just words, as a person absolutely committed to such. Without a champion, a project, initiative or program fails.

Over the last 20 years, I’ve seen this concept proven true again and again.

I’m not talking about causes – it goes without saying that a cause needs a champion. I’m talking about a project or program – it could be the introduction of a new database system, a reform of your human resources department, a program to bring theatre activities to classrooms, an HIV education program, an online discussion forum, an anti-bullying initiative, etc.

I have watched well-funded initiatives with a full team of staff fail because there was no champion. There might have been someone designated to be in charge of the initiative, or funded to work on such, but he or she wasn’t a champion, as I have defined it; rather, the person did basic things regarding the job – answering emails, generating reports, building a web site, supervising staff working on such, etc. – but nothing beyond that. The person might say he or she is committed to the project’s success, but the actions that demonstrate that kind of commitment aren’t there – the person rarely attends meetings or events regarding the project, he or she doesn’t participate in the project in some obvious, very visible way, the person doesn’t bring up the project frequently in meetings or presentations, he or she doesn’t push for an online or traditional marketing strategy to promote such, the person doesn’t link the project to other initiatives at the organization, etc. After a few months or a year or even a few years, when the money runs out, the person or team that worked on the project shrugs and says, oh well, sorry that didn’t work out. And the project ends and is forgotten.

I have seen fledgling, under-funded initiatives thrive because there was a champion – an employee, a volunteer, or a funder. I heard that person, that champion, talking about the initiative to others, frequently, I saw that person seeking out participation from others – other employees or volunteers, senior staff, clients, members, donors, the press, other organizations. I saw the importance of the program through that person’s actions. There was an obvious commitment to success for that program that could be seen just by watching that champion. The champion may not be the person working full-time on the project – it could be a senior staff person or other leader/decision-maker at the organization who ensures, through staffing and budget allocations and organizational strategies, that the project is going to happen, is going to be successful, and is seen as essential by the entire organization.

Consultants can’t be champions. They can be be essential contributors, they can undertake activities that are fundamental to a program’s success, and they can feel passion for a program or project. But, ultimately, they cannot be the project’s champion – they are short-term, part-time workers. They will be gone when the money runs out – and they may be heart-broken at not being able to participate in the project anymore, even weep for it (I have!). This isn’t a question of the value of consultants – there is NO question that consultants often play an essential role to a project or program’s success. But if there is no champion at the organization among staff – particularly staff that are in decision-making/leadership roles – it doesn’t matter how much a consultant cares or how hard he or she works: that project will fail.

There can be more than one champion for a project; the most sustainable projects and programs have more than one. Think of a nonprofit theatre; when you talk about the performances such an organization undertakes with any staff member, you will find champions throughout the organization. You will find people in almost every department that, if the entire executive staff left and the budget were cut in half, would step up to ensure that organization continues to produce performances. But that in-school outreach program the theatre undertakes might have just one or two true champions, and after 20 years of success, if those people leave and are not replaced with champions, the marketing and fundraising departments may suddenly start questioning whether or not that program should continue.

Not everyone working on the project has to be a champion. The web master doesn’t have to be a champion for the project. The administrative assistant doesn’t have to be. The database designer does’t have to be. Most of the staff on the project doesn’t have to be. But there MUST be a champion, someone internal, that is pushing the organization regarding the project, or it WILL fail.

When you want to start a project, program or initiative, or you start working on such, you can predict the success of such based on identifying the champion. If you can’t identify such – and if you cannot be such – then that project will be short-lived. I guarantee it. And when you are a consultant working on such, it’s particularly frustrating. And if you’re like me, you weep a lot.

It’s official: my new blog home

It’s official: this is my new home for my blog. Welcome!

Supposedly, posterous.com will be sending me all of my blog posts in a format such that they can be uploaded here at my new blog home. Time will tell… the blog is not pretty, because I’m still trying to figure out how to edit the template, and I am NOT a web designer.

So, to recap: when I got word in February 2013 that posterous.com is shutting down, I needed a new blog host STAT. The posterous announcement was really horrible news, because it meant I would have to change my blog home for a second time: I used forumer.com for years as my blog host, because it was simple and blogs on the site could be read by people using older operating systems. I was satisfied until my last year on the site, when customer service became non-existent and the site became wretchedly slow. So I switched to posterous.com, on the recommendation of a friend, and when Twitter bought the site, I thought, great, that ensures it’s not going anywhere! I was wrong… I have really loved being on Posterous – I still quite upset that it’s going away.

I loathe blogger.com / blogspot.com – I have a couple of personal blogs there, and I find these platforms extremely hard to use and inflexible in terms of design. I also hate how you have to have the very latest everything (operating system, browser versions, etc.) to access blogs on these sites.

I’m not a techie; I know basic .html, that’s it.

So I asked for recommendations on my Facebook page, my Twitter account and, of course, my posterous blog. It came down to a choice between Tumblr and WordPress. After some research, I went with WordPress because my blog can be hosted on my web site – my wonderful web host, HostGator, makes that unbelievably easy to do!

So, here’s my blogs new home – right on my own web site.

And, again, I second what this blog notes about blogs themselves: Businesses should always invest in a comprehensive website, and then use whatever social networks and other services they can find that will help promote the business and engage other people. Do not depend on any single network, and definitely don’t leave your unique content on someone else’s platform.

Thanks to everyone who offered suggestions! If any of you, as a volunteer, can help me to edit my blog template, give me a shout (I’ll be happy to edit your résumé or cover letter for you, or otherwise offer some pro bono consulting for you in return).

To know when this blog is updated:

Follow me on Twitter: @jcravens42 follow me on Twitter

Like me on Facebook like me on Facebook

Add me to a circle on GooglePlus add me to a GooglePlus circle

Follow my blog via RSS RSS Feed

Hire me in 2013 – let me help make your organization even better!

Blunt headline, I know, but it gets the point across: I’m available as a trainer for your organization or conference, or for short-term consulting, for long-term consulting, and, for the perfect opportunity, full-time employment in 2013!

As a consultant, I specialize in training, advising, capacity-building services and strategy development for not-for-profit organizations (NPOs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society, grass roots organizations, and public sector agencies, including government offices and educational institutions (altogether, these organizations comprise the mission-based sector).

Capacity-building is always central to any training or consulting work I do. Capacity-building means giving people the skills, information and other resources to most effectively and efficiently address the organization’s mission, and to help the organization be attractive to new and continuing support from donors, volunteers, community leaders and the general public. My training and consulting goal is to build the capacities of employees, consultants and volunteers to successfully engage in communications and community involvement efforts long after I have moved on.

My consulting services are detailed here. I can deliver both onsite and online services. Also, I love to travel (especially internationally!).

In 2013, I would love to create or co-create an entire course as a part-time or full-time instructor at a college university within any program training nonprofit managers, social workers, MBA students, aid and humanitarian workers, etc. I am most interested, and, I think, most qualified, to teach courses relating to:

  • public relations (basic public relations functions, outreach to particular audiences, crisis communications, how to address misinformation / misunderstandings, how to deal with public criticism, etc.)
  • strategic communications (systematic planning and utilization of a variety of information flows, internal and external to an organization or program, to deliver a message and build credibility or a brand)
  • cross-platform media and electronic media (using traditional print, synchronous and asynchronous online / digital communications, and emerging digital technologies effectively, and integrating the use of all information flows)
  • public speaking
  • community engagement (involving community members as volunteers, from program supporters to advisers, and creating ways for the community to see the work of an organization firsthand)

Would I consider giving up the consulting life and working just one job, either as a full-time consultant for a year or a full-time, regular employee? Yes! In that regard, I am looking for opportunities to:

  • manage/direct a program at a nonprofit, university or government agency.


  • direct the marketing, public relations or other communications activities for a major project or program at a nonprofit, university or government agency – a corporation that matches my professional values.

I have a profile at LinkedIn, as well as details on my own web site about my professional activities. I’m also happy to share my CV with you; email me with your request. If you have any specific questions about my profile, feel free to contact me as well. References available upon request as well!

Looking forward to hearing from you! Questions welcomed!

Me in Mexico City April 2 – 9

I will be in Mexico City April 2 – 9. If your organization in Mexico City or Puebla asks for such, I could possibly squeeze in a consultation or short workshop while there. However, my Spanish is not as good as it was a few years ago, so I would need a translator if the group did not speak English. Contact me ASAP for more info. See more information on my web site about my workshops and consultations.

Estaré en México D.F.  2 – 9 de abrill. Si su organización en México o Puebla me solicita, podría presentar un taller o la consulta cortos durante mi visita. Sin embargo, mi español no es bueno ahora. ¡Perdóneme! Necesitaré a un traductor si el grupo no habla inglés. Contácteme inmediatamente para más información. Mas información sobre mis talleres y consultas.