Posts by Celeste Hamilton Dennis

5 tips to facilitate an awesome meeting

To Connector Monique Dupre, facilitation is much more than simply making sure a meeting runs smoothly.

“When you can draw out ideas and potential, amazing things can happen,” she says. “If people walk away from a meeting feeling empowered and motivated, you would see how that would change a lot of things – not only in the workplace, but on the personal level.”

Monique’s interest in facilitation began when she realized that the event planning she was doing for a variety of organizations and personal projects over the past 11 years – from helping refugees start gardens to fundraising at her daughter’s school to leading eco-culinary tours in France – required meetings.

In her experience, there is nothing worse than a meeting that goes on too long or has no clear purpose.

So she took an intensive workshop with renowned facilitator Barbara McKay, and began practicing what she learned. Here are her top five tips especially as it relates to Connector Teams:

1. Assign a facilitator.

A facilitator’s main role is to draw out people’s ideas as it relates to the agenda while staying neutral.

If nobody steps up, rotate turns. If someone is hesitant or thinks they might not be good at it, an alternative is to have them take notes on the board.

2. Have a clear agenda and stick to it.

At the beginning of the meeting, go around and ask people what’s most pressing to them to talk about and how much time they have. Once the agenda is agreed upon, post it up on the wall for everyone to see.

An ideal time for a meeting is one hour, but if it goes longer, make sure to take a break. Use a timekeeper to help stay on track. A “parking lot” is also a way to capture ideas or questions for another time.

whiteboard copy

Who said whiteboards had to be boring?
(photo via johnny goldstein on Flickr’s Creative Commons.)

3. Listen. Really listen.

The biggest responsibility of the facilitator is to make sure everyone feels heard. Writing ideas on a whiteboard, for example, helps people to see they were listened to. It also keeps things on track, and eliminates repetition.

Another way is to repeat back and summarize what someone just said: “This is what I heard you say. Is it okay if I put it like this?” This is good with someone who’s especially chatty.

“Even the most hot-headed, can’t-stop-talking person wants to be heard. Getting them to stop talking is the exact opposite of what should happen. Instead, channel that energy and conversation in the right direction,” she says.

How else to do this? Stand next to them. Encourage others who haven’t said much to talk. Pose a question and go around the room.

4. Ask specific questions.

Instead of questions that lead to “yes” or “no” answers, try questions that are specific and have “why” in them.

Think of it this way: asking a kid how their day was like always yields a vague answer such as “fine.” But if you ask who they went out to lunch with and why, you’ll find their answer to be much more robust.

5. Be humble.

Leave your ego and judgment at the door.

“The way I do it in my head is that I see each person as a treasure chest of amazing knowledge and wonderful experiences. They might not see it that way, but they are,” she says. “If you can step outside yourself and simply listen to what’s going on and who’s bringing what to the table, then I think you can be neutral in your actions.”

With all of this, Monique encourages you to practice  – with your partner, your kid(s), a stranger at the grocery store. Look people in the eye. Be in the moment.

“Facilitation can be learned. It’s stuff we do already but we don’t realize it. It’s just awareness and listening skills that overlap with every single conversation we have in life,” she says. “It’s communicating in a way that each person feels they have brought something to the table and walks away feeling good.”

Feel free to reach out to Monique on her blog or contact her directly for additional advice: For more good tips, Monique recommends Barbara McKay’s blog.

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Meet an Idealist Staff Member: Megan O’Leary on teamwork

Megan O’Leary, Community Relations Manager at Idealist, will be the first to admit that working on a team is hard. Really hard.

“It’s some of the hardest work we can do. I tell groups of people all the time, if you think it’s easy, you’re probably missing something,” the AmeriCorps alumna with City Year says. “But I think it can be really worth it.”

With the Idealist Network, Megan’s evolving role is part-cheerleader, part-resource, part-guide. So far she’s been reaching out to Teams with upcoming meetings, troubleshooting any problems, and in general, being a source of support for Connectors.


Megan thanks her Girl Scout Brownie Troop in Tuscon, Arizona for introducing her to community service all those years ago.
(photo courtesy Briana Cerezo from Humans of PDX)

Being a part of a team is her favorite way to get work done. From her time with City Year, Megan has a ton of experience working with others toward a common goal.

She started out twelve years ago implementing service learning projects with middle school students in San Jose, California then formally came on board City Year as a fundraiser. Before long, she was leading the team as Deputy Director.

Then she moved to Sacramento in 2011 where she was in charge of opening a new site. It was a crazy time – her team was made up of strangers thrown together from ten different City Year sites and they had six months to open the doors.

As the new kids on the block, they worked extra hard to build bridges with the community, and get to know the systems already in place.

While reflecting on all these experiences, Megan’s had some realizations about what it’s meant to be a part of a team all these years, which as an only child, she admits she’s drawn to.

“Something I really struggled with in my first year of AmeriCorps is that I couldn’t always tell if the people on my team cared as much as me. There were any number of ways I felt offended that they weren’t always demonstrating their commitment in a way I thought was satisfactory or identical to what I was doing,” she says. “But I think everyone’s 100% looks different. You can’t give 100% everyday. You give what you can when you can.”

Her other advice for Connector Teams? Have a shared goal. Figure out what you’re doing and more importantly, why. Take the time to get know each other on a human level and share a meal. Realize the value you bring to the table. Appreciate one another. Lean into the process even if it seems scary.

“This might be hard or feel funky, but try it anyway. What do you have to lose?” she says.

Megan would love to help your Team and hear what you’re up to. Whether you’re wondering what should be on the agenda to how best to do local outreach to which tech tools to use, Megan’s here for you. Get in touch:

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Field Report! The buzz on Action Groups in Portland, Oregon

Last Wednesday, a couple of Connectors and Idealist staff met up to talk through Action Groups.

Connector Monique Dupre admitted she was considering starting an Action Group about sustainability in Portland, but was a bit hesitant.

“One of my thoughts was okay, I propose the group and we get together and then what?” she says. “I know what I’m interested in, but I don’t have specific examples or immediate action steps.”

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 1.25.44 PM

Connector Liqin chimed in and told the Team about her idea to start an Action Group dedicated to helping refugees and immigrants adjust in Portland. As an immigrant herself who came to the city from China nine years ago, Liqin especially sees the need to create a community interested in helping this vulnerable population.

The Action Group would bring people together to seek out what needs exist, share resources, and provide ways to get involved.

What she described was perfect – and the energy in the room suddenly shifted. Inspired by Liqin, Monique then had an idea that was more specific and exciting to her: an Action Group dedicated to saving the bees.

Within minutes, everyone around the table had something to offer: one person was eager to join, someone knew of a few organizations, another had recently spent time on a bee farm in Asia, and still another rode past a bee shop on her bike commute everyday.

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Both Monique and Liqin created their Action Groups right then and there. For the Team’s next meeting, an idea was put on the table to invite Connectors to share their ideas for Action Groups and launch three to five of them on the spot.

Once launched, Connectors would commit to seeking out Idealist members to join – especially those who are formally connected to organizations on the site or have listed the issue on their Idealist profile.

This spirit of intentional community building is how the Portland Team hopes to build buzz around Action Groups.

“It can be hard to get momentum around it,” Monique says. “What better way to do this but personally invite people?”

What questions do you have about Action Groups? Ask away in the comments!


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Making connections in Malmö, Sweden

Connector Julieta Talavera first heard about Connectors when we did some preliminary testing of the concept with a small group of New Yorkers a couple of years ago. The idea immediately resonated with her.

“I thought, this is amazing. We need Connectors,” the Argentina native says.

She decided to try out an early version of a 3Qs meeting at her local laundromat, and also set up a box at the library where people could write what was stopping them from taking action and why.

While she never got to see the fruits of her efforts there because she soon moved to Malmö, Sweden, to study international relations, Julieta carried the idea of Connectors to her new home.

In Malmö, with the help of her friend Jonathan Ng, she recruited people to participate in a 3Qs meeting by telling people they knew and posting flyers across the city. Their particular interest and focus was people interested in social entrepreneurship and innovation.

By promoting and hosting the 3Qs meeting, “we had an excuse to knock on doors, find interesting people, make friends, share experiences, and learn from each other,” she says.


Connectors Malmö is all about looping the city’s resources together.
(photo courtesy Șuiu Marius)

After the initial meeting, they became a support group for their own social innovation projects and then began inviting more people to join the group and speak at their meet-ups. Eventually, they evolved into Connectors Malmö, an organization that encourages connections and collaborations to make Malmö and the world a better place.

They do this in a variety of ways, such as bike tours that introduce people to creative spaces, incubators, and more around town; 24 hour social innovation camps that pair problems with creative problem-solvers; a networking event called the Connectors Salon; a citywide calendar; a map that will visualize and categorize all the resources in the city, from libraries to funding opportunities; and more.

“We help people take their first step,” she says. “If you can prove to yourself you can do it once, then the second and third time come along easier. We really try to encourage that.”

Recently, they also started the Networking Bank, a database of people willing to share their skills for the common good.

“If you want to do something, you need to collaborate with others. You need to meet other people,” she says. “There’s no other way.”

Think something like the Connectors Salon or Networking Bank could help your Team? Feel free to reach out to Connectors Malmö for advice on getting started:

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Meet a Connector: Anna in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

When Anna McKeon moved to Cambodia from the UK three years ago, her connecting powers multiplied.

“I’ve always been something of a connector, and that’s especially true in Cambodia,” the nonprofit communications consultant says. “Working as an expat you quickly become a point of contact for new people arriving in a country, or for visitors passing through. I enjoy introducing like-minded people.”

Anna’s also one of those people who’s linked to a variety of groups. A singer in her spare time, she has contacts in the music industry as well as at hotels and restaurants. With her job, she’s always in need of writers and designers, and stays in regular touch with different nonprofits and social enterprises.


Anna McKeon

“I enjoy meeting new people and am always happy to take some time out for a coffee, or send a few emails to introduce people,” she says. “I also try and be pretty open about my experiences in Asia – I believe in sharing mistakes I’ve made, so that other people can avoid doing the same!”

For Anna, transparency and a collaborative mindset are two things that make the Idealist Network most appealing.

Living in Phnom Penh, Anna can’t help but want to do more with the abundant resources around her. The city is home to a number of socially responsible for-profit initiatives and tech start-ups led by young Cambodians, for example.

It’s also a hub for large aid organizations as well as smaller nonprofits. In Anna’s opinion, real change can happen here because there are so many decision makers in one place.

The challenge? The greatest need isn’t in the city, but in the rural areas where most organizations tend to run their projects.

“This is good and bad—as it’s easier for people to make powerful connections here, but equally Phnom Penh is not representative of the majority of Cambodia, nor of the challenges that many people face in their daily lives,” she says. “However, it’s a very positive, dynamic place to be”.

With the Idealist Network, Anna hopes to make more connections happen throughout Cambodia, and has a particular interest in helping to facilitate responsible volunteerism.

So far she’s exchanged messages with another Team member and is hoping that when her workload lightens she can devote more time to the Network. But one of her work projects right now—where she’s connecting people from faith, travel, education, and corporate communities —is priming her for the Connector role.

“Neutrality is really about not judging others’ choices, and I think that is always important! So I’m getting quite a lot of practice,” she says.

Live in Phnom Penh? Join the Team! Live elsewhere? Look for a Connector Team near you or start one of your own.

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Field Report! Team meeting in Kampala, Uganda

When Kampala’s five Connectors met at a beer garden a few weeks ago, one of their first thoughts was: What materials, skills, and tactics could we employ to better connect people to local resources?

Being that so far all of the Connectors in the Team work with youth in some capacity—from running an orphanage to empowering girls to global education—the first idea that came to mind was targeting young people, in addition to adults, who are interested in community development.

“We believe that today’s youths are tomorrow’s flag bearers—the ‘Gen-Next’ who shall manage and lead our country,” says Ibrahim Bahati, a trainer at a marketing agency with a background in economics and library management. “Development is a process. We need youths to start working to secure the future.”


Kampala’s Connectors from left to right: Tony Mawejj, Namisango Juliet, Robbinah Hakiza, Ibrahim Bahati, and Tony Kabuye.

Kampala is a major center for nonprofits and social enterprises: there are a lot of them, and many are well-funded and supported. But in Ibrahim’s opinion, corruption, nepotism, and poor resource management plague these organizations, too, and can cancel out the good.

The Team thinks the best way for them to combat this problem is not through the elders—who may be set in their ways—but through mobilizing youth to become Connectors and training them to identify the resources around them.

How will they find these young people? Their plan is to tap into social media and the city’s cultural centers. The Team thinks the big challenge will be getting youth to see that money isn’t the only resource worth cultivating—there are also ideas, people, and information, to name just a few.

“When people here talk about effective resources, all ears go to the money. But that’s not all,” Ibrahim says.

Besides their initial focus on youth, the Team agreed on three core values of compassion, integrity, and empowerment, and also set up a Team structure with clearly delineated roles.

Their next steps include collectively encouraging 20 Connectors to come to their follow-up meeting on May 17, which will also be broadcast live.

For Ibrahim, being part of the Team is nothing short of inspiring.

“It’s a big world right now. You have to be able to address the issues within your society with your own work plan and your own means, little by little impacting society,” he says. “I think that’s what’s great about the Idealist Network. It enables you to do this.”

Live in Kampla? Join the Team! Live elsewhere? Look for a Connector Team near you or start one of your own.

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Meet a Connector: Amanda in Fayetteville, Arkansas

Amanda Bancroft connects people all the time. Locals come to her to find jobs, organizations to volunteer with, and more.

“I’m an introvert. I’m not a social butterfly. So it’s not based on me having a huge network of friends,” she says. “It’s more based on the way I think about the layout of cities and the layout of resources: what already exists out there, what events are coming up, what organizations are doing what and when.”

A former AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, Amanda is obsessed with capacity building—that is, making sure people and nonprofits have the know-how to do more with the resources they have or fill in the gaps where needed.

When she’s not working at a clothing store downtown or studying to become a master naturalist, Amanda’s full-time volunteer gig is developing and blogging for Ripples. She describes it as “a loose global network of capacity builders and others who want to make positive impact with small droplets that lead to big waves.”

Amanda at Lookout

Amanda on a hike at Ozark Natural Science Center.
(photo courtesy Amanda Bancroft)

Amanda and her husband Ryan are currently creating a checklist of 30 questions for people to ask themselves before they take action. They range from “Does this action help or hurt the environment?” to “Does it support diverse communities?” to “Is there a foundation for long-term change?”

Amanda sees this accessible methodology as a way to encourage others to take their first step.

“Knowing how to think about making a difference might help people utilize these resources that are just flying all around us. There’s almost an overabundance,” she says.

Fayetteville has hundreds of nonprofits, tons of people motivated to do good, progressive values, a lot of creative types, grantmakers and donors, and in general, a culture of helping others.

But in Amanda’s opinion, people aren’t taking full advantage of all that’s there. For example, despite the large amount of nonprofits in the area, only a dozen or so are listed on Idealist.

Additionally, projects pop up and die all the time. Amanda would love to see lasting change, more ripples of action, and a shift in thinking about connecting.

“The Idealist Network could offer Fayetteville a lot in terms of connecting,” she says. “The trick and challenge will be to help people understand why connecting will get them what they want.”

Want to learn more about how Ripples might help you or your Team? Get in touch with Amanda:

Live in Fayetteville?  Join their Team! Live elsewhere? Look for a Team near you or start one of your own.

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Open question: How can we get others to self-identify as Connectors?

A few weeks ago, Denver Connectors met to get to know each other and talk about how their collective skills could help the city.

Nate Savery brought up this question that we imagine has been on your mind, too:

“How can we find the individuals out there who already have connecting roles in the community? They may not be affiliated with Idealist. They may not even recognize themselves as facilitators. So how do we reach them and get them to self identify?”

Nate suggested a video that would show how the often-invisible actions of Connectors are crucial in making social change happen.

We think that’s a stellar idea. But we’d also love to hear from you. What ideas do you have for drawing Connectors out of the woodwork?

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Field Report! Team meeting in Phoenix, Arizona

On April 5, six Phoenix Connectors met up at Paradise Bakery for the first time. They all came from different backgrounds, ranging from editorial to corporate to education.


From left to right: Anne Furlong, Meg Matlach, David Jenny, Meha Narain, and Cheryl Piedrasanta. Not shown is Tonia Jenny who graciously took the photo!

Amid the sweet smells of baked goods, the group had a lively conversation that got the ball rolling.

“I didn’t have any particular expectations other than a group of open and friendly people. We had a good time getting to know a little about each other and shared book and documentary movie favorites which I particularly liked hearing about,” says Meg, founder of e-card site HarmonyWishes. “I love getting ideas and being inspired to create a better world through others’ stories.”

They talked about what their role as Connectors would be—admittedly waiting on Action Groups to help clarify it—and kicked around ideas about how they’d spread the word once they perfected their ‘elevator pitch.’ Anne suggested they try to get time on the local PBS station, for example.

They also discussed the 3Qs to help inform their next meeting on April 26, where they’ll hone in on Team goals.

For Meg, she’s excited to enlarge her sphere of social good.

“My past volunteer experiences have been very positive but they have been singular in their objective and tied to a specific cause,” she says. “Idealist is trying to expand beyond the traditional model of volunteerism and provide something much larger in scope through their worldwide platform. That’s exciting!”

Live in Phoenix? Join the Team! Live elsewhere? Look for a Team near you or start one of your own.

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Meet a Connector: Leonie in Brisbane, Australia

In Leonie Sanderson’s opinion, here’s what Brisbane has going for it: innovative groups that eschew traditional nonprofit models, diverse projects that don’t rely too much on government funding, and overall, lots of people-powered good.


The Brissie skyline
(photo by Cyron on Flickr’s Creative Commons)

What’s missing in “Brissie,” she says, is a sense of connectedness.

Nonprofits and groups typically compete for funding and resources, and they’re uninterested in banding together. For Leonie, this is one reason the Idealist Network is appealing.

“I am attracted to networks because I think more is possible. I like linking into the bigger picture. I believe there is value in a coordinated approach that doesn’t reinvent the wheel,” she says.

If there’s anyone suited to a Connector role, it’s Leonie. From hosting Feasts for Good to volunteering with the homeless on Sundays to being a Fellow with the Global Resilience Collaborative to leading her own informal do-good collective, she’s heavily involved in the Brisbane community.

She’s all about moving ideas into action, and she’s honest about what she can bring to the table.

“Actually I don’t know that anyone is ever truly neutral. It’s not possible as human beings,” she says. “However, I believe that I am good at facilitating change and encouraging new perspectives. I don’t feel a need to lead on other people’s ideas/projects but I like assisting with implementation.”

So far, Leonie is a one-person Team. To encourage others to join her, she’s considering her next step to be showing how awesome it is to be a part of a bigger network.

“I like to connect the dots, and I like collaborating,” she says. “I believe collaboration leads to better outcomes and more resilience.”

Do you live in Brisbane? Join Leonie! Live elsewhere? Look for a Connector Team near you or start one of your own.

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