What I learned from Marianne Dyer and Melissa Ganley
Last Thursday, I had the privilege of sitting down first with Marianne Dyer and then with Melissa Ganley – two colleagues from Third Sector New England who split the responsibility of staffing TSNE’s reception area.
As readers of this blog know, I consider receptionists to be key information managers, so I was very grateful that they both were willing to make some time to speak with me. Marianne even brought a sheaf of notes to the meeting, of questions that had been coming in over the phone!
Some kinds of queries that they reported to me confirmed what I had heard from other TSNE staff members, but I also was able to glean some new categories:
- Can TSNE provide free legal services to help with the incorporation with a new nonprofit?
- Can TSNE manage the entire process of incorporation and starting up a new nonprofit?
- Can TSNE provide seed money to start a new nonprofit?
- Can TSNE provide grantwriting services?
- CanTSNE provide web design or other technology services?
- Can TSNE post job announcements from nonprofits that are not directly connected to TSNE?
- Can TSNE provide financial and other back office services for nonprofits for which it does not serve as a fiscal sponsor?
- Can Melissa or Marianne guide the caller to the page on the TSNE web site where the needed information can be found? (They are happy to do this.)
- Can Marianne or Melissa give an overview of TSNE’s NonProfit Center? (They are happy to do this, but perhaps this would be a good topic for the video series as well.)
- Can TSNE tell them where to find nonprofit-oriented trainings on topics that TSNE doesn’t cover? (Yes, the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network has a calendar devoted to this.)
Here are some key insights that emerged from these conversations:
- TSNE needs to be very clear in its message about what it doesn’t do – as well was what it does do - as a management support organization. In cases where it doesn’t provide a service, its knowledge base should offer users reliable information about where to seek service providers.
- Melissa and Marianne are called upon to shepherd many users through the TSNE web site, and we can anticipate the same for the Nonprofit Management Resources site when it is launched. Giving them both in-depth training on what information is available and how to find it will be an excellent investment.
- Some people calling TSNE for the first time are a little unclear what they want. They’ve heard that it assists nonprofits, and they’d like to chat with a real human being, in the hope of discovering that TSNE can offer them something that they need.
- Some people have great ideas for nonprofit programs and hope TSNE can make some sort of magic that will take care of all the details involved in starting up, getting funded, and running the back office – so that they can concentrate on their great programmatic ideas. (I sympathize with these folks completely. Not every visionary has a solid background in or passion for administration.)
I’m once again impressed by how demanding the role of receptionist can be. It’s not just that, in order to do their jobs well, Marianne and Melissa need to be courteous, articulate, and extremely good information managers. It’s that they are need to have empathy. People are calling up with their hopes and dreams for making the world a better place. The callers can’t always convey exactly what they need, and TSNE can’t always provide exactly what they want. We need to pay tribute to receptionists who handle this well, and bear in mind that no search and aggregation engine can replace human empathy. However, we can aim for making the Nonprofit Management Resources user experience as friendly, intuitive, reliable, and helpful as possible.