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In praise of receptionists as information managers

November 8, 2010

As I implied in a previous blog article, I feel like receptionists are the unsung heroes of nonprofit management support organizations and community foundations.

I can hardly overestimate how much I’ve learned from Anna Gallothe Boston Foundation’s receptionist.  It’s not that she tells me any family secrets, but she is a rich source of insight about how TBF works, where the internal expertise lies, and what the stakeholders in Greater Boston ask of their community foundation.

These days, when I visit TBF to check in about the Nonprofit Management Resources project, it’s not just a pleasure to chat with Anna – although it’s always fun – it’s a collaborative learning experience.  I like to brief her about the project, and get her thoughts.  Since she fields the lion’s share of incoming phone calls on behalf of TBF, she hears before anyone else what issues, suggestions, concerns, and requests are coming through the pipeline from outsiders.  Indeed, the less familiar the caller is with TBF, the more she learns about their needs, because if they are not asking to be connected to a specific staff member, then she must use her best judgment about supplying information herself or transferring the call to the appropriate person.  Few staff members have more raw data about incoming questions, or more experience in responding to callers who are unfamiliar with nonprofit organizations or community foundations. In order to do that, she needs to be adept at managing information and conveying it clearly.   It would be too much to ask her to keep an ongoing log for me of all the incoming questions she hears, but I would love to see such a thing!*

Meanwhile, I’m hoping that I can develop a similar relationship with Melissa Ganley and Marianne Dyer at Third Sector New England – one in which they brief me about the questions that land at the receptionist’s desk, and I keep them up to date about this project.   They each have other responsibilities when they are not staffing the reception area – Marianne is TSNE’s recruitment and database systems administrator, while Melissa is TSNE’s administration and human resources assistant.  But since they split the duties as receptionists, that means I have more than one potential source of insight and information.

I hope that I can apply the lessons learned from Anna Gallo – about receptionists as sources of organizational wisdom and institutional memory – and apply them not only at Third Sector New England but also with all of this project’s other potential content partners.

* Fortunately, Geeta Pradhan and Andrea Martinez have worked hard over the past few years – not only have they tracked questions about nonprofit management that TBF’s programmatic staff have received, but they have carefully researched answers to many of them.  When they approached me about the Nonprofit Management Resources project, they came to the meeting with an impressive stack of material in FAQ format.  This made my job tremendously easier; rather than starting from scratch, I was able to reconfirm the existing content, webify it, and fill in some gaps.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 8, 2010 6:19 pm

    Great insight! I feel that when you work with any company, you should get to know the receptionist. They help connect you and, as you stated, know a ton about everyone in the company. (The normal worker may only be well-acquainted with their immediate team members.)

  2. November 9, 2010 8:15 am

    As someone who worked as a receptionist and administrative assistant for years and now works in the field of knowledge sharing, I couldn’t agree more!! Which is also why I always found it particularly insane to get assignments as a temp to fill in for the receptionist. Imagine doing that job with no knowledge of who anyone is, where they sit, what they do, or where anything is 🙂

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