Who’d be a Trustee Then… Oh, I am!

The thing is I secretly quite enjoyed not being on the board of any organisations for the past year… well sort of. 😉


So I have finally given in (or should that be volunteered!) and am now a Trustee of Hambleton FoodShare. Just a small local charity trying to do some good, but with a very well run AGM (and I should know, I’ve run a few – both good and bad to be fair!) and a lot of dedicated volunteers. Lots of plans and ideas to expand in the future, so that all sounds good.

What you really need to sort this out is a “Wicked Mess”?

So, I recently went to a really interesting and different view on Project Management by Martin Price, entitled The Single Minded Project. A very more personal approach to Project Management with some really intersting concepts that organisations can implement – do read his site via the link.

What I really liked was another concept he touched on, that projects are either:

  • Tame: Straight froward and understood but “boring”
  • Mess: Straight forward but not well organised, or with external influence getting in the way
  • Wicked: Not well defined and likely to diverge into something else
  • Wicked Mess: A bit of both!


Much more about this here – worth a read: http://www.modernanalyst.com/Resources/Articles/tabid/115/ID/1666/The-Tame-the-Messy-and-the-Wicked.aspx

Email Security – If I’ve told you once…

Over the past few months, I’ve had several conversations about emails and the security thereof, these usually end up with the other person gasping when they realise that lack of security “normal” email offers (also the fact that email delivery is not immediate, but that’s another post!)

Yes it is a pain that customers can’t just email you their personal and private information, but if you let them (and that includes providing a public email address on your website) then you could inadvertently end up processing this without realising it.

So what to do about this then:

  1. Don’t publicise email addresses (this reduces you spam as well)
  2. Get an SSL Certificate on your website (https://)
  3. Use a contact form to allow information to be encrypted in transit – Contact Form 7 is easy, simple and free for WordPress
  4. DO NOT have this information emailed to you by the website – this isn’t encrypted in transit
  5. Use something like Contact Form DB to securely capture the data and then email you a secure link to access it

That’s all well and good, but how do you reply back?

That’s the tricky bit! Realistically you need to look at a Secure Post Office solution like RMail or (if you use it) Office 365 Message Encryption. NB: Emails between the same email system (so GMail to GMail, Office365 to Outlook.com) don’t need to be encrypted as they never leave the providers systems – however establishing what systems the other person are using is not straightforward!

So what am I saying here…

It’s really about educating everyone involved. Even if the other party insist that you email something and it’s OK as you’ve “password protected” (note that’s not encryption) then you simply can’t risk it. If this is the sort of thing you regularly need to do then you need to put something in place to deal with it.

Bid, bid, bid…

June appears to have become national bid writing month, including those classics such as “Tender asked for X, we decided not to bid, tenderer then realises they want Y and we have 2 days to do a month’s work!”, “Not hearing anything back for 6 months and then all of a sudden wanting to award a contract” and the ever useful cry on the team of “What’s in this for us if we win it?”.

The worse thing about writing bids is poorly written tenders. You’d be amazed the minimal level of detail some tenders include and the issues that leads to. One of the biggest mistakes in tendering is to think that you are giving away “secrets” in your RFI – hence minimal (or non-existent) levels of detail are included and you wonder why either a) No one bids, or b) responses are nothing like what you were expecting!

So, if you are thinking of writing a tender, please, please, please include the following:

  • A summary overview of your organisation’s operating environment
  • What other suppliers/systems/organisations you work with and how they interact
  • What you actually want! (Yes, I know, but you’d be surprised…)
  • Prioritization of what is most/least important – MoSCoW is a great method for this
  • Make sure you pick suitable size organisations to tender for your contract – big corporates aren’t going to be interesting in you £50k piece of work, but lots of SMEs are

Remember, its better to have a potential supplier say “Sorry, this isn’t for us” than it is to string them along and suddenly realise that you’ve just awarded a contract to an organisation that thinks they are providing something completely different!

As a wise person once said… Better to have two decent tender responses than 20 [less good] ones!

Time to Improve Business…

So last week, I somehow managed to find the time to attend a meeting of the Northallerton Business Improvement District.

What I really liked about this was not only that local people were getting on with trying to sort this out themselves, but that they weren’t planning to be reliant on grants from the Council / Local Authority (which of course we all know can dry up at any minute!). They have a very brave approach, taking their idea to a public vote of all the local businesses, for an additional levy of 1.5% of their business rates. Clever really, if businesses are up for it then they vote to chip in and can also elect who is on the Board of Directors.

It is however all or nothing, so a majority vote means they are all in or all out…

That said, they hope to raise £150,000 a year and run for a sustainable 5 years – that’s enough time and cash to make some real progress… We will wait and see!

Couldn’t quite get out of anyone what the structure of the new organisation was going to be, but it sounds like a good candidate for a Community Interest Company to me.

The youth of today…

… know how to code, it would appear! Logo

So I’ve been helping out at my local Code Club in the library. Once a fortnight the usually peaceful setting becomes a little bit more noisy for an hour after school. The kids get to make a different project each week using Scratch, which teaches them new coding techniques (this week we all got a bit lost with Forever and If loops).

The kids seem to really enjoy it (lots of “Wows” when things start working) and are learning something new, so all good there. Hopefully it will help them in the future to understand a bit more about how computers work.

Looking back, a long time ago I wrote an entire Dungeons and Dragons game in BBC BASIC and look where that ended me up!

Websites, Websites, Websites…

… sometimes they can just make you scream!

So I’ve spent quite a lot of time sorting out a load of sites/domains/hosting in the past few weeks. I have to say its my least favourite thing, but hey ho, its needs doing.

What has become apparent is that most people have no idea about the complexities of MX Records, DNS Servers, Hosting Platforms etc. that are behind the average site. Also there is always at least one organisation that didn’t realise that they don’t own their own Domain Name!

Some useful sites and tools on this topic:

  • Fresh Sites – need WordPress hosting with free site migration (Neil is a star!), then look no further
  • Domain Lookup Tools – Essential if you are trying to change DNS entries
  • Site Up Time Monitor – Want to know if you site is down before your hosting provider does, this is excellent (and free!)
  • Broken Link Checker – Scours all your sites pages for links that don’t go anywhere

Let’s Talk Social Enterprise

So this week I went over to Bishop Auckland to talk to some customers of the South Durham Enterprise Agency about Social Enterprise. Quite a varied crowd of people about to venture forth into the world of business and for some Social Enterprise might be the way forward, for others not, but a good discussion was had about the pros and cons of For Profit, Social Enterprise and Charity Models.

I tried to come up with a model that would explain the relationships between these – Here’s one I made earlier!

New Year, New Projects, Same old me…

So 2016 is upon us and its bloody freezing!

That said, there are plenty of things going on to keep me on my toes – several bids I have written may materialise in early 2016 (hopefully not all at once!), everything from improving quality to national service provision.

Local networking in North Yorkshire is also proving fruitful – linked up with Your Consortium recently, really interesting organisation trying to fill the (rather large) gaps in funding and service development.

So who knows what 2016 will bring, but I’m sure it will be varied and interesting!

Jelly (but no custard…)

So, what does one do when you move somewhere new and need to meet some local contacts? Go out for Jelly of course!

Jelly is an international initiative but the UK site is here: http://www.uk-jelly.org.uk/what-is-jelly/

Go to meet a few interesting people, so doing things I do, others not (I now know someone who can do Health and Safety Assessments and someone with a holiday cottage locally – result!) – all hosted by the very swish Evolution Business Centre.

Same time next month then – but bring some custard!

This year, I have mostly been…

… very busy!

Too busy to update this site sadly, but nevermind.

So here are a few things that have been going on:

  • Helping 3 environmental charities successfully relocate to a new shared office
  • Writing a huge bid to help a social enterprise compete with “The Big Boys” on a commercial basis
  • Doing a Business Developement Review to enable a social enterprise to market to the most appropriate segments
  • Running some Project Management workshops
  • Providing a process audit for a helpline charity
  • Doing the day job
  • Oh, and I’ve moved “Up North”!


One door closes, another one (or a few) open…

So, things have just about calmed down after a very hectic February (which included spending a long weekend on an industrial estate in the middle of nowhere in Oldham!), but there is always something else round the corner.

Community venues seem to be high on the agenda at the moment, be it charities looking to find affordable premises, or providing access to facilities for the community in general. It all boils down to grasping the opportunity when it comes and also having the support from above to make decisions and get on with it!

Me thinks there is more work to be done here…

All Together Now…

So my New Year’s Resolution is to get more organisations to work together in a constructive and open partnership. Not easy I know, but it is very odd that especially in the NGO and Social Enterprise space there is so much distrust between organisations that are obvious partners with each other.

The commercial world seems to be over this – Companies that sell complimentary products or services are happy to partner with “the competition” as they can see the net outcome as being beneficial for both. There just seems to be a lack of trust of willing elsewhere.

The problem seems to lie at the Board of Trustees / Directors level, most of this time – sometimes a gentle kick is required. Good job I got a new pair of boots for Christmas then!

Helping the Helplines

Had a really interesting day at Helplines Partnership’s Annual Conference last Friday. Great to meet lots staff and volunteers from all sorts of helplines and see what they are up to (and how I can help).

One of the breakout sessions was about “Emotional Intelligence” (delivered by Lisa from CCS Coaching International), not something I know anything about, but really interesting. I did however learn:

  • We have 3 “brains” (well there’s a 4th in the heart apparently as well…)
  • There are 100 logical brain cells firing every second
  • There are 6,000,000,000 emotional brain cells firing every second

One qualification that I don’t have is a GCSE in biology, but this has (literally) opened my mind to a whole new way of thinking about interacting with others!

A case of RTFS…

It never ceases to amaze me that people can’t follow basic instructions…

When a tender says “Please send all questions via email to…” why are bidders not able to do this? At the moment I am involved with one where everyone from the cleaner to the incumbent provider is being emailed with questions – rather silly as it shows your hand somewhat!

What it does demonstrate is this: “Would you purchase £100,000s worth of goods and services from an organisation where the staff can’t even follow basic instructions?” – IMHO incompetence means immediate disqualification from the tender process…

Oh and for those of you not familiar with the title, its Read The Flippin’ Specification (ruder versions are available!)

The (Day) Times Are A’Changing…

So this week, the “Day Job” (that pays the bills and keeps a roof over my head) has changed. More of an internal consultancy role which is very varied but also has its own challenges. One of those is working out how to introduce yourself to a bunch of new people – I’ve been sitting in a contact centre staffed with volunteers and most of them assumed I was a new trainee, despite the fact I designed the systems they were all using a few years ago!

Some introductions later (“Hi, I’m here to fix things that don’t work and make everything else work better”) and all is well. Chocolate biscuits help as well. It is odd sitting in with a bunch of people using something that you designed a couple of years ago – I must have got something right as they were all motivated and committed to getting the job done.

The next couple of weeks are more of the same, a few tweaks here, a new process there – but all good stuff.

Breaking up is hard to do…

No, not some more work for Relate, but more an interesting problem with a Community Interest Company trying to spin itself out of the NHS. Politics and lack of communication make this one a bit tricky, but we are getting there – everything needs to be in place yesterday, but isn’t that always the way!

Are you a “Super Supervisor”?

Citizens Advice Surrey need an Adviceline Service Manager – a “Super Supervisor” for phone services in Surrey – http://bit.ly/1sKsjAX

Are you up to the job? Multiple sites, multiple staff/volunteers delivering free advice across Surrey? Can you bring it all together and improve phone advice for everyone?

NB: This is not the normal supervison role you might expect – check out the description here: http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/index/jobopportunities/jobopps_bureau/220414adviceline_service_manager__full-time_.htm