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UVM Extension Building Capacity Blog

Document losses, expenses as first step in financial recovery after a disaster

Posted: August 30th, 2011 by capacity

Disaster survivors can begin to address the financial issues that accompany disaster soon after securing safe shelter.

Documentation is key to recovery. “You may think you will remember important conversations and details, but chances are you won’t be able to remember all of them” says Mary Peabody, a community development educator with University of Vermont Extension.

  • A notebook and calendar are helpful tools. “Record the date of each entry and the crucial details of the conversation, appointments or meeting,” says Onstad. Include actions to be taken or next steps and who will do them. Record the complete name and contact information of the person and agency you are dealing with.  Here’s an example:

August 27

3:30 p.m.: Contacted Peoples Natural Gas Co. (phone number), requested gas shut off as soon as possible. Spoke with Tony Hernandez in Customer Service-Ext 3. They expect to complete work within 24-48 hours. Call back Customer Service to confirm before going into home. Billing authorized to stop on August 18. 

  • If you have homeowners or renter’s insurance you will need to provide proof of property ownership, estimated value and damage incurred.  If you do not have insurance, you may be able to use the property loss as a deduction on your income taxes.
  • When it is safe to enter the property, document proof of all property loss with photos and written details: manufacturer, model, serial number, age, value new, approximate current value and damage incurred.  Remember to also document damage outside of the home. This may be the time to recruit family, friends and co-workers to assist you.
  • Keep receipts and record all expenses related to recovery or rebuild efforts. They may be covered by insurance, assistance programs or be deductible on taxes. For examples, remember receipts for lodging,  clean-up supplies, eyewear replacements, doctor bills related to disaster injury, and other related expenses.
  • If you cannot stay in your home community, decide who will be your local communications contact. Peabody emphasizes that staying in communication and obtaining timely and accurate information about disaster recovery and assistance programs is another key to your financial recovery.

Immediately after a disaster it is important to receive accurate community recovery information. Attend or send a representative to all community meetings, often conducted by local officials or Vermont  Emergency Management (http://vem.vermont.gov/programs/cert). Potential information shared at these meetings include: if cleanup supplies are available, programs available and disaster recovery updates.  Information and rumor flows quickly in disaster situations and may be overwhelming. Do not hesitate to contact local officials to confirm any information that you are not clear about.

For more resources related to disaster recovery go to http://www.uvm.edu/extension/

Putting the pieces back together after disaster – the first hours and days

Posted: August 29th, 2011 by capacity

In light of the devastating damage from Tropical Storm Irene over the weekend we are posting these tips for those affected…

[Adapted with permission from Phyllis Onstad, University of Minnesota Extension]

A natural disaster can strike anywhere at any time, leaving in its wake damage and destruction that affects the financial well-being of survivors. You may be in disbelief, yet anxious to start to put the pieces back together. You may not be able to return to your property until it is declared safe, but you can take steps toward financial recovery.

Here are actions to take, depending on your situation, suggested by Community Development specialists at UVM Extension.

  • Notify your homeowners, flood, or rental insurance company of the loss. Tell them how to best contact you for claims service. Report the loss even if you doubt the loss will be covered. If you lost your insurance policy, request a copy.
  • If you have no place to stay and the shelter is full, you may be able to receive a voucher for a hotel room from the local American Red Cross or Salvation Army. If you have home owners or renters insurance, determine if you have coverage for temporary housing.
  • When feasible; contact employers to inform them of your situation and determine time you may take off of work, if needed. Let your employer know how to best contact you.
  • If an employer notifies you that your place of employment was severely damaged or destroyed and you cannot work; contact your state’s unemployment insurance office. Ask about eligibility for unemployment benefits.
  • If injured or disabled, you may be eligible for disability insurance; contact your agent.
  • If you have natural gas service; call the natural gas company for a safety inspection before entering the home, or request a natural gas shut off for safety purposes. Cancel the account until gas is needed.
  • If the electrical service is unsafe, do not enter. Call the electrical company to disconnect service until repairs can be made and electricity is needed.

When authorities have determined that it’s safe to re-enter your property, assess damages and begin next steps. Document what you have done, with whom you have spoken, actions to take, contact information, deadlines for disaster assistance applications and appointments.

  • Determine if there are other services to cancel for a period of time, such as phone, softener salt delivery, cable television.
  • If you are going to be out of your home or rental unit, provide a change of address to your post office. This will ensure that mail continues to be delivered to you.
  • Notify your home mortgage company or your landlord of disaster damage to the property. Tell them how to best contact you. If you have lost your rental or mortgage agreement, request a copy.
  • If you have vehicle damage or loss, contact your auto insurance agent. Find out how long it will take to process your claim. Ask if you have coverage for car rental. Let the agent know how to best contact you. Request a copy of your policy if missing.
  • Do not sign anything from insurance companies indicating that this is a final interaction/payment to you, as other disaster-related damages may surface weeks and months from now.
  • If you anticipate having difficulty paying bills, call your creditors and explain the disaster loss. Arrange payment plans before you get an overdue notice.
  • Documentation will be required for property loss claims on homeowners and renters insurance, to submit uncovered property losses for income tax purposes, and to verify the need for assistance programs. Documentation should include: manufacturer, model, serial number, age, value new, approximate current value and damage incurred.
  • Keep receipts and record all expenses related to recovery or rebuild efforts. They may be covered by insurance, assistance programs or deductible on taxes. Remember receipts for lodging, clean-up supplies, eyeglasses replacement and doctor bills related to disaster injury.

Find more educational disaster recovery information on Extension’s website at http://www.uvm.edu/extension

Things to Consider Before Recruiting New Volunteers

Posted: August 25th, 2011 by capacity

There are lots of things to consider before recruiting for new volunteers.  You can begin by contemplating how a multi-generational approach would affect your recruitment process and success of volunteers in the positions you are seeking to fill.  Each generational group has characteristics which may be beneficial to your organizations.  Are you successful at recruiting from all of the groups?  Your publicity is designed to inform people what the organization does and why it needs volunteers.  Does your publicity “speak” to volunteers across the generations?  The publicity is a tool for recruitment.  Recruitment invites individuals to learn more about your volunteer program and to join in.  If your publicity is speaking to just one generational group, chances are that you are successful in recruiting just that generational group.


Think about your ongoing volunteer program.  Are you able to retain quality volunteers in your positions?  Or are those positions more like revolving doors?  Recruitment and training of volunteers is costly in time and other resources.  Take the time to analyze and fix the problems before launching another recruitment process.  The task may be just too big for the number of volunteers.  The position description may have some important qualification missing, be too time consuming, or lack a challenge for volunteers to engage over time.  All of these problems could cause the “revolving door syndrome” that Susan Ellis refers to in her writings.  Find out what’s wrong and fix it first.  Consider initiating exit interviews when volunteers leave the organization.  You might be surprised what you can learn from just a few well developed questions.


Thinking about a new role for volunteer?  Plan your recruitment strategy but don’t start recruiting before you are ready to put volunteers to work.  Sometimes with the fear of not finding volunteers causes us to spread the word prematurely about a new potential role for volunteers  It can result in would-be volunteers waiting to begin an experience for which they may not be qualified.  Be sure you have the position description well developed prior to recruitment.  Get ready to put the volunteers to work, and then recruit.


Think about some trends that may make recruiting of volunteers difficult.  The changing American family is a trend evidenced by parents with less time, limited availability during daytime hours, custodial and non-custodial parents having constraints on their time.  Examine your assumptions about the changing American family.  Are your volunteer positions designed to appeal to these individuals with time flexibility built-in?  The economic crisis is another societal trend that may affect your recruiting.  Those unemployed may be looking for volunteer opportunities to strengthen their resumes and might stay with the organization just until they find viable employment.  Corporate volunteering may provide an avenue to recruit some highly skilled volunteers.  The population is aging and some of these individuals may choose to work longer into their senior years.  Some may take on the supportive caregiving role with grandchildren.  Think about trends you note in society, consider how they might affect volunteer recruitment, and plan how you can address the trends with the volunteer positions you design.  Recruit with these trends in mind.

Surviving Change

Posted: August 5th, 2011 by capacity

Someone (I suspect an observant mother) once said that the only being that truly likes change is a baby with a wet diaper.  That may be true but change is also inevitable so learning to anticipate, and cope, may be one of the hallmarks of a successful group.

While we never know for certain what change will look like, or when it will present itself, we can help our groups prepare for change by acknowledging how change feels to individuals. Learning to adopt skills and behaviors that offset the negative consequences of change is a hallmark of healthy organizations.

Ken Blanchard, well known management consultant, has described seven dynamics of change designed to help managers better address employee reactions to change.   The seven dynamics of change in bold below are adapted from an article by Ken Blanchard, published  in The Inside Guide, Oct., 1992.  Although Blanchard crafted these seven dynamics for a corporate environment, these same dynamics appear in nonprofit and informal organizations as well.

When confronted with change:

People will feel awkward, ill-at-ease, and self-conscious.

Change forces us into the unknown which brings up feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt and fear of failure. One of the ways that we can guard against this is by taking time to affirm the contributions and value of the organization’s members.  Periodically, take the time to name the contributions and strengths of organization. Take time to acknowledge accomplishments and celebrate milestones.  Then, when change occurs members will have a strong foundation of positive affirmations to help balance the dis-ease of change.

People initially focus on what they have to give up.

A capable leader  knows that when presenting an impending change it is a good idea to lead with some of the advantages and opportunities presented by the change. This does not mean that we can avoid the negative impactsjust that the focus should be balanced.

People will feel alone even if everyone else is going through the same change.

The Board or the leaders of the organization can mitigate this by creating opportunities for people to share what they are feeling with others. It is also useful to repeat that no one is alone in this, that the group members will have the support of one another.

People can handle only so much.

Whenever possible avoid heaping on more change during an already turbulent time. The effects of change accumulate and create stress and tension. In the face of a significant change (change in staffing, funding cuts, mission shift, etc.) it is generally a good idea to provide the organization some calming space where members, staff and leaders can all adjust to the ‘new normal’.

People are at different levels of readiness for change.

Some individuals are naturally more accepting of change than others. And, some individuals may be experiencing changes in other aspects of their life. The cumulative stress of all the changes may cause them to react in unexpected ways.  The key to leading an organization through change is to give people outlets for expressing their feelings, providing opportunities for dialog, and continuing to acknowledge that  the range of emotions to be expected.

People will be concerned that they don’t have enough resources.

This is another opportunity for the leaders to assure the group that the necessary resources will be available. One of the benefits of change might be that new resource opportunities open up. Try to keep the messages positive, honest, and clear.

If the pressure to change is removed, people will revert back to their old behavior.

In the middle of a chaotic period there often comes a time when it seems like giving up is the best solution. Rarely is this a good idea. Not only will people revert back to the old familiar behavior but that behavior will become even more entrenched and the effort required to change it will increase dramatically.

Getting Heard Requires Skill and Practice

Posted: July 8th, 2011 by capacity

Like most natural introverts, I really hate speaking in a group settings. So much so that, for years, I let my reluctance keep me from participating in important conversations, voicing good ideas and asking some important questions. Then I decided that my ideas and contributions were as good as a lot of the stuff I was hearing from others so I started to practice the art of speaking up!

It turns out that simply giving voice to an idea is not enough. People dismiss what you say, talk over the top of you, interrupt you and sometimes just ignore what you’ve said completely. Not fun.

So, I read up on communication skills, took a public speaking class and now…Well I like to think that I’ve learned to be an assertive communicator. I still don’t like it but if I can do it so can you…

Here are a couple of my favorite tips to help you become a more effective communicator—whether you’re at a town meeting, a committee meeting, or at the family dinner table.

  • Make sure you have the attention of the person you’re speaking to. Eye contact is important. Before you begin, wait a few seconds until everyone is paying attention, then begin.
  • Be clear and to the point. Avoid rambling; telling long stories; or getting off track.  If  you find yourself doing this because you’re nervous then try practicing what you want to say ahead of time. Jot down your major points before you begin.
  • Use “I” statements to explain what you want. For example, instead of saying “We should ….” try “I would like us to…” instead.
  • Likewise, avoid “you” messages—they can make people angry and defensive. For example, “You make me so mad when you…” or “why are you always late…” are statements that should be re-framed before being said out loud.
  • Avoid the ‘set-up’ response…This happens when you begin a statement with an assumption about how your listener will respond. For example, “I know you don’t want to hear  this…” or “This is probably going to make you mad…” will program your listener to react negatively to whatever you’re saying. Leaving these set-ups out will greatly improve how others respond to you.
  • Stay away from words that are ambiguous, easily dismissed or misunderstood. For example, words like “should”, “could”, “might”, and “maybe” and phrases like “in a few weeks” or “later” or “some other time” leave the listener wide open to interpret what you said in a very different way than what you meant. Don’t be afraid to use strong statements like, “I want”, “I expect”, and “before the next meeting” or “I’d like to set a date now”.
  • When tempers get lost—communication goes nowhere. If you’re feeling very angry or frustrated—take a break, leave the conversation. Come back when you’re able to frame what you want to say in a clear and focused way. Losing control will not help you get your message across—it will only frighten and alienate your listeners.

Like most things in life these tips don’t come with guarantees—sometimes communication goes wrong no matter how hard you work at it. And the truth is that some people just don’t want to listen. The strategies I outlined above work for me but you might have other tips that work for you. If so, I hope you’ll share them here. Practice does help –and we all have to work at being better at speaking, and listening, everyday in all of our relations.


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