Facilitation and Events

When to Hire an Outside Facilitator

The cost and benefit analysis of hiring outside help

facilitation richmond virginia consulting

How many times have you been in the following situation? You attended a meeting to address an important and time sensitive question, opportunity, or crisis. The meeting ran over 2 hours, there were multiple points during the meeting where you literally had no idea what was happening, your stomach was twisting in hunger, you felt totally depleted, and worst of all there was no resolution.

I’ve been involved with nonprofit and community work for many years, and I can tell you that I’ve been there. Many times. Actually, when I think about the amount of time that I have spent in meetings or retreats like that I get a little twitchy. We’ve all been wasting way too much of each other’s time for the amount of important work we need to do. Our time is too valuable to not make the most of our precious time together.

5 Key Questions

When you are charged with pulling together a meeting, a retreat, or an important conversation you should immediately ask the following questions:

  1. What is our facilitation plan?
  2. Is this conversation so juicy, important, or contested that we need to bring in an external trained facilitator to prep and lead us through the process?
  3. Does our group include people that need extra support to ensure they reach their optimal level of productivity?
  4. Is it in the organization’s best interest that everyone be fully present in the meeting, making it unreasonable to expect someone internally to take on a facilitation role?
  5. It is disadvantageous to have someone so close to the issue or decision leading the conversation – are they able to lead without bias?

The role of a facilitator is larger than simply making sure the group moves through the agenda in a timely way. A good facilitator will anticipate rough spots in your proposed agenda and craft an agenda that’s responsive to the needs and cultural norms of the group. They will pick up on the emotions and body expressions of the people who may or may not speak up when asked. Most importantly, a good facilitator will make sure you take breaks, press through the difficult conversations, and keep your eye on the purpose of your meeting.

I get it, facilitators cost money, and sometimes you feel like they will be more work than they are worth. But we all know a meeting gone awry can end up taking on a life of its own and it takes an unreasonable amount of time to recover and get back on track. Investing in a trained, outside facilitator is one of the best ways to say, “Your time is valuable and it’s important to this organization/company that we use it wisely. We know when we are able to harness this group’s very best thinking and ideas our work benefits.”

If you have a stressful or really important meeting coming up, and think you could benefit from an outside facilitator, we are comfortable navigating the hard conversations.  We can even make them fun and creative if that feels appropriate.

And we always promise to end the meeting on time. 

Fix it, Give Advice, or Listen - The Communication Acts of Problem Solving

In every self-assessment tool I have ever completed I have gotten feedback on my proclivity toward fixing. Bring me a problem and I will immediately brainstorm a list of solutions. This is at times amazing and at times very frustrating for those I work for, with, and my family. I have worked on self-awareness around this, especially since my day-to-day job as a strategist and visionary puts me in the problem solving mode very often. 

Last week we worked with Hanover Safe Place as part of a multi-phase project to identify opportunities to improve their internal culture and manage the assets and issues that come with rapid growth. As part of that process we talked about communication styles and our own self-awareness around managing conflict and diverse opinions. I disclosed to the group my natural problem-solving state and we brainstormed ways to work with people whose default is one of the three major styles to problem-solving. 

When a co-worker, child, or partner brings you a problem, take a moment and ask: 

  1. Do you want me to listen to you?
  2. Do you want me to help brainstorm a solution?
  3. Do you want my advice? 

I instituted this a few months ago at home and my 8 year old and my partner both noticed immediately and took a huge breath and picked what they needed. This was a wonderful moment of clarity for them and I ended up feeling much more helpful in the end. They both have come to me with different issues and chosen direct paths. But the magic is that I could give them exactly what they needed in the moment. 

I challenge you to try this at work and at home and see how it goes. 


Nonprofit Execs: Don’t Forget About Your People

The Spark Mill is dedicated to nonprofit sustainability. We understand that while mission and impact are the heart and soul of a nonprofit, there are many integral parts behind the scenes that make the magic happen.  Beyond defining your mission and establishing metrics to measure your impact, it is essential that you nurture your people. Yes, your people are your volunteers, donors and supporters, but your people are first and foremost your staff.

The hardworking nonprofiteer that is daily putting your mission into action – teaching parents financial literacy, educating teens on healthy lifestyle choices, providing meals to hungry children, answering phones, or writing grants. And yet, many nonprofit executives neglect or lack any formal strategic talent development or career progression plan for their staff – and to their loss:

  • Development attracts and retains – employees will stay longer, saving on expenses related to turnover and loss of productivity.
  • Development increases performance – employees will contribute more and in different ways.
  • Development boosts morale and engagement – a key performance indicator for organizational success.

Locally, we have an amazing resource!  YNPN RVA seeks to fulfill the professional development and leadership void experienced by young and early career nonprofit professional by providing them with:

  • a better understanding of the nonprofit sector in which they work
  • connections to peers and seasoned professionals
  • career planning and advancement insights
  • resources and tools to develop as a professional

We recently loved being at YNPN RVA’s Ask an Expert Social on Thursday April 27th from 5:30-7:30pm at Triple Crossing Brewery in Fulton.

YNPN RVA, powered by ConnectVA, is the local chapter of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network that works to promote an efficient, viable, and inclusive nonprofit sector that supports the growth, learning, and development of the young and early-career professionals.  These are all attributes that The Spark Mill values, which is why we were excited to support and participate in this event.  

Check them out for more information. 

240 Volunteers and 160 nonprofits: Powering Good in Richmond

#RVA Celebrates National Volunteer Week

RVA area, you guys are so awesome!  As The Spark Mill and HandsOn Greater Richmond prepare to host our fourth annual Power of Good celebration in honor of National Volunteer Week – we are super excited to announce that we received nominations for 240 volunteers representing over 150 organizations!  Among the many incredible words used to describe these dedicated volunteers, were these fun ones:  “She is a powerhouse.” “She oozes gregariousness.” “He has SUPER powers!” “They have an unbridled passion for giving back to RVA.” 

Please take a minute to soak in all of the names of the people out there powering good in our community.  If you see someone you know, send them a note or tag them on social media – tell them congrats, or better yet, tell them, “Thank You.”   

  • Aaliyah Love
  • Adrienne Piazza
  • Alexander Cena
  • Alicia Meyer
  • Alicia Roberts
  • Alison Jones-Nassar
  • Allison Wilmoth
  • Ally Turner
  • Alyse Marshall-Auernheimer
  • Amber Hamrick
  • Amulya Chowdhory
  • Andre Spencer
  • Andy Creery
  • Andy Inge
  • Anetria Smith
  • Ann Bufford
  • Ann Marie Baker
  • Anna Creech
  • Atul Chowdhory
  • Barbara Bancroft
  • Barbara Ozlin
  • Barbara Roe
  • Barry Barnette
  • Becky Garten
  • Bev Koerin
  • Bev Pettway
  • Blair Worden
  • Bob Roe
  • Bob Argabright
  • Bree B
  • Brittany Nicholson
  • Bruno Welsh
  • Caitlin Lange
  • Caitlin Minnick
  • Cameron Robinson
  • Candace Nicolls
  • Carol Gay
  • Carol Wolf
  • Carolyn Turner
  • Carolynn Dallas
  • Carrie Evelyn
  • Casey Dokoupil
  • Catherine Hendrick
  • Catherine Lukhard
  • Charles Holland
  • Charlie Connell
  • Chelsea Wise
  • Chris Bernhardt
  • Chris Emond
  • Chris Newhouse
  • Chris Romero
  • Christine Hale
  • Christopher Lee
  • Ciara Bailey
  • Clay Hilbert
  • Cole Hammack
  • Corbin Neuner
  • Cory Jones
  • Courtney Owens
  • Crystal Steele
  • Crystal Stovall
  • Damoneke Harper
  • Dana Clark
  • Dave Chilton
  • Dave McCoy
  • Dave Parrish
  • David Crites
  • David Donnick
  • David Harry
  • David LeFebvre
  • David Shuford
  • Dayna Cobb
  • Dayton Steele
  • Derek Toro
  • Devin Keeler
  • Devin Pope
  • Dionna Gibson
  • Doris Brody
  • Dotty Albro
  • Doug Mann
  • Duane Williams
  • Eileen Cowdery
  • Elle Street
  • Emily Ashcraft
  • Emmanuel Cudjoe Jr.
  • Eric Butterfield
  • Erin Wischer
  • Finn Bradley
  • Frances Marquez
  • George Grant
  • Gina Cowles
  • Gladys Balcarcel
  • Grace Gallagher
  • Granville Burruss
  • Gwynne Teass
  • Harry Samuels
  • Heather Ashton
  • Heather Myers
  • Heilbron Rushing-Cooper
  • Helen Trevey
  • Holly Gordon
  • Iman Shabazz
  • India Fleming-Klink
  • Rev. Inho Kang
  • Jacobi Harris
  • Jake Savage
  • James Mcdonald
  • James Williams
  • Jane Leonard
  • Jane Wynn
  • Jaquilla Wright
  • Jay Swedenborg
  • Jeni Shaffer
  • Jennifer Tompkins
  • Jessica Nadel
  • Jessica Puljan
  • Jill Lemon
  • Jill Magruder
  • Joann Arnes
  • Jodi Beland
  • Joe Williams
  • John Cario
  • John Sebastian
  • Jonathan Tromsell
  • Jourdan James
  • Juanita Armistead
  • Juliana Haines
  • Kai Banks
  • Kaitlin Taylor
  • Karen Holyer
  • Karen Mitchell
  • Katherine Rivara
  • Kathleen Wright
  • Kathy Hernandez
  • Katie Roemer
  • Katy Rugg
  • Kellie Hilb
  • Kelly Daniels
  • Ken Weber
  • Kendra Norrell
  • Kim Barrow
  • Kim Blanchard
  • Kim Loehr
  • Kimberly Kimball
  • Kirk Millikan
  • Kris Folgner
  • Krisitn Butterworth
  • Krista Boucher
  • LaDel McNair
  • Lariza Rife
  • Laura Davidson
  • Laura Harrison
  • Linda Handzo
  • Linda Huennekens
  • Lisa Coates
  • Lisa Hedrick
  • Liz Cramer
  • Liz Dorr
  • Liz Lungut
  • Liz Nigro
  • Liz Whalley-Buono
  • Lori Humrich
  • Lou Anne Tiller
  • Lu Roberts
  • Marie Sicola
  • Marshall Adzima
  • Martha Tyler
  • Marvin Kibler
  • Mary Lloyd Parks
  • Mason Hearn
  • Michael Herring
  • Michael Lee
  • Michael Zohab
  • Michele Jones
  • Michelle Payne
  • Michelle Rollins
  • Mike Lee
  • Mike Levina
  • Minister Margie Bell
  • Miriam Davidow
  • Miriam Farris
  • Mishawn Glover
  • Monroe Hill
  • Morena Phillips
  • Morgan Turner
  • Mrs. Greer
  • My Nguyen
  • Nana Korantemah Pierce Williams
  • Nancy DeNoia
  • Nancy Malatesta
  • Nathalia Artus
  • Nequa Griffin
  • Nicky Conyers
  • Page Luxmoor
  • Patricia Winfree
  • Patrick Clapp
  • Paula Demmert
  • Pauletta Ruffin
  • Pete DeWorken
  • Phuong Tran
  • Rachel Douglas
  • Rachel Leyco
  • Rachel Loughlin
  • Ram Bhagat
  • Randy Minor
  • Rebecca Desmond
  • Regan Gifford
  • Ricky Hewitt
  • Robin Jackson
  • Rodney Steppe
  • Russell Flammia
  • Ruth Neimaseck
  • Ryan Rinn
  • Sandy Reynolds
  • Sarah Gibson
  • Sarah Wilson
  • Scott Garnett
  • Sean Cannon
  • Shelley Jewel
  • Shelly Bowman
  • Soliel Paden
  • Susan Ellett
  • Susan Farris
  • Taliah Muhammad
  • Taylor Keeney
  • Theola McNeill
  • Theresa Kluck
  • Tia Redd
  • Tim Reagan
  • Tommy Broughton
  • Toni Sanders
  • Travis Garlock
  • Tyler Ames
  • Tyrone Cherry
  • Vaughan Alexander
  • Viju Singh
  • Vlodek Gabara
  • Wanda Rackley
  • Wayne Jennings
  • Zack Francis


We would also like to acknowledge the over 150 organizations who are the grateful recipients of the time of these amazing volunteers.

6 Points Innovation Center, 7 Leaders/7 Scholars-Blackwell, At Home Care Hospice, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., American Red Cross, AMP! Metro Richmond, ART 180, Art on Wheels, Association for Black Social Workers, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, Bikers for Christ, Blackwell Hearts, Blue Sky Fund, Bridging RVA, Building a Better RPS, C3, Cameron Gallagher Foundation, Capital Region Collaborative, CARITAS Furniture Bank, CARITAS Works, Carver Promise, ChamberRVA, Chesterfield County Public Schools, Chesterfield County Safe Task Force, ChildSavers, CHIP of Virginia, Chippenham Hospital, Chrysalis Institute, Church of the Epiphany, Cinderella Project, City Jail, Comfort Zone Camp, Communities In Schools of Chesterfield, Community in Schools of Richmond: (Thomas Jefferson, Bellevue Elementary School, Miles Jones Elementary, Elizabeth D. Redd, J.L. Francis Elementary, GH Reid Elementary, GW Carver Elementary School, Henderson Middle School, Overby-Sheppard Elementary School, George Mason Elementary, Armstrong, Woodville Elementary), Compost RVA, Connect VA, Connecting Hearts VA, Creative Mornings RVA, CrossOver Healthcare Ministry, Delta Sigma Theta, Diversity Richmond, Drums No Guns, Family Lifeline, FeastRVA, Feed the Streets RVA, FeedMore, FeedMore’s Meals on Wheels, Friends Association, Gayton Baptist Church, Gayton Food Pantry, Ginter Urban Gardeners (BeautifulRVA), Girl Power Grants, Girls for a Change, Great Women of RVA, Groundworks RVA, HandsOn Greater Richmond, Happy Camper Productions, Health Brigade, Higher Achievement, Hindu Center of Virginia, Historic Jackson Ward Association, Hopeful Life LLC, Action Alliance, Housing Families First, IAVA, Impact 100 Richmond, Interact Club, James River Park System, Jewish Family Services, Junior Achievement, Ladies of Grace, Law Enforcement Torch Run, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, Lions Club, Lunch Date with the Future, McDonough Community Garden, MCV Foundation, MCV Pharmacy Board, Mended Hearts Chapter 28, Metro Richmond Area Young Democrats, MICAH Initiative, Mission Tomorrow, MLK Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond, Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, NAACP, NAMI Virginia (National Alliance on Mental Illness of Virginia), Neighborhood Resource Center of Greater Fulton, New Virginia Majority, NRV, Nurture, Order of the Easter Star, Owl Orchard Community Garden, Petersburg League of Urban Growers (PLUG), Powhatan Lion's Club, project:HOMES, Quin Rivers, Rebuilding Together Richmond, Renew Richmond, Richmond Animal League, Richmond Business and Economic Development Task Force, Richmond Choral Society, Richmond Cycling Corps, Richmond Earth Day, Richmond Folk Festival, Richmond Grows Gardens, Richmond Jewish Coalition for Literacy, Richmond Peace Education Center, Richmond Public Schools, Richmond Public Schools Free Teacher Supply Store, Richmond Ultimate, Richmond Volleyball Club, Richmond Women’s March on Washington March, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Richmond, Rotary Club, RVA Clean Sweep, Saving Our Youth VA, SCAN, School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community (SPARC), Senior Connections, Side by Side (formerly ROSMY), Special Olympics Virginia, Sports Backers – Fitness Warrior, St. Francis Care Fund, St. Matthew's Food Pantry, St. Andrew's School, St. Edward Catholic Church, St. Gabriel’s Catholic Church, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Storefront for Community Design, Swansboro Civic Association, Swansboro Community Garden, Sylvia's Sisters, The Community Foundation, The Conciliation Project, The READ Center, The Virginia Home, Thomas Jefferson High School Mentoring Program, TJ Viking Fund, Tricycle Gardens, Trinity Lutheran Church, University of Richmond - Pi Beta Phi Sorority Inc., University of Richmond Bonner Center for Civic Engagement, VA Center for Health Innovation, VAFRE, VCU ASPiRE, VIIF, Virginia Council of CEOs, Virginia Green Travel Alliance, Virginia Housing Society, Virginia League for Planned Parenthood, Virginia Pride, Virginia Recovery Foundation, Virginia Supportive Housing, Westover Hills Community Garden, Wine Women and Shoes - Bon Secours for Forensic Nurses, WRIR 97.3 FM Richmond Independent Radio, YNPN, YWCA Richmond (Greater Richmond Regional Hotline, The Sprout School).

On behalf of The Spark Mill and HandsOn we offer a tremendous THANK YOU to everyone listed above and to everyone else that shows up every day to make a difference throughout the greater Richmond area.  We look forward to celebrating you April 19th!

Excellence Matters - What little things Can You do that will Make a Big Difference

This past month I've been getting estimates to do some work on our home. It's been an interesting experience.  We contacted several contractors and scheduled appointments to come out and give us estimates.  Two of them never showed up!  My wife and I initiated contact. We agreed upon a common date and time with the service providers.  They didn’t show up.

Not even a phone call.

When I called to see if they were coming (giving them the benefit of the doubt) one apologetically rescheduled and the other never called back. That was NOT an excellent experience.  Quite the opposite!

Contrast that with an experience we had with a pediatric dentist recently.  Our son had to have some dental work done.  It took about 90 minutes.  No fun for the little guy, but he  survived.   That evening about 6:00, the phone rang - it was the dentist calling to check in on our son.   He didn’t have to do that.  We weren’t expecting it - yet that dentist showed up.  That was an excellent experience.

Excellence is not about being perfect.  Excellence is about showing up.  Excellence is rooted in consistently doing small things well over time.  Returning phone calls, meeting deadlines, or when you can’t meet an agreed upon deadline, following up to renegotiate a new one. That dentist's unsolicited and unexpected phone call made an ordinary experience an excellent one.  Small things consistently done well over time.

I am a firm believer that we can embed excellence in our organizations and experiences by consistently doing small things well over time.  Like the dentist, we can act with intentionality and do the small things like a 2 minute phone call and show a desire for excellence.  Excellence occurs when we "show up" consistently, each day in our interactions with our clients, customers, service providers, employees, etc.

What are the small ways that you are consistently "showing up" with your stakeholders creating value and excellence for your organization and for them?


I remain a firm believer that “nonprofits can and do change the world.”  I also believe they couldn’t do it without volunteers.  That is why I am so excited to announce that The Spark Mill is again partnering with HandsOn Greater Richmond for the fourth annual Power of Good to celebrate National Volunteer Week.  This is our way of saying a great big THANK YOU to every single person who shows up and gives their time to make our community a better place.  We can’t properly thank everyone if we don’t know who they are!  So…we are relying on you – yes YOU - to tell us who is making a difference out there. 

  • Nonprofit Executive Directors, Volunteer Coordinators, program heads, and employees:  tell us who is showing up! 
  • Churches: whose name is always on the sign-up lists?
  • Parents:  do you have a child that loves helping others?
  • Friends/Family:  tell us about that friend of yours that is always donating their time.  

This is a chance to let your favorite volunteers know how important they are to you, and for our community see how important all of our volunteers are to making things tick around here.


Nominate a volunteer. I cannot explain to you how it can make their entire year to be recognized for their work. Whether they are a board member, an office volunteer, a tireless advocate - take 5 minutes to say thank you, right here on our nomination form.  Heck, nominate 20!  From March 1 – March 31st we will be accepting nominations of volunteers throughout the region.  The nomination is simple, we require some basic information and the answer to the following question: “How do they power good in our community?”


In case you’ve missed it, the past three years have been full of creativity and art and fun and a little wine…as we partnered with local artists to celebrate some of the nominees – 2014 Tiffany Glass Ferreira transformed a selected group into Shrinky Dink Selfies.  In 2015 Patience Salgado presented a photographic documentary of 10 randomly selected nominees and local RVA area artists donated works as part of a silent auction benefiting HandsOn Greater Richmond and all of the fabulous work they do with volunteers throughout the metro Richmond area.  In 2016 we ran a social media based recognition where over 70 volunteers were lifted up and shouted out for the important work they do to power good in the community.


Join us for a big party at The Spark Mill on April 19, 2017 from 4:30-6:30. REGISTER HERE. Come play with polaroids, eat good food, and come together and say THANK YOU! Stay tuned for more information. 


You Don't Have to Be Big to Think Big: Strategic Planning for Small Churches

Church Strategic Planning Richmond Va

We've said this before and believe it is worth repeating: You don’t have to BE big to think big.  Just ask Belmont United Methodist Church. Belmont is not a “big" church, they don't have a big budget, and yet...Belmont is making a big impact transforming lives in south Richmond. One example - each Friday Belmont UMC opens its doors to host up to 400 people for a food pantry.  Of course, it's about more than giving food.  They are sharing hope with people who may not have a lot of it otherwise.  They are building community.  That’s big.

In January, I had the privilege of spending a day with Belmont's leadership council for a strategic planning retreat.  Their passion for their community was truly inspiring.  As they confronted the challenging economic, political, and geographic realities of their community, Belmont's commitment and passion to faithful action with their community never wavered.   That’s big.

During the day, I asked their team a question:  "If Belmont achieved its vision and you were in a hot air balloon looking down at your community, what would you see?"  The leadership of Belmont dreamed together, and  envisioned, "sidewalks filled with people in conversation", "children outside playing", and "everyone having enough of what they need.”  They were describing a picture of a community made whole.  That’s big.

The people of Belmont church were envisioning how they can be a part of bringing hope, healing, and stability to a community that struggles with poverty, crime, and fear.  Each Friday morning as people gather for the food pantry there is no "us" and "them," it’s a community gathering to experience the fruit of big ideas lived out in focused mission. That’s big.

Belmont UMC's determination to think and act big is helping change lives in the community. It was my pleasure to walk them through this collaborative process and I can't wait to watch them nail their plan.