The only guy I met

The other day I took about eight boxes of books and clothes to the Salvation Army, part of a (meant to be) biannual, you-ever-going-to-wear-this-again? ritual that I talked about here.

I have to admit, there’s so much inertia around getting this done that when I get enough momentum to go through my closet, pack up clothes, and get out of the house, I don’t stop to ask whether the Salvation Army or Goodwill or anywhere else is the most efficient place to give things away.  I just assume that stuff that I drop off at the local Salvation Army eventually ends up in the hands of the people who need it.  Trust in a brand, through and through.

My local Salvation Army is an ominous, somewhat murky place: a giant, brick, 1930s warehouse with a single door leading to a small room with one small desk.  The only other door opens to a giant room filled with trash bags of dropped-off, donated stuff.

The giant room is enough to raise some questions: how long do these clothes sit here?  Do they end up in the right hands?

I should find out more, to be sure.  But I haven’t and I don’t, yet I still end up feeling like things are going to be OK.  Here’s why:  the guy who mans that tiny front desk where I drop off the clothes is such an obviously compassionate, serious, considered person – and this comes across so readily in even a short interaction with him – that I’m left with a sense of confidence.

Specifically, I think, “if he’s here manning this ship, then he’s made a decision based on a lot more information than I’ll be able to get easily”  Barring my own opportunity to really dig in and learn more, I’m going to trust this decision of his as proxy for my own due diligence.

To me, on this day, this guy was the whole story.  He was the only guy I met, and he is the Salvation Army to me, just like the Zappo’s Customer Loyalty Team is Zappos to their customers (and if you haven’t seen this New Yorker article on Zappos, it’s worth the read).  In fact, Zappo’s CEO Tony Hsieh doesn’t even care much about shoes, he cares about culture and about the consumer’s experience.

If this is right – if for most of the people most of the time, their experience of the organization is about the one person they meet – tell me again, what’s the desired profile of people who serve on the front lines in your organization (your delivery people, your teachers, your CSR reps, your repairmen and women, your fundraisers)? How important are these roles?  What’s their status within your organization?

Is there a single reason why you’d want these folks to be anything other than  your best, brightest, blow-me-out-of-the-water, if-you-work-here-it-must-be-great, people?

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3 thoughts on “The only guy I met

  1. Reminds me of what I heard recently:
    “The most important person at your nonprofit is the person who answers the phone, they set the tone, talk to everyone (from happy to upset) and make that personal connection”
    True! The person at the front desk and the person answering the phone. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Sacha – thank you for posting about your positive experience with The Salvation Army!

    The man at the little desk was most likely a member of the drug and alcohol program that is funded by the sale of items YOU donate to that thrift store.

    It sounds to me like this man has the big picture. He knows that folks give the Army stuff that creates the revenue which allows him and others to participate in a no-cost program. His experience at that desk is good for him and thankfully, was good for you too.

    Thanks for being willing to write about it.

    With your permission, I’d like to link to it from The Salvation Army’s Expect Change blog later this week. Hope that’s okay.

    Kathy Lovin

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