A place for expanded conversation on topics of interest to Friendship Force International clubs and members

Friday, November 4, 2016

Board of Directors Meeting Wrap-Up

Dear Friendship Force Clubs and Members,

Ahead of a more formal year-end review, I wanted to share a summary of the most recent Board of Directors meeting that took place here in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, from October 14-17.  This was our second meeting together since I began at FFI, and it offered both the Board and myself the opportunity to take stock of our accomplishments this past year and what needs our attention moving forward.

Jeremi with Loes Epping and Bob Duncan
Before I share some of the highlights, it is important that we acknowledge three dedicated Board Members whose terms end this year; Viv Caulfield from Australia, Loes Epping from the Netherlands and Dave Kalan from the United States.  Thank you for all you have done these past few years to help move Friendship Force forward!

2017 marks the beginning of our 40th anniversary celebrations and with this comes a defining opportunity for the organization.  Not only will we be celebrating four decades of international friendship, but also a vision that will carry us forward.

Jeremi with Dave Kalan and Bob Duncan

At the World Conference in Morocco this past September, I began to outline this vision, but the critical step of endorsing, approving and committing to this vision was still needed by the Board of Directors.  A step, I am pleased to report, that was ambitiously and unanimously taken at the meeting together!

Details will be shared over the next several months but for now, here is a summary:

  • The Board accepted a comprehensive report on the efforts underway to strengthen clubs and club membership through stronger international marketing, public relations, and communications.
  • The Board unanimously supported developing opportunities for youth, family and individuals to join us in eliminating the barriers that separate people.
  • The Board approved raising the recommended host fees from $100 to $150 USD in the Policies and Guidelines for Clubs and Exchanges.
  • The Board unanimously endorsed the concept of establishing a global membership option for those individuals who do not have access to a local club.
  • The Board endorsed the recommendation by the Fund Development Committee to launch a fundraising campaign that will coincide with our 40th anniversary.

Extensive conversation and research has accompanied each of these decisions, and we will continue to share further updates and announcements in future communications. For now, let us begin the work of celebrating the important role Friendship Force has played in the world these past 40 years.

Jeremi, Viv Caulfield, and Bob Duncan
More to come!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Guest Post: Programs Staff Update, by Matthew Nidek, FFI Director of Operations

Hello (and Kia Ora!)

It is an absolute pleasure to write to you now as the Director of Operations of FFI. In addition to looking after the Program Services Department, I now have more input and collaboration with our finance, marketing and communications, and Information Technology teams. I have fully embraced my new responsibilities here, and I’m thrilled to take part in helping our organization thrive as we enter into our 40th anniversary celebrations next year. There is so much going on, and I’m excited to share some of the news with you.
Matthew Nidek
FFI Director of Operations
FFI Programs staff have gone through quite a lot of changes over the last few months. As we shared last month, Kaitlyn Ranney has taken on the position of Director of Marketing and Communications, and Laura Romero has assumed the role of IT Manager in addition to her support duties for Latin America. Amidst these changes, FFI Headquarters took the opportunity to change the Program Manager role responsibilities and name, as well as hire new staff who live in the regions where they offer club support.

Program Managers are now Regional Support Managers
This name is changing in an attempt to better reflect the function of the Friendship Force headquarters position for clubs, members, board and outside constituents.  
  • Regional suggests that the position is charged with a specific region or group of countries.
  • Support describes the function of the position in relation to clubs and members in that region.
  • Manager reflects the coordination and management responsibilities for this region.

By bringing together the functions of exchange management, exchange planning, club development and club support for a specific country or region, the Regional Support Manager (RSM) is better able to assess the needs of the region.  In this way, the RSM is responsible for their region in its entirety. The Regional Support Manager also becomes the knowledge expert for that region bringing forth both verbal and written reports that provides a comprehensive assessment of the health of the Friendship Force network for that region.  

Welcoming New Staff
Filling these newly opened positions sure wasn’t easy! But we have found three people, Valerie Malfara, Kerstin Hogan, and Hemily Nogueira who are going to do a fantastic job! You can read more about their backgrounds on our website bio page here.

New position for Allison Lindsey, Senior Regional Support Manager
Long time employee, Allison Lindsey, was recently appointed the Senior Regional Support Manager position to recognize her long-term support and institutional knowledge. Many of you, I’m sure, have had the pleasure to work with Allison over the years. Allison will be available to provide help and advice for members and staff. She is also going to be the main contact person at FFI Headquarters for all Canadian and U.S. clubs. We are particularly excited about our U.S. members now having a main contact person at FFI, and that it’s our highly experienced and knowledgeable staff member!

You can find a full listing of club support roles here.

As always, please feel free to email me with any questions or comments you may have. I am looking forward to continuing working with and for you!

Matthew Nidek
Director of Operations
Friendship Force International

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Mid-Year Message to the Membership

Dear Friendship Force International,

It is hard to believe I have only been working with you for eight months.  This feeling is partly due to the many exciting projects currently underway that have consumed my time. But although it was my first time traveling to visit Friendship Force clubs around the world, I feel as though I've known you for years. This is something that many of you have experienced many times and it is, simply put, the power of the Friendship Force!

In addition to the  generosity of so many members who financially supported the “I’m In” campaign for a new database and website, you’ve also given hundreds of hours through leading exchanges, served as a club officer and experimented with new ideas and approaches to our mission.  When someone recently asked me what the biggest take-away has been since joining Friendship Force, I immediately pointed to the deep-seated passion of our members, in wanting to see a world transformed through citizen ambassadorship.

A tremendous amount of work is currently underway to promote the mission of Friendship Force, starting with the website, but continuing with a significant re-investment in marketing and communications. Much of this will be shared in greater detail at the World Conference in Morocco this September.  But connected to this work is a strong conviction about where we need to go as an organization.  How do we open our mission up to more people? How else might we realize success in our mission? In a world still full of division, where can Friendship Force do the most good?

Henry Ford once said, “if everyone is moving forward together, then success will take care of itself.”  We have a bright future ahead and much important work to do.  Thank you for serving as citizen ambassadors.  Thank you for making a difference in the world.

In friendship,

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Power of Friendship

“As a member of the Friendship Force, I recognize that I can make a difference. I recognize that I have a mission. That mission is to be a friend to the people of the world. As I embark upon this adventure, I know that others will be watching me. I know that through my example to my fellow citizens and the people of other countries, the cause of friendship and peace can be furthered.”
- The Friendship Force Pledge

Do you recognize this? Sometimes the power of the pledge that Friendship Force members have been reciting for decades gets lost to familiarity. Yet make no mistake - friendship has the power to heal our pasts, bring greater understanding to our present, and positively influence the future of our world.  

You are part of a movement to write a counter-narrative to the fear, prejudice, violence and injustice that the news industry causes us believe is now commonplace. Your stories of friendship and your everyday work of overcoming the barriers that separate us are testaments to that.  Thank you for continuing to stand for the power of friendship.


Friday, June 10, 2016

Stories of Friendship Initiative

My first genuine encounter with the Friendship Force wasn't the mission statement I read on the website, nor was it any one of the elaborate descriptions of upcoming exchanges on the online catalog. It was when one of the Board Members shared a quick story about the people they met in their traveling with the Friendship Force over the years and how their pool of friends, once small, now reached far and wide.  This encounter, reminiscent of those experienced by thousands of Friendship Force members, helps codify for me the nearly palpable power of our mission in action.

Fulbright Scholar and renowned professor of storytelling Robert McKee once said, "Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today."  The idea that it is our similarities, not our differences, that bring us together is only validated with the personal stories we tell of our own experiences.

First Story of Friendship Submission
February 2016
Friendship Force has a long and wonderful history of facilitating these kind of experiences for countless individuals around the world.  As we look to the future of Friendship Force and for ways to share the good work of our organization I challenge you to ask yourself, "Is it time for me to share one of my stories?"

Friendship Force International's Stories of Friendship initiative has already brought in dozens of stories, but one story is still missing: yours. So, please - share it with us today.

Visit www.storiesoffriendship.org

Friday, April 22, 2016

Bigger and Better: World Conferences Go Every Other Year

One of the decisions that came out of the International Board of Directors meeting this past March was the unanimous approval for the World Conference to take place every other year. After the 2017 World Conference in Manchester, England, the next will be held in 2019. This change has been discussed for many years and is already being welcomed as a long-overdue adjustment by several clubs as they look for ways to improve the quality and attendance at their regional conferences.

Background: It has always been a struggle to fill our World Conferences to capacity. Full conferences such as those in Washington, D.C. in 2010, New Orleans in 2013, and Vancouver in 2015 are the exception. Most years we have as many as 100 spaces left available to sell, which amounts to lost revenue for FFI, not just in terms of conference fees, but also the cost involved with planning the conference. These empty seats also mean lost opportunities to share with, educate, and learn from our attendees.

Does having the World Conference every year spread us (and our attendees) too thin financially and dilute the conference’s appeal? At FFI we’ve been asking this question for a few years now, and we’ve toyed with the idea of having it in alternate years. Now, as we approach our 40th anniversary year, the time seems right for this change.

Having the FFI World Conference every other year should allow us to:

  1. build anticipation with a longer break between conferences
  2. provide more calendar room for members to participate in regional conferences and events
  3. plan a bigger and different kind of conference with more to offer
  4. attract more attendees
  5. reduce planning costs
  6. have time to implement changes based on feedback from the previous conference
  7. organize a smaller, different event in non-conference years
The importance of the events planned for 2018 and in subsequent “non-conference” years cannot be understated. These respites from World Conference preparation gives all of Friendship Force an opportunity to plan a slightly smaller, alternative event, such as a friendship festival or development project that aims to enhance our mission and progress in some way.

As we institute this change, we want to hear from you! What would you like to see at future World Conferences? What events might you like to see in the non-conference years?

Feel free to submit your comment below!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Estimados amigos de Perú

En el viaje de regreso a Georgia tuve tiempo suficiente para pensar en mi breve pero memorable primer visita  como Presidente a su hermoso país. Yo no debería estar sorprendido, pero me conmovió el cuidado y la atención que cada uno de ustedes tuvo para lograr el éxito de su convención anual.

Vicenta Molina, wife of founder of Lima Club
Tour of Huaca Pucllana in Miraflores
Lunch with conference participants
Cada club de Friendship Force contribuye de forma única con el poder y la voz de nuestra misión; y Perú no se queda atrás. Quedó claro en la convención de que no sólo hay un deseo sincero sobre el éxito de los clubes en diferentes partes del país, sino también desarrollar actividades más significativas que mantengan a la Familia de Friendship Force más inspirados y llenos de energía al nivel local. Tengan la seguridad de que sus ideas, las cuales compartieron conmigo durante la convención serán compartidas con otros en mis conversaciones.
Laura compartió con ustedes nuestras prioridades: la estabilización de la sede, la  implementación del plan estratégico y mejorar nuestra comunicación. Estas prioridades son muy importantes pero no tan importante, como la construcción de nuevas amistades que amplían nuestra comprensión del mundo; Ustedes hicieron eso conmigo, y es un honor para mi hacer nuevos amigos.
Estaré respondiendo a sus conclusiones en las próximas semanas, y por supuesto me dará mucho gusto verlos a todos en el futuro!

En Amistad.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Update from Recent Board Meeting

Dear Friendship Force Club Leaders,
Earlier this month, the Friendship Force International Board of Directors met for the 76th time in our history to discuss, among regular business, the current state of the Friendship Force mission worldwide.  There is no doubt that our mission of “promoting global understanding across the barriers that separate people” continues to be an important calling for all of our clubs and members, as evidenced by the hundreds of delegations and thousands of ambassadors forging new friendships through the Friendship Force each year.  We speak for the entirety of the Board when we say we are honored to be working hand-in-hand with you as we continue to seek realization of the full potential of our mission.  Your presence was felt in every conversation and decision made throughout the weekend.
Perhaps more important than any specific decisions made throughout the weekend was the depth of the discussion around each of the topics presented.  Building on the messages about FFI’s financial position shared during the Vancouver Conference in 2015 is a heightened awareness that the decisions we make now may profoundly influence our organization’s success in the future.  To that end, there was an intentional effort to keep the long-term goals of the organization in mind while we wrestled with acute issues mostly related to our currently stable but tenuous financial position.

Bringing clarity to the Board’s role in organizational governance, as well as accountability to how we move forward, was a significant focus of the weekend's activities:

  • The Strategy Committee has been reconstructed and is now called theStrategy and Innovation Steering Committee. In addition to its original purpose of overseeing the progress of the strategic plan and its eight initiatives, this committee will also help organize and assess the impact of several pilot initiatives launched in the past 24 months.  This committee is also charged with vetting new initiatives and ensuring that the mission of Friendship Force isn’t compromised, but enhanced and strengthened by these endeavors. 
  • The Board approved the creation of a Policy Review Committee whose purpose is to work with staff in resolving several current issues related to the wording, contradictions, and general confusion around some parts of the club and exchange policies.  With the thanks to many of you for forwarding your concerns related to club policies to Jeremi, the Committee has already begun in earnest to present clarifications to the Board at their next meeting. 
  • Recognizing the need for a concerted effort to devise a fund-raising philosophy, a fund development plan, and to help align the existing Legacy Fund with the goals set forth in the Strategic Plan, the Board unanimously approved the creation of a Fund Development Committee.
 In addition to a comprehensive update on the database and website project, the Board also spoke extensively about the need to elevate worldwide awareness for the Friendship Force and about how the launch of the revised website is one such opportunity to project a refreshed presence of our organization to the world.  Presentations by FFI staff touched on ways to clean up the Friendship Force brand that will be implemented this year, as well as new communication tools currently in development to help bring the worldwide Friendship Force family a little closer together.

Over the next several months, more details and news about actions being taken by Friendship Force Board and staff will be shared.  In the meantime, and if there was one message received and reciprocated during this most recent Board meeting, we must begin to take action in 2016.

In friendship,
Jeremi Snook, CEO and Bob Duncan, Board Chair

2016 Friendship Force International Board of Directors

Friday, March 4, 2016

A Note of Thanks...

(L-R) Colin Ridge, Heather Ponder,
Jeremi Snook, Debbie Lattey, Ross Stevens
Now fully recovered from traveling, I wanted to send this open letter to all the clubs and members in New Zealand and Australia expressing my sincerest thanks and appreciation for your warm welcome and hospitality. A specific note of gratitude to both the conference organizers and attendees who made their way to New Plymouth and the Blue Mountains.  

Although both New Zealand and Australia national conferences are distinct in their own way, experienced together within a two-week spread provided for me an authentic and unique engagement with what makes Friendship Force so spectacular.  While home hosted throughout my stay in New Zealand, I had the privilege of experiencing just a taste of what hundreds of others have experienced around the world during their inaugural visits down-under - kindhearted-ness, genuineness and a keen interest in connecting and forging new relationships.  Many who met me for the first time in New Zealand know that I also brought with me a cold that took more than a few days to get over. I shook that cold off, however, (thanks to the care from so many on that trip) making room to take back with me fond memories of so many of you. The experience in the Australian Blue Mountains was no different. I will not only take with me a few new square dancing moves, but also the memory of your several stories and spirit - trademarks, I am learning, of Friendship Force members. 

I hope that all those who participated in the conferences took something back with them; I know I did. Impossible as it is to distill the experience to any single thought or nugget of wisdom, I leave you instead with a lasting impression.  After my plane departed Sydney and I looked out the window at the fading coastline, I wrote in my journal that I now fully understood what makes Friendship Force so powerful - each and every one of you!

Thank you both New Plymouth and Blue Mountain clubs for hosting outstanding conferences and for sharing your knowledge, best practices, and inspiration with all of us. 

Until we see each other again, in Friendship, 


Jeremi with FF Mount Barker, the first FF club in Australia

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Database and Website Upgrade - February Update

FFI Staff and Agency Cadre, the company contracted to do the website and database work, are working together on the information architecture and overall structure of the new website. 

A discovery and strategy workshop took place in January with the technology team, FFI staff members, Laurie-Ann Scott (Friendship Force Club Support Consultant) and Bob Duncan (Chairman of the FFI Board of Directors). The purpose of the workshop was to give our staff the opportunity to communicate the needs of the organization and our members in the new website and database and everyone felt we were successful in accomplishing that.

     FFI Staff and Agency Cadre hard at work
More information will be made available to clubs and members soon, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Database and Website Upgrade

Several club members and leaders have made inquiries into the background of the database and website replacement project that was announced during the Vancouver World Conference as the target of the "I'm In!" fundraising campaign. I thought it might be helpful to revisit and share some of the more frequent questions I've received to help clarify this topic for everyone.

What is wrong with our current database?
The current system (built over 20 years ago) is out-of-date and no longer compatible with current technology platforms. As a result, the system continuously experiences crashes and it is only a matter of time before the system fails indefinitely. The current database, called FELIX, is the information backbone for all of our exchange management and is essential for Friendship Force International (FFI) operations.

What is in place now, and what do we need to update or replace the hardware and software?

FELIX is hosted “in the cloud” by a company in Nebraska. We currently contract with them to perform the essential task of keeping the aging database up and running. For this reason, the only hardware required is a computer terminal with internet access.

The website is a slightly different story. It is hosted by the same company in Nebraska but maintained by a freelance web designer originally contracted by Friendship Force several years ago. The only interface between the website and the database is a portal that allows users to access the exchange catalog.

The future iteration of these functions, outlined in our RFP and reflected in the vendor proposal, is to bring all these systems in line with current technology. The future website will not be a stand-alone function as it is now but integrated on many levels with the new database. This is not only more efficient but will create a much more intuitive and practical user experience for members. The future database and website will reside in “the cloud” limiting our hardware requirement for it to function.

Where are we today with the project?
In September 2015, Friendship Force sent RFP's (request for proposals) to ten reputable companies in the field. The proposals received were reviewed by a contingent of staff and board, with help from experts in the field. With the board approval in December 2015, Friendship Force moved forward on January 1st with our selected vendor for the project, Agency CADRE.

What resources will be needed to professionally support the database and website after completion?
Our contracted vendor will continue to provide support to both the website and database after the launch.

What is the cost breakdown for the various components of the new system?  For some of us, $40,000 seems low for a system that achieves the goals you’ve set forth. Is this number for the entire project or for one of the phases of the total project?
As the website and database are integrated, there is no a-la-carte cost break-down for the project. It is one project. You are absolutely correct that $40,000 will not cover half the project. The fundraising amount was set by the board as an achievable goal to strive for when soliciting member support for the project.

Most of the proposals Friendship Force received were between $85,000 and $105,000, with one as high as $300,000. The proposal and company we ultimately selected was in the middle of the pack, at $98,000.

As we have shared previously, funds raised for the "I'm In!" campaign exceeded the $40,000 goal which is both a testament to the generosity of the Friendship Force family as well as a relief when considering the price-tag of the project.

Who, in our FFI organization, will be responsible for co-ordination and execution of the project?
Ana Smulski, Director of Research and Project Development, has been leading the project internally and will continue to lead the coordination and logistics of the project through development until it goes live. Agency CADRE has a very experienced team that will be working side-by-side with us. We are also fortunate to have Ed Ekis, who serves on the FFI Board of Directors, as well as myself who both have experience with these kinds of roll-outs.

How can our members be assured that the moneys that are contributed go directly to the IT upgrade project and not into the general funds?
Money dedicated to the database and website project is tracked separately from our general funds and the other Legacy Fund initiatives. Every dollar given to the website/database project is restricted for that use.

Has FFI considered the potential of crowd-sourcing sites such as GoFundMe or KickStarter?
Yes, actually. Because fund development is a focus for me and the board in 2016 I have spent some time wading through notes and ideas passed down to me in this area. There was conversation at one point about using GoFundMe for some of our fundraising initiatives. I’m not sure if it was ever actually used or successful but I agree that these are worth exploring more. I have already informed the board of my desire to create a Fund Development Committee that will consist of board members, club members and external experts. This will be the place where this idea would be explored further.

How do individuals who contribute qualify for a tax deduction?
By law and by practice, FFI should be sending thank you acknowledgement letters to everyone who gives to this campaign or any other Friendship Force fundraising effort. All money given to any non-profit like FFI is tax deductible.