It has been said of me that I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

I’ve made a living in a variety of ways in my life from working cattle on a ranch to making lumber in a sawmill. I’ve been an oilfield worker, professional photographer, carpenter, minister (20 years), realtor, developer, writer, speaker, founded an organization that empowered 120,000 volunteers to provide 20 million meals for disaster relief in Haiti and spend a great deal of my effort empowering people to feed the hungry.

I’m exactly what I want to be: curious and flexible. I leave very few stones unturned.

Learn More About Rick

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Writer and Speaker


Creating V.A.L.U.E. for Your Volunteers


It was January in Kansas in 2010, and volunteers stood in a line one-hundred yards long outside the Kansas Coliseum. As one security guard said to me, “You’d think this was a rock concert!”

It wasn’t. It was volunteers who stood in line for hours waiting to package relief meals being sent to Haiti after the earthquake. In two days, over 12,000 volunteers packaged 1.25 million meals for Haiti.

I was leading an organization that, in the first six months of 2010, engaged over 120,000 volunteers from California to Connecticut to package 20 million meals for people devastated by the earthquake. One elderly gentleman, with tears streaming down his face, thanked me as he left the arena and said to me, “I’ve never done anything that significant in my entire life.”

Since I’ve worked with volunteers for over 30 years, I came up with an acronym that helps me as I engage volunteers:

V.A.L.U.E. - Value. Affirmation. Length. Understanding. Exit.

V- Value

Did you know the IRS actually places a monetary value on your time volunteering? In Kansas, it is $17.85 an hour.

As volunteers scan the horizon looking for the right organization, they want the best bang for their buck (or their time). In the business world, it is referred to as ROI; Return on Investment. People want to know that their time spent has value.

Therefore, it’s critical that you communicate to them how valuable their involvement is to the success of your organization. What your organization does has to make the world a better place in which to live and it’s your job to let your volunteers know that.

A- Affirmation

Volunteers need a lot of attaboys or attagirls to keep them coming back for more. They need you to tell them that their work means something and is appreciated. Pass out compliments and gratitude as often as you can. Find simple ways to reward those who keep coming back. A $4 t-shirt will get your more PR than a $1,000 add in the newspaper.


Time is as valuable to people as their money. You will insure volunteer satisfaction and return engagement if you can set a length-of-time expectation. Whether it’s an hour, a day, a year, or five years, people like to know they have a certain window of commitment. If they want to come back for more, then that’s there choice rather than making them stay way past an agreed upon time.

U- Understanding

 Communication is the key to success with a volunteer. It’s important that they are given clear instruction about what to wear, when to show up, what door to enter, and what to look for when they arrive. Confused volunteers will turn around and leave. Come up with a list of FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions). It will help a lot!

Volunteers also need clear instruction on the task that is being asked of them. If people don’t know what they are doing, how to do it, or why they are doing it, they get discouraged quickly. Furthermore, it’s imperative that you communicate to them the bigger picture of your organization and why their role is so necessary in the grand scheme of life.

E- Exit

Providing a graceful and congratulatory exit for volunteers will determine whether they come back. They will remember the last feeling they had when they leave so it’s important that when their time is up, they receive a pat on the back, congratulations for a job well done, and an invitation to return. People want to feel appreciated when they leave

Volunteers want to make the world a better place to live.  Let them know they made your world a better place, and they’ll keep coming back for more!

If you need to encourage people to volunteer, you might read my blog; An Easy Way to Add Pleasure to Your Life: Volunteer!

If you want a great volunteer event that engages people of all ages AND helps feed the hungry, please consider having an Outreach Meal Packaging Event! The photo used in this blog is of an meal packaging event in Florida.

What secrets have you learned to create success with volunteers?













Treating People With Dignity: The Key to Any Success


One was our junior high football coach and his breath smelled like a fermented dishrag used to wipe ashtrays. If we went after water during 100-degree heat, this Marine drill-sergeant-turned-teacher called us sissies. To see how tough our stomachs were, he made us lay down on our backs, raise our heels six inches off the ground, then walk on us with his 6’2’, 240 lb. body. Walking on the bellies of junior high boys has the same sound effect as walking on whoopee cushions. He screamed that his purpose, as he grabbed our facemasks and spit in our face, was to make us football players. I played for him one year and hated every minute of it.

We lost every game.

The other was our freshman basketball coach; a laid-back music teacher who loved the band Chicago. He played almost every instrument, but his favorite was a coronet. I never heard him yell at any one. If someone messed up, he gently pointed out how they could have done it better, patted them on the back, and sent them back in the game as quick as he could. He understood the difference between playing with emotion and playing with passion; he taught us how to play with passion.

We won every game. I never practiced and played harder for anyone than I did for him.

When I reflect on the leaders who motivated me the most, my first thought goes back to my freshman basketball coach. If I had to point at anyone in my life and say, “I want to be that kind of leader!” it would be him; Jim Phillips. I’ve pondered through the years why he could motivate me to work harder, sacrifice more, come earlier and stay later than others. I’ve finally settled on a few things.

      • He genuinely liked us; because of that, we worked hard not to disappoint him.
      • He treated us with respect and assumed that all deserved dignity.
      • He pointed out our mistakes with gentleness.
      • He made us believe we were one team, yet each one of us unique and individual contributors.
      • He rewarded us for genuine hard work.
      •  He was tough; he would not tolerate disrespect for himself or others.
      •  His charm could disarm a nuclear bomb.
      • He seemed more interested in making us men than making us basketball players.

I never saw Jim get riled. I never saw him kick chairs like Bobby Knight or punch players like Woody Hayes. He sauntered when he walked; we called him Joe Cool.

He understood that treating people with dignity is the key to any success.


The photo was purchased at istock.com 










They Could Have Had Me at Hello


I walked into the small, locally owned computer store because I like to shop local. In the past, I’ve purchased a significant amount of computer products for commercial use from that store. I had full intention of spending way too much money to replace and upgrade my personal computer equipment that had fried in a freak electrical short.

I was the only person in the store and walked up to the long glass counter where a young person was sitting on a bar stool looking at a computer screen.  The computer’s back was toward me so it would have been extremely easy for the young man to raise his eyes and say hello.

He kept typing.

So I walked down a few steps to a young lady in the same pose behind the glass counter and paused.

She kept typing.

In a span of five feet I decided to take my business down the street to a national chain store that is friendly.

I wrote the local storeowner because, if I were he, I would want to know what my people were doing to lose business. He called me after he got the letter and asked what they could do to improve.

It was very simple; they could have had me at hello.


(image was purchased at iStock)






rowing crew

How The Best Leaders Make Other People Better


 It starts with you and must engage others - Kansas Leadership Center; Principle #3

One of Michelangelo’s students asked him what he saw as he gazed upon a dirty marble slab.  Michelangelo replied, “I see an angel hidden inside and I will carve until I set him free.”  The artist then set to work, unrolled the leather case of carving tools, opened his wooden box of mallets with his favorite collection of brushes and began working.  Good leaders carve angels out of marble slabs.

Like Michelangelo, our success or failure in leadership is based on how we view ourselves and how we view others: it starts with us and must engage others.

Engaging others sounds like a wonderful idea in theory, but most leaders will tell you it’s easier to change the direction of a stampeding herd of buffalo than it is to fully engage people.  Ask any teacher how many students are fully engaged in their classes.  Ask any CEO what the ratio of fully engaged employees is compared to those either going through the motions or collecting a paycheck until retirement.

Whether it is a group of volunteers, a civic or religious organization, or a company of employees, maximum productivity occurs when everyone is engaged.  Like the rowers of the boat in the photo accompanying this blog, if one rower slacks, organizational speed diminishes and the likelihood of ramming the bank is multiplied.

So how do we engage others?  If we applied Michelangelo’s principles in leadership, it might look something like this:

      •  A fundamental belief that something beautiful is hidden inside of everyone
      • It’s going to take time –patience is more than a virtue, it’s essential
      • It’s going to take work – adaptive situations require creative thinking
      • We will be frustrated at the lack of progress at times – we can’t give up
      • We must always imagine what the finished product will look like –we must dream
      • We will make mistakes along the way- we will correct them

I learned a valuable lesson about engaging others in a rural African village years ago. A meeting that normally would have taken an hour in the US took nearly four hours for one simple reason; it was expected that everyone in the room had a voice that mattered. Even though the guy who stood up to speak might say exactly the same thing as the person before him, he nevertheless had his chance to speak his mind, even if he was parroting.  What mattered most is that everyone was heard.  The best leaders build collaboration by engaging others.

Sometimes confuse consensus and collaboration, yet there is a major difference: consensus is trying to get everyone to agree on the same thing which is often nearly impossible; collaboration is engaging people who might disagree with some points, but are captured with the overall vision and believe their contribution is valuable and meaningful.

Good questions to ask yourself about engaging others:

      • Am I trying to create a partner or a follower?
      • Am I trying to get them to do what I want or what is best for the group?
      • Do I really need this person’s involvement and opinion?
      • Am I really listening or just waiting for a chance to talk?

Some folks say they like collaboration but they’re really after product endorsement rather than productive engagement.

In that same little African village I learned this saying that aptly describes the leadership principle of engaging others:

If you want to run fast, run by yourself; if you want to run far, run with others.


Check out the Kansas Leadership Center.  www.kansasleadershipcenter.org

Buy Ed O’Malley’s book (co-written with David Crislip):  For the Common Good: Redefining Civic Leadership

Do whatever you can to go through their training.



Old Lady Praying

Lessons Learned From Little Old Ladies on the Back Row of the Church


If you want to cause someone to lose their religion in church, take the seat of a little old lady who has been sitting in the same pew since Noah beached the ark.  If you didn’t need salvation before you sat down, you will afterwards.  Hell hath no fury like that of a little old lady who finds someone else sitting in her pew.

In my early days as a minister, I assumed that real leadership in the church came from those who had been appointed by the selection committee; one ordained by God himself and the Church Constitution.  Most folks knew the church constitution better than the Bible and, in fact, when a scrum broke out, the only chapter and verses quoted as proof texts were from Article 3; Section 4; Paragraph 1; Sentence 2.

Each year the constitution required the appointment of a selection committee. The selection committee would pour over potential victims, er, nominees for the various positions and the church would vote in a congregational meeting more highly attended than Easter or Christmas.

We were masters at putting square pegs into round holes.

I’m a pretty slow learner so it’s not surprising I have to retake the same test numerous times.  I used to assume that influence in the church came from the folks who got elected in leadership positions with cool titles like Chairman, Vice Chairman, Deacon, Elder, and Bouncer. Okay, maybe we didn’t have a Bouncer, but if you’ve ever served on a church board, you know you need one occasionally.

Karl Beck wasn’t joking in Pastor Karl’s Rookie Year (Never Trust a Spiritual Revolution You Can’t Dance To), when he said, “It’s easier in most churches to introduce a fourth person into the trinity than it is to change the color of the carpet in the foyer.”

The real power in the church was in those little old ladies that sat on the back row. However, they wouldn’t serve in an official position because, “they had done their time and it was time for the young people to run the church.”

Ha! Those little old ladies stopped fooling me by my third year.  They might not have had official constitutionally-ordained positions, but they could change the tide of opinion with just a few comments of support or criticism. John Maxwell came up with this axiom after hanging around little old ladies: leadership is influence.

The Kansas Leadership Center believes that our world will be a much better place if we can reframe the antiquated idea that position equals leadership.  I wrote about their first principle in my last blog, Leadership is an Activity, Not a Position.   When I think of the second KLC principle -Anyone can lead, anytime, anywhere - I am reminded of those little old ladies on the back row of the church:  

KLC Leadership Principles

      1. Leadership is an activity, not a position.
      2. Anyone can lead, anytime, anywhere.
      3. It starts with you and must engage others.
      4. Your purpose must be clear.
      5. It’s risky.

If you have any leadership tendencies at all, you might be like me and want to be Charles in Charge.  I’d encourage you to spend some time leading from the back pew of the church.  Here’s some pointers I observed from the little old ladies:

      • Keep quiet and observe
      • Wait for the right time then speak your mind
      • Don’t editorialize your remarks
      • Be as direct as possible so there is no room for misunderstanding
      • Don’t apologize for what you think
      • Smile

Have you seen others who have been effective leading from anytime and anywhere? I’d love to hear about it.

Check out KLC:  www.kansasleadershipcenter.org

Buy CEO Ed O’Malley’s book (co-written with David Crislip):  For the Common Good: Redefining Civic Leadership

Do whatever you can to go through their training!

Photo purchased from iStock.












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