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The common denominator of program success

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Over the past few months, I have met with numerous "official" program teams and with groups of local, regional, and departmental faculty. I have also read performance reviews. As I reflect on these formal and informal meetings and documents, I see each person's unique part in accomplishing programming.

Some are leaders (yet no one uses that word), some are do-ers who take care of the teaching and planning, and some are logistics folks who concentrate on implementation. It's no surprise that most folks can articulate their own roles better than another's!

I have witnessed many forms of programming success. When I ask county educators, regional educators, or specialists what led to success, many refer to a comprehensive and usually strategic thought process. This is especially true for the more successful or popular programs. You are all articulating your work and your success--and what you describe is at the core of the program business planning process, though it may take time to think of it that way.

Your programmatic strategies have a common denominator: program business planning.

Thanks for all you do!

-Mike Schmitt

Program success and credit or debit cards

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We've all experienced the frustration of seeing a "cash or check only" sign at a business. We all expect to be able to pay with a credit card. To that end, Extension is examining options to help programs accept credit/debit cards more widely.

One reason is our brand: our image is lowered when we do not offer basic conveniences to our audiences. The goal is to obtain payment so audiences focus on the value of the program. Thus, please do not charge a higher fee for credit/debit card use—or a lower fee for check or cash. As you may recall from Stephen Castleberry's presentation to our Center at Program Conference last fall, price is closely tied to brand.

Another reason is we, as an organization, need to spend less time handling money. It's true that credit cards charge us a fee; we accept this as the cost of doing business. Cash and check are not our preferred methods of payment!

Online registration facilitates accepting credit cards, and now Extension Technology has one portable swipe terminal that can be used for in-person transactions. This equipment will be available for loan beginning mid-March by contacting Erik Bremer. Each of the five Extension regions has one as well. More details will be forthcoming.

-Mike Schmitt

Learn something new

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What keeps you motivated? We work in a culture where learning is paramount. Extension and the University afford us countless opportunities to learn and try new things that keep us excited about our work while also enhancing programming.


This represents a fraction of opportunities available. Efforts such as these are led by folks in CFANS Extension, Extension and beyond, and they are specifically in place to help program teams be successful. Take advantage of the opportunities and resources from Ying Iverson, Amy Baker, Katie Gallagher, Alison Link, Dianne Sivald, Kristen Mastel, Maggie Frazier, Sarah Bjorkman, Kerry Marsolek, Catherine Dehdashti, Tom Alvarez, Whitney Meredith, Karen Matthes, and many others.

If you do not know who these people are, you need to find out what resources you are missing. These people work for everyone receiving this newsletter!

-Mike Schmitt

Welcome the New Year

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I hope you enjoyed some time off over the past couple of weeks and are now ready for our winter programming season!

I have started meeting with program teams to discuss their program business plans and have been very pleased with the discussions. My goals for these meetings are to learn what our staff can do for you and how to enhance the value of your programs for Extension as a whole. The conversations are beneficial to me and your staff in Coffey Hall.

I am committed to the upcoming work Whitney Meredith will lead for our Federal Report. She has all the details; I ask each team to make the effort to supply the necessary data that Whitney requests. Thank you for treating our federal partners (that provide funds for your salaries!) with the same accountability you provide to a sponsor of one of your grants.

And while you are busy, it is performance review time as well. These reviews eventually make it to me; it's a great way for me to keep up with you. This year brings a new online version that I hope you will find the patience to navigate.

Thanks for being part of Extension.

-Mike Schmitt

Supporting our colleagues

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Last month, we all learned about the restructuring of federally funded SNAP-Ed (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - Education). This is very difficult news for our nutrition colleagues in Extension.

During this time I'm reminded of the recurring theme from Program Conference: "one Extension." When people we care about are directly impacted in a difficult situation, we know our first priority is to provide support. We also know there is an indirect impact felt by each of us as colleagues--and the whole community including partners and program participants. It is important to stay grounded in our mission and work as one Extension.

Remember that Extension works to have a diversified portfolio of state, federal, county, and income funding. This organization stands on a stable foundation.

Thanks for your continued support of our nutrition education colleagues.

-Mike Schmitt

Next steps for program business plans

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Thank you for submitting your program business plans. For the rest of 2013, our staff will be reviewing your plans and providing feedback. Then, I will set up face-to-face meetings with teams with the goals of 1) learning more firsthand about your programming efforts; 2) seek alignment in plan content and products/events; 3) understand your team's desired outcomes; and 4) determine how our Center staff can better support your efforts. I truly look forward to these meetings with you!

During my state of the Center talk last month at Extension Program Conference, we reviewed the survey that most of you participated in. It indicates the Center needs to address the issues of our welcoming culture and career advancement. Please note that we will address these issues (see "Let's improve our welcoming culture"). If you are interested in more detail, the aggregated results of the survey will soon be available on our Center's intranet.

-Mike Schmitt

Nice seeing you at Program Conference!

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Several items resonate as I reflect on our day together last Wednesday at Program Conference. I learned many of you are really good team members--and rather competitive--as we did the team building exercise with Nate Meyer. I appreciate all the great feedback I received regarding our Center's vision. Based on your input, I realized how I should alter my view and restate some value chain ideas--thank you. I think everyone had some solid "aha" moments as Stephen Castleberry spoke about pricing, branding, and digital marketing. Finally, the discussion about sharing program business plans among program teams was productive. Look for an upcoming message about how you can access program business plans in the near future.

There is no doubt that Extension Program Conference is the week of the year I look forward to most. I appreciate hearing Dean Durgan describe our goals for the next year while highlighting that we're all ONE Extension. And, most of all, I look forward to seeing each of you. While I get the privilege to give the State of the Center talk, please note that I value the opportunity to listen to you individually--at Conference and all year. Thanks to everyone that made this Conference a priority on their calendars--it was great seeing you.
-Mike Schmitt

PS: View the slides from my State of the Center talk here.

Program Conference is coming

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Extension Program Conference in Duluth is just over a month away. My philosophy is—and has been in my various roles—to encourage attendance with the quality of the agenda. I want to call attention to the Wednesday program, which will be specific to our ag, horticulture, and natural resources area. The agenda includes big-picture thinking and operational (think marketing) offerings, and it is primarily based on input from the advisory committee, who represent you. We will have both active and passive learning. In contrast to past years, we are emphasizing a full-group session for the day.

Thanks much to everyone who completed the survey last month about our work in the College/Center. You shared great information that will steer decisions and allow us to better serve you and your teams.

I also want to acknowledge the effort teams are investing in their program business plans. I have met with many teams during staff development sessions this summer, and your level of engagement and the growth in this effort is appreciated.

I hope to see you in Duluth!

-Mike Schmitt

Take our survey

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Your perspective on how things are going matters to me. We are conducting a survey of the Extension Center for Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences ("the Center"), which also encompasses the CFANS-Extension unit. Are we serving you adequately? How are things going for you? Can we be more effective in our interactions?

I ask everyone in the Center/College to take this survey--that includes approximately 170 folks--65 Extension specialists, 50 Extension educators that hold academic rank, 25 Extension educators without active academic rank, 5 program coordinators, and about 25 other people. Share your perspective!

Once you've completed the survey, you will have the opportunity to be entered in a drawing to win one of five Extension polo shirts.

Click here to start the survey, which should take about 10 minutes. Please respond by Friday, August 23. I appreciate you taking the time to share your feedback and opinions!

Take our survey

-Mike Schmitt

As I visit with many of you, I often hear how busy you are with doing this, being there, and so on. I urge you all to take a moment to step back and ask yourself, "Why am I doing all this?"

I suspect many of your replies will fall into some traditional categories: "I am doing this because we have always done this; therefore, I am expected to." Or, "I am doing this because it is a way to create some income, which I like to have at my discretion." Or maybe, "I am doing this because I think it needs to be done, and it benefits my relationships in the community."

The main reason we provide educational programming is to create value for the organization. Will your schedule this week improve Extension's situation in obtaining more federal or state funding? What curriculum did you contribute to this week that will increase Extension's public value? Can you document that? What programming did you contribute to this week that created private value such that those audiences will advocate for increased funding for Extension?

I urge everyone to reread Extension's strategic planning document and understand that our programming must lead to organizational value. As we work on defining the "what" with our program business plans, we must also understand the "why" as well.

Please find a few minutes on your calendars on June 5 for our Q & A Webinar on program business plans. I believe there will be information and questions presented that will make it worth your time.

-Mike Schmitt, associate dean

In the past month, many of you have read my message regarding program business plans. As much as you all are involved in educational activities throughout the state, it is critical that we are very deliberate in having a grand plan for these efforts. This leads to my statement that each program team will need to write and submit a program business plan by Program Conference in October. I am aware that there is moderate discussion occurring about this effort. I think the biggest item "buzzing" right now is defining "programs," which certainly makes sense. You'll see resources to help along the way from staff here in Coffey Hall and on our website (

A reminder about grants
I am pleased to see the success many of you have had in securing grants. Grants require us to clearly establish our intentions and deliverables (many of the same principles we expect in our program business plans). Grants also allow us to develop relationships with these funding organizations--this is good! While we want to be a team player, please remember that we are part of University of Minnesota Extension and not an independent subcontractor! Even though you may have funds to create products and conduct programs on your own, branding/co-branding is still critical to us. Consult with our communications folks (Katie Gallagher, Maggie Frazier, and Sarah Dornink) in advance to understand the resources required to complete the print or online portion of your project. As a general recommendation, sharing proposals with us is very helpful so we can provide guidance and assistance along the way.

-Mike Schmitt, associate dean

This week our Center is launching an online tool to help program teams develop program business plans. This tool will allow us to better create and show the value from everyone's programming. Please realize that program business plans are not just an exercise for administration's sake--it is for the betterment of the program. Truly understanding and defining our program is one of the first steps for nearly all of us. We have a history of using the term "program" too liberally. Stay tuned as we continue the process of defining and communicating our programs.

Performance reviews are wrapping up for most of you. I appreciate your patience and the effort you made to evaluate your performance. I realize it takes time to assemble your materials, but I trust the process puts into perspective all what you have done last year. I will be reading all of your performance reviews; oftentimes I learn a good deal about the great things you are doing! As many of you hear me say--never hesitate to share your programming with me throughout the year just as an FYI. I like to brag about our programming, but I need to know about it during the year!

-Mike Schmitt, associate dean

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