Yellowfire Press

The People Approach Handbook @

by Ivan Scheier

Yellowfire Press© September 1981

@ -- permission for use-with-acknowledgment

Table of Contents
Chapter One Definition, Departure Points, and Preview @
Chapter Two The Case for People Approach, and Some Cautions @
Chapter Three Finding the Gladly Give (And Understanding It Once Found) @
Chapter Four MINI-MAX for Making More Informal Connections @
Chapter Five Need-Overlap Analysis In Helping (Noah)
For Organized Volunteer Programs @
Chapter Six Looking Further For The Future @

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MINI-MAX for Making More Informal Connections

"People Approach attitudes are at work anytime an imaginative leader of volunteers creates a needed job around the motivations and abilities a person or group brings to a situation, or anytime a sensitive interviewer of prospective volunteers listens to their hopes, concerns, interests, rather than telling them what they ought to want to do. These relatively unselfconscious applications of People Approach are warmly applauded here. But the main agenda has been development of self-conscious, systematic methods and strategies derived rigorously from the People Approach Principle. . . " MINI-MAX" and "Need-Overlap Analysis in Helping (NOAH)"

For contributions to Handbook contents, thanks to Jerry Bagg, Judy Wilkinson, and Sue Dryovage for internal review; to Miriam Gingras for manuscript preparation and editing.

You’ve been assured that a high proportion of Glad Gives prove useful in meeting other people’s needs. You’ve not yet been told exactly how this happens. The next chapters describe methods for making the happy connection between Glad Gives and Needs:

Chapter Four: MINI-MAX OR Resource Exchange Process, generally for more informal varieties of volunteering

Chapter Five: NEED-OVERLAP ANALYSIS IN HELPING (NOAH), generally for more organized, structured volunteer programs.

Chapter Six: LOOKING FURTHER, into a future where it will be possible to identify even more intensively and comprehensively, what people have to offer other people.

What’s In The Name
The name is a contraction of key terms in the by now familiar People Approach principle:

Make the minimum difference in what a person wants to do and can do which has the maximum positive impact on other people

Minimum + Maximum = MINI-MAXimum + Maximum = MINI-MAX

Curiously enough, MINI-MAX is in the dictionary, the kind you have to roll on wheels. The term refers to a military or business strategy which minimizes losses in relation to gains, a meaning which is within hailing distance of the one intended here.

The method has a number of alternative names: MINI-MAX, Resource Exchange Process, The Exchange Game, The Glad Give Game, ____(your preference)___ , or no name at all. Your choice.

Conditions for Facilitating the Process
I’ve facilitated MINI-MAX with as few as 6-7 people and as many as 200 at once in a room. "Equipment" needed is pen or pencil and paper. Six to eight chairs grouped around each of a number of tables is ideal, but not absolutely necessary. There is more sophisticated equipment described in the Barber reference at the end of this chapter, and that’s fine, too.

You can stop the process after only the first of three cycles, or after the first two cycles. For a reasonably complete experience in the complete three-cycle process, allow 90-120 minutes.

Getting People Going on Mini-Max: The Explanation
What follows is a description of Mini-Max, as if one were explaining it to a group of people about to try it. The scenario assumes your familiarity with the first three chapters of this handbook.


  1. Briefly explain People Approach philosophy.
  2. Indicate where the work MINI-MAX comes from, and give alternate terms.
  3. Identify readings for further reference (see the end of this chapter).

Explaining and Preparing Materials
Give these directions to participants:

Give these directions to participants:

  1. Tear a piece of paper into 8 slips each large enough to write a phrase or two on.
  2. Write your name on each slip of paper
  3. On four of the slips write "GG" for Glad Give.
  4. On the other four cards write "N" for need.
  5. On the four GG cards only, put the telephone number(s) you’d prefer to be reached at. (Nowadays, we might also ask e-mail address) (Gasps sometimes occur at this Point and provide an occasion to begin emphasizing that this process is "for real," and not a game).
  6. Define and explain the concept of a Glad Give. Provide several examples of your GG’s or others’. Ask for a few examples from the participants and discuss until clear. Emphasize the like to do part of it to prevent people from slipping back into describing only their skills or abilities (without regard to motivation) or only things they might do out of a sense of obligation. Also be sure to remind people that they are absolutely free to keep for themselves, things they like to do and can do well; MINI-MAX does not want to pressure people into sharing with others enjoyed competencies they don’t happen to feel like sharing.
  7. As noted earlier, information and, under certain conditions, materials tend to be somewhat easier for people to contribute on a Glad Give basis. This would be a good place to mention this, if people seem still, uneasy, or concerned about the process.

    Overall, stress that participation in the process is entirely voluntary, but once chosen, is "for real," not a role play or a game. (You can conduct MINI-MAX as a role play, but in my experience, this is far less effective from a learning standpoint.)

  8. Ask participants to indicate with a phrase or two one of their Glad Gives on one of their GG cards; another of their Glad Gives on another GG card, and leave the other two GG cards blank. (They’re your wild cards.")
  9. At this point, you can focus MINI-MAX on one subject area, say recruiting volunteers, or you can leave the process open-ended: "Bring in any part of your life at work, at home, etc." The open-ended version flows freely, is usually more active and more fun, and is generally more motivating for teaching and team-building purposes. The focussed version is, of course, more adaptable to particular purposes such as career exploration, volunteer program management skills, etc.

  10. Now talk about needs (N cards). As with GG’s needs should be relatively specific and within the defined subject areas, if there is one. Avoid more private needs, to prevent awkwardness, especially with strangers. Needs can still be very important though publicly shareable and not (usually) requiring highly professional-technical attention. People should also be honest about really needing the help they ask for, and their willingness to accept it. Don’t ask for help stopping smoking unless you’re really ready to give it a serious try. Otherwise, you’ll just waste the time of some sincerely fanatic glad giver.
  11. (a) Provide several examples of needs suitable for a MINI-MAX process (your own needs, or others).

Some examples:

(b) Ask for several examples of needs from participants.

(c) Discuss until the concept of need, as used in MINI-MAX, is clear.

10.  Ask participant to put one of their needs on one of their N cards; another of their needs on another N card, and leave the other two N cards blank.

Setting Up for the First cycle of MINI-MAX (The Small-Circle Cycle)
Ask people to get in groups of 6-8 around tables or in circles if there are not tables. Suggest that participants choose people they don’t know too well (since they’ve probably done MINI-MAX unconsciously with their friend and colleagues on many occasions).

The small-circle cycle is quite sensitive to number of participants. It can work with as few as 4-5 people, or as many as 9 or 10, but 6-8 people is the definite ideal

Purpose and Procedures
Once people get settled in small circles:

Once people get settled in small circles:

  1. Explain that the object of MINI-MAX is to make as many matches as possible between Glad Gives (GG’s) and Needs (N).
  2. Suggest that people begin by going around the circle bidding their Glad Gives, that is, leading from their strengths (thought it’s not the end of the work if people prefer to start with their needs).
  3. Whenever another person hears a Glad Give that’s reasonably close to their needs (there’ll rarely be a perfect match) it’s up to the needer to negotiate with the glad giver, seeking adjustments which will permit a match. Thus, if my Glad Give is calligraphy and your need is for design and production of volunteer recognition certificates, one of us has to scale up or down or sidewise before a match can be reached.
  4. "Wild Cards." Explain that if people hear a Glad Give they could really use, and don’t have that need written down on one of the N cards, they can fill out one of their blank N cards to match that GG.

Similarly, if a participant hears a need for which s/he has a Glad Give, not written down, s/he can fill out a blank GG card to match that need.

Though two GG and two N wild cards are usually enough to keep MINI-MAX open and interesting, there is nothing scared about that number. If participants ask my "permission" to add more wild cards, my response is: the sky’s the limit. In fact, the ‘written-down’ GG and N cards are mainly to give people enough structure and security to get into the process. Once they’re in, it’s mainly the wild cards that spark creativity and drive in MINI-MAX.

5. Whenever a GG-N match is made, the person with the need picks up the GG card and keeps it, along with the responsibility to jog the glad giver’s memory, if necessary. (Remember, the glad giver’s phone number is on that GG card.) Arrangements for the Glad-Give-To-Need transaction are the joint responsibility of giver and receiver, with the receiver concerned to make the transaction as convenient as possible for the giver.

Beginning the Small-Circle Cycle

  1. Emphasize that this is "for real" and not a role play. Don’t offer a Glad Give, don’t even participate in a small circle unless you mean business about giving and receiving help.
  2. Ask people if they have any more questions on the purpose of rules of the process.
  3. Remind people to concentrate on making as many specific matches as possible. Abstract discussion of the philosophy of volunteering or lengthy self-plaudits on one’s volunteer program are not the purpose of the process.
  4. Remind people that it’s probably good to start by going around the circle bidding Glad Gives.
  5. Above all, urge people to keep it moving, keep everybody involved, and interpret rules flexibly. If the group can come up with better rules or non-rules for connecting Glad Gives to needs, that’s just find.

(Groups often tend after awhile to deliberately encourage a shy person to offer more of their glad gifts. Where this doesn’t happen naturally, I favored gentle hints from the facilitator.)

During the Small-Circle Cycle
Allow from 30 to 45 minutes, once people have actually begun the bidding. The most frequent concerns come from people who are accustomed to more structured helping situations, though most people enjoy the process and there are smiles and laughter at times.

Typical questions are:

Even better than any of the answers in the brackets is the general response: "Well, what makes sense to your group to do about this?" My excuse for answering a question with a question is that the group usually comes up with something far more sensible than I would.

The Ambassador Cycle (Cycle 2)
After 30-45 minutes, up to 50-60% of needs are usually filled by Glad Gives within each small circle, and the possibilities for further matches within each small group are pretty well exhausted.

Some insightful people will have already reacted to this situation by table hopping to another circle. Indeed, in one variation of MINI-MAX everybody wanders around the room with their Glad Gives affixed to sleeves, forehead, and other parts, until accosted by other wanderers who negotiate to pick up one of these Glad Gives. The accosted can also become accoster of others, and all in all it’s a rather glorious and fruitful chaos.(1)

The Ambassador Cycle is a more formal way of cross-fertilizing Glad Gives between the small circles, in order to get more needs met.

  1. Ask each small circle to appoint an Ambassador

(You have to do a little promotion to get people to volunteer for the Ambassador role, e.g. "we’re looking for a charming, intelligent, etc. person, who’s also tired of sitting down")

    1. This person receives all the unused written GG slips in the circle (not the blank GG Slips)
    2. The Ambassador reviews these GG’s to be sure s/he understands them, asking the glad giver for clarification whenever necessary.
    3. Someone else volunteers to "play" the Ambassador’s remaining written down needs while he/she is away.

2. Ambassadors rotate among other small circles in an agreed direction (clockwise, counter-clockwise, or serendipitous). Ask Ambassadors to stand, if possible, while working, so other Ambassadors can see which circles are being covered.

3. At each other small circle visited, Ambassadors read the remaining Glad Gives from their home circle, and negotiate matches to needs in the small circle being visited as if they were back home. The difference is that sometimes Ambassadors go home to consult with their "constituency" – glad givers in their own small circle. They do this whenever they are unsure about accurately representing a Glad Give from the home circle and/or to okay possibly problematical matches.

4. The Ambassador goes home for good when all GG’s from his/her group are taken by other circles, or when time is called.

Depending on the number of small circles (2-25), the ambassador cycle should be allowed anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes.

The Auction Cycle (Cycle 3)
By the end of the Ambassador Cycle, we have explored helping connections within and between each small circle. Probably we have matched and met 70-80% of the needs with which people began the process.

Well, you can’t win ‘em all, and no process should be expected to produce 100% perfect results. Nevertheless some of the remaining 20-30% unfilled needs will probably be galling and important ones. So, the Auction Cycle keeps tying to fill them.

  1. Explain that anyone can get up and "auction off" (ask for help with) a need of theirs with the entire room as potential helpers. A desirable option at this point is to suggest to people that they look at their need and see if it can be broken into parts. Thus, we need furniture for our run away shelter home, becomes:
  2. We need rugs . . .
    We need kitchen utensils . . .
    We need curtain . . .
    We need mattresses . . .
    We need chairs . . .

    There’s somewhat more chance a giver will bite on one of the parts, though overwhelmed by the whole furniture need.

  3. The first part of the auction cycle stays within the room, as did the preceding two cycles. It differs from them in that everyone at once works on the need presented. The auction cycle also opens up a range of levels of response to need; that is, there are more options than Glad Give or nothing. Be sure people understand these levels of giving before the auction cycle begins, and ask them to keep the levels as distinct as possible in their responses to the need presented:
  1. A Glad Give is negotiable as matching all or most of the need
  2. Glad Gives matching part of the need, if it can be divided in parts
  3. A moderate willingness to meet all or most of the need
  4. A moderate willingness to meet part of the need
  5. A Once-In-A-While for all or most of the need
  6. A Once-In-A-While for part of the need

3. If this within-the-room scan doesn’t develop the help needed, the auction cycle begins exploring outside the room with "Information Leading To’s."

The format here is: "I can’t personally help you with that need, but I know a person(s) or organization(s) that might. (Give phone number and address, if at all possible.) The "Information Leading To" contributor naturally can’t guarantee that the lead will work out. Still, the needer has been helped by acquiring one more pathway to satisfaction.

There could be telephones in the room for immediate checks on whether the suggested person or organization will consider providing the help needed (and maybe eventually get involved in your MINI-MAX group, too). Only be sure to decide before hand who’s going to pay for that mysterious phone call to Nepal when next month’s bill comes around.

Whenever the action moves beyond the usual Glad Gives, to Once-In-A-Whiles, Information Leading To’s, etc., encourage people to write down their offering with their names and phone number, and hand it to the needer. This is sometimes forgotten in the excitement, after which the trail can quickly grow cold.


(As of today, I estimate several hundred thousand people have been exposed to MINI-MAX in a very wide variety of settings.)

Years of use have developed a number of MINI-MAX field applications. Here are some highlights.

MINI-MAX is a win-win process in which it is virtually impossible for people to hurt once another, (2) and equally difficult for them to avoid helping each other. The Glad giver wins because genuinely glad to give and the needer wins as needs are satisfied.(3)

Two related MINI-Max applications flow from the above feature:

  1. An icebreaker or warm-up at workshops, board meetings, staff meetings, and gatherings of all kinds.
  2. A team-building process for a board, a group of executives, club members, church groups, families, staff, clients, volunteers, and any appropriate mixture of the above. Thus, MINI-MAX groups with both volunteers and staff should help to improve staff-volunteer relations.

MINI-MAX is one effective method for networking, delivering low-cost relevant help between peers. As such, it has wide practical value for useful exchanges of information, ideas, learning, expertise, personal support, and materials among board members; staff; volunteers; clients/consumers of services; volunteer coordinators; neighbors; club, church or synagogue groups; students; families; or any mix of these and many other kinds of people.

The following feedback was recently received on an application of MINI-MAX for a workshop on networking and coalition building.

---------- We had people come up to us at the end of the session proclaiming that ours was the best they had attended during the whole conference. They had something that they were going to take home and use.

It was fantastic to watch the process, instead of being in it this time. It was great to watch the real go-getters pop out of their groups and start exchanging with other groups before we even suggested it! I think they thought we were nuts for suggesting a participatory exercise at 8:00 a.m. in the morning, but once they got rolling, people were discussing and cajoling and just really getting into the exercise.

This group was made up of directors and volunteers of senior citizen programs. The important of the exercise to them was learning how essential it is to exchange resources among program – those concerned with senior citizen issues and those with parallel concerns, but encompassing other age and focus groups. With shrinking budgets being the status quo, every resource must be used to the fullest. Our moderator was concerned that there was not more of an audience because of the need for the groups to also join forces to be heard and to survive

It was fantastic to watch the process, instead of being in it this time. It was great to watch the real go-getters pop out of their groups and start exchanging with other groups before we even suggested it! I think they thought we were nuts for suggesting a participatory exercise at 8:00 a.m. in the morning, but once they got rolling, people were discussing and cajoling and just really getting into the exercise.

This group was made up of directors and volunteers of senior citizen programs. The important of the exercise to them was learning how essential it is to exchange resources among program – those concerned with senior citizen issues and those with parallel concerns, but encompassing other age and focus groups. With shrinking budgets being the status quo, every resource must be used to the fullest. Our moderator was concerned that there was not more of an audience because of the need for the groups to also join forces to be heard and to survive.--------------

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The fun and excitement conveyed in the excerpt is typical of MINI-MAX. In a larger sense, the thrill of it is that we have hardly discovered a fraction of all that people have to give to one another, before calling in the outside experts. More, MINI-MAX has an important role in this discovery. Thus, a workshop for the Toronto, Ontario Association of Volunteer Coordinators produced this rich and varied assortment of Glad Gives:

(Once again, for more ordinary everyday examples of GG’s see the packet on "The Window of Work," Section VI)

The above listing plus a parallel listing of needs was kindly provided by Nancy Hardleigh, Coordinator, City of Toronto Branch of the Volunteer Centre of Metropolitan Toronto. She goes on to note that: "From the "Glady Gives’ list, we complied the subject headings for the Skills Bank which we will submit to the group, the member will be asked to sign up under the appropriate skill(s) which will be transferred to a card file, and from time to time we will update the list. There is tremendous support for this kind of pooling of expertise, and I think it has great potential for growth."

(Thirty years of choleric protest have failed to prevent people from regressing from "glad gift" to the word "skill" when in fact the difference is crucial. Skills are not necessarily gladly given and that is all the difference. Grrr!!)

In other words, this is a variation of MINI-MAX networking in which Glad Gives are collected in a categorical central pool awaiting the appearance of relevant needs. 

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A variation called Group MINI-MAX is MINI-MAX between groups, agencies, or organizations rather than individuals. The process appears to have promise as a way of networking among organizations for collaboration and coalition building. The Group MINI-MAX process is outlined elsewhere. (4)

An entire section on "Group MINI-MAX follows immediately under the name "C0-Minimax I and II) 

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Frequently, in the impact of needs expressed by others, MINI-MAX participants discover or rediscover resources they didn’t realize they had. Actually the capacity to do something or know something doesn’t become a resource until there is need for the activity, information, etc. Your ability to water ski is not a resource at the North Pole, but may be in Florida. Your intensive experience traveling back and forth across North America becomes a resource when your child has a geography assignment that can benefit from this experience. Thus, under the stimulation of needs expressed, MINI-MAX becomes a strategy for resource discover or rediscovery in boards, staff, volunteer coordinators, consumers of services, and all the other groups previously listed. 

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The Glad Give is really a first easy step into volunteering. By contrast we often make our volunteer work sound like a much bigger step than a Glad Give, or set of Glad Gives (and maybe it is) and thus succeed in scaring people off.

Maybe something like that happened the last time you gave your volunteer recruiting pitch to a community group (if you do that kind of thing). You were eloquent as usual, and hoping for volunteers, you invited people to come up and talk to you after the meeting. Two did: one to say it was a nice lecture and the other to bring greetings from your cousin Gertrude.

In fact there were probably people there who heard your message, and went on to conclude in this vein: "that’s a really significant cause, but I could never do that; I’ve never been a volunteer before." In other words, you somehow signaled that the first step in volunteer helping was a giant step.

Next time, here is a suggestion. Explain Glad Gives before your talk, ask people to list 8-10 of theirs, and assure them on one’s going to pick up the list. Then go into your pitch about your program, the important needs of your clients, patients, consumers of services. At the end have a long and varied list, for display, of the organizations’ work assistance needs, broken out as specifically and definitely as possible, with a liberal seasoning of short-term, one-time needs.

Then say, "If any of you out there have a Glad Give that’s within shouting distance of any of these needs, let’s talk. Even if you don’t see a need close to one of your Glad Gives, you might want to see how creative you can be showing us how one of your Glad Gives might help us. We love surprises of that kind."

Essentially, you’re bringing people in easy steps to volunteering, by playing a variation of MINI-MAX with them: their Glad Gives to the needs of your clients/patients/ consumers of services and your organization.

(For "Volunteering," read any kind of positive participation.)

In a variation of the above, club officers, veteran volunteers, and/or staff play the work assistance needs of the organization and its clients in MINI-MAX groups with potential volunteers. Whenever a Glad Give of a potential volunteer matches a need of the organization, at least one element of a volunteer job is coming into place. What’s particularly nice about this kind of volunteer job development is that the organizational representatives, via MINI-MAX will also be glad giving to the potential volunteers, right from this early or first encounter. 

One fund-raising suggestion has been to ask a (voluntary) admissions fee to a MINI-MAX game open to the public or some defined group. They’d have at least as much fun as bingo, and what’s more, everybody would win.

Another application begins with a certain attitude towards the people we hope will give us financial or other material support. Instead of just focusing on what they have to give to our need, the MINI-MAX attitude of mutuality in help would prompt us also to think of what we are willing to give to the needs of that big and powerful foundation, government agency, etc. The idea was summarized as follows, as part of a fuller development elsewhere: (5)


(1)Carefully decide what you need most from others and who has it, or has the power to make the decision which will get it for you.

(2)Think about that person and/or organization and the forget step 1. That is .
Ask not: What can they do for us. Ask instead: What can we do for them; that they really need, will find hard to get elsewhere, will preserve our own soul.

(3)The idea is to gain power by being genuinely useful or, if possible, indispensable. But first you have to build your own awareness of how useful you and your volunteers can be and in fact already are. Then you build their awareness of your resource power (usefulness).

In other words, maybe we should have a little less pleading and petitioning with the people who have the money, resources, and power, and a little more MINI-MAX – harping less on our (desperate) needs and their strengths, and leading more with our own Glad Give strengths to their needs.

There is a powerful difference between:

Please will you do this for us?
Here’s what we can do for each other!

It’s trade, not aid. 

Other Recent Readings On MINI-MAX

  1. David Lewis. The Neighboring Notebook: Ten Exercises for Working With Volunteers. 125 pages, 1979. IDEA, East Aurora, N.Y.
  2. Putnam Barber and others. MINIMAX: The Exchange Game. Notebook Kit, 1979, Volunteer Readership, Boulder, Colorado.
  3. Ivan Scheier. Exploring Volunteer Space, (parts of Chapters 12 and 18). 200 pages, 1980, Volunteer Readership, Boulder, Colorado
  4. Ivan Scheier and Susan Dryovage. The Bridge: A Guide for Networkers, 1981, Yellowfire Press, Boulder, Colorado.

David Lewis’ useful and beautifully written notebook is primarily for applications in religious settings. The kit by Barber et al. is designed for us by trainers in the MINI-MAX process. The Scheier and the Scheier and Dryovage references related MINI-MAX, or variations of it, to informal volunteering and networking.

1999 note: All these publications are currently out of print, but as of June, 1999 I have readily available copies of all of them except David Lewis’ "The Neighboring Notebook…" ( and I might be able to track that down as well). 

(1)(Described in more detail as "Walkabout Exchange in The Bridge: A Guide for Networkers by Ivan Scheier and Susan Dryovage, Yellowfire Press, Boulder, Colorado, 1981.

(2)Once possible exception is the disappointment participants might suffer when their Glad Gives go unused. But this rarely happens with 80-90% of the Glad Gives taken up, on the average, and it is especially unlikely when MINI-MAX participants are alert to the danger.

(3)This win-win character should reassure some who are concerned that this is a gambling card game, where one person can win only at the expense of another’s loss.

(4)The Bridge: A Guide for Networkers, Ivan Scheier and Susan Dryovage, Chapter 7, Yellowfire Press, Boulder, Colorado, 1981.

(5)Making People Points for Resource Power" in On Background, Vol. I No.2, Yellowfire Press, Boulder, Colorado, April, 1980.

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Ivan Scheier
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