3 Needs of a Volunteer: Vision

8 Feb

I have probably spent more time in my life volunteering than I have spent being gainfully employed. I have volunteered at nursing homes and in church nurseries. I’ve volunteered for presidential campaigns and people running for city council. I’ve done volunteer teaching in karate dojos, inner-city schools in Memphis, and English camps in rural Taiwan. I’ve also recruited, trained, supervised, and run interference on (because you can’t really fire them) volunteers. I have to say, I love it all!

I’ve never run across anyone who wouldn’t admit to the extreme value of volunteers, but I have seen quite a few people and organizations who don’t know how to use them correctly. They’re like a child turned loose with a screw gun. It’s big, it’s cool, and can be very useful, but they don’t know what they’re doing with it and end up damaging the structure, themselves, or the gun. To counter that, I present 3 (basic) needs of a volunteer. This is written to those organizations who utilize volunteers and the people in those groups that supervise volunteers. Since I’ve been on both sides of the coin, I will switch perspectives between organization/supervisor and volunteer. Try to keep up. 😉

1. Vision

Sometimes organizations get the idea that you can keep volunteers satisfied with goodies. Feed them, provide a party every now and then, bring in the organization celebrity (war refugee, Elmo, whoever) for a private reception, etc.. and they’ll be happy right? Well, volunteers probably won’t say no to any of those things (tip: they’re probably tired of pizza), what really keeps people going is seeing progress towards the vision of the organization. The very fact that someone is volunteering for an organization probably means they’ve seen some of the vision already and like it. You need to tell them how their task jives with that vision. Detailed mind and big-picture mindset are not mutually exclusive of each other. Volunteers need to know how their details fit into the big picture.

If you keep yourself and the volunteers focused on the big goal, the vision you eliminate most of the drama that goes with people trying to prove themselves. Yes, this includes you. Many of us are just newly promoted from volunteers and have the insecure urge of proving yourself different from the volunteers, sometimes to the volunteers. Some volunteers want to prove their passion, their work ethic, or innate worth to you by overworking themselves, being ridiculously emotional about everything, or always trying to edge their way into the presence of the organizational celebrity (candidate, founder, rehabilitated whale—whatever the case may be). Perhaps the most irritating to me is the volunteer who feels the need to prove his experience. Every conversation turns into a recitation of his resume. These are also the volunteers who usually feel I’m too young to be telling them what to do (another post, another day!) The bottom line is that if you keep people satisfied by tying their work into the vision of the organization, no one needs to prove themselves to anyone.

As people continue to volunteer they also need a retrospective vision. Show them how far the organization has come and exactly how their efforts have gotten you there. Tell people how (method) and how much (quantity) they’re making dreams into reality. Although it sounds like I’m going there, I cannot recommend going as far as a rewards system, though. Volunteers are usually satisfied just with knowing someone noticed what they accomplished.

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