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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Volunteers, the good, the bad, and the ugly?

Recently I took on a task to head a fact finding committee.  A short task with a great group of people to work with and somehow in the middle things started to fizzle.  Hey what happened some stayed, new people joined and others dropped off.

After a while we all think about the time we are spending, what is in it for me, and is this something I really want to be involved with, or I gave the info I had, I am done.  If we could accept this is what happens when you call an ad hock committee things would be a lot smoother.  OF course the one running the program usually gets shot in the foot once or twice. And if they did not have their combat boots on at the time, getting your toes shot off a few times is enough for most people.

Why do I stay?  I usually stay because have a vested interest in the out come, I am going to learn something, or I have something valuable to share.  But when I am done, wild horses could not drag me back.

So we ask ourselves what happened, why it did not work, why don't people step up or go the distance, and why cant we get people to volunteer.  Well I'll tell you, adults do not to hear no a million times or to have their ideas rejected time and time again.  Who knows if their ideas would pan out or not.  Kids you can say no to until you die but not adults.  Well here is something to keep in mind people... sign on for their specific reasons, not necessarily or even rarely for the reason you think.  Then when it is time to get down to work, the group shrinks. 

Don’t worry it is not just your guild, group or committee.  This timing happens on every committee and group I belong to where people are not receiving a monetary exchange for their efforts, a possible prize, or honorable mention or an award at a big function.

Note that volunteers always receive some negative feedback for their efforts.  Usually from somebody that is not doing anything or is sending out negative vibes.  Why in the world would anyone continue to volunteer after having their ideas rejected, or negatively critiqued and they never got a chance to get them off the ground?  This has happened to me more than once, and at more than one group or another. 

Here are the facts, well some anyway.  People want things to change and they want them to stay the same.  If they change the entire group will be affected. If they remain the same, guess what the whole group will be at the effect of no change.  Volunteers usually come along with new members, new ideas, new energy.  The current members of a group spend the first few meetings whispering oh we tried that, or we tried this.  No one thinks to ask if the person offering the idea or volunteering has professional expertise in this area.  Or is bring tried and true methods from their work life to the team.  The person is treated to the 'wack you on the back' line.  If you make it through and still want to volunteer, either you have played this game before or you are a tough nut to crack and the group will prosper, as long as the person has honorable and positive intentions.

Members of teams, committees, and groups beware, you may be the reason, without knowing it that volunteerism is low.  If you always do what you always did you will most like get what you always got.  That is why some organizations fly to the top and other seem to settle midway or below.  There are ways to keep the high energy of new group members and seasoned volunteers coming back and ways to keep chasing them away

Lets review some things that work:

·         One sure way to keep volunteers coming back is to break tasks down to manageable parts and/or short periods.

·         Add lots of one time tasks on a clip board that you send around during a meeting.

·         List tasks or jobs in the bulletin, newsletter or on-line email group sites for members who do not come to the meeting but want to volunteer and can do these jobs off site .

·         Revamp jobs so that a team of two volunteers (present and incoming) handle the work so that no one person is carrying too heavy a load.  This way you get to pass the history of the task and new ideas and new skills may come with the incoming volunteer.

·         Have a handout spelling out the task, so people won't feel like there are hidden things that may show up and cause them to quit midway or feel taken advantaged of

·        Each time the job changes hands there should be some kind of transfer of information, hand over a loose leaf book. 

·         Pass along an online file.

·         Share a document on a flash drive to the next person with the duties, and  time lines clearly written so one does not have to start from scratch. 

·         Include the history of the job and some do’s, don’ts, and ‘what worked for me’ type comments volunteers would know exactly what they were being asked to do and have a guide.


Why is this important?  I have volunteered to help with many projects well before the event and  some times years go by before I find out there was a book with the information I had been trying to find.  So without that knowledge I started from scratch and always felt like I was panning for gold.  The information was not a secret but everyone knew the information but me.  Especially with a group that have active members who have been faithful for five or twenty five years.  Again this is typical of groups and organizations so it is an observation not a criticism.  If you want to increase volunteer efforts there will be adjustments to make.  That is why corporations hire specialists to come in and work with different departments to help stream line their efforts and document what each person does.

It does result in layoffs, jobs disappearing, or new positions being created, new people taking over or coming into positions of authority, and lets face it people getting really out of joint.  But the result does provide benefits to the team, group, or organization. 

Even though volunteers are not paid in cash they receive numerous benefits.  It is often how to barter their skills in the future, shared experiences, they gain opportunities for growth in a specific area of interest, receive training they would have to pay for otherwise, they get to add these experiences to their cv or resumes, and more important to many volunteers they get to spend time with others who share their interest in a cause or program.

 There is good, there is great, there is bad, and certainly ugly.  But at the end of the day good works are done by those who have incredible skills and a go give spirit.

Warmest regards,
Ms. V