Yesterday, I was sitting at Dairy Queen with my husband (who LOVES DQ Banana Splits) discussing issues surrounding one of my volunteer activities.
Suddenly, I said, "I should write a book about Volunteers."
My husband suggested a good title would be Tomato Soup for the Volunteer Soul. But quickly that changed to Banana Splits for the Volunteer Soul.
As I thought about it more, I said, "I could write from the volunteer's point of view. There is a lot from the leader's point of view -- how to get volunteers, care and feeding of volunteers, why volunteerism is good. But I think I have something to say about why I continue to volunteer despite the ups-and-downs of the organizations I volunteer with."
My husband and I both spend a lot of time working with volunteer organizations.
We both work full time for non-profits (he with American Red Cross, I with World Resources Institute).
We've both served in leadership roles with Toastmasters International. He has just elected Lt. Governor for Marketing for District 36.
We've both served in leadership roles with Cub Scouts.
I'm a youth leader for our church youth group.
While we've both been leaders, we also been the volunteers that have stayed the course when many other volunteers have left. We've also outlived many volunteer leaders in positions above us in our organizations.
I started putting together a simple list of some of my thoughts on what makes and keeps volunteers -- I'd be interested in other people's thoughts . . .
Volunteers have/want a sense of purpose. Knowing they make a positive difference keeps them engaged. As a leader, be sure you are engaged enough with your Volunteers to understand why they are with you. Make sure you provide activities so that Volunteers can feel they are fulfilling their purpose.
Volunteers have chosen to be part of your community or organization and agree with your goals as they understand them. Clearly communicating the goals of your organization is essential to the success of your team. Otherwise you're playing different games on different fields and that will begin to destroy the overall effort.
Not all who volunteer should. Provide the opportunity for Volunteers to test their fit without negatively impacting the group. Too many times a new Volunteer is thrust into a situation that puts them in an emotional or psychological disadvantage. Their natural response is to become angry, frustrated, and (in the worst case scenarios) they lash out at others in the group. Provide other ways for them to contribute to your cause.
Each Volunteer has a different motivation for involvement. Each has a different set of skills. Find these and create the environment to nurture the Volunteer's gifts, skills, and opportunities.
Most Volunteers are passionate about your organization's causes/goals - allow them to share that passion with your community. Don't hide them in mediocre grunt jobs. Give them opportunities to shine. The enthusiasm generated from a passionate Volunteer can be addictive.
Volunteers give you time they don't have. Unless they are retired or independently wealthy, they will have (or need) other, full-time jobs. Many also have family responsibilities and commitments. Make sure you use volunteer time wisely.
Besides being part of a community, Volunteers need to be part of a team. A team has a purpose and a game plan. If there is no real teamwork, each volunteer has to develop their own purpose and game plan (which is much more work and much less fun).
Volunteers need to be recognized . . . by the right people. Accolades from supervisors mean nothing if the people Volunteers are trying to help through their efforts aren't responding.
Encourage Volunteers and Leaders to apply Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. While this is not crucial to performance, the 7 habits outlined here are extremely helpful in building a confident, responsible and respectful team.
And every now and then, take your Volunteers out for a banana split.