Robbie Samuels has posted my guest blog Making the Most of Volunteers, which has links on ways of thinking about motivation and for podcasts on the “hiring” process .
Jenny Hibbard blogged about “Volunteer Hoards: More Work Than Help” and Brad Feld blogged about “Saying No in Less than 60 Seconds” this week, so in this spirit of of maximizing the time/effort that one spends on what’s important, I think more volunteer managers need to educate the public as to what their charities need AND say “No” quickly and often, so they can spend time on potential and current volunteers who could/do make a difference to their charities, rather than distracting offers to do unrequested, less needed things, unless, of course, all current volunteer needs are addressed.
First, more charities need to think and plan their volunteer programs critically:
- Assess and articulate their volunteer needs using comprehensive position descriptions
- Determine and allocate charity resources to support a volunteer program that engages volunteers who will address these needs
- Target groups/places with the most likely candidates (rather than a random, shotgun-like approach), using real marketing techniques
- Encourage people to self-select, to apply for specific roles, based on sharing the criteria of each, specific volunteer need
- Maximize staff time spent on people most likely to become (or who already are) great volunteers and be (or keep them) satisfied in these roles
Beyond the aforementioned volunteer program “must haves,” this means learning how to quickly intake and assess nonstandard offers*, and to thank but reject: “Thanks for your kind offer, but your
*This probably means eliminating a general volunteer application form as a first contact a potential volunteer has with a charity, since these forms tend to create more work, like requesting more information, unless a charity has sufficient staffing to review and respond to the volume of general applicants quickly. Lately, I’ve been recommending tailoring forms for specific positions AND only offering them to applicants who have attended an open house or have already completed an unskilled volunteer task for the charity, and thus already learned the basics about a charity and its needs.
Conversely, What Will Get People to Volunteer?Â See final paragraph.
One of my pet peeves is when underlying survey biases influence the results. I recently saw another reference to a common reason why people tell surveyors they don’t volunteer, that they say don’t know where to go, in a NYT article featuring Michael Bloomberg encouraging more New Yorkers to volunteer last week.
Is is that they don’t know where to go, or that they haven’t yet made an effort to discover what volunteer placement(s) would make them happiest? (See third and sixth paragraphs of my prior post “What’s Missing from Calls to Volunteer”). Could this be laziness? Should all volunteering be effortless in this way? Certainly PMD’s one-time, 3-7 hour, unskilled volunteer gigs should be fairly effortless, but potential volunteers for multi-year mentoring should demonstrate ongoing commitment and interest, learn about expectations, and receive training and participate in ongoing support, which requires real effort and expert guidance from volunteer administrators.
In surveys that identify barriers to volunteerism and philanthropy, many people respond they are too busy and/or that no one asked them to volunteer, but I think these reflect simple survey questions with more complex answers, a little truth missing unexpressed feelings and experiences.
I believe Malcolm Gladwell once said (in a podcast I downloaded from ITConversations.org) that people generally tend to select the easiest/quickest survey answers and they they have trouble when they have to choose between more than two choices, so my theory is that more complicated answers take too much effort, are not among available options, and could delve into sensitive areas, such as being too busy to volunteer because one has to work several jobs to make ends meet, and/or take care of young/ailing family members, understandably leaving no time/energy. Perhaps a better question would ask people to rank the priorities in their lives, then see where volunteerism/civic engagement falls to understand what competes for attention and where possible blending can occur, such as volunteering as part of a work event? Marketers could target people who could have more time available, too.
Given how many charities advertise for volunteers and donations, I think not feeling asked is a matter of messages that I am needed in some way not being targeted to me/my cohort. (Charities, no more shotgun advertising that you generally need help.) Beyond the momentum generated by all the broad calls to serve this year, charities must develop volunteer programs with cultures and specific roles that enable volunteers to feel needed and valued.
We already know what motivates people, don’t need surveys to tell us that people prefer to feel needed and valued, and know busy people want their time to be respected, not wasted, so let’s just build this type of culture in our local charities and corresponding volunteer programs!