Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How To Maximize Volunteer Assets

With MKL Day over for another year, Haiti in crisis, and our own neighborhoods here in Silver Spring still in need, how can we maximize the use of that wonderful community asset, willing volunteers?

Why do people volunteer? To what end? Altruism, self interest, or a little bit of both? (Ayn Rand, are you listening?) “Take care of numero uno”, we are told. But, “love (serve) your neighbor” we are also told.

In the USA the value of helping others is deeply rooted in our cultural heritage. Today, the “call to service” resonates loudly with both the aging baby boomers and the younger generation. Our current economic crisis coupled with the innate willingness of both of these generational cohorts – and the rise to the Presidency of a man that clearly ‘gets it’ – seems to be a perfect storm for a ‘new age of volunteerism’. For those of us charged with operationalizing systems, or creating opportunities to tap this ‘volunteer energy’, these are challenging times indeed.

More people in need. More people willing to volunteer. An understanding President… A perfect storm… What an opportunity! What excitement! What challenge!

However, before we jump in the volunteer bandwagon, we’d better think through the implications for the individual, organization, and community… Why do people volunteer? What organizational outcome can be expedited by the use of volunteers? How can volunteers weave into the fabric of the community rather than be seen as opportunistic outsiders? There are a gazillion other questions that we could ask. Three simple ones to consider include:

[1] Meaning for the individual: How meaningful should the volunteer activity be for the individual? ... Are they looking to exercise their profession and/or skills ‘for free’, enrich themselves spirituality, and/or create consciousness for a cause? What is their time commitment, restrictions and/or demand/expectations? How do we ‘segment’ the volunteer pool – youth, elderly, retired, stay-at-home parent; etc.

[2] Organizational purpose: What is the purpose of using volunteers in the organization? ... s it to mischievously alleviate a current condition – i.e. address staffing shortage (not good!); or is it to more effectively and efficiently meet a particular organizational objective? Are there internal opportunities for volunteers to get involved in systemic change – or would their participation be ‘busy work’ only? Is our purpose to ‘create consciousness’ – or is immediate resource savings driving the use of volunteers (short sighted!)? What is the organization’s capacity to recruit, train, and supervise volunteers?

[3] Community Context: How will the community benefit from the use of volunteers? ... What types of volunteer activities already exist in our community? What is the “demand”? What is the “supply? Who are the existing ‘opportunity providers’? Are the opportunities “one time only”; do they ‘sunset’; or are they permanent and ongoing? Who controls the process? Are they willing to partner?

The exact nature of the question is not that critical – as long as it is asked of prospective volunteers, leaders in the organization, and residents of the community. There is no right or wrong answer. If the questions are framed correctly, their answers will lead to efficient and effective use of volunteers. If the questions are not framed correctly, the use of volunteers can lead to individual frustrations, organizational loss of resources, and unmet community expectations.

So, what are other questions that should be asked?... Please provide yours. Do please indicate whether the question is of an individual, organization, or community; and, who should ask the question.) Chime in by posting yours as a ‘comment’ to this blog.


Terry in Silver Spring said...

"What is the purpose of using volunteers in the organization?"

Great question. I volunteer regularly around the area. Why do I do it? It makes me feel good to help others and to be a part of my community. That said, organizations vary greatly in their ability to effectively use volunteers. If you bring in volunteers, know what you need them to do, make sure you have the tools for them to do the work, and make sure you explain the job and the impact of that job to them. Volunteers need to understand how they are helping the organization or the community. We'll work hard for you if you are well organized, are realistic in your expectations of us, and have enough for us to do. Most of us are not high schoolers meeting a requirement of volunteer hours, we want to DO something when we make the effort to come to your event or office.

The best volunteering experiences are those that I leave tired from work and fully understand how my efforts fit in with the whole.

The worst volunteer experiences are those in which I stood or sat around doing nothing (either they were disorganized or didn't have much for us to do) or where we did make work projects with seemingly no relevance to the overall mission of the organization.

WashingtonGardener said...

Agree with Terry, worst is volunteering and then not being needed or used - wasting our time.

WHY do I volunteer, usually I jump in when I see something desparately needing done and no one is doing it - I just can't stand it. Of course, that leads to days like today that I'm spending several hours on volunteer work on a Monday and not getting my own work done nor taking care of my own chores/home etc. I think that volunteer urge is somewhat innate in your DNA, but also part of your culture. If you are surrounded dy doers, you jump in and do. If you are surrounded by slackers, you slack off.

Anonymous said...

The Advisory Boards, Civics, Urban District and all their committee members volunteer hours of their time every week. I would opine that there are as many reasons for volunteering as there are committees. I have met some who want to make a difference, some who want to use it as a stepping stone to something else, some who do it to make friends, some who do it for attention and some who do it to build community.

The important thing is to welcome volunteers and keep giving them options until they find their "fit." If their find their reason for volunteering satisfied, then they will continue for a long time

Anthony said...

Thank you I love Volunteering I think it great to meet people and let people get to meet you. See new things and places. Learn new things and people. So email me so we can have fun with all this new stuff we have to do. We will have a good time doing it. God Bless
Mr. Tony Hinnant
Volunteer Montgomery County Rockville Md.

Anthony said...

Hello Happy Spring

I am so ready to have complete enjoyment with the county and state of Maryland. I have work with the county as a volunteer in 2009, 2010, 2011,
and now in 2012. I hope to see you in all of the county annual events and street fairs, and private events around the county. Peace see you soon.
Mr.Tony Hinnant

Anthony said...

Anthony said...
Hello Happy Spring 2014

I am so ready to have complete enjoyment with the county and state of Maryland. I have work with the county as a volunteer in 2009, 2010, 2011,
and now in 2014. I hope to see you in all of the county annual events and street fairs, and private events around the county. Peace see you soon.
Mr.Tony Hinnant

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