Often, our M.O. is to welcome a new volunteer by explaining the responsibilities of the position they have agreed to fulfill. Time permitting, we will share some historical background of what the previous volunteers have accomplished in the role, and what roadblocks they encountered. As the volunteer starts to explore their job staff may also answer any requests for tools or resources needed to succeed in their efforts. In short, staff efforts are focused on the transition of the position from one volunteer to the next.
But what if we took a different approach. When a new volunteer is selected, what if we took the time to explore more about the new person raising their hand instead of jumping into what they will be doing. In short, what if we invested in the volunteer?
While leadership training programs and educational opportunities for volunteers remain outside of budgetary scope for many associations, there are a number of steps we could take that only require our own time, commitment, and caring.
When someone volunteers, we can take the time to elicit personal insights. Why were the interested? What do they hope to get out of the position? What new skills would they like to learn or get that will help them in their career or future volunteer positions? These questions should be less of an interview and more of a conversation.
Rarely are we asked, by someone who truly is listening, what we want and how we would like to see ourselves grow. Answering these questions may be initially a little stop and go, but can become a smooth conversation as the volunteer realizes there is someone on the other side who not only wants to hear the answers, but wants to help them get there. If they are not sure of what they want, staff can describe general attribute growth opportunities that arise from volunteering, as well as how the volunteer work that someone does almost always gives transferable skills to their professional life.
As they feel that the association is investing in them, this volunteer will become not just committed to their current position, but likely to have continued leadership involvement. Key to this is for the volunteer to hear reflections from and milestones of their achievements. This could be regular check ins with staff or even when there is an opportunity for an in person cup of coffee at a meeting. Heck, use an online goal tracking system if you like (check this out for one) - but help reflect back to them in the ongoing months how they are indeed building the skills they intended.
This process of volunteer investment and development, though perhaps potentially low cost in dollars and cents, is one that is a heavy commitment for staff to make - it is not something that can be checked off the list, but an action that is ongoing as the volunteer continues to serve. Yet, done properly it can build a ever growing group of committed volunteers that in themselves could strengthen the foundation of the association. A number of them may even be willing to take on the responsibility of investing in fellow volunteers in the same manner.
Can we learn that when it comes to volunteers we have to both plan with our logic AND listen with our heart? I think we can.
(I know, this is Listen to Your Heart, not Listen WITH your heart - but was too close to pass up)