Thursday, September 11, 2014

Five Surefire Ways to Lose Your Volunteers

As a volunteer veteran that has done far more than my share of volunteer work, I've learned a lot along the way.  The hardest lessons, though, are those that were the result of a lousy engagement, and that is usually the fault of the leader.

I've been a leader in volunteer organizations, and I know how hard it is.  It's hard and even less thankless than the volunteer work.  However, it is made all the worse if the volunteers are not kept happy, and ultimately decide to un-volunteer themselves.  And while there are myriad reasons why this happens, here are my top five ways that organizational leaders can lose their volunteers:

1) Failure to Recognize Who Volunteers Are - Volunteers are not full time workers; they work elsewhere, have family commitments, and other things in their lives that are bigger and more important.  That's exactly why they're volunteers and don't do volunteer work full time.  Hence, if the expectation is that the volunteer will treat their work like a full time gig, nothing but disappointment will ensue.  The volunteer will always have bigger priorities, and nothing can be done to change that.  Beating them up because of this will only drive them out.

2) Fail to Organize - Because volunteers have limited time, it is critical that their time spent on the volunteer work is as productive as possible.  The best way to do that is to be impeccably organized.  Time is more precious than ever, and if it is felt that it is not being used productively, folks will find something better to do with it.

3) Fail to Embrace Change - Working on something because "that's the way we do it" is stupid - be it in education, business, or in volunteer work.  New people bring new insights and perspectives.    Technology changes have resulted in massive improvements in our abilities to organize and communicate.  Failure to grow and adopt is just that - failure

4) Fail to Recognize Talents of Volunteers - The beauty of a body of volunteers is that they have day jobs and other lives.  That means they have talents, experiences, knowledge, and insight that can be tapped into to drive performance.  But those riches can only be employed if they're recognized, asked for, and leveraged.  Putting people in roles and areas that play to their strengths and experiences is smart.  Ignoring the gifts that the volunteers possess is a waste, and nobody likes to see waste

5) Don't Say "Thank You" - Volunteerism is not its own reward.  It can be hard, draining, and financially and physically burdensome.  But, damn it, it should not be thankless.  It takes 30 seconds to offer a sincere and heartfelt "thank you" to volunteers to express appreciation and recognize the difference they're making.  30 seconds, that's it.  And it can mean the world.  But when the time is not taken, or folks just assume appreciation is being conveyed, it can all come to an abrupt end.

None of this is hard, or rocket science.  Volunteer work is hard enough, and arguably the toughest job is recruiting new volunteers.  However, avoiding these mistakes, and concentrating on retaining the volunteers already enrolled can hopefully keep all of that nasty recruiting work to a minimum.  

1 comment:

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