Mobilizing Volunteers

You can change your world by creating communities that become powerful movements which attract volunteers.

Communities form around a common interest
People congregate around a shared interest or cause. They join groups by the tens, hundreds and even millions around very specific niche areas. There is a group on Facebook called “I hate to wake up during a dream and it won’t come back”. It has over three million members! Patients go to the website, to find others who are dealing with the same medical issues.  There is comfort in commonality.

Communities can become powerful movements that attract volunteers
Communities are changing our world. A community of relationships coupled with a compelling cause creates an environment where people want to participate.   People congregate in clusters online.

Pictures of internet traffic actually show the complexity and inter-connectedness. It is all about communities.  All movements of the future will be highly inter-connected through an unprecedented communications capacity. We will use these new technologies to communicate, collaborate, and compete.

Volunteers need to be mobilized
When I was 19 I was asked to mail 8,000 letters.  It was an overwhelming task. I decided to contact a couple of people who were familiar with that organization that would benefit from the letters. Before I knew it, I had the commitment of 22 people who were going to help me send the letters.

I put together a plan so the time would not be wasted and that the mission would be accomplished. The evening was such a success, that these parties took place each month for the next year. I realized engaging volunteers is actually very simple when the right things were in place.

Understand why someone would want to volunteer
When asked why he volunteers, a design student responded “to work with people I like, to do something I enjoy, and the cause is just a bonus.”

This struck me as quite fascinating and I discussed it further with others. I discovered that he was stating something rather profound. In his case, he put a higher value on relationship than “the cause”.

A cause alone is not enough to motivate someone to volunteer. A colleague commented on this saying “In some cases we see a cause we value, and the community is a bonus. In others, people we care about are passionate about a cause, and their passion is contagious, drawing us to the cause as well.”

It seems that no matter what initially draws us to a cause, unless there is a viable community, people will not stay with it long term. If there’s a community, we can weather far greater challenges for that cause.

How to work with volunteers – Defining roles

1.     Clearly define each role with a job description and expectations. You need to be very clear about what it is that you’re asking volunteers to join.    Define your expectations related to working hours.   Ensure that the volunteer is in agreement with the job expectations, hours and roles.  Roles vary and some volunteers may have significant responsibility.  Handle these volunteers nearly the same way you would handle staff person would.

2.    Have an application process and ask for references. Take the time to check the references by phone. If you take their a volunteer’s position seriously, so will they. Show respect to your volunteers by increasing their levels of responsibility when appropriate. Value your volunteers and make sure that no one feels they have been given a “junk job”.

3.   Provide opportunities within the person’s areas of interest and giftedness. A volunteer’s commitment level will increase significantly when he or she can do what they love to do and feel they are good at. People will receive incredible value by doing what they are committed to.  You can also challenge people to try new things and to be trained in those areas but this is often more effective once they are already actively engaged.

Volunteers for one-time events have different needs than those who are longer-term. They may just enjoy helping out wherever needed because of who they are with and who they are doing it for. However, to move this one-time helper into a volunteer on your team, a more calculated effort should take place to engage them in their giftedness.

4.    Provide flexibility regarding schedules. Clear agreements regarding the time commitment for each role creates an environment where a volunteer can make ministry work for them.

Equip your volunteers

If your volunteers have training, resources and know-how to get assistance when they need it, they will operate much more efficiently. Make sure no one ever feels like they have to “go it alone.”

• Provide resources for volunteers to do their job. These resources may be training, definition of expectations, or equipment and software as necessary.

• Provide a reporting structure with a supervisor or coach responsible for each team member. Create a mechanism for each person who is involved at a significant level to regularly communicate his or her goals and progress.

• Supply ongoing training. Communicate new information and maintain vision. Things change quickly and at times we forget to update people of things that really matter.

• Take time to listen. It is vital that they know they are valued for who they are and not just what they do.

 Provide opportunity for your volunteers to give feedback regarding their role and their experience on the team. Make sure that everyone knows it is okay to ask questions and when it is appropriate to do so.

• Ask volunteers for their input on how to better equip others. Learning from one another, and even implementing some of the ideas of team members gives them a sense of ownership. It also stretches them to think as part of the leadership, rather than being content to volunteer at the lowest level of involvement.

• Establish expectations for issues like office hours, notification of times off, switching days, and protocol for contacting staff. Systems like weekly reports enable you to keep track of projects and problems.

• Encourage your volunteers to recruit. Unless you specifically show them how to do that, they may not even consider it as a possibility. Make it easy for them by providing online resources.

Provide community
A community is developed when a group of individuals make an effort to relate to one another. You will find that team members and volunteers will be much more engaged in their role if they build relationships with one another.

• Incorporate regular times for the teams to connect. Use chat rooms, discussion boards, facebook, immediate messaging as well as email to develop community. Encourage team members to develop relationships and communicate with one another. Everyone needs to know that they are cared for and valued.

• Make a commitment to acknowledge special days. It makes the team members feel more real and relational.

 Send thank you gifts and/or cards when appropriate.

• Have fun! A virtual world can give a lot of opportunity for humor and fun – especially when you make the commitment to have team times together.

• Communicate, communicate, communicate! Most volunteer teams have or need a virtual component which require you to place a heavy emphasis on communication. Be quick to ask someone what he or she meant or to clarify what you believe they have said. Things can easily be misunderstood in email because you can’t hear tone of voice or see facial expressions for large portions of your communication. Communicate in terms that can be easily understood and clarify issues over the phone when necessary. Communication over the phone should be followed up with written text to clarify/reiterate.

Volunteer teams have a unique look and feel to them. The more you put into your team, the more you will benefit.  One person at a time, you can mobilize armies of people where significant life change can take place.

Cross posted from Power to Change.

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