Friday, September 10, 2010

Leading the Unwilling - Your Nonprofit and Connected Volunteers

TextingImage by ydhsu via Flickr
Nonprofits always need volunteers to help out. Small nonprofits really need them. Although it would be nice if they always turned up when you needed them, knowing your mission and objectives, we all know they don’t.

Sometimes they come from high-schools which give extra credit for volunteer work or may even require it as part of a particular curriculum, and sometimes they are family members conscripted to help out. Sometimes, volunteers aren’t really volunteers at all, but unwilling participants in a court-ordered Community Service program.

What Do You Do With Them?

Do you put them to work as soon as you can; stuffing envelopes, entering data, filing or sorting? If you are, you’re missing a good opportunity. Especially if they’re teenagers. These are people who have grown up connected. They text their friends dozens of times a day. Sure, they’ll have little problem with the tasks you’re giving them, but they could be doing more for you than running envelopes through the postage meter. That’s IF they were engaged.

How To Engage Them

Why not start with taking a moment over coffee to ask them what they know about your nonprofit and what it does. That will give you an opportunity to correct any misunderstandings. If they don’t know anything about your nonprofit, now you’ve got a chance to educate. You’re talking to a possible future donor here, you know, not just a kid who got busted for being out after curfew or whose mom thought doing a little work during the summer was good for them.

How about adding what is only the truth – that even though they may not have chosen to come and help out, what they’re doing is valuable to you and the mission you serve and that you’re grateful for their help? It doesn’t matter that their teacher said they had to do something in the community and your nonprofit was the only opportunity left – they are THERE and you can take the moment to share your passion for what you do.

If you can give them a glimpse of a bigger picture, you might find that you’ve helped to broaden their perspective of the adult world, a perspective that can carry through their social media conversations with other potential supporters in your community.

Communication is at the heart of social media and even if the “volunteer” never works for your nonprofit again, if you’ve successful communicated how you feel, that experience will continue to color this person’s life and how they view nonprofits in the future.

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