Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What's Your Deal, Baby?

Image via Cambridge YMCA

This HuffPost article by Leila de Bruyne got me thinking because there's a lot of good information to be mined from it, like the lesson that when we volunteer in another country we should be mindful that we're not actually doing for free what a resident would be doing for a living.

That would definitely be poor social communication.

Are Overseas Programs Desperate for Volunteers?

I don't know. I've never looked into it because my focus is primarily on my backyard here in California. And here, like many other places, small nonprofits can have problems recruiting volunteers, despite the pool of (sometimes reluctant), court-ordered community service folks.

So, when we get our mitts on a volunteer or intern, we may be so overjoyed at being able to get that one pesky task done at last, or thrilled to be able to off-load that chore and clear our checklist a little, that we may not take that volunteer's interests into account.

Why Are You Here?

I've mentioned before that I believe it's a mistake to put a new volunteer to work without taking the time to interview. Just because you aren't paying them or don't expect them to stick around (your court-ordered community service 'volunteers'), doesn't meant you shouldn't take the time to get to know them beyond their names.

Why did they choose your nonprofit? Does it align with any other goals? What do they hope to achieve for themselves by working here? What expectations might they have about the work they'll be doing?

Naturally, the answers may be a little disappointing. Maybe she picked your nonprofit because she figured the work would be easy. Maybe he doesn't have any goals beyond serving his time or getting the community service box ticked off on his high school list of things-to-do. Perhaps the expectations are for simple tasks, quickly accomplished.

And then, again, maybe the answers will surprise you, and give you a moment's pause to consider what this person should be giving their effort to.

How About An Exit Interview?

Have you ever asked a volunteer if their efforts had caused any change in how they perceive your nonprofit, nonprofits in general, or your mission in particular? Whether they would be likely to volunteer in the future and in what ways?

Each volunteer is important beyond the work they do for you. Each one has the power to encourage you and others, continue to support your work, become a future staffer or long-term donor.

Attitude - Yours and Theirs

Keep that thought in mind as you consider them, particularly if they are younger - many of us who are parents tend to group younger volunteers with our own kids and this is a mistake. Older volunteers are more likely to give time to causes that resonate with them, but knowing they share your vision in general terms doesn't make their viewpoints, goals, and expectations any less worth hearing. They may be just different enough to provide some good perspective. And in any case, it can only help to know how your stakeholders view your work.

There's a lot to be said for taking a turn at volunteer work out of the country, but there's definitely a lot that can be learned right in your own backyard, from your own volunteers.

By The Way

I'm glad to announce my first guest blogger here at Social Media Birdbrain. Her name is Erin Palmer and she works with Villanova University in Florida. I'm looking forward to her post on finding a nonprofit role model.


Non-profit Website said...

I think it's important to really ask volunteers why they are volunteering for your cause. Attitude towards the organization, the cause, and other volunteers counts for a lot.

Robyn McIntyre said...

Indeed. If a volunteer is there because they HAVE to be, rather than they WANT to be, you'll have to consider how to make use of their skills while not negatively affecting the staff or other volunteers. Have a plan for the best and worst possible attitudes and be ready to be flexible.