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Volunteer Recruitment 2015

Posted on Wednesday January 28, 2015 at 09:21AM

Every where I go I hear how our volunteer bases are dwindling down to nothing. That is true to a point, except we need to consider that our populations in many cases are the same as they were twenty years ago, and in many others the population is actually growing. So where did the volunteers go? What's changed? I think, in many ways, communities and the people in them changed. If we intend to keep our volunteer bases we are going to have to adapt to these changes, and consider these circumstances in our recruitment and retention efforts.

I've done a few Quality of Life Surveys, and typically I ask people why they volunteer, why they don't, and here is what I've learned from people whose sons or daughters are enrolled in activities and who no longer volunteer.

  1. There are fewer stay at home moms now. Many of them work, and many of them work out of town. That means their days are full of being gone, and/or on the commute. There are many resources that point out the stress of balancing work and home, and there are fewer hours available for volunteer work. That is not to say that men do not volunteer; of course men volunteer. For a lot of generations, however, stay at home moms made up a great deal of the volunteer base.
2.  Every kid is in EVERYTHING, which means there are several places parents are expected to volunteer. If you have more than one      child and that child is in more than one thing, and those things occur in more than your home community, you know those parents are spread      pretty darn thin. It can be overwhelming to tack on only a few hours a week for volunteer work, particularly when you have all you can do just      to get them to their events.

3.  The committee expects volunteers to step forward, or step up and volunteer because they did. Many do, but many potential volunteers      do not. Some just need to be kindly asked to help, and need clear parameters on what is expected from them. Complaining on Facebook or      otherwise bashing the 'lazy' parents just means they will spend their precious free time volunteering for a group that appreciates what they can      do for them. With every child in everything, people who   want to volunteer their time will do so based on what makes them feel good.  

4. Committee members make it clear--after the fact--that volunteer time is expected, and often in a negative way. When people register      their children for events, committees that expect volunteer support and do not make that clear on or before registration  are misrepresenting       their group, and setting potential volunteers up for failure. In order to make a decision on whether or not to register their son or daughter, it is      important that the parent fully understand what their commitment, including attendance and participation in fundraisers. 

5. Volunteers say they don't feel respected, or feel left out. If you've ever been on a board and you've heard come out of your mouth "we       don't do it like that, we do it like this..." or leave a new volunteer with no idea what they are supposed to do when they get there, you are not       being respectful of the volunteer or their time. Boards that take the time to introduce new people, and make them feel welcome and important      keep their volunteers. Just be polite.

6. The committee comes off as if they are entitled to the volunteer's time. You are not. Volunteers are the lifeblood of our small      communities--so much of what they do have become essential to our quality of life. As volunteers burn out, and are not replaced, we lose the      operation of facilities, programs and lifestyles. In an effort to preserve this, and out of frustration, many committees resort to old means of      recruitment. For example, the old "here is the list of when you are expected to volunteer...if you cannot do it, then you are expected to find      your replacement." That only works when people are willing to volunteer for you in the first place, and is part of the reason many organizations      are struggling now. The reality is as much as many people think others SHOULD volunteer, they have no control at all on whether or not they      will.

7. Nobody says 'thanks'. One of the reasons people volunteer is they want to feel appreciated, and saying "thanks, I appreciate that" goes      a long way. I send cards to people who've made my day, and encourage the communities and committees I work with to have 'thank you'      cards printed and to use those. I've often received an emailed "thank you" for those cards...because they matter. It takes less time to      write out  a card then you would think if you keep the material handy, and it means a lot. Printed thanks in the newspaper matter too. Now for      those of you, who say "oh no...we cannot do that because there is hell to pay if we miss someone" or "we didn't do that before...why would      we do it now? All those ones we didn't thank before would get really pissed off!!" When I've done it, I've never had it come back on me. And if I      missed someone on a 'thank you' that I published in the paper...the correction costs less than $10.00. I guarantee that not thanking people as      a committee, will cost you a lot more in the long run.

8. There is no meeting etiquette. I do love a well run meeting, and a chair person who knows their job. If a regular meeting for a committee      takes more than an hour, frankly, you are doing it wrong. If decisions are being made before you get to the meeting, you are doing it      wrong...and if you are discussing the same things over and over, even after a decision was made, you are doing it wrong. When I've been on      a committee, and the meeting goes beyond the time that was allotted for it, I leave. If it happens three times, I resign.

9. There is a rigid expectation of what volunteers SHOULD do, and how much time they have to commit. People need to be a lot kinder to      others I think. You may be willing to sacrifice family time and work hours to volunteer, and that is wonderful, but you should not expect others      to make that same kind of commitment based on your willingness to sacrifice. Some just will not, cannot and should not. For example, I have      arthritis and I have had it since I was 35 and my daughters were in school. I cannot now, stand on my feet for 8 hours a day, and frankly there      are times when I cannot stand on them hardly at all. I do live a very active lifestyle, however, and to people who do not know, I appear robust,      healthy and able. But I don't lift more than 20 pounds routinely, and depending on the day, don't lift at all. But to those who don't know, when I      hang back when it's time to stack chairs and lift tables, I am not being "lazy". I'm just not willing to put myself out of commission for the entire      next day, so you won't say something bad about me. Now, give me a phone list, and I'll rock that!! And maybe if you give me yours, I'll do      yours too--freeing up your time to do something else. It's all about being nice really.

10. Everybody is fundraising. The upside to that is that if you think there is nothing to do in a small town, you haven't been here lately. There      are often 20 or more committees and they are all fundraising. From a quality of life perspective, living in a small town rocks for events,      concerts, things to go, places to go and people to see. From the local volunteer perspective the expectation is great!! It is expensive to hit      every event for every cause, pay for the ticket, and stay after to clean up...but if you don't it will be reflected in the attendance at your next      event.

I'll stop now, and I know there is more, but I want to hear from you if you have found a great way to recruit and retain volunteers!

Author: Solomon Matthewson Consulting

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