We just can’t get enough … basics

Over the past two months I have had the chance to spend time with nearly 1000 volunteer leaders and many chapter executives from a wide spectrum of associations – promotional product professionals, family physicians, diabetes educators, case managers, subcontractors, principals, event professionals, public relations professionals… . I am awed by the dedication they show and the enthusiasm they share. And I am troubled by the fact that one recurring bit of angst comes up over and over: we can’t get enough volunteers.

Here are excited, dedicated members saying one of their toughest problems is getting more of them. I think it’s a lot like the conversation I hear when I’m talking with other parents. We just can’t get our kids to be more like us.

The problem is that we’re stuck in the thinking that we’re the only model. And, we’re so plugged in that we forget what’s its like to not be plugged in. So we skimp on some of the very basics.

So getting back to basics, here are some rules we can live by and habits to break.

7 Rules You Can Live By

  1. Create a welcoming environment – say “hello,”  “please” and “thank you”
  2. Match your needs to people – work in opposite direction identifying needs and then looking for people with requisite skills; avoid the Peter Principle: don’t over-promote
  3. State expectations clearly – define a job well done; ask for public acceptance & commitment early (what will be done by when)
  4. Coach & Mentor regularly – it’s about giving constructive feedback tackling positives & negatives (don’t sandbag!)
  5. Communicate frequently – keep everyone in the loop and up-to-date; avoid surprises
  6. Reward volunteers – Meaningful Reward = what is of value to volunteer + affordable/appropriate for organization
  7. Re-purpose volunteers to avoid burn-out


8 Habits to Break

  1. Give a job/task that doesn’t make a difference!
  2. Delegate a job and … then take it back.
  3. Delegate a job that is never done … offers no chance to celebrate completion.
  4. Fail to explain what’s expected of the volunteer.
  5. Fail to have an end date.
  6. Hold endless, pointless board meetings.
  7. Discuss the same topic or issue over and over and over again.
  8. Disregard generational differences.

And, as a bonus, here are 2 Actions We Can Take:

  1. Ask … 9 out 10 say YES when asked; 40% initially volunteer because they are asked!
  2. Listen … for the WIIFM

The other day in the middle of dinner my kid challenged me to listen. Guess what. I did. And he’s different than me. And that’s good.

What will it take for you to feel the same about your volunteers?