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Thursday, August 5, 2021

A "new" approach to recruiting, nurturing and sustaining volunteers


volunteering challenged

How often have we heard the cry, "No one wants to volunteer anymore?"
The line comes from those already engaged in some form of volunteering...in a church, a service club or perhaps a youth athletic activity.
If the economic impact of volunteering in a community were totalled in dollars, we all would be aghast in incredulity.
According to volunteer.ca, in 2017, Canadians contributed 2 billion volunteer hours to the national economy, estimated to be a total value of $55 billion.
Of course, periodically, a news story will pop up when a special volunteer is recognized by a municipality, a service club or a sports league.
The second line in that opening cry sounds like this: "Everyone wants to know ' what's in it for me'?"
And while there is legitimacy to the question given how busy parents are in raising their children, coping with their jobs and often taking care of elder family members, it is the implicit meaning/ definition of the "what's in it" phrase.
Objectivity, literalism and the several reductions of human life into transactional functions have tended to   compress the "connotative" meaning of value into the literal/decorative definition.
Dollars, and new lines on a resum are the two most treasured "values" for activity that stretches many outside the frame of domestic/professional obligations. Of course, those two "ROI" for the time and energy needed are implicit in any volunteering engagement.
However, and this will stretch the self-concept of many organizations..."added value" to any human being's life cannot be contained or measured by those two measures.
Too many volunteer organizations have, consciously or not, adopted something very close to a corporate structure and operating manner. There is an objective purpose/task that drives the organization as in a corporate mission statement. There is usually a hierarchy of roles/leaders and "doers" whether paid or not, to carry out those tasks. And volunteers expect to fill a specific role as assigned and designed by the organization.
Inevitably, the planning and design have been done by those in executive positions and consequently volunteers too often carry out the "job descriptions" as defined with the cliche proviso, "Feel free to do the task however you like!"
Some volunteers will be quite happy in such circumstances. Others, however, will wonder if their interests, talents and especially their expertise/experience are either wanted or needed. They will often find their time and energy "assigned" by leaders in  what has been sarcastically dubbed "voluntold" ....and both time and convention restrict fuller conversations about a better fit.
The issue of inviting, orienting, and integrating potential volunteers, while complex and demanding, is nevertheless, a process that is too often overlooked, or rationalized as "the exclusive task of the newcomer".
It is not an accident that a very high percentage of executive hires fail in the first 90 days of their new hiring. And it is also not an accident that volunteers resist "joining" what in too many situations are "closed clubs" of veterans, past presidents, and a set of "club" perceptions/myths/relationships and attitudes.
The division of people into "seasoned/veteran/reliable/fitting-in" and "rookie" is only one of the demographic controls that come with each organization. There is no paper trail of such a divide; it is merely a "given" whether spoken or not. Another "given" is the relationship between and even within local organizations....under various descriptors: leaders/workers; white collar/blue collar; affluent/poor; educated/non-educated; male/female...
There are likely other dividing lines whether openly acknowledged or not.
Human identity is not, however, a matter for others to assign or even to determine. And the process of "getting to know" others is a highly complex as well as rewarding enterprise for each of us.
Each of us seeks to be known and appreciated at home, at work, and in any other activity we might pursue. Being known and appreciated, however, does not happen when only the individual recruit shoulders the responsibility. All organizations, and especially volunteer-based ones, have an even greater need to take responsibility for learning "who" they recruit/invite/admit and for supporting their integration into the larger group. And such integration reaches far beyond the assignment and acceptance of a leadership role, or a nice story about a birth, a marriage or an anniversary.
Those implicit barriers if division, as an operating principle, have to come down one "brick" at a time.
Veterans are not and do not warrant elevation in social status or in the potential of their contribution , especially in an organization
that depends on new ideas, suggestions, recommendations and processes for its very survival.
At the same time, length of service cannot and must not be the highest value of any individual...nor a guiding principle of a healthy group.
Leaders do not automatically warrant obsequiousness from rookies, nor should they expect it. By the same token, rookies, while not needing to force their ideas or their presumption, can take the metaphoric hand of a true mentor (another of the many potential growth curves for veterans and rookies without epaulets) and learn the best features of their new group.
The issue of relationship-building, sustaining, nurturing and honouring, while functionally- based in the corporate world, can and should rise to the primary purpose and goal of any volunteer association.
This will come as a shock and an irrelevancy to far too many men. Women already know and accept and embody the shift.
The transformation will take time and patience...and will grow or not depending on whether volunteering again becomes attractive to the generations between 35 and 60. 

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