We all have stories about favorite volunteers we have enjoyed over the years, and possibly some not so flattering recollections to share about those who might have made our jobs just a bit more challenging. Regardless, I think we all can agree that volunteers are absolutely indispensable human resources and can play an enormous role in the success of our organization.
A few years ago, I found a really terrific article written by none other than Erma Bombeck who shared her thoughts about what life in our country would be like if volunteerism did not exist. Listen to what she says in her article, “Without Volunteers, a Lost Civilization”:
“I had a dream the other night that every volunteer in this country, disillusioned with the lack of compassion, has set sail for another country. As I stood smiling on the pier, I shouted: ‘Good-bye, creamed chicken. Good-bye phone committees. So long Disease-of-the-Month. No more saving old egg cartons. No more getting out the vote. Au revoir, playground duty, bake sales and three hour meetings.’
As the boat got smaller and they could no longer hear my shouts, I reflected, ‘Serves them right. A bunch of yes people. All they had to do was to put their tongue firmly against the roof of their mouth and make an O sound. Nnnnoooo. Nnnnooo. No! It would certainly have spared them a lot of grief. Oh well, who needs them!’
The hospital was quiet when I passed it. Rooms were void of books, flowers and cheerful voices. The children’s wing held no clowns…no laughter. The reception desk was vacant. The health agencies had a sign in the window, ‘Cures for cancer, muscular dystrophy, birth defects, multiple sclerosis, heart diseases, etc., have been canceled due to lack of interest.’
The flowers on church altars withered and died. Children in day nurseries lifted their arms but there was no one to hold them in love. But the saddest part of the journey was the symphony hall, which was dark and would remain that way. So were the museums that had been built and stocked by volunteers with the art treasures of our times.
I fought in my sleep to regain a glimpse of the ship of volunteers just one more time. It was to be my last glimpse of civilization … as we were meant to be.”
I have been tremendously blessed throughout my career in having been associated with charitable organizations which were wonderfully “civilized” places due to the wealth of good friends who helped them become the warm and friendly place they had been for so many years. I always thanked God for the hundreds of volunteers who gave so freely of their time talent and treasure, doing so with little expectation of anything in return other than having the satisfaction of helping others.
There is no question that in addition to being a wonderfully rewarding experience, making certain that volunteers are both being fulfilled and accomplishing their volunteer tasks can often be like walking a tightrope: One must possess a great sense of balance. Some volunteers require little supervision, doing their jobs quietly and efficiently, while others can be more needy, requiring extra time and attention.
I firmly believe that the key to success when working with volunteers is in there being the presence of very clear EXPECTATIONS…..by volunteers of staff and by staff of volunteers. Let’s review a few of these expectations:
Volunteers will expect the Staff to:
- Know the nonprofit and philanthropic business as a professional
- Provide them with support and supervision
- Assist them in making appropriate contacts and delivering appropriate messages
- Recognize that work cannot be accomplished without them!
- Represent your organization in a positive manner
Staff should expect Volunteers to:
- Be dedicated and to fulfill their commitments
- Work and expect that volunteers will complete their assigned tasks
- Provide access, information and insight…..they can be terrific “door openers”
- Be in attendance, to “show up”
- Exhibit enthusiasm and passion in being a part of a solution
- Develop a sense of loyalty to your organization and its mission and purpose
Lastly, don’t forget that you have many obligations to your volunteers:
- Empower them
- Lead while appearing to follow
- Provide opportunities for meaningful work
- Provide appropriate information so that Volunteers can do their jobs well
- Provide adequate orientation and training
- Provide a thorough job description
- Conduct performance evaluations….Volunteers do want to know how they performed
- Provide them with feedback
- Provide appropriate and frequent appreciation and recognition
I’m hoping that after you read Ms. Bombeck’s article you will bestow a great big hug on the next volunteer you come across. Lord knows, they deserve it. And, I will bet you a buck that they will be most appreciative. Just Love ‘Em!