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Villas In Tuscany and Volunteer Engagement

Lori Halley 14 October 2011 2 comments

In September I was lucky enough to take a holiday in Italy.  During the first week, we stayed at an 18th Century villa in Tuscany with a large group of family and friends.

The villa was amazing – a wonderful marriage of historic charm and modern plumbing. And its location was the perfect jumping-off point for day trips to local Tuscan towns. But to be honest, I wasn’t sure about living with 20 diverse personalities.  However, it wasn't long before I started looking forward to gathering together with the group at the end of each day to share a wonderful meal al fresco and stories of our travels.

One night as I looked down the long table at the faces of old and new friends, I realized that I could very well be looking down a boardroom table at a group of volunteers. After all, like an association or non-profit committee or board, these folks had very different backgrounds. Some were lawyers, others were architects, videographers or teachers. But all of us had one key thing in common – our shared love of Italy and a goal to experience it as fully as we could in our limited vacation time.

Orienting New Travellers/Volunteers

And like any new group or committee, our “League of Tuscan Travellers” had to quickly figure out what needed to be done (e.g., preparing food, setting the table, opening the all-important wine, doing dishes, etc.) and where we could pitch in.  It was helpful that my friend and her family had stayed at the villa before, so they oriented the rest of us the first night, which really helped us all settle in.

Just like at the villa, effective volunteer orientation can be key to an enjoyable and productive volunteer relationship. As Tobi Johnson suggests in her post, Volunteer Onboarding: Four Ways to Convert Joiners to Stayers, “the onboarding process [is] arguably the most critical stage of the volunteer life cycle...” and “much of the job of initiating volunteers is helping newcomers negotiate conflicting emotions – surprise, fear, ambiguity, etc. – as they work to settle into their volunteer jobs comfortably.”

In her post, Tobi suggests that “much of the job of initiating volunteers is helping newcomers negotiate conflicting emotions – surprise, fear, ambiguity, etc. – as they work to settle into their volunteer jobs comfortably.”

She also notes that too few organizations take a strategic approach to onboarding and offers the following Volunteer Onboarding Strategies that Work:”

1) Implement Regular Rituals
2) Encourage Relationships
3) Offer Formal Training
4) Demonstrate Return on Investment Early and Often

Time for Reflection

As I said earlier, when I began my holiday I was very uncertain about the dynamic at the villa. But once I’d had time to reflect on the experience, I came to truly appreciate sharing my journey with the assembled group.

A recent post on the HandsOn blog confirms the importance of reflection:

“Taking some time at the end of a volunteer project to have volunteers reflect on the work that they’ve done." is a great way to help volunteers build a stronger connection to the work they’ve done, the people that they served and your organization.”

In the post, Tips For Including Reflection in Service, they suggest that the reflection doesn’t have to be a structured activity, it could simply involve: taking a lunch break to discuss the project; having volunteers sign a guest book with a comment on their experience or preparing a contribution card - some way that volunteers can "examine their service, interpret their feelings and apply their experience to broader community issues."

As I reflect on my wonderful Tuscan holiday, I think that sharing it with so many interesting old friends and new acquaintances made for a richer, more enjoyable experience. In fact, I sure wish that some of my volunteering experiences had been half as satisfying!

How Does Your Organization Welcome and Engage Your Volunteers?

Does your organization provide effective orientation as well as post-project reflection and follow-up to keep volunteers engaged? We’d love to hear about your success or even your challenges through the Nonprofit Blog Carnival.

Participate in the Nonprofit Blog Carnival:

Later this month, Wild Apricot is hosting the Nonprofit Blog Carnival and we want to hear about any  Tips, Tactics, Tools or Strategies your organization uses to improve the volunteer experience.

We hope you’ll submit a blog post to the Carnival - here’s how:

  • Write a post, or choose a recent post or article that fits the theme.
  • Go to BlogCarnival.com to submit your post using the form there
  • or submit posts for consideration via email to: nonprofitcarnival@gmail.com - be sure to include your name, your blog’s name and the URL of the post (not your blog homepage).
  •  The deadline for submissions is end of day - Monday, October 24.

Don’t forget to check back to the Wild Apricot blog on Thursday, Oct. 27th to see the round-up of posts on the October blog carnival:  Improving the Volunteer Experience.

Illustration: Mark Potter

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Friday, 14 October 2011 at 9:30 AM


  • Tobi Johnson said:

    Friday, 14 October 2011 at 1:18 PM
    Lori: Thanks for the shout out! It's so nice to hear that people find something of value in my posts. Recently, I've been reflecting on my own experiences as a volunteer. I started as a cautious joiner and am now on the board and head of the fundraising committee. So, what did the organization do to facilitate my deeper engagement? I'll write about it and submit my thoughts to the blog carnival. Cheers! --Tobi
  • Lori said:

    Friday, 14 October 2011 at 1:44 PM
    Thanks Toby - and I look forward to your Nonprofit Blog Carnival post as well!
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