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Building an Amazing Volunteer Recruitment Strategy: The Conversation Continues . . .

Terry Ibele 11 March 2016 0 comments

VolunteerThis is a guest post by Barry Altland.

Barry, author of “Engaging the Head, heart and Hands of a Volunteer,” and expert on leading and engaging volunteers, recently held an expert webinar with Wild Apricot titled, “How to Build an Amazing Volunteer Recruitment Strategy.”

The 300+ participants were offered an opportunity to ask questions during and after the one-hour webinar.  Barry shares his insights on these questions below.  

Q.  At our organization, we have a large number of volunteer positions and send available positions in an e-newsletter.  Do you have a recommendation how to not overwhelm volunteers if we sent out all positions, open and not available?

 Leaders are recommended to consider not just sending out the roles currently open in their organization, but to include all available roles in the posting.  Doing so sends the message that the organization cares more about the volunteer meeting their needs, wants and desires through their service than simply filling their open slots.  When a potential volunteer sees the entire list, they become fully aware of all the possibilities for serving in the organization.

If that list is lengthy for the organization, a sampling of different roles may be listed in each periodic communication.  Or, a link to the website with the full listing is another option.  Or, listing the role titles with links to the full descriptions may help to not overwhelm a potential volunteer.  

The most important part of the recommendation is breaking the pattern of only listing the current open roles, as it unwittingly places the greater emphasis on the organization’s needs than that of the individual volunteer. 

Q.  If you post volunteer roles that are already filled, how do you keep a person currently filling the role from feeling like their "job" is questioned or under threat?  We would not want them to feel they are being pushed out.

 Leaders are commended for their sensitivity to the needs and feelings of their current volunteers—this is always a good thing!  Avoiding this feeling of being “pushed out” may be addressed through simple, open and honest conversations prior to the posting being shared.  Chat candidly with current volunteers.  Make them aware of the strategy behind posting all roles.  Help them see that inviting more volunteers to serve in all capacities is a positive for the organization to achieve its mission.  

As well, many organizations explore the possibility of co-volunteering, or split roles.  That is, two or more people may share in the responsibilities of what could also be a singular role.  Many organizations have experienced the benefits of inclusion by exploring these possibilities for collaboration and partnership.  

Q.  When making initial contact with a potential volunteer, how do we organize our comments and transition to discussing their needs?

 The book offers a simple model called The Guide for Engaging Volunteers, found on pages 61-66.  Six steps follow the order of how a typical conversation between a leader and a prospective volunteer may flow.  The most critical step in the conversation is the fourth step, called the “Flip.”  

The “Flip” occurs at the moment in the interaction when the leader catches a hint the person may desire to become more deeply involved as a volunteer.  The traditional approach leaders have taken in that moment is to begin speaking about the organization, “selling” the benefits of service or describing the current open roles.  
Instead, leaders are encouraged to “flip” the conversation around in that moment, asking the prospect more about their intrinsic drivers.  Open-ended questions are the leaders’ greatest tool for inquiring on what it is they would like to do as they consider their service.  

Placing the emphasis on the person, not on the organization, in that moment supports getting that person aligned with a role that will bring the most meaning to them, thereby sustaining their passion for serving.  Try it, it works!

Q.  I love the “Flip” idea in a perfect world, but most nonprofits I've worked for don't allow me to have such an open-ended volunteer opportunity.  How can we inspire directors to be open to other kinds of opportunities?

 The Guide for Engaging Volunteers is a model that may not always be followed in a formulaic manner.  One size will never fit all.  Even if the organization has a strict, narrowly defined set of volunteer roles, these simple questions are crucial to helping a volunteer find the role that will best align with their skills, talents and experiences.
In the bigger picture, leaders of volunteers have the opportunity to share in open dialogue with decision-makers in their organization to extoll the value of a more open approach to attracting volunteers.  It is quite possible a volunteer with a deep desire to serve the organization in a meaningful way outside of the currently defined roles could have a profound impact on the organization’s cause and beneficiaries.  

Q.  The last of the six steps in The Guide for Engaging Volunteers is “Next Steps,” a methodical approach to connecting a person to a right fit volunteer role.  Several times, I have moved "slow and steady," scheduling a meeting with the volunteer to see how they can integrate/orient to the organization, and have found that the volunteer loses interest.  On the other hand, when I meet them and put them to work right away, they thrive.  What do you suggest?

 Again, one size rarely fits all when it comes to recommendations and best practices.  If rapid connection to service seems to work best for the organization’s volunteers, continue to use that approach.  

The guidance to move “slow and steady” in the last step of the model is intended to safeguard the leader from simply plugging the person into any role, meaning usually a hole that needs to be filled by the organization.  Leaders must ensure they are not moving so quickly they place volunteers into a service role that is completely disconnected from their intrinsic motivators for getting involved.  Moving too fast in that step often leads to eventual disengagement.     

Q.  Yes, and we have trouble finding people the same shape as the holes in our organization.  

 This happens at times.  Organizations and their leaders will need to decide which is better for accomplishing their objectives—having people to fill the role regardless of their interest or talents for that role, or allowing a role to remain empty for a period as they await the attraction of the right fit person to serve.     

The prescribed methodology, when used consistently by leadership, eventually aids leaders in attracting impassioned volunteers to roles that are enriching and fulfilling.  At times, it is short-term pain for longer-term gain.    

Q.  We don't seem to have trouble getting people to volunteer to be on a committee, but then they don't do anything.  Any suggestions?

 Yes, lots of them!  How robust is the organization’s orientation?  How developed are the onboarding processes?  What steps are taken to set the expectation for service in the organization?  How clearly are the roles and tasks defined?  What tools are provided to support the volunteer as they grow in their role?  

The truth can be a bit of a stinger—the leader can and should do more to help volunteers serve at their best.  This is not easily accomplished, as a volunteer’s performance inhibitors may be simple and linear or varied and complex.  Still, the leader’s role is to equip, guide, support and inspire the volunteer throughout the life cycle of their service.   

Start with a conversation.  Ask the person why they chose to serve.  Ask again.  And again.  Get to the heart of what is holding them back from the desired performance.  Then partner together to develop a solution that helps them achieve the objectives of their role.  These conversations are part of the leader’s role.      

Q.  How do you attract people to less desirable roles such as cleaning?

 True, there are some volunteer tasks considered less desirable.  The key is in the Discovery conversation, where the leader finds out about the volunteer’s drivers.  

A section of the book captures this notion best:

“The connection between activities and related intrinsic motivators also holds true for less enviable volunteer tasks.  For example, not many volunteers are passionate about unclogging a toilet at a homeless shelter.  The volunteer may not even have the gift of basic plumbing skills.  But, the volunteer may have a heart for serving the disadvantaged.  In their acts of service, they may draw the connection between having clean, functioning restrooms and their desire to serve the underserved.  This connection point allows a volunteer to serve with joy, even while performing specific tasks that may be less appealing.  The volunteer recognizes that taking on the less desirable activity is necessary to achieving the greater objectives.  In this case, the primary intrinsic driver is still met when other, related activities are performed as part of the volunteer role.“
For the leader, attracting volunteers to less desirable roles begins with a simple, purposeful conversation.  

Q.  Maybe I missed something, and I will go back through the recording when I get it, but asking nonprofit leaders to do one-on-one meetings with volunteers is unrealistic.

 At times, leaders may find the notion of engaging with their volunteers in focused conversations to be a bit daunting.  This is understandable.  

Leaders must remember that volunteerism is a very noble, human choice.  Serving is a people thing.  The virtues of these purpose-driven chats are many.  In fact, several other participants in the session shared their insights on the value of the Coaching conversation:   

“Coaching is a personal touch, which is a commonality with humans, and reminded me/us that it is the way to get to the persons heart.  Thank you!”

“I have found that volunteers feel more supported after a one-on-one conversation, more grateful and more validated in their experiences.”

“One-on-ones are good because they give volunteers the feeling that they are important to the organization.”

As the adage suggests, leaders will get out what they put in when it comes to investing the time in developing Coaching relationships with their dedicated volunteers.  

Q.  What do you do about volunteers that stay in their roles for perpetuity, thus disabling the newer members from getting as involved as they would like to be?

Sustained service is generally considered a positive for most organizations.  Some volunteers appreciate the consistency of serving in a particular role.  They may not have a strong desire to move or shift to different roles in the organization.  And that can be an inhibitor to further developing other volunteers who desire a varied experience.  
Suggestions include broaching the subject of cross-development in a Coaching conversation.  Cross-development is an initiative for long-term volunteers so they may become interchangeable in many different roles.  

The leader may also suggest elevating the long-term volunteer to a status of Onboarding Specialist or Subject Matter Expert (SME).  These roles would encourage the continued growth of the long-term volunteer while further benefitting the organization.  And in doing so, would also allow others to rotate into their regular role.  
Bottom line:  this is a great problem for organizations to have!  

Q.  Our volunteers are mostly retired, and some are quite elderly.  They just want to get on with their jobs, not to be coached, particularly by someone younger than themselves.  What are your tips for coaching "under the radar"?

 First, let’s revisit the definition for Coaching.  Coaching as a leadership practice is defined as conducting regularly scheduled one-on-one discussions between the leader and the volunteer that are focused on performance and development.

Coaching is not merely telling others what to do, or addressing a situation when something has gone wrong.  Coaching is merely a series of meaningful conversations held periodically over time.  As the skill of Coaching is mastered by the leader, mutual benefit is achieved by the leader and the volunteer in the form of deeper relationships and greater insights.

Although some behavior trends may exist generationally, conversations shared by people may transcend differences in age.  Further, leaders must be cautious not to erroneously lump all people of a certain demographic into a category, often accompanied with assumptions of that group.  Instead, Coaching allows us to develop a stronger relationship with an individual volunteer irrespective of their identification with any demographic trait.  

Q.  Your suggestions largely relate to one-on-one interactions.  How do you deal with these suggestions for an international organization with volunteers living all across North America, and the volunteer work is carried out in the developing world?

 The definition for Coaching does not specifically state the modality for a conversation to occur.  That element is absent in the definition by design.  For geographically dispersed volunteers, technology can still afford us meaningful connection.  All the other aspects of the Coaching relationship still apply, merely using our available digital tools to share in purposeful dialogue.   

Q.  The webinar defined Appreciation, Recognition, Reward and Incentive.  How can we show appreciation on a nonprofit budget?

 First, let’s revisit the definitions of these four terms.  Leaders commonly mix up and misconstrue these four specific methods for acknowledging desired performance.  That is the reason why the book places so much emphasis on clarifying the definitions for these four distinct strategies.   

Only two of the four terms, reward and incentive, require any monetary investment on behalf of the organization.  Appreciation and recognition deliver intrinsic, emotional value to the recipient.  

The most important thing to understand about all four of these strategies is, that in order for them to be meaningful to the recipient, they must in some way be aligned with their intrinsic motivators for volunteering.  Leaders should also recognize the primary purpose for acknowledging desired performance, which is for the volunteer to continue to perform at their best.  

Of the four strategies, recognition is the lowest investment, highest return pursuit.  When leaders use their words to express what a volunteer did and the impact it generated, they touch the hearts of their volunteers.     

Q.  Any thoughts about public versus private recognition (pros and cons)?

 Yes, plenty of them!  Again, we will leverage an excerpt from the book:  

“Leaders are called upon to be sensitive to the preferences of those receiving feedback on their performance.  An old adage guides leaders to “Always praise in public; always criticize in private”—eight words and two horribly misguided concepts for leaders to follow.  First, it is never a leader’s role to criticize.  Feedback is not about criticism.  Do not attempt to frame feedback by calling it constructive criticism.  Who ever invented this oxymoron?  Others will still see it for what it is—criticism.  

Secondly, believing that all feedback for praise or recognition should be delivered as a public decree with balloons and confetti is a fallacy.  Following this advice will surely lead to some awkward situations.  Recognition is deeply personal for many, and the recipient’s ideal setting for receiving it is as unique as their intrinsic motivators.  In fact, the two may be directly linked.  Intuitive leaders are sensitive to the desires of their volunteers and offer feedback for recognition according to how the deserving prefer to receive it.  How is a leader to know?  Begin by asking, maybe with an open-ended questions such as “When you do something as a volunteer that is really impressive, how do you prefer to be recognized for it?”  The answer to this question provides invaluable insight into the volunteer’s drivers.“

Q.  Do you look for ways that allow the actual "clients" being served to "appreciate and/or recognize" the volunteer's impact?

 A few examples of this approach come to mind that have been shared as part of the research for the book.  The simple answer is yes!  If this approach is a fit for the organization, nothing stops the beneficiary from being encouraged to offer their recognition!  Imagine how powerful that would be!

Q.  What about volunteers who don't rise to the challenge?  Is there a graceful way to let them go?

 The quick answer is yes, there is a grace-filled way to part ways with a volunteer that maintains their dignity and sends them along their way as an ambassador for the organization.  But, not so fast.  Before having an itchy trigger finger, I suggest consulting the book section titled “Redirecting the Passion of a Volunteer.”  Pages 140-173 are dedicated to providing clear guidance to leaders that allows them to take a more analytical approach to assessing the performance shortfalls of their volunteers.
Warning to leaders:  at times, the leader can and should do more to support the performance of the volunteer prior to determining the volunteer must move on.  The Volunteer Performance Analysis Model in the book details this methodical approach.  

Q.  Some of this was common sense, but good to have it affirmed.

Ah, if only this were universally true.  As it is said, “common sense ain’t so common anymore.”  No matter where a leader is on their growth journey, continuous learning and development is the preferred path to be able to serve others at their best.  

Q.  Board members are volunteers (mostly).  Would you use any different strategies for board members?

 In most cases, the methodology for attracting and sustaining the passion of a Board member is parallel to that of any type of volunteer.  The only addition suggested is to share in an additional conversation, or series of conversations, where the organization and the Board member openly divulge their expectations for service.  Gain clarity on both sides on what the role is and how it is executed.  It is only through these conversations of candor that Boards may attain high-performing status.  

Q.  How realistic is this in terms of most organizations' volunteer programs?  Volunteer management is usually an "add-on" responsibility.  To approach volunteerism to this degree of personalization would require extensive time investment.

 An interesting perspective.  The book agrees.  The undercurrent of the book, “Engaging the Head, Heart and Hands of a Volunteer,” is that true, deep engagement happens one person at a time.  

Many organizations struggle with this paradox.  They will claim that people are their greatest commodity, yet treat them as an afterthought in their organizational structure and operational practices.  If this paradox is not resolved through the intentional creation of a culture of engagement, the organization will likely perpetually struggle with the same challenges as it relates to their volunteers.  

If the problem was not real and rampant, the book would not have been written.  Webinars would not be offered.  There would be no need for it.  

Q.  This sounds great for long-term development, something we should do going forward.  But what if you have an immediate need, right now?

 There is a simple model, a continuum if you will, that can be applied to all manner of scenarios in life.  The continuum has four points on it:  Crisis, Stability, Security and Prosperity.  These points can be linear, but may not always be so.  
Organizations in Crisis mode will often remain in Crisis mode unless they actively choose to move along the continuum toward Stability.  Intentional actions bring about this movement, such as embracing the simple concepts that build a culture of attraction, engagement and sustainment of volunteers and their passions.  
As Stability is achieved, then, and only then, may the organization press toward Security and Prosperity.      

So, do not consider this an either/or scenario.  Choose to do both with the organization’s volunteer strategy.  Seek to address the immediate needs while also being planful about the steps required to shift to Stability and beyond.  

Q.  How do we deal with people's extreme busyness these days?  I try to schedule coffee/tea with interested people, but they are often too busy to schedule.  And they don't have time to talk on the phone, they're behind on e-mails, etc. We're running out of channels to communicate.

 Organizations must be clear on the expectations for their volunteers and their performance.  As well, leaders must ask themselves what they desire to see in the behavior patterns of those who serve with them.  

A candid statement—leaders who encounter this pattern of behavior at the outset of their relationship with a prospective volunteer should be grateful.  The pattern would likely continue as the person got more deeply into their role, to an unfruitful result.
Remember, people are only as busy as they choose to be.  Our priorities dictate where and how our time is spent.  

Q.  The one thing this webinar didn't have (to our surprise) was much mention of how Wild Apricot as a platform can be used productively to engage volunteers.  For example, what are some best practices in terms of fields to track volunteers and volunteer interests in databases like Wild Apricot?  Or, is it rarely worth all the time to collect, maintain and update?

Wild Apricot has a multitude of resources available to support organizations as they use the many features and tools.  And yes, data collected through Wild Apricot can be invaluable to the organization when used effectively.  

You can view Barry's full webinar on engaging volunteers here.

Barry AltlandBarry Altland is the author of “Engaging the Head, Heart and Hands of a Volunteer” - a simple guide for feeding the passion of volunteers.

His world-class leadership principles blend his experiences from the for-profit world with his own experience as a volunteer and leader of volunteers. 

Terry Ibele [Learning Apricot]

Posted by Terry Ibele [Learning Apricot]

Published Friday, 11 March 2016 at 11:06 AM
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