A Sea of Volunteers

Sea of Volunteers

What could you do if you had a veritable sea of volunteers? If you had an almost unlimited supply of people who wanted to help your cause? How would your mission grow? How much closer could you get to your vision, no matter how impossible that vision may seem right now?

Then ask yourself, what’s stopping you?

Having a multitude of volunteers doesn’t have to be just wishful thinking. Oh, I know the reasons popping up in your mind. “I don’t have time to manage the volunteers I do have.” “We’re in a rural area; there just aren’t that many people to call on.” “People don’t seem to want to volunteer anymore.”

And these are valid facts. However, there’s a quote I love by former US Secretary of State, Colin Powell. “Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.” Every problem has a solution. It may take some creative thinking to find it, but it’s there.

The hardest part to solving a challenge is changing how we look at it in the first place.

Not enough time to manage your current volunteers? Could you find the time to train and manage just one? Well, then train that one to lead others. Build a chain of command, where you oversee a small handful of senior level volunteers who each oversee their own handful of less senior volunteers, who also oversee more junior volunteers. Do you think that the CEO of Toyota manages the factory workers? Of course not; it would be impossible.

How do you do it? Take a look at the volunteers you currently have. Who among them do the others look up to? Who knows the program, or one aspect of the program, inside out? Train those few volunteers to manage others. Once they’re comfortable in the role, have that handful look at the volunteers that report to them, and have them pick out a few that have leadership qualities. Those can then be trained – by the volunteers you trained – to manage even more. And so on. You can even have a volunteer create standardized leadership training to be delivered by the volunteers! I know; it will take some up-front planning and work.

But keep thinking about the difference your organization could make if you had a sea of volunteers!

“Fine and dandy if you live in city where there are hundreds of thousands of people to draw from. I live in a town with a population of 5,000. You can’t make a sea of volunteers out of 5,000 people!” No, you can’t. But you can still have a sea of volunteers!! By the way, I grew up in Topley, BC, Canada, a community of about 100 people (if you count the cars going by on the highway!), so I know what you’re dealing with.

Again, it’s about changing how you look at things. No, you can’t create a sea of volunteers with the small populations in rural areas. But who said you could only recruit from your community?? Many of the tasks that organizations need done can be done remotely. Most admin tasks, all the grant writing and marketing tasks, social media. Tutors and instructors can be remote. Even board members can be recruited from other communities. Yes, board members may need to have a knowledge of the community, but just about everyone in a small town can produce a list of people they know who’ve moved away but still have ties to home. You can leverage those! Ask me how I know.

Once you’ve determined all the tasks that can possibly be done remotely – and there are probably more than you realize if you are willing to be flexible and creative – you will find that even small communities can pull together a surprisingly large number of volunteers. If not a sea, at least a decent sized lake!

All of this assumes, of course, that people are willing to volunteer in the first place.

And they are!! Don’t be mislead by the doomsayers, or even by the dwindling number of volunteers in your organization. The desire to make our world a better place is just as strong or even stronger than it ever was. The difference isn’t in the number of potential volunteers; it’s in the way that people want to volunteer, and what they’re looking for from their volunteering experience.

People are demanding more flexibility and choice in where, when and how they volunteer. Volunteer programs that are still operating in the same way as they have always done will see a decrease in volunteers. But not because no one cares any more. Your volunteer program needs to find a way to satisfy the requirements of a new type of volunteer. One way is to offer a “volunteer buffet”. Check out my earlier article for details. The more you can offer a volunteer, rather than focusing on what they can offer you, the more likely it is that people will be attracted to your organization.

What impact could you make with a sea of volunteers?

Every problem has a solution. And every organization can develop a sea of volunteers. Stop dreaming about the impact you could make, and start solving those challenges! If you need help, let me know.

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