If It Ain’t Broke – Fix It Anyway

if it ain't broke

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a terrible piece of advice.

It’s advice that I have been trying to eradicate for years. Progress and improvement come from knowing that things can always be better.

Humans tend to be risk-adverse – especially in the social impact sector. If something works, we like to stick with it. And why not?

As business author and guru, Jim Collins, said, “Good is the enemy of great”.

Take handwritten letters. Absolutely nothing wrong with them. How many people still do it, though? Emails are better. Easier, faster, cheaper.

And even that is changing and improving. Lots of people don’t email anymore; they just text.

But if no one had bothered “fixing” what wasn’t broken, we’d all still be practicing our long-hand writing. We exchanged the good for the great – or at least the better.

What has all this to do with volunteer programs?

Think carefully. When was the last time you did a review of your entire program? Are all parts running perfectly?

Your recruiting, training, leadership and appreciation of volunteers? In any of these areas are you doing things a certain way because that’s how it’s always been done and it generally works…well enough?

Are you taking the “if it ain’t broke” advice?

Because if you are, you may be simply accepting the “good” when you could be reaching for the “great”.

How do you know whether you need to change things up?

Start by reviewing your mission. Are you making as much of an impact as you’d like? Or just “all that could be expected, considering”?

Take a look at that “considering”. Is it that you are doing all that could be expected, considering the number of volunteers in the program? Perhaps you need to shake up your recruiting process.

Perhaps you’re doing all that could be expected, considering the high turnover in volunteers. Look to how you appreciate the volunteers, or train them, or lead them.

Anytime you find yourself saying “considering”, you have found a place where improvement could happen – even if it is already working adequately.

Next, look at excuses that you make.

If you find yourself saying things like “well, that’s just the way the sector works” or “everyone knows you can’t expect more from volunteers”, you have found something to improve.

If you can’t expect more from a volunteer than menial labour, or low-level tasks, you need to be looking at your training program.

Volunteers are a widely-diverse and talented group of people. Yes, some may only be capable of – or interested in – simple tasks.

Others, though, bring an incredible range of skills that they are willing and eager to share with your cause.

If you find volunteers to be limited in what they can do for you, sorry; chances are the fault is not with them. How can you improve things so that you can utilize all their skills and abilities?

This takes thought and creative problem-solving.

If you find an area where your volunteer program could be improved, but can’t come up with an innovative solution, do some research. There are thousands of people out there who are talking about the different things they’re doing to try to improve their programs.

Join a social media group, or follow non-profit thought leaders. Over the last several years, a great deal of attention has been focused on volunteer engagement. Leaders with decades of experience are questioning the status quo and looking at new and better ways of doing things.

Leaders are no longer accepting the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” advice. Nor should you.

Even when things are working, “fix” them anyway!

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