Posted by Sharon Danosky | Posted in The Philanthropy Therapist | Posted on 24-02-2011
Volunteering used to be much easier. I remember my mother being a volunteer. She would arrive at the appointed time and place, take on the assignments she was asked to do, provide feedback when asked and then go home. Often she would take on a volunteer assignment with a friend, work on it at home together and then deliver it just the way they were asked. It was easy — a little like donors who would just write a check because they believed in the cause. There was no expectation of receiving reports, outcome measures and impact statements. It was a good cause – and so you volunteered and gave.
Clearly, life has changed. And that’s not a bad thing. Today’s volunteers and donors are far more engaged in their charities. The value they bring range from taking on projects to providing guidance and expertise. Sometimes it’s helping out at a gala and sometimes it’s running a major planning retreat. So, what exactly does being a good volunteer mean in the 21st century?
One thing I learned very early on in my career is that whether you are a member of the management team, the Board or volunteer in some other capacity – it is essential that you are aligned philosophically and strategically with the leadership of the organization. That doesn’t mean you can’t provide input or disagree or offer a different perspective. That’s healthy. But frequently I have seen volunteers undermine the organization they love without even realizing it.
Sometimes it’s hard for a volunteer to understand that the leadership of an organization is dealing with a myriad of complex issues, juggling a whole lot of priorities and trying to maximize its resources. Ideas are great, solutions are welcome, and understanding the challenges are appreciated most of all. When volunteers undertake assignments and they keep all that in mind – the results are truly amazing.
Here is a list of a few things I’d like to suggest that volunteers consider:
1) Understand what is expected of you and don’t volunteer if you cannot do it. Don’t serve on a committee when you cannot make the meetings. Don’t agree to “man” the registration table for a gala if you know you might be arriving late.
2) Ask questions to insure that you know about the organization’s services, programs and where it stands philosophically on the issues they face. Don’t assume that they offer certain services which perhaps they cannot for a host of good reasons.
3) Show up when and where you are supposed to be. Good intentions don’t get the work done.
4) If you cannot agree with an organization’s stand – then step aside. It does not help to talk about an organization and disagree publicly when you are a volunteer. Instead, learn why the organization is taking that stand … then support it, engage in a dialogue where it would be beneficial or walk away. Don’t let your disagreement cast dispersions on the quality of the organization’s work.
5) If you are on a Board and a decision is reached by the majority – even though you may not agree with it – it is your responsibility as a member of the Board to leave the room supporting that decision. If you cannot, then examine your conscience and whether you can serve the organization as it needs.
6) Don’t “hijack” an event if you are asked to chair it. Understand what that event is about, and how the leadership wants to communicate its mission. Then lead the best event possible – the leadership will beg you to come back again.
7) Find the right volunteer opportunity for you. If the role you have agreed to take on becomes overwhelming and you find you cannot fulfill it – then find another way you can add value. Organizations have a lot of needs for volunteers with all kinds of talents.
8) Enjoy volunteering – it is meant to be rewarding for you – and if it is, then it will be even more beneficial to the charity you love.
Today, more than ever, volunteers are essential to every organization. They are mentoring children, leading fundraising events, building new facilities, setting strategic directions and even stuffing the occasional envelopes. The organizations you work with appreciate you more than you will probably ever know. Even more so if you are aligned with their vision and objectives.
And remember: “If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.” ~Betty Reese