Volunteering Passion

My son is a huge fan of the book titled, The Name of This Book is Secret.  The first book turned into a five part series and the author Pseudonymous Bosch created a culture of secrecy around his true identity, even going on tour and appearing on national TV in disguise.  The relevant part of the story for those not looking for a young person’s book recommendation is that Pseudonymous Bosch got his start by volunteering.  He offered to be a unidentified pen pal for an elementary school writing exercise.  The student wrote a paragraph and the unknown adult authored the second paragraph. The pattern continued until a story was completed.  Only during this leap into volunteering did Pseudonymous Bosch realized he had a joy and talent for the youth mystery genre.  An opportunity to volunteer turned into a career and a journey to share his craft on a much larger stage.

Sometimes volunteering is an opportunity for a person to try a field of work without committing to employment.  By providing a volunteer position we may be cultivating the talents and enthusiasm of a prodigy or helping a person assess their interest in a field.  The organization and the volunteer may be involved in doing each other a favor which has more depth than can be readily seen.

Preach what you know. Share when you have more than you need. Give when the opportunity presents itself.

Simon Sinek  
An interesting way to think about engaging your talent, treasure, time, and touch.  How do you decide when and how to share your talents?  What conversations are you having with your fans and supporters about how to engage their best?           


Running an effective volunteering program has been a theme for a few nonprofits I am in touch with.  Many find they are challenged to get volunteers to engage consistently.  One summarized it beautifully, saying there is a difference between volunteering and voluntold.  It is easy to say we have a need and ask the next person that comes along to fill the gap.  It is bit like filling open seats on an airplane, just take the next available seat.  The difference is that volunteering does not come with a contract or ticket.  It is an expression of a gift, sharing time and talent to assist an organization. 

 Volunteers don’t get paid, not because they’re worthless, but because they’re priceless.  ~Sherry Anderson

The great volunteering coordinators act like a concierge.  They get to know their clients, understand their passions and motivations.  Then they call on them when the perfect opportunity appears.  There are always a few people who say yes to everything but a majority readily decline opportunities that appear too generic thinking somebody else will step-up.  If you can engage potential volunteers with the right project you have taken an important step to deepening your cause’s relationship with an advocate.  It is a lot of work up front but nothing is more powerful than a highly functioning system for recruiting and engaging volunteers.  Daniel Pink identified autonomy, mastery, and purpose as the three keys for motivation in his book, Drive.  Interestly, volunteering removes one of the greatest hurdles to motivation (compensation rewards).  Take a moment to watch.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Your Volunteers

The IRS values volunteers time at $20.85 per hour.  You can do the math for your most loyal and active volunteers but I bet the value of the time they contribute might exceed their financial donation.  If we looked at the budget impact of volunteers time by recognizing the expense of hiring a staff position and then adjusted the revenue to recognize the volunteer contribution I believe the total would overshadow many other programs.  Just for demonstration purposes, do the following quick calculations:

Number of board member  x  number board meetings x  average duration of meetings in hours  x  $20.85= IRS valuation of volunteer time

This equation does not take into account the committee meetings, fundraising events, task forces, and all the other volunteer responsibilities that your board members assume.  This is just one segment of the volunteer impact on the organization that is easy to quantify. 

A trend in annual reports is to list volunteers as prominently and appreciatively as the contributors.  Other initiatives include creating online forums where volunteers can connect with one another, sending special volunteer newsletters, holding meaningful recognition events hosted by donors and staff, seating volunteers at fundraising galas as invited guests.  Most importantly, the best volunteer programs ask each individual what talent they are most excited to contribute before providing them with a portfolio of opportunities.

One Call, That’s All

“One call, that’s all” is the motto of a local personal injury attorney, a plumber, and a window cleaner in our community.  I am sure there are more businesses who use the catch-phrase.

It makes me wonder how many social sector organization’s catch their clients, donors, volunteers, interested community members on the first call.  I often hear from volunteers who say it took many calls and even a personal visit before they were assigned a volunteering opportunity.  Donors who wish to ask a few questions before making a contribution speak of playing automated telephone system hopscotch.  Individuals calling to enroll in programs share colorful experiences of trying to complete the registration process.

The attorney catches the client on the first call because it means a potential windfall.  Why are many social sector organizations not meeting the same standard?  If you are congratulations, it is part of your competitive advantage! 

Recognizing Volunteers

Just received the Annual Report from the Sun Valley Center for the Arts.  One of the fascinating elements about the report is that it lists volunteers before donors and provides a notation about how each volunteer donated their time and talent.  The report says a lot about an organization and its values.

How does your organization prioritize its recognition of volunteers, donors, sponsors, and in-kind donors?  Is your recognition consistent with the organization’s stated values?  Have you asked each of the aforementioned groups how they wish to be recognized and if the current process matches their expectations?  How have you been personally recognized by other causes that was particularly compelling?

Are We All iTunes Geniuses?

I have been playing with the Apples iTune Genius feature this morning. I spent about 15 minutes listening to songs and albums that were recommended to me because I had purchased or downloaded songs from other artists that were considered to have a high correlation with the recommended artists. I could quickly listen to 30 seconds or less of a song or a handful of tunes from an artist and the select “already have it” or “don’t like it” and another recommendation would appear. From Apple’s perspective I was buying a couple songs along the way- dipping into my song credits (a very nice gift from my sister). I quickly sorted through a dozen artists and twenty albums, many of whom I would not have searched for on my own.

The reality is that we all serve as walking versions of the iTunes Genius in our daily lives. We recommend restaurants, places to visit, airlines to avoid, after-school programs for kids, articles to read, and websites. Conversations turn into the audio version of a Zagat review. A couple years ago I rode the chairlift at an Idaho ski area with a gentleman who had skied all over the world. He asked me my favorite ski run at the resort. Once I answered him, he spent the remainder of the lift ride telling me that which runs across the world’s ski areas I needed to ski. He should have created a website with the wealth of information he shared in seven minutes (and I left the lift trying to remember just one).

I volunteer with a nonprofit organization that runs a significant charitable wine auction as its central fundraising event every year. Due to the importance of the special event and the critical funding the auction provides, a committee from the nonprofit organization travels to different wine regions in the United States (the committee pays its own way) to personally thank vintners who have donated in the past and network with wineries that are considering participating. I know enough about wine to have a reasonable conversation but I am easily lost in the science and nuances of the production. What I do know is that when I go out to dinner and choose a bottle of wine, I lean towards the labels I recognized because I know the individuals behind the wine and more importantly their story. When I bring a bottle of wine to a friends house as I gift I can offer a little detail to why I selected that particular bottle. In that moment I am a genius, at least for a second.

Perhaps I will listen a little more closely the next time a friends says ‘if you like that then you should really consider this.’ The value of getting information from a trusted individual, especially a source that has had a personal experience is powerful. Interesting how quickly I go to the customer review section when considering an online purchase. I do not get very far into the static details listed by the manufacturer. I want to know the opinion of the people who already paid and had a personal experience.

Go forth geniuses and share your information.