Saturday, March 7, 2009

Volunteer Victory

“I know this is going to sound dumb, but I’m really going to miss all the emails, editing, and back-and-forth of working with you the last few weeks.”

Wow! I didn’t know what to say to this volunteer. We had just sat down to celebrate the success of my organization’s annual fundraiser, but these simple words meant so much more to me than the event.

He had lugged all his professional video equipment to three different locations to tape my interviews for our award winners. A friend of our organization had asked him to help. He’s an up-and-coming videotographer who produces videos for athletes seeking college scholarships. Our project demanded a substantial time commitment. He had to make sacrifices in his schedule to accommodate our taping. This was my first attempt at creating videos and he had obvious technical talent. Along the way we discovered that we were an excellent team. People from all walks of life were comfortable with us and the conversations produced meaningful footage.

I do a great deal of volunteering and manage many volunteers, so I’ve experienced it from both sides. I’m never in it for the glory or recognition. Since that evening, I’ve been thinking about what makes volunteering special. Why do people continually give of themselves? What makes me personally want to continue?

1.) The cause has to be meaningful. If a volunteer is not familiar with your organization, you need to introduce them. In this case, the volunteer had never been involved with the population served by my organization. The first time the two of us sat down together, I talked about what we did. I knew what impressed me and told him.

2.) A volunteer has to have support from others in their personal life. A parent praising the work or a friend already volunteering make a big difference. Since volunteer time commitments can impact family and socializing, it’s no small matter to make sure volunteers are encouraged by the important people in their lives.

3.) The experience needs to be fun. Recently a co-worker told me about working in a car assembly plant for three years. The experience sounded terrible but he enjoyed it because of the other workers. The task doesn’t matter but the interpersonal relationships do. My video guy and I compared notes on many aspects of our lives, our community, and our dreams. We became friends which made our success all that much better.

4.) You need to make sure the volunteer winds up having the time to get the job done. We only have so much time and sometimes our jobs or commitments change. Never assume or demand that a job be completed. Continually ask if the work is possible. Volunteers need to know that they can change the project or timeline to fit their schedule.

5.) Your expectations need to be reasonable. Since I didn’t know how difficult it would be to switch out certain footage or change pictures, I asked the volunteer what could be done on the tight timeline then respected his expert answers.

6.) Make sure the volunteer job is a good fit. Obviously, someone who creates videos for a living likes the job but sometimes people get tired of volunteering for the same duties they perform professionally. In this case, a wonderful variety of people were interviewed so the project was a tremendously different experience. We both were enlightened by the people we interviewed.

7.) Volunteers should grow either professionally or personally. My volunteer needed to overcome a strange sound problem near the end and he discovered a cutting-edge program to fix it. Any technical geek will appreciate this reward. The volunteer gained valuable knowledge that will come in handy professionally. Many volunteers talk about wanting to become better pubic speakers or learn a new communications skill. Volunteering can create safe environments to improve or discover hidden strengths.

Each experience bestows new insights, so I’m sure there’s plenty more to add.

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