Sunday, May 31, 2009

We’re All In This Together: Mandatory Volunteering

As I was sitting at a picnic for one of my son’s activities, a leader stood up and proceeded to describe all the volunteer duties for parents. “O boy,” I thought, “This is entirely my fault.”

After leading a youth organization for a few years, I decided to tell parents to commit to a volunteer job on an index card and hand it to me along with their membership payment. One night in a parking lot as we were leaving a meeting, this leader talked about how certain parents were overburdened with a few jobs each, while other parents did nothing. I told her about my new system for my group and she was intrigued.

If you have ever volunteered for your school’s PTA, a scout organization, youth group, or sports team, you know how volunteering usually goes. The leaders do all the activity coordination themselves, a few other parents step forward on their own, or the leaders beg the same few volunteers to help. Eventually people don’t want to step forward as leaders because the job is overbearing.

The burden must be evenly spread across all members so everyone feels like they are doing their fair share. When I implemented the system, I worried about parents’ reactions to being forced to do an activity. What I found is that parents went overboard in their responsibility. Since they knew it was their “one thing” for the whole year, they threw themselves into the job. We almost had to hold them back. My leaders knew they could concentrate on their real responsibilities without additional time requirements. The quality of all our activities improved.

After the presentation at the picnic, the leader came to me and confirmed my earlier thought. Her presentation was due to my suggestions. All I could do was laugh. She talked with the leaders and came up with the plan to encourage more parent involvement.

Taking my idea a step further, she had taken a collage of photographs of the kids, cut it into puzzle pieces, and put a volunteer job on each piece. She encouraged the parents to take one puzzle piece and create the full picture together. When some did, she was delighted.

Perhaps mandatory volunteering will help your organization. Don’t be timid when you ask.

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