Today's guest post comes from Jen Guynn, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Pebble Tossers, Inc., a youth development organization which empowers and develops youth into responsible citizens and lifelong volunteers. So, when I wanted to talk about the subject of working with volunteers, she instantly came to mind. Pebble Tossers holds multiple activities every month, which means she's used to a steady stream of do-gooding volunteers.
Buckle up—you're going to learn a lot from her!
One of my favorite quotes from General George S. Patton says, “Do not tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their ingenuity.”
This idea can be a great way to connect with volunteers in your organization. Whether you run a nonprofit, a faith-based organization, or a social enterprise, you will need champions and advocates for your cause. You need volunteers.
When first reaching out to anyone outside of your immediate circle of trust like your roommates or family, it helps to have a few guidelines in place:
1. Have a Clear Vision
Have a clear vision for what you want done or need to accomplish. If you need volunteers for a specific project, take the time to set some standard operating procedures (SOPs) and think through all the nitty gritty details of possible mishaps or misunderstandings. When you share your vision, your mission, and why this project is important, you engage volunteers on a different level. You bring them along with you on your journey and enable them to help you reach your goals. Allowing them to see themselves as a part of helping achieve that mission empowers them to be even more meaningful volunteers.
2. Communicate Effectively
If you need five volunteers to show up a 5:45 a.m., be specific and tell them why. Also tell them where to park, what to wear, what the weather will be, and provide a job description or project overview. I have learned that volunteers appreciate you anticipating their questions and providing the answers in advance. This makes their experience easier and allows them to be more effective.
Also, double check emails and social media posts. You may think that post looked fine at 1:37 a.m. when you wrote it, but trust me—it’s best to double check each darn line for accuracy and clarity.
3. Don’t Micromanage
This can be tricky if you do not have a set plan of action in place. The quote from Patton comes in to play here—allow for some ingenuity when people attempt to complete a task. Provide your volunteers with a comprehensive orientation or training of the task at hand, but allow for creative execution of those tasks. You may learn that there is a new way to spread mulch, write code, or play “Jeopardy.”
It is key that volunteers enjoy what they are doing. Allow for those fun moments to happen. Your volunteers may not completely finish the task at hand, but if they had fun attempting it, they may come back another time to finish! If you bash their efforts, you will lose them forever. Understand that their help moves the mission needle, and gets you one step closer towards meeting that mission.
4. Bring Snacks
Do not anticipate that people will have eaten before arriving to help. Life gets in the way and, if you live in Atlanta like I do, you know that even 20 minutes sitting in traffic can make you “hangry.” Have something healthy like protein bars or apples. However, know your audience! If you have youth volunteers, add Munchkins, a box of clementines, and hot chocolate. Or if you have a Millennial crowd, add happy hour fare or make arrangements to meet afterwards at a local establishment. (Cheers!)
5. Recognize Your Volunteers
We have seen that there are now “national days” for anything! Well, there are actually 15 days that are dedicated to thanking volunteers. Even though many volunteers do what they do for the good of it and not for the recognition, this is still a key element for managing and retaining your volunteers. Taking the time to sincerely thank each person validates their efforts and helps them feel appreciated. No one likes for their work to be summarily dismissed.
Volunteer retention is highest with organizations where volunteers feel wanted, cared for, and appreciated. Pebble Tossers used to present a Youth of the Year award, but we learned that volunteers (and their parents) did not want to self-nominate. They did not want to seek attention or seem boastful. So, we have found that recognizing volunteers with the President’s Volunteer Service Award is subtle and private, yet very meaningful. Volunteer recognition should be honest, sincere, and frequent. The recognition can spark conversations, create new connections, and build new brand ambassadors for your organization.
These five tips help connect volunteers with your mission. You are gifting to them your organization’s vision, and inviting them to take that gift and create ripples which share that mission throughout their communities. This may be the reach you needed to grow your organization or solidify your reputation. This reach, when coming from people other than yourself, not only validates you and your mission, but the effort of all the other volunteers as well.
Jennifer Guynn is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Pebble Tossers, Inc., a youth development organization which empowers and develops youth into responsible citizens and lifelong volunteers. In 2016, she was appointed by Governor Deal to the Commission for Service and Volunteerism for the State of Georgia.
An Atlanta native, Jen attended St. Pius X High School, graduated from Furman University, and resides in Dunwoody with her husband, Mike, their three children, and two rescue dogs. Find Pebble Tossers online, and via Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You can find Jen on LinkedIn and Twitter.
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I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.