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Adding A Simple Twist to the Volunteer's Experience

A colleague stops me in the hallway: “I need a volunteer for a project, could you get someone for me?”

“What is the project and when do you need it completed by?” I ask, having learned from experience to begin with these details.

“I need 1,000 die cut stars by the end of the week.”

Do you ever receive requests from your staff that sound like this? In the real-life situation I am referring to, this is what experience would look like for that volunteer: standing endlessly in front of the die cut machine, staring at the brick wall, listening to the roar of the copy machines in the same room. These are the requests that remind me of the phrase I picked up somewhere along the way in my journey through the volunteer administrator world…

“Volunteers work for free, but they don’t work for nothing!”

With very few exceptions, our volunteers truly give from their heart. But there are always reasons for all the things that a person chooses to spend their time on. Does someone feel good about producing hundreds of die cuts under the above conditions…perhaps, if they like to listen to audiobooks and aren’t interested in being social that day. Perhaps, if it is someone who feels very motivated by being productive.

I really want to ask my colleague how they would feel about being “invited” to undertake a menial task like this at such late notice. I have tried to educate our faculty and staff about respecting our volunteers’ time and energy when enlisting volunteers. We have a strong group of volunteers who are willing to help, but I want to create experiences that make them keep coming back for more.

As much as I talk about this with my colleagues, I still regularly receive these requests. So I try to add a twist and create a more welcoming and enjoyable experience.

Many of our volunteers are mothers who work part-time and enjoy interacting with other parents. If I know that I have more socially extroverted volunteers available for the task, I will invite them to come in together, or even contact one person and tell them it would be more fun and efficient to work with someone else, do they know of another parent volunteer that they would like to invite. I might brew some coffee, or pick up some special Keurig cups. I try to give them space to work together as a team. I check in with them and ask about their families.

Being able to handle these requests in this manner requires knowledge of who our volunteers are as individuals and which work experiences might motivate them. In fact, I have found that for many of our volunteers, just my getting to know them a bit and chatting with them when I see them is an important part of their experience. For some of our parents who have stayed home with their young children, volunteering at school is putting their toe back into the workforce. So they may be receiving more than one positive outcome from the volunteering: getting out of the house, socializing, experience that can be added to a resume, the feeling of belonging to a productive workplace. That certainly won’t feel as though they are “working for nothing!”

Paula LaManna
Gates Chili High School