Category Archives: working with volunteers

Adventures in Volunteerism

lions in tree

I recently made a rather large career move out of the education space and back into the not for profit arena. The move was calculated and absolutely what I wanted; however to say that the change was disruptive would be a ridiculous understatement.

As an Executive Director my main responsibilities are to drive fundraising initiatives through my Development Directors (often serving as one myself) to exceed revenue goals and to identify, recruit and develop volunteer leadership…the real job.

As frequently happens in my career, I accepted an opportunity where there was a lot of repair work to be done. The organizations reputation had been somewhat tarnished in the community due to excessive turnover and ineffective leadership.

My challenge was not renewing the sponsor and donor relationships. It was not in identifying new partners and revenue streams. It wasn’t even in digesting the mountains of information that I needed to understand and be able to articulate regarding our organization. The challenge was navigating the volunteer jungle.

The Old Guard reminds me of the staunchy British safari hunters during the Victorian era. The rules of decorum must be followed! The rigid formality of things being just so and the constant distrust of outsiders and that which seems ‘new’.

The Old Guard is a wonderful combination of knowledge, experience and tradition. They bring a level of grace and sophistication to every endeavor. The elite  want to be in their company and part of what they are doing. However, the elite are a small and finite group. Finding a way to engage your Old Guard with the future generations of philanthropists and activists may prove your greatest safari adventure yet.

This is the adventure I’m currently on. I can tell you I have a long way to go; however I can share a few early learning lessons. First, they don’t see themselves as the Old Guard, no really they don’t, so you can not treat them that way. No detail is too small, they don’t like to be caught off guard and they do want to know everything that is going on…or look like they do. The key take away here is over communicate.

Over Communicate

  • Be clear, concise and to the point – over communicate does not mean be verbose.
  • Set expectations for communication early; do they prefer email, phone, text, etc.?
  • Communicate how they best want to receive information. (It doesn’t hurt to follow up with secondary form just to be safe.)
  • Always be respectful! This is so important, don’t be too informal, speak to them with the respect they deserve.
  • Finally always, always, always be polite. This statement is not contingent upon their being polite and that is the hard part.

I’m sure as I continue on this journey there will be many other learning lessons. Some will probably come easier  than others, all will be important and many will benefit me no matter what industry I work in.

Photo credit given to my talented father-in-law Paul Stuetze from his African Safari adventures.

 

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