Have you ever been standing before a room full of people making a call for volunteers, and no one raises their hand? The people squirm, don't make eye contact, and begin fussing with their phones, or pretend to read some random papers to look preoccupied. In your head you're thinking, 'Man, do these people know how many hours I've put in? I ought to be citizen of the year by now . . . what a bunch of lazy, over-privileged, self-centered . . . ' You snap back to reality. The lovely external smile never left your face - thank goodness. You close the meeting with some "rah rah for our cause" kind of speech and say your farewell. You wonder, 'why doesn't anyone care?' Why did my clipboard return blank?
Job description! If you manage volunteers, do yourself a huge favor by writing concise, clear job descriptions. Not paragraphs. Bullet points. Even good-hearted, giving, loving people don't want to be railroaded into something that is vague and potentially more that they can, or want to take on. Here is an example of what NOT to say when recruiting:
"We need someone to head-up the fundraiser"
Head-up? Uh, be the main organizer . . . head-up? Oh no no no . . . very scary! Does this mean oversee a team? If yes, how many? Have they committed, or are we just hoping for the best? Am I in charge of catering, decor, activities, hiring the band, renting the hall, making centerpieces, ordering flowers, being master of ceremonies, finding sponsors, or (pause for creepy organ music) all of the above? Suspiciously the mind wanders, 'why did last year's coordinator quit . . . was that the lady who had a nervous breakdown last year?'
Organizers, be clear up-front, actually tell people what they will be doing, and watch the results!
Smaller commitments. If you aren't getting eager helpers for a particular job, try splitting it into 2 or 3 separate jobs. Outline the estimated time commitment. Nothing more need be said.
Outline physical requirements. If a job requires lots of walking or heavy lifting make sure you ma
ke people aware of this. If there are any sit-down/less strenuous jobs be sure add this to the description - you might be losing folks who think their health will prevent them from being effective.
Tell them you will train them. People don't want you to think they are more capable that they are. When I used to manage volunteers for a theatre company, we had difficulty getting follow-spot operators because it sounded too techie. Once folks were made aware that it required no prior experience, and that the training during rehearsals would prepare them, we had some brave souls step forward for the task.
There are several online volunteer management sites, such as SignUpGenius. If you don't get a show of hands in-person, it may be because folks have to check their calendars. Give them the flexibility to volunteer online; and it doesn't hurt to send a friendly e-blast as a reminder.
Be like a duck.
I love this Michael Caine quote, "Be like a duck. Calm and cool on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath." Your attitude and stress level are contagious, strive to keep high moral. If you've lived a lot of life, you know that there are far worse things that can happen in the world than a caterer tripping over the bass player and falling into the cake. Embrace the challenge to interpret the unexpected with a sense of humor and your team will too. In fact, they may enjoy working with you so much that they enlist their friends next year.
Oh, there is so much more that could be said, but well, you have a life. So, if you take away anything, it is to get rid of vague pleas for volunteers. Be direct and up-front with job expectations. Best of luck on your future endeavors and never lose sight of the mission of your project. Our society is greatly enhanced by the continuous work of non-profits and aid organizations. Let's stay energized, organized, and inspired, so the good work can continue!
Lacy is an entertainer, entrepreneur, and manager for national touring sister act Gracie & Lacy. Become a Gracie & Lacy Insider: www.gracieandlacy.com