Continued, Passion-driven Service
by Cathy Kits, SCSBC Development Director ◊
Volunteer engagement is something most of our schools struggle with. How can you inspire people to turn their commitment to your school into passion-driven service? This is not necessarily a capacity issue, but potentially a strategic one.
In each of your school communities, there are people who are looking for opportunities to contribute to the life of the school. The challenge you face is how to bridge the gap between what they are looking for and how you can authentically engage them in meaningful volunteer roles. Let’s look at some general trends that are impacting volunteer engagement across Canada.
Recent research conducted by Volunteer Canada suggests that the biggest barrier to volunteering is the lack of time. Increasingly, we are seeing dual income families, which significantly reduces their ability to make large volunteer commitments. The next most common is the inability to make a year-round commitment. The research also indicates a growing desire for more direct impact, particularly with millennials. These barriers demonstrate a need for us to find ways to accommodate busy, dynamic schedules, to value volunteers’ time and to address their motivations for volunteering. Most are primarily motivated by meaning: to help others, to feel good about themselves and to support something they care strongly about. They have a desire to make a difference. How can you help them do that?
Focus first on the volunteer, not the role. Take the time to match volunteer roles based on skills and interest; adapt and change roles to best suit individuals and the school. In order to appropriately match the volunteer to the role, you need to know them. Is he/she an achiever, an affiliator or an influencer?
Achievers welcome challenge, are committed to accomplishing goals, and look for opportunities to test out new skills and improve performance. They are innovative, results-oriented, take risks and enjoy overcoming barriers.
Affiliators value relationship, enjoy working with others, and seek opportunities to be helpful and supportive. They are sensitive to the feelings and needs of others and support others in achieving goals.
Influencers seek to influence people and events so that change is realized. They are charismatic leaders, opinion shapers, articulate and often assertive.
Be intentional about personally asking people already in your volunteer base: “In the past you’ve done…have you
thought about doing…?”
Ensure that volunteers know exactly what is expected of them by communicating the goals and objectives of their involvement, the time commitment, and how their work will contribute to fulfilling the school’s mission and vision. If busy people are going to volunteer their time, they want to feel that their time will be used well.
Report back to your volunteers on the results of their involvement and how they made an impact.
Create a culture of involvement by engaging new parents as soon as they join the school. Consider tapping into another group of potential volunteers who have an established emotional connection to your school – your grandparents.
- Start new volunteers off small. Don’t scare them away with too huge a commitment too soon.
- Speak with potential volunteers face-to-face when looking to fill longer term or leadership roles.
- Take the time to authentically welcome volunteers and orient them to their new role.
- Provide clarity:
ū What experience, specific skill sets, personal qualities
or talents are you looking for?
ū What is the time commitment? How many hours over what time period? Is it flexible? Can work be done from home?
ū Who is the responsible staff person? Clear lines of communication and accountability are important. This also provides a context for handling potential conflicts.
- Design volunteer positions for varying levels of responsibility, commitment and experience.
- Provide as much flexibility as possible.
- Share the impact your school is having on student lives and how volunteers can participate in the exciting work God is doing at your school.
- And finally, ask!
Volunteers leave for a number of reasons: the experience was not what they had expected, they were underutilized, they did not feel that their contribution was meaningful, they experienced conflict with other volunteers or staff, or they burned out.
So what can you do to keep your volunteers inspired and involved?
- Keep the workload manageable. We often create situations where too much work is being done by too few people.
- Create an environment that ensures open communication, teamwork and respect for diversity.
- Foster opportunities for volunteers to work collaboratively.
- Provide opportunities for volunteers to learn and grow.
- Connect volunteer contributions to the bigger picture.
- Show volunteers that you respect their time and efforts by always being prepared for them.
- Be clear about your expectations while providing flexibility.
- Find out what their passions and gifts are, and place them where they can excel.
- Ensure your goals are realistic, relevant and achievable. There is no quicker way to burn out volunteers than by making them reach for an impossible target.
- Graciously give and receive feedback. Personalize your strategies by reflecting on your own volunteer experiences and what made them either positive or negative ones.
Knowing your volunteers helps you understand how they prefer to be recognized. For some this will be public recognition. For others it will be a coffee and a chat or an encouraging phone call. And for a few it will be opportunities for leadership and involvement in decision-making. Whatever the approach, here are some important thanking strategies.
- Recognize the person, not the work.
- Recognize effort, not just accomplishment.
- Recognize consistently.
- Recognize honestly, suitable to the achievement.
- Focus on impact and the collaborative efforts of volunteers and staff.
- Tailor recognition to reflect the volunteer’s level of engagement.
- Always acknowledge that time is a precious commodity and that you place a high value on the volunteer’s gift of time.
National Volunteer Week is April 23-29. Plan to celebrate and thank your volunteers, recognizing their contribution to your school community. However, remember that ongoing recognition is essential in helping those faithful people who provide passion-driven service to your school feel appreciated and engaged year-round.