Large conferences are the ultimate hyperbole: Simultaneously energizing and exhausting. Similarly, while it's inspiring to be one among a movement of thousands, it’s often the individual conversations and connections that are most profound. Recently, the National Conference on Volunteering and Service was held in Atlanta, GA, where thousands of engagement and service leaders (both professionals and volunteers) gathered to learn, share, celebrate, and advocate for our work.
Last month, while facilitating a reunion of organizations who participated in a year-long High Impact Volunteer Engagement project (HIVE), I was once again struck by the powerful potential that one strategic change can have on an organization overall.
This is a story of an “unexpected” volunteer who is making a very significant contribution to an organization – all because of a crazy idea and the fact that the organization made it incredibly easy for him to make his idea a reality. While we at JFFixler Group love to share case studies gathered from our research and work in the field, this is the story of my friend and “running buddy” Adam.
Maybe I was a little woozy from hunger when I first read today’s article, “It’s a Wrap: How Chipotle transformed itself by upending its approach to management” by Max Nison, as I couldn’t help but think about all the ways that volunteer engagement leaders can benefit from applying the burrito giant’s management tactics.
While it is not uncommon for volunteer engagement professionals to occasionally feel alone in their work, there is no better antidote to that frustrating feeling than by connecting with thousands of peers at the National Conference on Volunteerism and Service (NCVS). Hosted by Points of Light and scheduled for June 16 through 18 in Atlanta, GA, this year's NCVS will be putting strategic volunteer engagement at the core of the conference.
‘Tis the season of holidays, gratitude, celebration, and, yes, a bit of stress, too. The last six weeks of the year are always busy times. Whether planning work events, juggling family and social engagements, or trying to get ready for a much-needed vacation, many of us find our days and nights to be full and demanding. At the same time, the season often inspires us to reflect and express gratitude. Volunteers certainly make my list of “things I am grateful for” each year and I always try to express that gratitude to the volunteers who contribute their time to the organizations in which I am involved. As we have often discussed, volunteers today do not have the same motivations or expectations around volunteering as do older, more traditional volunteers. In that vein, traditional methods of recognizing and thanking volunteers (pins or plaques for years of service) often don’t resonate with new generations. The good news is that thanking volunteers and acknowledging their work do not have to be difficult, time consuming, or costly. The most important factor in meaningfully acknowledging volunteers is that we be sincere in our thanks.
When I first started working with volunteers more than two decades ago, few people talked of volunteer “cultivation.” Cultivation is a term first borrowed from the fundraising world. Fundraisers had long recognized that successful fundraising is all about relationships. With the shift from volunteer “management” to volunteer “engagement” over the past decade, nonprofits began to embrace the relationship-focused approach with volunteers as well, and “cultivation” has slowly but steadily been replacing “recruitment” as evidence of our commitment to cultivating ongoing relationships with volunteers over the long haul, rather than simply filling quotas through traditional recruitment methods. The evolution of our field – and the terminology we use to define the field – was top of mind for me when I was asked to present on Stewarding High Level Volunteers to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society yesterday at the Light The Night Campaign leadership meeting. “Stewardship” – like the concept of cultivation – is a term originating in the fundraising world. The Association of Donor Relations Professionals describes “stewardship” as activities “that take an externally-oriented view of bringing donors closer to the outcomes they are making possible, thereby demonstrating that the organization is indeed fulfilling its fiduciary responsibility to deploy the funding as the donor intended.” So what does this mean for volunteer stewardship?
There’s nothing like a dynamic gathering of dedicated volunteer engagement professionals with a shared commitment to service to get the adrenalin going. That’s likely why I am typing away on my laptop on this late evening flight home from the Ohio Conference on Service and Volunteerism , hosted by Serve Ohio (the State’s Commission on Service and Volunteerism), rather than trying to catch a few ZZZZs. Today I was honored to be part of a dialogue about if, how, and why service can be a uniting force in our communities and in our country. While the dialogue lasted only an hour, we viewed it as just the beginning. I encourage readers to use these highlights as conversation starters amongst colleagues and volunteers in your organizations to explore what’s in it for you to embrace service as a uniting force.
We have worked with many multi-level national organizations across the US and Canada and the unique relationships between regional or local chapters and the “home office” is always unique and often complex, which is exactly why our interest was piqued when Wild Apricot announced the release of a new study on this very issue, the Multi-Chapter Benchmarking Survey. As noted in the highlights and the always-cool-to-see infographics, the key benefits of a multi-chapter structure to an organization, as reported by both local chapters and the central organizations, are networking, mutual support, and the sharing of ideas and resources. The research explored the benefits that chapters seek to gain from the central organization and those that the central organization seeks to gain from its chapters. As we all know, however, the heart of any membership organization is, of course, the member – and this study does include the benefits that members gain from such an organizational structure, including education and professional development, networking events, information and publications, and conferences or trade shows. Volunteer engagement is, of course, one important facet of membership engagement and development. In fact, it’s increasingly recognized as a key strategy in developing and retaining members. So, how have we seen the unique relationship between central organizations and local chapters play out in terms of volunteer engagement? How can both chapters and central offices mutually benefit one another?
School Volunteering: A Model Worthy Only of History BooksNotebooks, protractors, registration forms, and new class schedules. In the past two weeks, I—like so many other parents—have been silently cheering about the start of school. Yet, once again, while waiting in registration lines at each of my children’s schools, my personal and professional lives collided. My desire to volunteer in support of their schools crashed into the lack of opportunities to volunteer in ways that are meaningful and convenient for me. I have never desired to organize box tops and, due to my work and travel schedule, rarely can chaperone field trips. I recognize that teachers and administrators are rarely formally trained to effectively engage volunteers, yet, with three out of five American volunteers aged 25-54 being parents to school-aged children, schools have a tremendous opportunity to strategically engage parents. As a consultant on strategic volunteer engagement who works with organizations across North America, I know that the opportunities for parent to use their time and skills in support of their kids and their kids’ schools need not be so limited.
"Loved this webinar! My organizartion is currently defining volunteer management and volunteer engagement so this was extremely helpful. I gained some insight that I can take back to my staff as I continue to develop their volunteer engagement skills. Thank you!!! —Webinar Participant