Last week I shared a story about the dreaded difficult volunteer and the virtual hostage situation that was unfolding in real time for an organization I advised. This week I want to bring you some hope and encouragement in the form of a volunteer story that is polar-opposite. Recently, I had the opportunity to talk at length with a volunteer of a local organization in my home state, a pro-life pregnancy care center. Kim has been volunteering for 3 years with the organization.
I asked her how she felt about her experience and how things were going there. She lights up when she talks about her work with them! She says that it feels like home, like family, when she is there. She talks about the work itself, which is not without its challenges, and about the hard reality of not being sure you are making a difference sometimes, because you may never see the person you are trying to help again. She said that what keeps her going in those moments, aside from understanding that it is her role to plant seeds and not necessarily reap the harvest, is those times when a young girl does come back to visit, with a baby in her arms and shares the story of just how much difference the organization made in her life; in her choice to bring life into the world in spite of the hardships of her circumstances.
When Kim first started volunteering, she intended to serve in the capacity of client advocate. But she has become so much more. She has been inspired and motivated to step out of her comfort zone on many levels. She actively fundraises several times per year in conjunction with the organization’s three annual fundraisers. She has become an ambassador for the organization and heads up the support effort within her church, even to the point of public speaking- something she never envisioned herself doing. She has become an ambassador for the organization, one whose commitment has never waned. She always shows up, every time, without fail. This means a little more because Kim will be the first to tell you that she is usually very reluctant to commit to anything.
The leaders in this organization have a lot in common with the leaders of the organization that we discussed last week. They are committed to their cause. They have servant’s hearts. They truly appreciate their volunteers. They want to honor God and glorify God and advance His kingdom as they reach out to others with the love of Christ. With so many good attributes in common, how did these two organizations produce such drastically different results in volunteer experience?
I was sure that I knew the answer, but I asked Kim some questions anyway in, hoping to confirm my suspicions. I asked about the initial interview and orientation process. Not only was in in depth, but Kim had to shadow another experienced volunteer for several months, one who intentionally mentored her in the role. When the shadowing period was over, Kim had an evaluation. She then moved into the role itself, under direct observation of leadership for several weeks, with evaluation and feedback each time. There were multiple group training and orientation meetings in the beginning. Not every volunteer position in every organization requires that degree of intensity in orientation and training, but Kim’s role is a critical one.
She is constantly engaged by leadership in the organization. When the Executive Director passes her in the hall, she always stops to thank her and tell her how much they appreciate her. It is real. It is genuine. They do not wait for an official recognition event. They provide performance feedback throughout the year. They provide continual opportunities for volunteer growth and development throughout the year. There is absolute, express clarity of volunteer expectations and commitment. Kim not only theoretically understands the impact that she makes, but is able to see it, to hear the story directly from those who have been helped. There are volunteer candidates who have been gently and respectfully redirected to other roles that are more suitable for them within the organization- they didn’t make the cut for this role. This organization is making the hard choices, the right calls, on the front end and preventing so many potential back end issues. The same calls that so many leaders in the non-profit sector struggle to make.
Does this organization face challenges like the rest of us? I am sure that they do. I have never advised them, so I don’t have a full operational picture. But, I do know that the story of what they are doing right to engage, equip and empower their volunteer force is big, bold, and unmistakable. It is working. They are staying. And they are happy.
I would love to hear stories of positive things happening right now in your organization, no matter what they are. If you would like to join other leaders for support, encouragement, and shared stories in this journey to find thrive in your organization, just click on the Facebook link at the top of the page and join our brand new private group. I can’t wait to see you there!
*I was given express permission to share this volunteer story