You beg and plead. You’ve emailed and phoned and Facebooked. You’ve updated the website and sent a few personal handwritten notes asking for volunteers.
Aside from the crickets, the only answers to your call for help come from those familiar few in your group who always rise reluctantly and fully when asked.
There are 100 capable people in the group, yet the same 6-8 always volunteer to chair committees, make the coffee and host the picnic. They plan the bus tours and the speaker line up and make sure that there are gluten-free snacks.
Why don’t others in the group feel the need to contribute to the community?
Volunteerism is quite a riddle. Research is available on why people volunteer (or don’t.) The scholarly consensus is that the recruiting and retention of volunteers is difficult for a myriad of reasons, however, a concentrated effort on the motivation of potential volunteers presents positive results in getting and keeping members involved.
Evelyn Beck (Beck, 2015) states that researchers agree on six volunteer motivators:
“People volunteer to make a difference in others’ lives; to support an organization, community or cause; to learn something new; to develop personally or professionally; to feel better about themselves; and to meet people.”
As Beck further investigates, the most committed and dependable volunteers are motivated on a very personal level.
People join organizations to be enriched in some way, and if they are lucky, to enrich the life of someone else.
They join to grow.
They join to learn something new.
They don’t join to be bled dry of time, energy and resources year in and year out.
They don’t come to meetings to listen to the board quibble and bicker during the business meeting. They don’t take time out of their schedules to not be appreciated and to not hear please and thank you.
As a matter of fact, no one does.
Enthusiastic, knowledgeable, willing, fun folks who step out of their comfort zones to show up at a club meeting only to be met with the burden of those who choose to live in drama. Those who are saddled with the frustration of “what we used to be” and the fear of “what will we become?” That unspoken resentment of fresh eyes and new blood. New folks are not greeted with the open arms and rose-petal showers you would think club leadership would instinctively roll out. I’ve watched them be ignored, under appreciated, under communicated to and underutilized. If committed and dependable volunteers aren’t easily found, maybe you aren’t motivating them on a personal level – or maybe your approach is motivating them to run instead of stay. Speaking as frankly as I can, there are local clubs teeming with decades of resentment and entitlement. It is too easy to take kindness, money, energy and the rolodex and go join somewhere else. There has to be another way.
Membership has declined in many horticulture societies (local and global) and the spotlight is on how to change this trend. “How do we retain current members and grow new ones?” is a perennial question for organizations of all sizes. Most groupthink likes to quickly attribute the losses to aging and the economy, but I think you can cite those two culprits as the cause of most malaise. It's deeper than that. Today’s landscape of extracurricular opportunities is greener than it has ever been thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, podcasting and various types of in-person meet ups and chat spaces. Time is no longer limitless and it stretched thin faster than we expected. Club leadership has to step it up to retain and grow membership because overall membership is shrinking and to reverse the trend, it is going to require radical change and a return to a place love and kindness, and one of shared respect, gratitude and a value for shared interests.
So those of us who thrive in and enjoy social organizations, those who like the community and the connection of being with other humans in the same room at the same time sharing the same interests, we have some interesting challenges ahead of us to keep our groups alive.
What if in 2016, you radically changed your approach to volunteerism in your group?
What if you changed your perspective for every club action to be “this is what the club has to offer you” instead of “this is what the club needs from you.”
Here is a plan for that 'concentrated effort' mentioned above:
1.Get your leadership all aboard the same on the fun train.
2.Take time to clearly identify the needs of the organization and what volunteers are needed.
3.Make an easy-to-read handout of the group’s needs and easy-to-use sign-up.
4.Set up a table at your next membership meeting of 2016 and decorate it in a bright, fun way.
5.Highlight each of the events and what is needed of each volunteer.
6.Offer, “Everyone who signs up to help at one of our events will receive…”
7.Print out the membership list and make it easy for members to edit their information.
Here’s the plan with more detail:
1.Get your leadership all aboard the same on the fun train. This means everyone on the core team agrees that they will put effort behind retaining and growing membership in 2016.
2.Take time to clearly identify the needs of the organization and what volunteers are needed. Say please and thank you. Sit down with one large print out of the entire year, and another for each month of the year. Mark out all your traditional meetings and yearly events.
3.Make an easy-to-read handout of the group’s needs and easy-to-use sign-up sheets with clipboards and pencils for the next meeting. Each event you identified in step 2 gets its own page. What jobs need done? In what time frame? How many bodies are needed? Is there any money involved? People will volunteer more readily if they know your expectations and are allowed some creative leeway to complete the task as needed. Offer trust. Offer resources. And offer a please and thank you.
4.Set up a table at your first membership meeting of 2016 and decorate it in a bright, fun way. Use a bright tablecloth, set out literature, put out a little dish of good chocolates (Thanks, Patrice) and staff the table with your two friendliest members that know about the group’s needs, like to smile and don’t tend to scare people off. Say please and thank you.
a.This table has three functions:
i.BE A BRIGHT SPOT OF CONVERSATION AT YOUR MEETING.
ii.COMMUNICATE NEEDS and GET VOLUNTEERS.
iii.PROVIDE MEMBERSHIP-RELATED INFORMATION.
5.Highlight each of the events and what is needed of each volunteer. Estimate the time requirements.
6.Offer, “Everyone who signs up to help at one of our events will receive…” Maybe its $2 off dues, or maybe its entry into a special raffle for a $100 gift certificate to spend with whatever hybridizer or garden they choose. Say please and thank you.
7.Print out the membership list (make one if you don’t already keep an electronic list of members with emails) and make it easy for members to edit and add to their information at this table. Make sure everyone’s name is spelled right. That’s important. Make sure spouses and partners are noted on the list if they are members, too.
The bad news? This is hard stuff. It will take a concentrated effort to discuss, plan and execute your mission of difference in the coming year. You'll have to keep this effort at the top of your minds and the tips of your tongues throughout the year.
The good news? It works. It gets easier and easier to get help from your kindreds to create a positive collective experience for each other.
The better news? Your club will transform into a organized group of willing volunteers that can focus on fun and friendship and less on fiefdoms and fussing.