But what do we mean when we say volunteers are looking for someone to be?
- They’re looking for something meaningful of which to be a part. And it’s not enough for the project to be meaningful at a macro scale (“We’re working to elect Barack Obama”); it has to make sense to the volunteer at a micro scale as well: “Our role is to send volunteers to Iowa. This is why Iowa needs volunteers, and this is why the Obama campaign needs to win Iowa.”
- They’re looking for clarity about structure: “This is our task, and this is how we’re going to accomplish it.” People are reluctant to pick up paintbrushes til they see that the scaffolding has been firmly erected.
- They’re looking for a way to be indispensable. This doesn’t have to mean a full-time commitment; it can mean being Jerry the data guy, who once a week produces the computer report that allows us to double-check all our other computer reports, or Deborah the captain of the confirmation team, who comes in for the final three weeks to make sure everything that went before doesn’t fail for lack of logistical support. As long as the connection is clear between what the volunteer is doing and the ultimate result, indispensability is a virtually limitless commodity.
- They’re looking for a way to be included. The Nonprofiteer once organized a speakers’ bureau for an agency whose staff gave her all the meaning, structural clarity and indispensability she could have asked for, at least if by “indispensability” one means “the project wouldn’t exist without this person.” But the experience was a bust because those self-same staff members regarded the project as superfluous, a frill: if it worked, fine; if not, also fine. After 18 months of isolated effort, the Nonprofiteer gave up. Why? Because if she’d wanted to be alone, she could have stayed home. “Being someone” means “being someone in someone else’s eyes or plans or life;” “being someone” means “being wanted or needed or missed.”
Tags: Nonprofit management