It’s not just their loyalty to preexisting groups that should lead us to recruit volunteers by the bunch rather than one at a time. It’s also the attitudes (prejudices?) they have about the groups we want them to join, compounded by how vividly they remember the stigma of being the new kid. Hardly anyone who had that experience looks back on it fondly.
Fortunately, a single device removes both these obstacles: recruit people in pairs. (This may also make it possible to increase the volunteer population by mating them, but that’s a longer-term strategy.)
The two-by-two recommendation is most often made about Board members, and specifically about minority Board members: don’t ask someone to be the only African-American or the only woman in the room. But it’s equally true of any Board recruit, or in fact of any volunteer: bring in 1 person, and you’ve got a 50% shot at keeping him/her. Bring in 2, and you’ve got an 80% shot at keeping them both.
Why? Because misery loves company, and being a newcomer/outsider is always misery. And because unless your Board or volunteer program is truly astonishing, anyone observing it from the outside will think it could use a lot of improvement. The prospect of trying to improve something unaided is usually daunting to the point of not bothering.
Example: while the Nonprofiteer firmly believes she should run for the Board of her condominium association because the job is really important and members of the current Board really aren’t up to it, she can’t bear the thought of being stuck alone with all those people who really aren’t up to their jobs. Lately, however, it’s occurred to her: if she can persuade one or two other member of the association, people she knows to be competent, to run alongside her, they’d have a fighting change of reforming the institution.
Face it: most people watching your Board meetings or volunteer projects would probably have similar thoughts–and if they don’t see what’s going on til after they’ve joined, they may just quietly get discouraged and go away. But bring in a whole class of Board members–two or three or four, not just a little new blood but gouts–and each of them will feel empowered to help turn the place around.