Unless we just prefer to think that every silver lining has a black cloud

Did everyone see this New York Times piece about the current upsurge in volunteering? The anonymous Executive Director who wants the phone to stop ringing with all this proffered help wins a slot in the People Unclear on the Concept Hall of Fame.  Yes, of course, you hope they’ll become donors–but they will, if you treat them right as volunteers.  So anyone bemoaning the annoyance of a sudden uptick in people hoping to help out might as well be complaining about the mess made by $50 bills when they rain from the sky.

Yes, managing volunteers takes time; and determining how you’re going to use them takes thought.  If it’s worth time and thought to figure out how to raise more money in a down economy, it’s worth time and thought to figure out how to make volunteers welcome and useful.  Some of them will give you money immediately, but many more will give you money for the rest of their lives if you just treat them right, right now, when many of them are feeling devalued and disconnected and terrified.

The Nonprofiteer understands full well that your nonprofit isn’t run for the benefit of its volunteers, nor should it be; but it’s sheer we’ve-always-done-it-this-way laziness to refuse to think about how volunteers can give meaningful service.  Try asking: what have we always wanted to do that we haven’t had the resources for?  Is that something volunteers could do, or could do if properly supervised, or could do part of, or that staff could do if volunteers took over other aspects of their work?  And by the way: doesn’t the Board have some committees that are less than fully staffed, where responsible volunteers could make a real difference?

The agencies that figure out how to say “Yes” to at least one of those questions won’t just survive these bad economic times–they’ll serve their clients better than they did before.


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4 Responses to “Unless we just prefer to think that every silver lining has a black cloud”

  1. Jim Simpson Says:

    Well said. In Cleveland, city with highest per capita donor base, one guy did something no local non-profit could achieve, and in doing so generated such so much interest for volunteering that he had to assign the volunteers the duty of handling the volunteers. (see link – http://www.cleveland.com/plaindealer/stories/index.ssf?/base/living-0/12372786278750.xml&coll=2)

    Not confusing to many who want to help…just to “professionals” who see their work as a job with a defined job description that doesn’t include “innovation”. Hey, a job’s a job, right? Well non-profit and foundation people…get ready for a challenge. There are some pretty sharp outsourced people who aren’t going to care what you think…they have succeeded in the past in adversity and you won’t get in their way.


  2. sabyberry Says:

    Great post! Thanks for commenting on my similar post at mommyceo.org

  3. Yana Davis Says:

    There’s also an upsurge, according to a news report that I saw online, in attendance at churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of spiritual devotion.

    Hopefully we are entering an era of new paradigm in which human fulfillment, based on soft power, will replace the old paradigm, around since the days of the pharoahs, of hard power.

    NGOs will have a lot to do with that shift, if not everything.

  4. More “useless” volunteers « Says:

    […] know what to do with the volunteers who are flocking to their doors.  The Nonprofiteer has already written about the Times piece on this subject, but it was followed in short order by a complementary story on Chicago Public […]

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