In the first part of this series on volunteer policies, I started speculating on some of the causes why it’s so hard to get people to volunteer these days. I used my own kids’ swim team as an example of this sad phenomenon.

I ended part one by asking the following question:

Could we be the reason why more parents don’t volunteer, and we don’t even know it?

I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but stay with me here for a second.

Is it possible that our team doesn’t offer a very welcoming volunteer experience? Could it be that our small core of over-worked, stressed-out volunteers are actually scaring everybody else away, even though that’s the absolute last thing they want to do? Do the people who volunteer only occasionally have bad experiences that they don’t share with the team leadership?

I don’t want to point fingers, but I believe that these questions deserve to be answered. Therefore, I think it may be wise to undertake a personal inventory on this topic. Here are some of the questions I would ask myself in our situation:

  • Are we welcoming to new volunteers or do people perceive that we are cliquey? Fear of not being warmly accepted is a huge reason why people don’t want to volunteer.
  • Are we inviting parents inside to the pool on a regular basis? Do they know that we’d love to see them stop in before or after practice? Are we giving them a reason to actually park their cars and walk in? If not, we should be. If we’re not engaging all the parents of our swimmers in regular conversation about their kids, then we can’t complain that some don’t want to get involved in other areas.
  • Are we making personal invitations to our swimmers’ parents to volunteer? I know we send out mass emails, but that does not compare to a face-to-face conversation. I know I always am more willing to help when I am personally invited.
  • Are our volunteer jobs easily digestible? (Meaning- are they short and easy to comprehend?) Or are they epic in length? If we’re asking a parent to stand on his or her feet for eight hours as a timer without regular breaks, it’s no wonder people don’t want to volunteer. We’ve got to split the jobs up to make them less demanding on our people.
  • Are our volunteer job descriptions clearly written and accurate? Do we even have job descriptions available for people to read? How can people sign up for jobs they don’t know exist? Sometimes, I think that the swimming jargon can get in the way of people’s clear understanding of what it is we want them to do.
  • Do we make sure that volunteers get regular bathroom breaks and basic necessities like food and water? This means always having a couple of extra volunteers to cover for the volunteers on break and maybe one person whose specific responsibility is to bring refreshments to the volunteers.
  • Are the volunteer supervisors actually nice people? If new volunteers are scolded and treated with impatience, nobody is going to come back for more. This one might be the hardest one of all to answer honestly. I’m not implying that our people aren’t nice, but I do think stress in the heat of the moment can cause people to say or do things they normally wouldn’t. We’re all susceptible to this.
  • Do the volunteers get the sense that our team is organized and that the division of volunteer labor is fair? If only 30% of the team’s parents show up to volunteer (or whatever the percentage is), and there is no genuine effort made to straighten this out from week to week, why should they carry this unequal burden? They must wonder why the team leadership hasn’t solved this basic problem.

Do any of these questions seem like they could apply to your organization? How would your group’s leadership team receive these questions? Would they be offended? Or would they be open to the process of self-examination?

To be continued…

For Part III in this series on volunteer policies, please check back soon!

Photo by: mcfarlandmo

Posted on 02 February 2011

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