Just revisiting this post about volunteer investors from 2017. Semantics aside, we need to change the deep conceptions/misperceptions surrounding volunteers.
Why Time “donors”
Time=Money. We all say it and that’s why we call volunteers “time donors.” They donate their time, skills, expertise, talents etc. But is that what they really are? Donors? Maybe there’s a more descriptive word for our volunteers. And what is the difference between the terms donate and invest anyway?
donate: to present as a gift, grant, or contribution
invest: to use, give, or devote (money, time) as for a purpose or to achieve something:
Hmmmm, there’s a subtle, but profound difference in the two definitions.
Volunteers don’t just show up, give a few hours and walk away. But outdated thinking categorizes them in this way. Doesn’t it feel like investing is closer to what volunteers do? Maybe we should start to rethink this whole time donor idea.
Let’s take this further and examine investors. Investors invest money, right? But why? Why do they invest money in startups. non-profits, real estate, stock markets and other ventures. To make more money? Or is it more than that?
Money is a currency. So what do investors really invest? Many things. They invest their future, hoping to be financially secure. They invest their dreams, hoping to achieve a goal. They invest their essence, hoping to give back. They invest their good name, hoping to attach to a cause that is worthy of their currency. They invest employee engagement, hoping to attract great employees. They invest their clout, hoping to further a cause that supports their vision.
Investors invest so many intangibles, and their currency is money. They don’t give startups or organizations money, they devote their money in order to achieve a goal.
How would this apply to volunteers?
If money=currency, then time=currency.
So if volunteers’ currency is time, then what exactly do they invest?
They invest all of the above and their humanity. (the quality or condition of being human)
Volunteer managers everywhere instinctively know this. We feel this every day when hearing and observing our volunteers’ intangibles. How do we feel this?
- by the rewards volunteers tell us they personally feel
- by their belief in us and our missions
- by the passion exhibited by volunteers
- by the camaraderie volunteers forge when bonding with like minded citizens
- by the commitment volunteers show
- by the enrichment volunteers gain by volunteering with us
- by the sense of pride volunteers feel in their work
- by the support and love they extend to us and other staff
- by the initiative they take when doing word of mouth marketing in their communities
- by the care they wrap around strangers in need
- by the desire they exhibit in wanting us to grow and succeed
- by the pure joy they infuse into our lives
- by the amount of time they spend away from us helping us off the clock by recruiting, marketing. finding resources, donating, improving themselves, etc.
What do we get from these Investors?
- Additional time spent off the clock
- Additional resources
- Free marketing-the best kind, word of mouth
- Support, both organizationally, and personally for any staff member lucky enough to work with volunteers
- Information from the outside world-pretty darned important when you exist in a non-profit bubble
- Expertise-think all the accomplished volunteers who willingly give their expertise to help us
- Fresh ideas
- Recruitment of like-minded individuals
- Learning from all walks of life/education
- Diversity and the ability to make real diverse change
- Transparency and the ability to proclaim that transparency
- A chorus of voices and a wide circle of influence
Investors, according to experts, want the following things from the areas in which they invest:
- they want to build a relationship
- they want to partner
- they want to invest in a “team”
- they want to see a better future
- they want to grow
- they want to understand concepts
Sounds an awful lot like the wants of our volunteers, doesn’t it? Calling volunteers “time donors” implies that they give time and walk away and are mostly disconnected from us. Nothing could be further from the truth.
So, do volunteers donate their time or devote their time if devote implies giving for a purpose? I think devote wins hands down.
For years and years, we have been trying to equate time donation with money donation. Time and money are simply two different types of currencies. And besides, we all know that volunteers do so much more than give their time to a task. They also raise money, find resources, advocate, broadcast, recruit, and market for us. They have chosen to invest a huge chunk of themselves in our missions. They have chosen to connect to us.
Let’s stop constantly trying to shove volunteers into the round money hole by equating time spent with dollars saved, which isn’t a true measuring stick at all. Let’s erase the idea that volunteers have no more connection with us than a few hours here and there.
time donors=minimal involvement
volunteer investors=fully engaged
Instead, let’s elevate the volunteers’ role as investors. Investors who devote their time, money, skills, talents, resources, passion, commitment, expertise, experience, knowledge, drive, zeal, perspective, and so much more to helping us further our causes.
What could be more important than that?
originally appeared September 2017 here