What do volunteers want? f/u.

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“Wait. you caught me off-balance.”

What? You thought I meant… No, f/u=follow up. Like sending volunteer managers to leadership training, it’s sadly nonexistent these days.

Lately, as a volunteer, I’ve experienced a rash of major lack of follow/up. Most of the time, follow/up applies to a new idea or project, but it can include things like getting answers on an assignment .

Truth is, I’m guilty of it too. But when you experience it from a volunteer perspective, it is a motivation killer. No follow/up is like saying to a volunteer, “this is not important or worth my time. YOU are not important or worth my time.”

When I was confronted by volunteers for not following up, I would feel off-balance and I’d use the excuses, “I’m working on it,” or “I haven’t gotten an answer yet,” (when I hadn’t even asked) or “I was just about to call you.” I’ve strung people along, put them on hold, shelved them, or ran the other way when I saw them coming; all because the follow/up wasn’t there. (But I was trying, so that made me a good person, right?)

Why do we do this to our volunteers and to ourselves?

  • we have the best of intentions- but the road to the volunteer apocalypse is paved with good intentions
  • we can’t say no-which creates a loop in which we never get anything done
  • we are caught off guard-and we have no comeback prepared
  • we live in a visionary world-but we have no visionary strategy
  • we think we must prop up all volunteers-so we feed a need in some that may not align with our mission work
  • we are “nice” people-but we mistakenly equate nice with doormat

The bottom line is this: if we can’t follow/up, we have no business engaging in the first place. What are some ways to prevent the volunteer f/u syndrome?

  • Make priorities known: It’s ok to say, “that is an interesting idea. Right now, our priority is to fill these volunteer roles. Can you help us do that first?”
  • Share the responsibility for f/u with the person: “I’m swamped with this event coming up. Will you remind me after the event?”
  • Be honest: “I might forget because we are in the middle of a recruitment campaign and I don’t want you to think I’m just giving you lip service, so can we revisit this at a later date?”
  • Weed out the serious from the non-serious: “That is an interesting concept. We have a volunteer task force that meets monthly and one of their objectives is to choose and implement a new idea. Would you come to the next meeting and make a pitch?”
  • Define the f/u: “What do you need from me? I will put it on my calendar and get back with you on the 20th of next month after I speak with the finance director.”
  • Don’t sugarcoat the no: “I’ve spoken to our CEO and at this time, she is unable to allocate the resources to your idea. It is not because the idea isn’t a good one, but because we are about to implement a new initiative and it’s all hands on deck right now. Try again after we’re successful.”
  • Don’t own the work: “I would like to help with that, but we are in the middle of volunteer appreciation planning. Can you work up a proposal with specifics and examples and get it to me? Without a fleshed-out proposal, I can’t get an audience to hear your idea.”

I’ll not lie. I’m disappointed in my recent experiences with f/u even though I understand the why because I’ve been there and had those good intentions. But, still, lack of f/u kills motivation.

So, let’s not make volunteer f/u an actual….F…. well, you know what I mean.

-Meridian