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OneSizeFitsAllMari is a volunteer coordinator who, by her own admission is great at following protocol. “Look,” she says, “I’m just not comfortable going over people’s heads or taking jobs away from them. I think if we all do our jobs correctly, then things run much more smoothly and we all win. I absolutely hate it when staff in my organization take it upon themselves to manage the volunteers. That’s my job. So, I understand the frustration when someone feels like another person is meddling in their area. I just don’t do it.”
Now I know that many times I’ve experienced a staff member trying to “fix” the volunteer department with ideas that seemingly are no-brainers. It’s not that we don’t appreciate fresh, great ideas. We do, and welcome them all the time. It’s the condescending advice based on no real knowledge of volunteer services that is frustrating. When staff look at volunteer services and think that what we do is simple, that’s when they think a “one size fits all” approach works. Would I tell the finance department that they should calculate donations differently? I’d be an idiot to do so, because I know nothing about their processes.
Mari, though, had an interesting experience. She found that the marketing people in her organization would make requests that she couldn’t fill. “They wanted volunteers to hand out flyers and put them on cars in parking lots. Our volunteers have no interest in doing that. They came to volunteer to make a difference in our clients’ lives. I ask, but they politely refuse. And then, marketing wants volunteers to wear our t-shirts and go into libraries to talk to parents about our services for children. The volunteers are not interested in doing that at all.”
Mari paused. “I asked to attend a marketing meeting to talk about our volunteers and what they will do and not do. Marketing accepted and I went. I gave them a printout of the types of volunteering we could offer and I spoke to them about volunteer motivation and meaningful volunteer work. The marketers nodded and asked a few questions and I thought I made my points, but two weeks later, I got another request for handing out flyers at a local library.”
Mari sighed. “Did they choose not to hear me? I don’t know. Maybe they are just operating out of habit. Maybe they don’t want to think differently, but I wonder if they even realize how much volunteers can help if we are involved in the process. I’m stumped.”
Mari went on. “Here’s the interesting part. A few days later, I was invited to a volunteer directors’ luncheon. I took my seat and introduced myself to everyone at my table. We had volunteer coordinators from a real diverse group of organizations. It was awesome. The woman who sat a few chairs down was a librarian who managed the library volunteers. I started talking to her and laughingly told her about my marketing request for our volunteers to hang out in her library. She laughed but then we really started to talk about her library and she told me that she did not have enough volunteers to do story time with the kids. I asked her if one of our volunteers could come in and help. I just really wanted to be more community spirited and I knew that one volunteer in particular, Olivia, would be interested. She is a retired schoolteacher and had told me she loves reading to our clients and missed her story time with a class room full of children. To my surprise, not only did the librarian think that was a wonderful idea, she suggested Olivia wear our t-shirt. I was thinking, wow and then the librarian added that Olivia should bring flyers too. She said that the library would make sure the patrons knew that our organization is lending our volunteers to the library. Bingo, right there, the marketing request was met, but in a way that worked.”
Mari continued, “I went back and set up the first story time with Olivia. Because I still believe in protocol, I emailed the head of marketing and my manager to inform them of the partnership with the library.”
At this point, Mari reflected on her experience. “I ask, no plead with every department to include me in their planning. I know what volunteers we have and what they can do. If I need to recruit 20 volunteers for an event, then I need to know that months ahead of time, not two weeks before. And, what about all the things that volunteers can help with that no one asks for because they don’t include me in their discussions? My experience with the library tells me that I need to be more proactive. Now, will I be more inclined to follow protocol or will I branch out on my own and do what I know will work?”
Mari had to go and before she hung up, she said, “We’ll just see!”