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6-human-needsAfter all these years, I still believe that everyone has the potential to help, that anyone is capable of becoming a great volunteer. I still think that each and every person who expresses just a hint of maybe perhaps it might be possible sometime later if I kinda sorta could be interested for only a wee bit of time is going to be the next volunteer of the year. How do I know that I truly deep in my soul believe this or am I just fooling myself? I truly know this because I know how my mind works.
See, my mind and I, we’ve gotten used to living with each other. It reminds me that I can’t take that fork from the restaurant and I yell at it because it forgets names, places and where I put my stress ball.
So I know I sincerely see everyone as volunteers reaching their potential because as I speak to them I get this visual. I sort of see their edges starting to sparkle, kind of like the way an excel spreadsheet cell sparkles when you hit copy. Then the volunteer, as they are talking, becomes a pseudo butcher’s diagram of their parts. Those parts are their skills, their interests, their personalities, their experience, their mindset, their availability, their aversions, their hidden dreams, their motivations, their personalities, quirks, etc. Then my pal, the mind, as it holds the sparkling cuts of volunteer, travels into the mind’s kitchen where it starts to look at all the available ingredients for this volunteer recipe. Hmmm, a dash of Tuesdays, with a sprinkling of creative license and some fresh clients that need a singer who studied in Paris and loves to draw pictures of cats on bicycles. Voila!

These volunteer diagrams are like the first ingredient in a fine recipe. Just as each part of a butcher’s diagram represents a steak or rib or filet which is the basis for hundreds of dishes like hamburgers and pot roast, our volunteer diagram represents the potential of the volunteer.
Now here’s the volunteer manager part: All the other ingredients in this unique volunteer recipe come from our ability to catalog and store vast amounts of extraneous ingredients in our mind’s kitchen. We remember that a client grew up in Hungary and loves baseball. We tuck away snips of conversations in the cabinets of our mind. A senior manager muses that it would be nice to see volunteers take part in a holiday chorus, or a staff member tells us how he could occasionally use a volunteer who is adept at stats.
We may overhear a snippet of a conversation about someone who wants to donate craft supplies. We shelve that near the knowledge that a student group wants to volunteer to help seniors who live alone. So when that new volunteer, Jamie sits down for an interview and we really start to get to know her, that sparkly edged diagram begins to appear. Jamie, a retired accountant who wants to give back to seniors, shares that she used to teach preschool while finishing her degree and says that it was one of her favorite experiences. Later in the conversation, Jamie shares that she relaxes by scrap booking and belongs to a craft group. Suddenly, those pieces of the diagram become the basis for a spectacular creation. Jamie is paired with the students and the donated goods. Jamie is the main ingredient in a recipe called “Project Senior/Student Crafting.”
Obviously, it is not that easy. Pieces of good ideas can languish for a long time. Everyday, we integrate volunteers into our organizations. But as we go about our everyday jobs, recruiting, retaining, and cultivating volunteers while filling a wide variety of requests and needs, we also stock bits and pieces of information in the spice cabinet of our minds.
And when those ingredients come together in a perfect way, I’m thinking it’s got to be similar to a chef creating a new signature dish.
As volunteer managers, we may often feel more like a short order cook in a non-stop busy diner, but in our hearts and minds we are that chef who sees the potential in every ingredient.
And when that new volunteer dish is savored by the people we are helping, we can step back, wipe the flour from our face and bask in the moment.