On the door of Chief Executive Officer Cynthia Obsole’s office is a sign that says, “kind words can be short and easy to speak but their echoes are truly endless”. Her life is taken up by insular meetings; meetings with senior managers, meetings with donors and meetings with consultants. Her trusty right hand executive assistant, Miranda fetches the lattes, reminds her of her husband’s birthdays and stands in front of the door like an offensive left tackle on a Sunday afternoon. Ms. Obsole has years of non-profit leadership and is very pleased with the team that surrounds her. She is a pillar of the community, and the majority of senior managers vie to be the leader whose team does the most to further Ms. Obsole’s agendas.
For years she has run her non-profit with a central vision, one she had 30 years prior when she took over the mantel. She is an artisan, a person who, at home polishes her grandmother’s silver set.
Ms. Obsole is a non-profit wheelwright, a maker and repairman of wooden wagon wheels. Her non-profit is run like a craftsman’s shop from the turn of the last century. The product is just as beautiful as it was 30 years ago, but recently she hired a pioneer in the volunteer services department, Jess, a millennial, and recent college graduate who came to the organization trailing ideas she learned in classrooms full of youth. This volunteer coordinator, Jess wants to introduce some new concepts and fresh ideas.
Jess has successfully recruited her peers and a new brand type of volunteer, one that a pioneer recognizes as the future of volunteering.
Some of Jess’ recent recruits include:
Volunteer Doug who asks “why don’t we start an Instagram account? We can keep in touch with all the other volunteers and gain new recruits that way.”
Volunteer Keesha who wants her honor society to be involved but they are unable to volunteer except on weekends. “I’m sure you have some needs on weekends,” Keesha says, “that can be a time when your clients can be served or we can do upkeep on the building.”
Volunteer Maria who wants to volunteer with her twin six-year-old daughters. “I want them to learn about service at an early age,” she says, “while actually helping someone.”
Volunteer Travis who has a quirky fun idea for a fundraiser and can’t wait to try it out.
Volunteer Alshon who cannot do the brick and mortar volunteering but has a great desire to volunteer virtually.
Volunteer Kiera who is a speech major and would like to speak to campus groups. She wants to gain some experience in speech because she is studying political science and she believes in the mission.
Volunteer Zahn who has organized grass-roots movements and would like to stage a positive protest outside headquarters.
Jess has brought the ideas from these new volunteers to her superiors. She has argued that these innovations would not only enhance the work they are already doing, but would catapult their organization into a whole new realm.
Ms. Obesole, ever the craftsman, listens politely and says, “this is not how we do things, Jess, we are looking at all kinds of liability and risk here, not to mention how our managers are going to be able to rein in these volunteers. I’m not so sure this is a good idea.”
So Jess retreats and works on the wagon wheel along with all the other artisans and one day as she sitting at a recruitment table, a breath of wind stirs as the pioneer spirit breezes through her. She meets Jade, a 40 something marketing professional who is looking at the volunteer brochures. Jade captivates Jess with her explanation of brochures and how to arrange items so that people actually read the material. In Jade’s polished voice, Jess can see the landscape of uncharted territory opening before her. Excited, she obtains Jade’s information and makes an appointment to see Ms. Obesole.
Jess arrives, eager to share this prospective volunteer’s tantalizing offer to help the organization revamp outdated materials. Ms. Obesole listens politely and then pats Jess on the head, telling her that the volunteer’s offer is very sweet but “we have a team of marketers who know the mission so well. Let’s leave it up to them, shall we?” With that, Ms. Obesole returns to the wagon wheel and Jess goes back to her office, dejected, seeing her pioneering trip evaporate.
So Jess begins to look for another job and one day receives an offer with a start-up non-profit. Fortunately, Jess has kept the contacts she’s made while working for Ms. Obesole’s organization. She knows they will have a place with her in her new role.
And so, Jess dons her kerchief and hat and heads west.
Ms. Obesole? She continues to be a wheelwright until one day she looks around and says, “Where are all the wagons?”