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In 1886 America, a struggling door to door book salesman, David H. McConnell discovered that the small vials of perfume he offered as “door opening” incentives were more popular than books and from that realization, the Avon Company was founded.

Well, huh. Volunteer managers know that volunteering enhances the lives of those who volunteer with us. We have seen the grief-stricken person begin to socialize again, the quiet student learn to trust their abilities, and the senior come alive with purpose. We’ve seen volunteers learn so much about themselves that we could write a textbook.

What if we borrowed from Mr. McConnell and compared books and perfume to recruiting and managing a volunteer force?

The books: volunteer jobs (Volunteers Needed to Stuff Envelopes)

The perfume: the benefits of volunteering (Learn New Skills) (Socialize with Caring People) (Change Your Life)

Maybe the time is right to symbolically begin our own perfume company. Many articles are being written and statistics kept on the benefits of volunteering. Since the evidence that we knew all along is overwhelming,  we can become a greater positive force in our communities by looking to not just fill organizational needs, but to help our fellow citizens enrich their lives by volunteering.

What if we put as much emphasis on our perfume as on our books? Would developing our perfume company create a larger volunteer force of outstanding volunteers and in return, more books would be sold, er volunteer positions would be filled? I’m thinking, yes.

We have the most fragrant life enhancing perfume. And yet it is secondary, mostly kept in our desk drawers until a class of new volunteers begin. Then we pull it out and spritz it in the air, letting that intoxicating life enhancing scent fill their nostrils with promise. We should be pumping that scent all over town by the gallon.

What if, besides volunteer coordinators, we also became “life enhancement coordinators?”  How would that look? Well, for starters we would:

Add a new focus: We would create positions in our organizations that serve our volunteers and in turn, those innovative jobs would help our clients in new creative ways.

Put volunteers first:  We would partner with other local organizations to share volunteers instead of operating in dark, isolated caves, all trying to lure the same people inside and clinging to the ones we have, even if we can’t offer them a great volunteer experience and someone else can.

 Create new benefits for our organizations: We would create a community of fluid volunteers who could share talents with many organizations and therefore bring fresh ideas to help each organization grow. (or are non-profits really just in competition with one another for the same donations, publicity and volunteers?)

Lower volunteer attrition: We would end the cycle of volunteers bouncing from organization to organization and giving up because the process is so tedious.

Expand organizational reach: We would measure the impact on our communities, thus exponentially mushrooming the outreach and standing of our organizations.  Wait, measure perfume?

What are some measurable volunteer life enhancing statistics?

  • The number of unemployed people who were able to fill in gaps in their resumes and garnered new recommendations from organizational staff.
  • The number of students who used service learning and organizational recommendations to seek entry into the college of their choice.
  • The number of corporate teams who made a commitment to service, learned team building skills and became supporters of a cause (donations, marketing etc).
  • The number of people who were able to garner people skills as they learned about inter-generational connections or diversity because they were paired with someone different from them.
  • The number of people made aware of X disease or Y social issue or Z traumatic experience by peering firsthand into our missions which gave them word of mouth marketing skills.
  • The number of isolated individuals who were able to socialize and connect, thus decreasing their risk for illness and depression.
  • The number of retired people who were able to launch volunteering careers and stay active with meaningful work.
  • The number of seniors who served critical roles and utilized skills which is proven to ward off dementia and Alzheimer’s.
  • The number of students who will become the citizens of the future due to skills learned, such as philanthropy and leadership.

What if our organizations showcased these statistics as part of their end of year report? How big and beautiful would that report be? And wouldn’t those incredibly heartwarming stats increase each charities’ standing in the community?

I think the time is right for volunteer managers to come out of the shadows and lead. Think about all the times a prospective volunteer walked through your door and you instinctively sensed they had a secondary reason to volunteer. Think about all the volunteers you have spent time with, tweaking positions until the right fit presented itself. Think about the programs you have created because you had a group of dynamic volunteers that needed something more. How many times have you heard your volunteers tell you that they get so much more out of volunteering than they give?

Most of the emotional time and commitment we spend cultivating volunteers and meeting their needs never gets reported. This is why the misconceptions abound. “Managing volunteers is easy.” “All you do is have tea parties and socialize”. “Why can’t you just ask? Someone will do it.”

While we continually struggle to justify the hours we spend with each and every volunteer, we discover that the biggest part of our jobs lies outside the scope of the organizational definition of volunteer management because our jobs as “life enhancement coordinators” is not properly recognized or measured. We possess the tools to change this misconception.

Instead of continuing to just peddle books while we possess this life changing fragrance, let’s take matters into our own capable hands.

Let’s sell perfume.