After Harry closed the door, Rasheem just sat for a moment, allowing himself to refocus. “Harry is one of those volunteers,” he said, “whose brain is constantly on the move. He is forever suggesting ways to improve and ways to reinvent. Often his ideas have nothing to do with the volunteer department. No, often he wants me to bring his ideas to marketing, fund-raising, finance, administration, and just about every other department we have. He’s not critical, but rather a great volunteer and he just wants us to be the best. But, this is exhausting.”
Some volunteers are their own whirling mini brain trust. They see a challenge or an area that needs improvement and their minds go into overdrive. Funny thing is, most of the time, they’re right and you can see their point.
But when they come to you with their ideas, all you feel is the burden that comes with one of these choices facing you:
- Present the new idea to the appropriate person/dept and become a stressed middle man/woman.
- Tell the volunteer that while the idea is valid, this is not a good time.
- Refer the volunteer to the department in question and hope that they do not brush him/her off.
- Fib and say you’ll look into it and string the volunteer along for as long as you can.
- Quit-which is cowardly, but feels like the easiest thing to do.
Each choice presents such a VM burden that just hearing the words, “I have an idea,” sends you into a catatonic state. You begin to create little hiding places in your office so that you can slip under your desk, hands over ears, mumbling “If I don’t acknowledge it, it doesn’t exist.”
The question then becomes: Are volunteers just there to do what is asked or do volunteers bring vast amounts of creativity, knowledge, energy and experience to our organizational table? We, VM’s know the answer. So, what do we do? Besides quit.
One way to handle a volunteer improvement idea (vii)is to start a volunteer think tank. Gather your most creative volunteers and ask them to sort through each vii. Let them decide which ones are worth pursuing.
And here’s the thing about vii’s. They take an enormous amount of work to implement. No wonder marketing doesn’t want to hear how a cirque show will bring in loads of publicity. They’re busy with 50 other organizational ideas that they need to implement.
And while vii’s are lovely concepts, it is the results that matter. A think tank can pilot a program on a small-scale and present the results. Ask them to work on one project at a time to keep from overwhelming the system.
Your volunteer think tank wants a cirque? Pare that big vii down to a manageable beginning. Maybe they can hire a juggling clown for a marketing event so the kids in attendance will be entertained. See how that goes. Tell the think tank to: Start small. Get results. Gather stats. Take pictures. Tell the story. Compile feedback. Then do it all again.
We all have great ideas. But, ideas without the willingness to do the hard work are worthless. Instead of hiding under your desk, throwing your volunteers to chance, and passing ideas on to other swamped departments, create a volunteer think tank and put those creative ideas to this test: Are we, the volunteers who believe in this great idea, willing to pilot a smaller project to prove that it is viable? And are we willing to put in the hard work in order to show results?
If the answer is yes, then who knows? The volunteers may start with a juggling clown. Then they’ll add acrobats. Then a full-blown cirque du volunteer may result. And you may just keep your sanity.