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Volunteer Fresh

Every day, volunteer managers witness the passion brought by volunteers. We marvel at their skill. We see their pure work, unencumbered by thoughts of pay, or chains to the financial burden of staying somewhere not fulfilling.

But there is another positive that we can attribute to our volunteers. The number of hours they volunteer a week or month is often misconstrued as a shortcoming, but in reality is a gift: Volunteers are not burdened by the stress of working for us full-time.

Volunteers who show up once a week or month are like opening the window to let in the breeze. They come in, trailing currents of fresh air. They bring with them new experiences, a taste of outside ideas, and rejuvenated enthusiasm to our stale environment.

What factors contribute to a stale environment? Compassion fatigue, burnout, overwork, repetition, familiarity, slow to change movement, it’s always been done thus mentality, funding worries and stress. Each of these freshness killers lurks in the halls of non-profits, waiting to blow their stale breath into our lungs.

There is an under current of pressure on non-profit workers to be “on” at all times. This Pedestal of Perpetual Caring implies that every moment is as intensely compassionate as the first one. Who can live up to that standard when reports are due, projects need attention and budgets are withering?

Enter Volunteer Fresh:

Our volunteers, unburdened by the stresses of working with us full-time can and do exhibit the intense compassion every client needs.

Our volunteers are out there in the world 98% of the time and bring with them outside opinions, trends, ideas and methods.

Our volunteers bring infectious enthusiasm and continually remind us why we love our work. They plug us back into our missions.

Marketing Volunteer Fresh: (or, at your next staff meeting, use gimmicky but visual aids to encourage your organization to embrace volunteers as more than just those people who fill preconceived slots)

Bring a sandwich from a vending machine along with a fresh sandwich from wherever staff loves to eat. Use each ingredient of the fresh sandwich to explain the layers of volunteer fresh and compare the two.

Videotape volunteers speaking from the heart. Show staff the infectious enthusiasm volunteers bring. Remind them that opening up to each volunteer re-ignites their own passion.

Use a radiating circle of connections chart to show the connections our volunteers are making within the community. Use arrows in both directions to illustrate the wide swath of information and influence our volunteers create, both coming and going.

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Here are some concrete ways to offer Volunteer Fresh:

Schedule “sit downs” between community engagement officers and volunteers. The engagement officer can ask volunteers to take the pulse of the community by asking pertinent questions of their friends, neighbors, civic groups, church members etc and then report back.

Create a campaign via WOMM (word of mouth marketing). Marketing can release a sub-campaign via volunteers to reach out into the community on a specific hot topic. Equip volunteers with flyers, business cards, etc. to launch campaign and monitor feedback.

Engage volunteers in stress relief. Create a team of volunteers to develop a stress relief program for staff and other volunteers. This volunteer team can institute ways to help over burdened staff cope with burnout.

Volunteers are a gift of freshness. How fortunate we are to be able to incorporate fresh ideas, enthusiasm, and passion into our culture by people who offer all of this for free.

Let’s encourage our organizations to open the window and let the freshness in.