You know, typically, when we think of recycling, we picture a bulldozer scooping mountains of trash to process for reuse and hmm, this is a really demeaning way to picture volunteers. But the word recycling also has nuanced meanings that have nothing to do with trash and maybe everything to do with the incredible potential volunteerism brings. For instance, some of those nuanced words are:
reclaim: Think of working or retired teachers, nurses, executives, web designers and every skilled human being out there including social workers, advocates, and parents. Think of the wealth of experience and practiced skills they bring. Reclaiming those skills and putting them to work helping organizations achieve goals is reclaiming at its best.
restore: Giving volunteers the opportunity to restore and hone their skills after any change in status is one of the things we do best. Think of the student who is unsure about her potential. Think about the worker who lost his job and confidence. It’s one of those life win-wins that we live for.
re-purpose: Volunteer skills take many forms and often, volunteers find new uses for their skills by volunteering. Think of the accountant who privately loves to draw and how they added hand-drawn figures to the volunteer stats report that illustrate impact. Re-purposing talents infuses fresh ideas into our organizations and helps volunteers see their skills in a new light.
re-imagine: Finding that hidden volunteer talent is one of the greatest feelings of accomplishment for any volunteer manager. By delving into a volunteer’s skills and interests, we can often pair them with a role that brings out that buried talent. Think of the stay at home mom who has mad organizational skills or the retired law enforcement officer who has this incredible ability to get at the heart of things when talking with people.
There are so many ways in which volunteers contribute their knowledge, skills, talents and ideas. But what about our organizations? How do they reap the rewards from this ultimate in recycling?
Let’s flip those recycle meanings and apply them to our organizations and see how they benefit.
reclaim: As organizations grow and adapt to the changing landscape, they can easily lose the original passion for the mission. Competition for donors, risk management, reporting and HR functions all contribute to the more business-like atmosphere. Tapping into volunteer enthusiasm is an organic way to reclaim and keep the passion alive. Volunteers can speak at staff meetings and bring their inspiring message to overburdened employees. We can pass along the praise volunteers share with us about hard-working staff members and infuse some new energy into their work.
restore: Everywhere organizations are doing more with less. Overburdened staff need help. By offloading projects onto volunteer task forces, organizations can restore staff workloads to a more manageable state. Holding on to every task and function when there are capable volunteers willing to step up keeps organizations mired in minutia and stuck in the last century. We can pilot volunteer programs that take tasks away from staff. We can lead up and out by offering expert volunteer help on projects.
re-purpose: How many organizational functions are outmoded? Skilled volunteers with fresh ideas can transform stale programs into current and relevant campaigns designed to move organizations forward. We can showcase volunteer accomplishments and if need be, add a dollar value to the volunteer’s expertise, as in “if you paid a consultant in this area of expertise, you would be paying $175 an hour. Our volunteer is willing to weigh in with proven methods and years of experience for free.”
re-imagine: Volunteers bring fresh perspectives, world experience and have the latest in trends and programs at their disposal. Our organizations can be kept abreast of changing trends by inviting volunteers to serve on task forces, the board and campaigns. By listening to the diverse voices within the volunteer base, an organization can re-imagine policies, direction and focus so that they are positioned for the future. Instead of looking in all directions to find expert voices on marketing or finance, organizations can look within to find expert volunteer voices, ones who already know and believe in the mission.
The perception of volunteering has to change globally. The outdated notion that volunteers are timid souls that just want to fill whatever mundane role we offer them is gone. Let’s bury it.
We, volunteer managers are managing the ultimate force in reclaiming, restoring, re-purposing and re-imagining. We have talent, knowledge, skills and passion at our fingertips. We have mission success in our reach.
We, leaders of the volunteer movement must recreate the perception of volunteerism, from one of volunteers as tools to one of volunteers as the ultimate way for organizations to refresh, to reinvigorate, and to rejuvenate our goals. Ignoring the wealth of recycling volunteer gold organizations have in hand is short-sighted and backward.
And, in order to cultivate all that potential, organizations must re-invest in volunteer
Let’s get to work and re-frame the image.