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Alana clicked the wireless presenter and the slide advanced. “Here,” she said, “we have a list of awards our volunteers have won.” Photos of volunteers holding certificates popped up on the screen. “As you can see,” Alana said, “the work we do is impressive.”

A young trainee in the front row raised his hand. “When did they win those awards?” He pointed at the picture of a smiling lady, her silver hair shining in the stage lights.

Alana glanced at the screen. “I wasn’t here at the time, but Marge won that award in 1999 I believe.”

For some volunteers, 1999 might as well be 1899. Past performances are the equivalent of telling your children that “when I was your age, I walked to school. Five miles. Uphill. In the snow. Both ways.”

It’s old news. But woah, hold on, wait a minute. So, when recruiting and on-boarding volunteers, should we just ditch mentioning our volunteer awards and heck while we’re at it, should we just forget about talking about our accomplishments too, because that stuff happened last week? Should we hide our best volunteers in the closet because hey, they’re so yesterday?

No, that’s not even close to what I mean. I am all for showcasing awards and accomplishments and sharing volunteer achievements with anyone and everyone. I am all for nominating volunteers for awards. In a previous post, Awards: The Bridge to Inspire I listed reasons for nominating inspiring volunteers. I am all for exposing new volunteers to passionate and inspiring experienced volunteers. So, what do I mean?

Past awards and achievements are like a building’s foundation. They illustrate the strength of mission worth and goals achieved. They show the new volunteer that your organization has a solid base and has worked hard to lay down an infrastructure on which to continue building.

One thing I discovered when parading “accomplished” volunteers through training sessions was, there seemed to be a growing sense among the new volunteers of “what do the accomplishments of this seasoned volunteer mean for me? Am I supposed to duplicate their ways or will I have my own volunteering path and is there anything left to be done?”

The modern volunteer needs to get excited about their volunteering journey. Much more than in years past, volunteers are looking at the future instead of being content with the present. It’s a subtle, but significant shift.

What does that mean for us then, when it comes to recruiting, retaining and on-boarding new volunteers? It means balancing past volunteer awards and accomplishments with present goals and visions of the future. It means setting the foundation and then inspiring new volunteers to put up the walls, or decorate the interior or construct another floor. It means focusing on continually moving forward.

Getting in on the ground floor of any enterprise is always exciting. There’s a sense of ownership, of possibilities, of seeing an idea take flight. As a society, we love start-up successes because those stories are filled with grit and vision and frankly, we imagine that those people could be us.

Even though we may not work for a start-up organization, we can capture that feeling by introducing expansion, new programs and future vision to the new volunteer who may be sitting there wondering, “why, exactly do you need me when you already have all these great volunteers doing all this great work?”

By balancing accomplishments with future goals, we infuse a sense of organizational history with a vision for the future. And nothing is more infectious than an inspiring vision. It gives new volunteers their own identity. It means that they won’t feel as though they have to mimic past volunteers in order to win an award. Instead, they will look forward to making their unique mark.

Past infused with future looks something like this:

“As you can see, our volunteers have won numerous awards for their work, something we are extremely proud of. Now, let me tell you about the exciting direction and future plans for our organization, which needs your passion and help to accomplish.”

“Our volunteers have given over 70,000 hours in the past 5 years. It’s a testament to their belief in our mission. That’s why we are expanding our programs. These new programs are innovative and we’re really psyched about all the future possibilities. That’s where you come in.”

“Thank you for listening to our volunteer, Kenya. She has been instrumental in getting that program off the ground. You may choose to volunteer in her area, or we have some new and I think, pretty out-of-the-box opportunities in the infancy stage you may find suit your skills and interests.”

New volunteers learn a great deal about mission work and goals from the past, but they are motivated by the excitement of what’s to come and how they fit into visionary plans.

They want to own the future. Let’s make sure we give it to them.