Confession time: I’m not proud of the fact that I used to inwardly giggle at all the staff who embraced aromatherapy, Reiki, mysticism, healing touch, energy transference and psychic connections. I’d mutter under my breath about “woo woo” stuff while flippantly asking, “hey is that lavender I smell, what should I be feeling, ha ha,” because frankly, I was ignorant and a jerk.
But then, the coincidences started piling up. I especially began to notice “out of nowhere” help with seemingly impossible volunteer requests. I’d get this urgent, off the wall request for something like, “send a volunteer that can teach a patient to knit, but they have to speak Romanian.” I’d sigh and after mumbling about pulling volunteers out of my #$@, I’d be sitting at my desk, wracking my brain with this impossible volunteer task when the phone would ring.
I would pick it up and as I said “hello,” the answer would somehow manifest. The caller would be a volunteer who had been on extended leave. She would tell me that she was cleaning her bedroom closet a few moments ago and her old volunteer orientation manual fell off a shelf and bonked her in the head, so she took that as a sign and she decided to come back and volunteer. And yes, she knitted and spoke Romanian. Or the caller might be a new volunteer who wanted to chat and out of the blue, tell me his passion was creating numerical filing systems which of course was something we needed like yesterday. This happened over and over again, so much so that I began to take notice.
I remember hatching an idea for a gigantic, very ambitious project and I enlisted the help of several trusted volunteers, although none of us had the specific expertise we needed. (talk about working backwards). After the thrill of setting up a core group of committed volunteers faded, I sat back and wondered how the heck we were going to pull this off. (Yeah, ok, smarty pants, now what?)
Two weeks later I was teaching new volunteer orientation and just happened to mention the new project. After class was over, one of the new volunteers came up to me and told me she not only had all the exact expertise and experience we needed, she said she’d be thrilled to join the group. Bingo, we were on our way.
Now here’s the thing. The more we, volunteer managers share our needs with everyone, (even the annoying person behind us in line at our coffee shop or the coach of our son’s soccer team) the more chance we have finding the right volunteer. The more “feelers” we put out, the further those feelers will reach. It’s like casting a net-you may scoop up a bunch of bait fish, but there also could be a lobster in there.
Talk up your needs often, in meetings, on the phone, to staff and to new and prospective volunteers. You never know who just might surprise you and want to help in unexpected ways. Or who may hear about your need and call you while your forehead is down on the desk.
Use your voicemail or answering system to leave updated messages outlining the current needs and encourage volunteers to call in when they feel they have some extra time or just want to explore other opportunities. Call it a volunteer jobs hotline or a better, catchier name. (Mission Possible?)
Send email updates or texts or use a messaging service to blast out current available tasks or projects. Broadcasting the crazier, more niche requests actually serves a purpose. They show volunteers that unique skills and talents and interests are welcomed and important to mission goals. That potential volunteer just might think, “hey, maybe they could use a volunteer who can yodel!”
And every off the wall volunteer request filled that showcases volunteer talents encourages staff to look for more talents (as opposed to viewing all volunteers as tools to do meaningless work like sweeping the floor after a party for donors). Because there’s a huge difference between crazy, meaningful, mission-aligned requests and crazy meaningless tasks that do nothing to further the mission and suck the lifeblood from volunteers.
Put your best volunteer recruiters together in a room, ply them with sweets and tea (or vegan wraps and energy drinks or wait, maybe sweets and energy drinks), give them the list of impossible jobs to fill and ask them to use their considerable powers of persuasion to find suitable volunteers.
Advertise open available roles on your website. This is also a visual for prospective volunteers and shows them what the needs are, how they change and how many ways there are to be involved.
Post your needs on your door so every volunteer who comes to chat sees them (Maybe post a sign that says, “READ THIS BEFORE ENTERING”).
I’ve always been rooted in finding practical solutions. Yet at the same time, I’ve come to think that a sincere attempt to provide goodness in the world gets a little help from somewhere (call it divine, the universe, karma, or whatever you subscribe to). So, I don’t refer to all the new age stuff as “woo woo” anymore.
Because I’ve come to believe the universe is listening. Woo!