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“Coffee break again?” Clara laughs. “Yeah, this is my 6th coffee break today and I’m wired from all the caffeine. But each so called ‘break’ is with a volunteer who needs my attention. I’m not on break, I’m sustaining volunteers.”

Volunteer managers universally struggle with showcasing the complex work involved in the 3 “ainings:” Attaining, Training and Sustaining volunteers. We keep stats on all sorts of volunteer activities. We may even include anecdotal stories to illustrate volunteer impact. But how do we show everything we bring to the 3 “ainings” table? (Sometimes it feels like bringing a kiddie pool filled with water to describe the ocean.)

What if we had a report form that showcased the soft work required to attain, train and sustain volunteers? It would explain why our hard stats (shown in bold) are fluid, like an oceanic ecosystem:

DAY 1 at 9AM:  Trusted my instincts to spend extra time with a 5 year volunteer whose partner has just been diagnosed with cancer. I can see he needs to take some time off and I have placed him on the inactive list thus reducing the number of active volunteers. He may or may not resume volunteering, but, due to his positive experience so far, will remain an advocate forever. I will be spending time to check in on him periodically because I hope he returns to volunteering, but also, because I care about him as a person (and make no mistake, our volunteers know the difference between sincerely caring about them versus giving them lip service). My personal attention to volunteer needs increases the overall number of active volunteers. It also creates satisfied volunteers who will advocate for us no matter whether they continue volunteering or not.

Day 2 at 2PM:  Realized that a situation requiring a volunteer was overwhelming for just one volunteer so took the extra time (three days) to find and enlist the right two volunteers who could support one another while dealing with a very difficult and challenging assignment. Did not meet goal of finding a volunteer in 24 hours, but instead, created a better outcome that avoided placing an excellent volunteer in a difficult situation. I retained two key volunteers, ensured our client received excellent care and thwarted a potential misstep.

Day 3 at 11AM: Temporarily removed a marketing volunteer from staffing events because of recent health challenges. Although volunteer insists that he is physically able to carry boxes, his wife informed me that his doctor has prescribed no lifting or standing for three months. As a result, I reduced the number of available marketing volunteers but salvaged this volunteer’s future potential and eliminated the substantial risk for a workman’s comp claim should this volunteer injure himself while under his doctor’s orders. More importantly, we sent a message to all volunteers that their health and well-being is important to us and we view them as valuable assets, thus increasing overall volunteer sustainability.  I am currently exploring other areas with this volunteer and he is interested in moving into a deeper volunteer experience, so with additional training, we will have a new client volunteer who, BTW already has proven himself to be a great volunteer.

Day 4 at 3:15pm: Spent 45 minutes with a prospective volunteer who admittedly can’t volunteer until sometime next year. This prospective volunteer’s father was helped by our organization and she is interested in giving back, although current commitments are preventing her from taking training. I have set reminders in my calendar for scheduled contact with her throughout the year as I perceived her as an excellent future volunteer. Rushing her at this time will only increase her overload of responsibilities and will cause her to quickly quit. As a result, no new volunteer stat has increased but time spent will pay off in the future because this potential volunteer also belongs to several key civic groups that I have been recruiting. She’s already booked a speaking engagement for me next month. I expect several new volunteers from forging a relationship with this group.

Day 5 at 6pmAttended funeral of long-term volunteer who retired due to health reasons more than two years ago. No stat will be affected, but I did it because this is the right thing to do. *Addendum: Received a phone call from the volunteer’s son whom I spoke with at his mother’s funeral. He is a VP at the largest investment firm in our area and is very interested in setting up a corporate volunteer program with me. There will be substantial work involved. And, BTW, he and the firm will be donating in his mother’s name.

The soft work we do is an ocean compared to the kiddie pool stats we report. Our instincts flow like a current, over and under the waves of volunteer requests. We create an ecosystem in which results are symbiotic and may take up to weeks or months, sometimes years to see. We nourish relationships that reach beyond volunteering and affect donations, future staff, community standing, and so much more.

It’s time we begin to connect the hard results from the ocean of our soft work.


This post is an update of an original post in 2016 but don’t feel like you have to read it-this new one is hopefully better anyway 🙂 https://volunteerplaintalk.com/2016/07/20/huggable-book-of-volunteering-stats-or-why-a-kiddie-pool-cant-explain-the-ocean/