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Do you whip out a clever persuasion technique every time you want someone to acknowledge that volunteers don’t sit around by their phones waiting for us to call? Do you have that “special phrase” that always sways people’s opinions like “hey, volunteers don’t grow on trees, you know!”

Being a research junkie, I’ve tried a bunch of persuasion techniques when attempting to explain the complexities of volunteer engagement and impact. I’m not so sure they really work, though.

Some of the persuasion techniques I’ve tried are:

  • Wear the Power Suit of Authority: My power suit is like a suit of armor and must have been designed by someone who truly hates the human form. It’s uncomfortable, stiff and I sweat profusely in it, so when it came time to stand up at the annual soiree and recount all the glorious volunteer accomplishments, I dropped my notes while walking up to the stage and I tried to bend over to pick them up but the iron power suit wouldn’t budge so I kicked the notes over to the podium, but in the glare of the lights, sweat dripped into my eyes and I couldn’t see the statistics scattered about the floor so I just kinda laughed nervously into the microphone and “winged it” by announcing, “I don’t want to bore you with dry numbers. No, no one wants to hear that our volunteers gave a butt-load of hours last year. And I do mean butt-load! Instead, I want you to channel your inner activist and raise your fists in solidarity of the power of volunteering!” I tried to raise my fist in the air, but the rigid suit sleeve gripped my elbow like a boa constrictor so I ended up doing a weird fist salute which confused the heck out of everyone and they pretty much ended up elbowing each other in the face. Sadly, I got banned from presenting the following year.
  • Mimic the people you want to persuade: You definitely should use the terms and verbiage that senior management uses when they speak of goals and objectives, but for the love of all that is sacred, don’t mimic a senior manager’s accent or facial ticks or odd mannerisms, because that’s going way too far and you’ll get in trouble. Trust me on this.
  • Crying: Ok, to be honest, this just happened. This is not a recognized persuasion technique and actually thwarts your attempt to persuade others so maybe just try not to get really upset when people are ignoring you and chatting with each other while you are telling a poignant volunteer story about a cosmic connection that made a huge difference in a client’s life. Yeah, wiping your nose with your sleeve and bursting into tears does make folks notice you, but not in a good way. Oh, and FYI-it will most likely get you a session with one of the counselors.
  • Enlist Social Influencers: Getting a celebrity to endorse volunteering sounds so wonderfully effective, right? Yep, until that celebrity starts tweeting after a wild night, “Hey, guys, I #LOVEVOLUNTEERING for cash, so send lots to me, LOL! whoooooo!”
  • Make Volunteers Likeable: Doing a volunteer car wash where volunteers wash staff vehicles can actually do the opposite of making staff appreciate volunteers more. Hard to believe, right? I know because in the budget for the following year, volunteers were penciled in as extra custodial staff and our maintenance man blamed me for his hours being cut.
  • Use Sensory Imaging: So, misting lavender scented aromatherapy oil around the meeting room while reciting volunteer stats and then asking all the volunteers to wear lavender sprigs does not necessarily make staff remember that volunteers donated 230 hours last month and pretty much got me in trouble because production went down due to the “overuse of relaxing scented influences.”
  • Make Them Feel Scarcity or Risk Aversion: Uh huh, so maybe standing in front of the building and shouting at incoming staff, “If we don’t appreciate our volunteers more, they will leave! All of them! I’m not kidding!” just might not be the best way to convince someone. But I did get 3 unpaid days off to “go home and think about my actions.”
  • Compliment Them: Passing out heart shaped notes from grateful volunteers in a staff meeting might normally be effective, but once you stand up and say, “Our volunteers think you guys are the best staff ever, no really, they say that all the other organizations in our town have lousy, rotten staff who don’t love them the way you guys do,” might be going too far. Especially when you are on a roll and excitedly add, “oh, and yeah, you know the soup kitchen on main street? They’re the worst!” Because the CEO of the soup kitchen might turn out to be best friends with your CEO and well, let’s just say going through a “sensitivity training regiment” is pretty embarrassing.

So, how should we persuade others to appreciate volunteer management the way we do? I think I’ve read every book out there on the art of persuasion, including the best selling “Make People Hear You by Shouting Louder Than Everyone Else,” and in all the great advice, I may have found a different take on changing perceptions about volunteers, volunteering and volunteer management. And the funny thing is, it all boils down to 5 words.

Next time: The 5 words that just might hold a key to explaining describing illustrating defining untangling volunteer management (yeah, I know, I’m setting up this big reveal thing and then it’ll be lame and disappointing and well, failure is nothing to be ashamed ofor so they tell me).