Connecting Passion to Possibilities

Some time ago a colleague forwarded me an email he had received that contained an insightful review of a book about community. Not only had the author of the review summarized the key messages within the book, he had also provided an analysis suggesting why it would be important to us in our day to day work.

Although I had never met the guy, there was something about that review that reflected a passion for the subject and made me flag it for follow up. While it did take me a while, I finally got around to connecting with him. The end result is that we’ve recruited an incredible volunteer who is going to write blogs for us on a regular basis.

So while it was a good result for both of us, in some ways the entire exchange left me a bit saddened. The truth is that this guy is a talented, passionate, and techno-savvy writer who had been lobbying his government employer for years to allow him to do the same thing within the scope of his job. After all, he reasoned, his employer had access to a lot of research and knowledge about policies, programs, and promising practices that would benefit the broader community. However, because those above him in the chain of command said “no”, his talents were simply not being utilized as effectively as they could be.

This same inability to understand individual passions and then connect them to possibilities might just be the same reason why the number of volunteers across the country is declining.

Typically, many organizations recruit to fit volunteers into positions that can be done by most people without any special skills or training. Experts in the field of volunteer management call this “warm body recruitment”. 

In some cases, they also use “targeted recruitment” geared to finding people who have specific skills or characteristics. With this approach you would try to track down someone who is suitable and might enjoy the job. It’s a good process for getting involvement from new volunteers because it forces you to think through the needs and interests of that new population and then proactively look for them.

For some initiatives these two techniques work very well. For instance, last week, I saw a group of almost 100 volunteers who had been recruited using these two techniques come together to build a playground in one day. Most of those needed were “warm bodies” however there were some “specialists” required. So yes these techniques definitely work.

However if we’re really going to maximize the potential that volunteers can contribute to our organizations and communities, we may just need to flip the paradigm. Instead of trying to find bodies to fill positions, we need to personalize our approach. Maybe we need to find an individual’s passion first, and then match them to the most appropriate volunteer position. More time consuming for sure, but likely much more effective in the long run.

Regardless, managing volunteers within any organization requires implementing a process that ensures they are properly recruited, placed, motivated, supervised and evaluated.  It doesn’t just happen. Involving volunteers by connecting their passion to possibilities requires an investment of time and resources but it is an investment with significant returns for everyone involved.


Posted on 06-14-09

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