Cambrian: Opinion

Volunteering isn’t easy, so here’s how to keep spirits up

Vacations in paradise can make returning to volunteer activites an adjustment.
Vacations in paradise can make returning to volunteer activites an adjustment.

When your nonprofit’s volunteers return from their exotic summer travels and they are back on the active volunteer list, keep them happy by sending them to Volunesia.

Volunesia — “that moment when you forget that you are volunteering to help save lives, because it’s changing yours” — or more simply, that moment of change.

Most volunteers agree that there is a feel-good thing about giving time to a worthy cause that makes a difference. But as a longtime volunteer I’ve observed both others and myself disembark the flight from Volunesia, and leave a volunteer adventure fraught with one challenge after the other.

How do nonprofit leaders keep adventurous volunteers in the state of Volunesia?

Start with the basics.

▪  1. Smile. A friendly face can launch a thousand ships into the magical land of Volunesia. Welcome the volunteer team back with a smile and perhaps ask the returning travelers to briefly share their recent vacation with the group.

▪  2. Welcome. What’s worse than walking into your first meeting as a new volunteer and no one recognizes you, acknowledges you, or welcomes you? It happens. I’ve experienced it. I’ve also watched it happen to others. And I’ve also applauded those volunteer-based organizations that make a full effort to welcome new persons into the group. Welcoming can be as simple as introducing the new member — and assuring that you have a team that will never leave that person sitting or standing alone. Take those new members out to breakfast. Host an after-work snack-and-chat gathering for new members. Just make them feel important and that they belong.

▪  3. Communicate. Ensure that your nonprofit’s upcoming junkets toward the group’s goals are well-defined. Use the basic premise of the five W’s — who, what, when, where and why. For example, “Our fundraising committee (who) plans to raise $10 billion (what) from today through December 2018 (when), starting in Cambria (where), so that no person ever goes without shoes (why).”

▪  4. Realistic Goals. The above scenario is not very realistic. Imagine putting out all that effort for naught. That’s not a ticket to Volunesia. When realistic goals succeed, volunteers savor the journey to get there.

▪  5. Inspire. The cause! It’s why the nonprofit exists. The cause began with someone’s passion. Like the inspiration from art at the Louvre, inspire your volunteers with stories about real scenarios of how your nonprofit has made a difference and is a force for good.

▪  6. Community. There is nothing like coming home — even after a most magnificent travel experience. Keep that sense of community among your volunteers. It’s that sense of belonging and being surrounded by like-minded people that keeps volunteers in Volunesia.

▪  7. Support. Being supportive includes ample volunteer training. The more a volunteer understands about his or her function, the more smooth sailing is ahead.

▪  8. Fun. There is always hard work involved with nonprofits — from organizing meetings, rounding up inspirational speakers, event planning, community counseling and outreach, cleanup, fundraising, and the business end of licenses, taxes, reports and so on. When we remember that each volunteer is giving time for no financial compensation, and that the work can be like hiking the 2,659-mile Pacific Crest Trail (exhausting, painful, etc.), it’s time to bring in the fun. Keep a stash of tiaras and crowns to give away, celebrate achievement with song, like “The Hallelujah Chorus,” hand out an ABCD Award (Above and Beyond the Call of Duty), or hand out packages of seeds for the “seeds of success. It was fun on vacation, but more fun in Volunesia.

▪  9. Thank You! The single most important elements of honoring volunteers are appreciation, recognition and two words: Thank you.

Remember, the best route to Volunesia begins with a smile and ends with thank you.

Charmaine Coimbra’s monthly column is special to The Cambrian.