Who Wants to Volunteer?

By Marianne Sullivan

Looking for volunteers for your club or event? Being aware of certain guidelines can make a big difference.

I have a hunch you don't need to hear (again) about the benefits of volunteering — the gratification and sense of accomplishment we get when we volunteer, right?

Well, it's true about the benefits, but did you know that while women are the majority of volunteers, men are actually more likely to volunteer? However, because more women are in the work force nowadays, and they are staying on the job longer, the pool to draw from is shrinking. Forty-one percent of women who are 60 or older have volunteered in the last year. And they would give more time, if asked.

Who is more likely to volunteer? People with more education and higher incomes tend to volunteer more, as well as younger people; schools often have programs whereby students earn credit by volunteering. And as expected, people who have more time, who are in good health, or have recreational interests also volunteer more often.

What committee chair or president hasn't dreaded the prospect of having to find volunteers at one time or another? If we consider enlisting volunteers as a process rather than a chore, there are tips and techniques for recruiting.

  • Invite people to volunteer for small projects. Create a list of small tasks that can be completed in one hour of help. If the tasks are longer or more complex, include a mentor who knows the job so the volunteer can learn.
  • Estimate the time involved. Give an honest assessment of how much time the job will take in hours, days, or weeks.
  • Ask people personally. When asking for help, take the personal approach. What does not work and usually has disappointing results is the one-liner request in the newsletter or club meeting. Instead of just saying, "We need volunteers," try a personal request for a specific task. For example, one might say, "Sally, we need someone to help with hospitality at the show for an hour — could you help?"
  • Keep in mind the buddy effect. People are more likely to volunteer if they already know someone in the group. Ask existing members to invite friends or people they know to join them.
  • Don't be shy about asking for help. Don't wait for people to volunteer; people want to be asked! However, it is ineffective to browbeat people into volunteering or sign people up without prior consent.

    What often happens is the organization becomes desperate for a volunteer, and "anyone" becomes better than "no one." What typically results, however, is then the job doesn't get done, or else the person requires massive handholding.

    Remember that a "no" answer when a person is asked to volunteer might not mean "never," so ask again another time.

    The opposite side of the coin is when longtime members of the organization don’t want to relinquish control but don’t want the actual job either. New volunteers might need some guidance, but there are different ways of doing things, and that should be respected.
  • Remember to thank people. Probably the most important aspect is for the volunteer to feel appreciated.

    Avoid generic thank-yous. Volunteers are a resource, and like all resources they should be valued and appreciated, and not misused. Once that resource is lost, it is lost forever.

    Again, be personal; recognize volunteers by saying thanks face to face, and acknowledge them publicly. Don't wait until the annual banquet; thank them when they help out. Be sure to include everyone in your thanks, whether they gave an hour or years. Find a way to recognize volunteers with an annual award or a special distinction.
  • If the need arises to criticize a job done by a volunteer, the message should be tactful and polite, and it should never be made publicly. One sure way to ruin a volunteer lifespan is to criticize the person in public, or without first making them feel appreciated!

If you need more inspiration on how to foster volunteerism, there are lots of additional suggestions on the Internet via nonprofit organizations.

—Marianne Sullivan, millknock@embarqmail.com, Collie Club of America (September 2014 AKC Gazette)


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