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Punxsutawney Phil, the Cupid & A Parade: It’s All About Relationships

February 14, 2014

paper peopleby Becky Lunders,

I’ve decided February is one of my favorite months for several reasons that are all tied together. And while none has to do directly with volunteer management, they are all analogous to the nonprofit sector and the way we work with volunteers. It’s all about relationships.

It starts with Groundhog Day. This “holiday” (and I use that term loosely) is synonymous with doing the same thing day after day, as Bill Murray reminds us in the movie by the same name. Day after day, he wakes up to that buzzing alarm clock only to learn that today will be just like yesterday. Those who work in nonprofit often feel that way. We plow ahead with limited resources, too few volunteers and too much work, only to realize that we will probably do the same thing again tomorrow… and the day after that. This year, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, indicating six more weeks of winter. Like the groundhog, you can do back into your cave and wait; or do something now to build the foundation for your next event. We can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. … until we learn to fully utilize our volunteers. Change it up and do things differently to keep it fresh. You will reveal opportunities and volunteer leaders that probably were always there in the shadows, you just didn’t see them. Like the groundhog, look inside yourself to find the motivation.

Next is Valentine’s Day. Who doesn’t want to be in a relationship around Valentine’s Day! Depending on where you are in your relationship might dictate your level of enthusiasm for this day. We celebrate the start of a relationship. We reflect on the butterflies we had on the first date; and the awkward moments during that getting-to-know-you stage. Passion drives us and makes us put effort into the relationship. Then we get comfortable, and sometimes complacent. We have to work to reignite the spark and keep things fresh. On occasion, we have to dig deep to remember what initially drew us to “the one.” The same is true when working with volunteer leaders. You’ve got to make sure it’s the right match for both the volunteer and the organization. The staff partner and the volunteer have to get to know each other. It requires building trust, and that takes time. It’s exciting and commitment is strong. But like a relationship, if you don’t do something to keep it fresh, you’ll lose it. It never hurts to bring it back to the mission to reignite the passion that the volunteer once had. After all, it’s about relationships and finding that right volunteer.

Last comes Mardi Gras. I just returned from a conference in New Orleans and boy, do those people know how to party! Parades happen throughout most of the month. Some are little neighborhood parades; others are grand events. All are celebrations; and each is a chance to engage the community in a deeper way! The festive, party atmosphere makes me think about how we celebrate our volunteers. We need to do it more. We need to recognize their efforts often, in ways big and small (got beads?). We need to celebrate their successes (and not wait until the event is over and the money is in to applaud their work). Create your own Mardi Gras and celebrate your volunteers. It does wonders for retention, and creates an atmosphere of gratitude which is contagious. Oh, and just the exposure might introduce new people to the organization and bring you new volunteers!

I challenge you to change up ONE ELEMENT of how you approach your volunteers in order to retain them. Don’t become too predictable. I challenge you to reflect on ONE VOLUNTEER RELATIONSHIP that makes you love your job and reflect on why it works. Remember them as you work to recruit your next great leader. Finally, I challenge to be CELEBRATORY and let that volunteer know just how grateful you are for all they do. After all, it’s about relationships and the better the relationships, the more successful the effort.

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