Who’s on first?

Since I quit my job and started work on opening a consulting practice, I decided to take some time-off this summer to work on “me” which included getting involved in a few volunteer opportunities and miscellaneous projects. I am so glad I decided to do this because it has served as a gentle reminder that well-run meetings and a sense of organization is critical for any non-profit organization to engage and inspire volunteers.

Have you ever found yourself sitting in the middle of meeting thinking that you are in the middle of this very famous Abbott & Costello sketch titled “Who’s On First“?

Well, I have felt this way on a few very recent occasions and it can be very frustrating, which is why I thought I’d share some thoughts today on how to stop chasing your volunteers from the room. Here are just a few simple ideas:

  • Develop an agenda — this way people know what is being discussed and decided.
  • Send the agenda out in advance of the meeting — this way participants can formulate and focus their thoughts and not just organically babble.
  • Recruit a volunteer leader who can stick to the agenda — this minimizes time “down the rabbit hole” and keeps people’s time from being wasted.
  • Take meeting notes — meeting notes with a section focused solely on “action items” will remind participants who agreed to do what and by when. It will also ensure we didn’t just meet for no reason and keep us focused on actionable tasks. Send the meeting notes out immediately after the meeting as a reminder rather than handing them out at the beginning of the next meeting.
  • Honest recruiting — be clear in writing with a volunteer job description during the recruitment process. There is nothing worse than showing up to a meeting and finding out it is something very different (and more involved) than what you thought you had agreed to do.
  • Find painless ways to coordinate schedules and schedule future meetings — Try setting a future meeting date/time while you have everyone in the room. If that isn’t possible, use easy and free technology tools like Doodle or Tungle.  Stop the endless and confusing email threads.

As the Baby Boom generation retires (e.g. potential volunteers) and the volunteer-minded Millennial generation comes of age, non-profit organizations need to get better at volunteer management. Those who fail to do so will fall short in the following areas: board development, program/operations, and fundraising & resource development (e.g. annual campaigns, special events, etc).

Here is one interesting handbook resource I ran across online from the University of Texas at Austin titled “An Executive Director’s Guide to Maximizing Volunteer Engagement“. I thought I’d point those of you toward this manual just in case someone you know wants to stem the tide of volunteers who have been seen running and screaming after meetings.

The ideas in today’s post are only the tip of the iceberg. Please use the comment box to share how you have dealt with a frustrating volunteer opportunity. If you are a non-profit professional, please weigh-in with additional engagement strategies or things to avoid. We can learn from each other!

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC

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