Daily Archives: 27 January 2011

Volunteer engagement understood intuitively

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersAt the series of workshops I was a part of this week, another presenter talked about how instrumental volunteers — young Russians who had studied in the USA at some point — were regarding the success of a recent university fair in Moscow, where representatives of USA universities and potential students were brought together. The volunteers helped the representatives get to and from the fair, helped them at the fair, and took them on customized, personalized guided tours of Moscow. The representatives said in their evaluations of the fair that the volunteers were one of the best parts of their experience, because of the incredible energy and support those volunteers provided.

To someone who was listening who didn’t know much about volunteer engagement, it sounded like these volunteers magically showed up for this event, knew exactly what to say and what was needed, and when the representatives left, then disappeared into the ether. Of course that wasn’t the case at all: talking to the organizer, I found out that the volunteers were recruited from among students with whom he had already been associating and who had already been studying, working and socializing together for at least a few months. He already knew they were great speakers, that they knew how to be helpful to foreigners, that they understood Americans in particular, and that their English was up-to-snuff. So, yes, the volunteers were screened. And, yes, the volunteers received a volunteer orientation that clarified expectations, though that isn’t what the process was called. The volunteers got a t-shirt with the name of the event on the front and the world “Volunteer” on the back, and many representatives insisted on taking photos with “their” volunteer — volunteer recognition. And the volunteers had FUN – they are all asking when they get to do this again

I’m sure the person coordinating this event has never read a volunteer management book or attended a workshop about volunteer engagement. He’s not a part of any online discussion groups for managers of volunteers. He doesn’t call himself a manager of volunteers. Yet, somehow, he intuitively knew all of the elements that are required to engage volunteers and support them so that they can, in turn, support others. I’m sure the volunteers didn’t know they had undergone volunteer screening activities nor attended a volunteer orientation — they had simply had a LOT of fun and got to do something they really wanted to do.

And one more thought: I frequently hear that Eastern European young people just don’t “get” volunteering, that they don’t see why they should provide work for free. Yet this guy had to turn people away who wanted to participate in volunteering to support this event! His organization is a volunteer magnet!

This guy is asking volunteers to do a LOT of work and exude quality in that work.

So…. what does he know that you don’t?

Also see my favorite volunteer engagement resources.

Greetings from Budapest, Hungary!