Tag Archives: diversity

An incredible volunteer recruitment success story in Texas

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersI have been training regarding volunteer management topics since the late 1990s. A frequently asked question I have gotten in my trainings is, “How do I get more black American men to sign up as volunteers with our program?” This question has come from a variety of nonprofits and schools. When I started training in the 1990s, I had zero ideas – I could not answer this question. I have had a lot of black American women in my audiences, but not men, especially when I was based in Texas, so I decided to ask some of them what their thoughts were in answer to the question. Two said the same thing to me on two different occasions: “I have no idea. When you find out, let me know.” I gathered ideas over the years, but never had the opportunity to put my own ideas into practice.

I did not, and I do not, for a second, believe any particular ethnic group is less inclined to volunteer. I do believe that different groups help their communities in different ways, and a lot of unpaid help to communities isn’t called volunteering – black men in the USA are giving back, but the ways they volunteer often go unrecognized. I also believe different groups face various obstacles to traditional, time-intensive volunteering: conflicting work schedules, family care needs, lack of transportation, lack of information about volunteering and language barriers. When I say lack of information, what I mean is that the volunteer recruitment message via one particular channel often does not reach everyone you want to reach. For instance, if I put volunteer recruitment messages only in the local newspaper, the majority of the community, which does NOT read the local paper, will never see it. If I put the messages only on Facebook, it’s unlikely teenagers will ever see it. When I say language barriers, I don’t always mean people for whom English is not their first language; I mean that certain words don’t mean the same to absolutely everyone. Volunteer doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. Community service doesn’t mean the same to everyone. Mentor doesn’t always mean the same thing to everyone. So in constructing a message, you have to think about who you are talking to and what words might appeal to them.

With all of that in mind, the recent success of a middle school in Dallas, Texas in recruiting black American men to be mentors in their school has been inspiring and enlightening to me:

According to this web site, 68.4% of the student population at Billy Earl Dade Middle in Dallas identify as African-American – drastically different from that of a “typical: school in Texas which is made up of 12.6% African-American students on average. To qualify for free lunch, children’s family income must be under $15,171 in 2015 (below 130% of the poverty line), and 85.5% of students at Dade Middle School receive free lunch. To qualify for reduced lunch, children’s family income must be below $21,590 annual income in 2015 (185% of the poverty line). 3% of students at Billy Earl Dade Middle receive reduced lunch. As of 2016, the percent of students at this school who pass the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) across all subjects was significantly lower than average for Texas. In short, the student body at Billy Earl Dade Middle School was largely “at risk.”

Parent involvement in a child’s early education is consistently found to be positively associated with a child’s academic performance (Hara & Burke, 1998Hill & Craft, 2003Marcon, 1999Stevenson & Baker, 1987). A 2002 report from the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, A New Wave of Evidence, found that students with parents involved in their schools and their school work, no matter their income or background, are more likely to:

  • Earn higher grades and test scores, and enroll in higher-level programs
  • Be promoted, pass their classes and earn credits
  • Attend school regularly
  • Have better social skills, show improved behavior and adapt well to school
  • Graduate and go on to post-secondary education

In December 2017, Billy Earl Dade Middle School ran into some difficulty when planning its annual “Breakfast with Dads” event. The school’s community liaison, Ellyn Favors, told the school’s Site Based Decision Making Team that student participation had been low in the past due to young men not having a father/father-figure available to attend the event. Kristina Dove, a community member on the team, decided to post a call for volunteers on Facebook in the hope of finding 50 male mentors to accompany the middle schoolers at the event:

This post was shared by several of her friends, including Stephanie Drenka, a popular blogger and photographer. The post was shared and reshared over and over, more than 125 times by the day of the event. They needed 150 men to sign up. More than 600 men showed up for the event. The event had to be moved from the cafeteria into the gymnasium because of the response. The event was so successful, so powerful, that it was covered by national media and online stories were shared over and over on social media. 

Why was this volunteer recruitment so successful? Based on all that I’ve read:

  • It was a simple way to get involved: just one hour of commitment at the school, with no requirement for anything else.
  • Why their attendance was so important was boiled down to simple, inspiring wording – easy to understand and oh-so-inviting to be a part of.
  • It was so simple to sign up.
  • It was oh-so-simple to share this message, and apparently, everyone on the team did so, to start.
  • The team had strong, trusting connections with key members of the community, so when they shared that message on social media, it reached those key members – who amplified it even more.

Had any one of those bullet points been missing from this equation, I’m not sure the recruitment would have been as successful.

What will happen now?

  • I hope the names and contact info of everyone who signed up is in an excel spreadsheet or database program, for easy reference.
  • I hope a variety of volunteering opportunities are created to entice these men to continue to be involved and accommodate their schedules, opportunities that range from more just-show-up episodic volunteering to more one-on-one, higher responsibility opportunities (and these will, of course, require more training and screening).
  • I hope the school is revisiting its safety policies and ensuring those are being followed.
  • I hope things are being put into place right now so that, in six months and a year from now, all of these activities can be evaluated, and successes can be bragged about and attract much-needed funding for the school so those successes can be amplified.

Congrats to Dade Middle School for getting it right. I’ll aspire to do the same.

Also see:

How do I get to you without a car?

If I want to come to come to your nonprofit organization, your NGO, your government office, etc. for a training or a workshop or a special event or for your services, and I will not be driving, will your web site tell me how to get there?

Will your web site tell me what buses stop nearest to your organization and how far the walk from a bus stop is to your office? Will it tell me where to park my bicycle? Is there a photo of the exterior of your agency, so I’ll recognize it easily?

I’m in a one-car family. I use mass transit and my bicycle to get around. In the greater metropolitan Portland, Oregon area, that’s not an easy thing (it’s fascinating to hear Portlandiers brag about their mass transit system, but start to stutter when I ask, “Do you yourself take it every day, or even every week? Do you rely on it to get to and from work?”). Looking at various nonprofit web sites when I’m supposed to have a meeting, I often can’t find the street address, and even then, there’s no information about mass transit options or bike parking. Yes, I’ve used the Portland mass transit trip planner, but it often doesn’t suggest the quickest route, or tell you that while there is a bus stop a block away, there’s a light rail stop just five blocks away. When you are actually on a Portland bus, routes usually are not announced, bus drivers aren’t happy about trying to help you find the right stop, and there are lots of challenges that would have been much more navigable has someone simply warned you about such.

There are people who cannot afford to buy a car, people who don’t have a driver’s license, and young people, too young to drive, who want to volunteer at your organization, attend an event, or access your services. If you don’t have information to help these people – and that includes me — you are telling these audiences, We don’t want you to come to our organization. Is that really what you want to say?

And, indeed, there are events, trainings and more I have wanted to attend, but cannot, because I either can’t figure out how to get to the organization by mass transit or the organization is having the meeting in a place not easily reached by mass transit. One organization had a meeting at a library branch that would have taken more than two hours for me to get to – but had they had the meeting just 3.5 miles away, at another library branch, it would take just 40 minutes – the difference was that one site is served by a bus that comes only every 30 minutes, while the other is on an express, frequent service bus line.

Your organization’s web site needs to have the following information – and it needs to be oh-so-easy to find:

  • a text-based rendering of your organization’s physical address (not just in a graphic)
  • a map that shows your organization’s location AND the nearest bus stops (including express/frequent service buses) and nearest light rail stops; there are online volunteers who would be happy to prepare this graphic for you
  • written advice that would be helpful to a bus rider (is there a landmark you should be looking for when riding the bus to know when your stop is coming? how long of a walk is it from the stop to your office? is there only one place to cross a particularly busy street that wouldn’t be obvious to someone unfamiliar with the area (as I recently encountered for an evening training, in the dark, at a nonprofit’s office)? Ask your current volunteers and clients about this – or create an investigative project for your volunteers to tease out this information
  • a photo of the exterior of your offices
  • information on where a bicycle rider would park. If you don’t have a rack outside, either get one or allow people to bring their bikes inside (an addition note about this is at the end of this blog)
  • tips specifically for bicyclists, like advice on routes (perhaps a bike rider would be more comfortable riding on a parallel street rather than a main one – another great investigative project for your volunteers)

There is no excuse to not have this information on your web site, unless your organization needs to keep its location private (a domestic violence shelter, for instance).   Not We don’t have the time or We don’t have the funding or All of our clients/volunteers drive. This information is just as important as parking information and your hours of operation!

Volunteers can help you gather this information. If none of your current volunteers are interested, post it as an opportunity on VolunteerMatch (or your country’s equivalent) and with your local volunteer center.

In addition, remember that in most cities, buses stop running after a certain hour. If your training goes past that time, you are excluding people who would be stranded after the training. If there is no way to change the hours, talk about ways to set up participant car pools.

Encourage volunteers to carpool as well. And brag about all these green living efforts to the board and on your blog!

On the subject of bike parking racks: Cyclists prefer to park very close to their destinations and will lock a bicycle to anything available unless a rack is nearby. They do NOT want racks that hold the bike by the wheel, nor racks with which they can’t use a U-Lock. Racks should be in public view with high visibility and good lighting. One that is filmed by a security camera is particularly great. Work with your city to get a rack installed for your building; they will have rules regarding where racks can go. Bike racks are great projects to fundraise around: identify exactly how much it will cost to buy and install such and involve your volunteers on creating a fundraising campaign to raise the funds needed for installation (what a great sponsorship opportunity!); when you install your new bike rack, take photos, make an announcement – maybe even throw a party! In short – make it a big deal.

Changes in working with volunteers: scary & energizing

logoAlmost 20 years ago, I co-presented at the national conference in Orlando by the Corporation for National Service. The presentation was regarding the emerging senior volunteer — the Baby Boomer. I was the representative from Generation X, another presenter was a Boomer himself, and the other presenter was of the then current senior age group. We thought it was a rather benign but important topic. We certainly had fun putting together our presentation via phone and email (we were in different parts of the USA and had never met face-to-face until the day of the presentation).

The day of the presentation came, and we had a full room waiting to hear us. Our presentation began, with much energy: we talked about how the emerging senior volunteer — the Baby Boomer — wanted to volunteer their professional skills, not just stuff envelopes. How they were willing to commit a lot of hours provided it came with a high-level of responsibility. How they weren’t interested in giving unselfishly as much as wanting to have a real impact and feel like, as a result of their volunteering, they had made a real difference. How this was a great opportunity for volunteering programs…. right?

We were all but booed out of the room.

The workshop attendees, who worked exclusively with senior volunteers, primarily from the “Greatest Generation,” did not hide their venom for our message, and about 15 minutes into our talk, we knew we were in trouble. Amid sighs and folded arms and scowls, attendees started raising their hands to comment and express their obvious frustration. They called these emerging senior volunteers “selfish” and “lazy,” even “un-American.” The characterizations would have never been said about an ethnic group, but it was open season on Boomers. One said, “I’m not changing, and if they don’t like it, they can go somewhere else.” Another said, “I would rather our current volunteers die off and our organization close than work with these people.” One added, to me, directly, in front of the whole group, “You don’t want to know what I think of your generation.”

It was, by far, the angriest, most hostile group I’ve ever addressed.

The only comfort was after the presentation was over, after most of the attendees had stormed out of the room: a woman came up to us in tears — literally crying — and shook all of our hands, saying “I’ve tried to say the same thing, and they were like this to me too.”

More than 10 years later, I shared most of the above via a blog because of an article in the Associated Press that confirmed all that we said at that presentation. The article said boomer volunteers “are increasingly seeking to use their professional skills as volunteers, eschewing office and administrative tasks and seeking roles in marketing, publicity, fund raising, and management.” You can see the article by going to archive.org and looking for this URL:

I’m reviving that blog, saved from a long-defunct platform, because I still think about this incident every time I get in front of a group or have a discussion about trends in volunteer management. In that previous blog, I also wrote:

  • I wonder what ever happened to all those very, very angry volunteer managers, who I don’t think hated boomer volunteers as much as they hated change. Did they quit their jobs? Did they begrudgingly change? Were they fired?
  • I’ve never worked with these “traditional” volunteers the AP article and others talk about, volunteers happy to do any mundane administrative tasks without question, who do whatever they are told without comment. I’ve been working with volunteers for many years, and they have always wanted something worthwhile through their service beyond just work to do.
  • I bet someone writes almost exactly this same story in five years in a major newspaper or wire service, implying it’s a “new trend.”

Of course, since that presentation, the management of volunteers has changed even more radically. I talked about this in May 2006 on my web site. And let’s be clear: innovations regarding management of volunteers aren’t really about technology. The innovation is using technology so that it is:

giving volunteers a bigger voice in what they do at an organization (and, in the end, actually giving them lots more to do, and even more responsibility, which they like very, very much), on engaging in activities that exude transparency and openness in all aspects of decision-making and management, and on being immediately responsive to volunteers’ and other supporters’ thoughts, suggestions and criticisms — and how not doing so isn’t because of a lack of resources but, rather, misdirected priorities and lack of transparency. Tiny nonprofit organizations with very little staff are doing extraordinary things with volunteers, and making the volunteers feel included and energized, not with pins and t-shirts but through greater and more meaningful involvement — and this movement is being fueled by inclusive uses of technology.

It makes for another big challenge to many people who are expected to successfully engage volunteers, but it’s also a big opportunity to raise the profile of volunteer managers within organizations. It makes volunteer management a lot more interesting.

Are you ready? Scared? Angry? Let’s hear from you in the comments below.

Also see:

Managers of volunteers & resistance to diversity

It never fails: try to have a conversation about diversity and volunteerism, get comments about how such conversations are not needed.

“Thoughtful Thursday” is an online discussion about issues related to the involvement of volunteers. It takes place in the comments section of the blog and on Twitter using the tag #ttvolmgrs. Two weeks ago, the subject was diversity. The comments section on the blog are a perfect example of how these much-needed conversations in the nonprofit sector frequently turn into:

We don’t need this.
We are doing just fine with the volunteers we have.
Our recruitment has worked for 25 years. No need to change.
We are not going to lower our standards in order to get new volunteers.
Young volunteers just don’t have the commitment that are current volunteers have.

And it’s what frustrates me most about managers of volunteers. Most – yes, I said MOST – are resistant to change. Meanwhile, they wonder why they are having trouble recruiting, or keeping, volunteers.


(not all the comments are negative on the subject – so there’s hope)

Also see:

Recruiting Local Volunteers To Increase Diversity Among the Ranks (also explores the WHY)

accessibility, diversity & virtual volunteering

One of the many things I’m proud of in The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, is that it features an entire chapter on accessibility and diversity.

That chapter, and the entire book, provide detailed advice regarding:

  • the benefits of having online volunteers representing a variety of socio-economic levels, neighborhoods, ages, cultures and other demographics
  • the benefits of accommodating a diversity of volunteers (an accommodation you make for one particular group often ends up benefiting ALL volunteers)
  • how to use language in such a way as to accommodate and welcome a variety of volunteers 
  • how to adapt online tools to accommodate different online volunteers, including those that may have physical disabilities
  • how to accommodate online volunteers with learning and emotional disabilities
  • how to recruit for diversity; and
  • how to track progress regarding diversity among online volunteer ranks.

The chapter on accessibility and diversity is referenced throughout The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook , because Susan and I did not want anyone thinking it was a chapter to take or leave.

I became an advocate for accessibility and diversity in volunteering and in computer and Internet use in October 1994 when I attended the annual meeting of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility at UC San Diego. There was a panel discussion called “The Meanings of Access,” and remarks during that talk, particularly by Deborah Kaplan, then of the World Institute on Disability, changed my life forever. I came to a realization of two things I’d never had before: accessibility is a human right, and accessibility brings me in contact with awesome people I would never meet or work with otherwise. I became an advocate right then and there.

In 1997, I got funding from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation for the Virtual Volunteering Project to explore how to make online volunteering as accessible as possible, and that same year, blew my mouth off at a conference in Austin, Texas about how disappointed I was that the panelists I’d just listened to, talking about the digital divide, never once mentioned people with disabilities, resulting in one of the greatest personal and professional relationships of my life, with Sharron Rush, who was also in the audience and later formed Knowbility, a nonprofit that promotes accessibility in technology tools and technology careers.

In 2008, I read “InVolving LGBT Volunteers,” published by The Consortium of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered voluntary and community organisations, based in London, the United Kingdom, and that solidified my understanding that making accessibility and diversity a priority in any program is about benefits for everyone in that program, not just people with disabilities or people who are from minority or under-represented groups. This publication is referenced in The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, and remains one I return to frequently when preparing lectures or workshops about volunteer recruitment.

I have tried to put into practice all that I’ve heard about regarding virtual volunteering, including accommodations for a variety of people as volunteers and recruiting specifically to create a diverse volunteer pool. I won’t say I’m always successful, and I won’t say trying the methods we promote in the book is always easy, but I will say that it’s made my work experience oh-so-much richer and interesting, and it’s always been worth trying.

The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook is now available for purchase as a paperback and an ebook from Energize, Inc

Do you welcome people with your language?

Someone who is associated with a blood and tissue donation program that is not based at a community of faith (church, mosque, temple, etc.) posted this on Facebook recently:

Wanted: A leader in a faith community who would like to share a blessing at our upcoming volunteer recognition event.

I offered this caution in response:

Be sure you get someone who will be respectful of the fact that not everyone at your event is of the same faith – and some may not be people of faith at all. As an Atheist, I have felt really unwelcomed at many volunteer-related events because of the faith leader’s address.

The response was as it always is to me when I offer that caution – what I call playing the “culture” or “majority” card:

Historically, however, this hasn’t been an issue in our organization. I find that the region in which we live is rather accepting of these blessings, and they are almost an expectation. In other areas of the country where I have worked, this hasn’t always been the case. Because of the work we do, we also find that more of our volunteers are spiritual in nature.

This person is making assumptions – because of the region, because of her own beliefs, and because of conversations she’s had with volunteers where everyone has seemed to be on the same page regarding religious belief – that everyone is fine with a religious ceremony at her volunteer event, that no one has ever been made uncomfortable or not felt welcomed as a result. After all, no one has complained before – therefore, everyone is fine with it. And, in addition, people who volunteer regarding blood donations are spiritual in nature. Why else would they volunteer?

Here’s the reality:

Most people who have been made uncomfortable by the mixing of religion and volunteering at an otherwise secular event are probably never going to say anything about that discomfort – the defensive reaction of this volunteer manager, as well as a religious leader that weighed in later, illustrate why. No one wants to be seen as ruining an event for others, or taking an activity away that others like, even if the activity makes them feel less a member of the group – so, rather than be accused of trying to remove all religious references at an event (even though all that was asked for was language that was respectful – no request was made not to make religion any part of the event), people that aren’t of the majority religion stay silent in their discomfort.

And you have to wonder: if no one has complained, could it also be because you’ve created an atmosphere where non-believers/other-believers don’t feel welcomed to volunteer?

People volunteer for a variety of reasons. And people have many different ideas of where “goodness” comes from. People who believe that goodness, and the desire to volunteer, comes from a “God” tend to be quite vocal about it. But volunteer managers – and all of us – need to remember that there are a lot of people that don’t believe in a “God” or a “higher power”, but do believe in goodness and in volunteering to help others – they just aren’t as vocal about that belief, or lack of belief, either because of the negative reactions such an expression often elicits or because they simply don’t believe in being so vocal about one’s motivations for volunteering. Volunteers Beyond Belief is a good example of such a group.

As volunteer managers, one thing we should be united about in terms of belief is the belief in creating welcoming, inclusive events for our volunteers, where we are careful about our language and our assumptions.

So, yes, you may have a blessing from a religion leader at a volunteer event that both celebrates that person’s beliefs and the belief of others but doesn’t make people that aren’t such believers unwelcome or unwanted.

Exclusive language at an event:

“We volunteer because, as Christians, we…”

“In the name of Jesus Christ…” or “In the name of Allah…, we are here today…”

“Let us all bow our heads and give thanks to God…”

Those are all fine at an event targeting a specific community of faith. But unless you have interviewed each and every volunteer about their beliefs, you have no idea what those beliefs might be for every person. So, instead, if you feel you must have a religious activity at your volunteer event, consider more inclusive religious language:

Let us all bow our heads and reflect on the goodness we have seen from volunteers, and if you would like to pray with me, please join me.

In joy we gather this evening, bonded together in our work and our goals, bonded together in our love and our dreams, bonded in festivity and thanksgiving, bonded in celebration. May the joy of our togetherness rise above all sadness. May the kindnesses we share rise above all harshness. May the unity for which we long rise above all divisiveness. And may all that is restless within us lead us one day to the ultimate Good, the ultimate togetherness. (from this web site)

Being culturally appropriate is important – but it shouldn’t be used as an excuse for impoliteness or prejudice to minority groups. Catering to the majority is easy; thinking about who I might be leaving out, and what I can do to welcome everyone into volunteering, is an ongoing learning process – and quite a struggle at times. It’s not easy, but in the end, it certainly creates a richer, diverse volunteer family.

Groups for “young professionals” exclude me

I love networking. I love meeting people, hearing about the work of others, telling others about my work, finding ways to work together, learning things I didn’t know, sharing my knowledge, being challenged, challenging others, and on and on. Especially if red wine or beer is involved.

But, apparently, a lot of professional networking groups do not want me: I’m too old.

Consider a group here in Portland, Oregon, for example: it’s for young and emerging nonprofit and public sector professionals in the area. Or another group in Detroit, described as mobilizing young professionals to get the energy up at nonprofits and to bring new ideas to fundraising and outreach.

I find this again and again all over the USA: groups focused on technology, on nonprofits, on some aspect of nonprofit work (the environment, the arts, children, etc.) that say, explicitly, “this group is for young professionals who….” Because, you know, what the heck does someone over 40 know about the Internet? Or innovation? Apparently, we don’t try new things, we’re not risk takers, we’re not daring, blah blah blah.

The descriptions on the web sites and online communities of these organizations make it clear I am not wanted. It’s not just that I’m hurt to be left out of such groups and excluded from the networking and learning I so enjoy; I also think it’s sad that these groups isolate themselves from knowledge, skills and a diversity of viewpoints that group members might find particularly valuable, regardless of age. These “young professional” groups also contribute to the stereotype that people over 60, or over 50, or over 40 — take your pick on which group you want to stereotype — don’t have fresh ideas, aren’t tech savvy, aren’t innovative, do not like to learn and have nothing to offer.

I hear a lot about how traditional volunteering leaves out people under 35. I’ve been hearing about that since I was 30, actually. And I do see it in many organizations, hence my work over the last 15 years trying to get organizations that engage volunteers to create a diversity of volunteering opportunities that will appeal to a diversity of volunteers. I get that some groups have left out “young professionals,” and that these groups are trying to address that. But the solution is not to create an exclusionary group where no one but “young” professionals are welcomed.

Germany needs 90 thousand volunteers immediately

(Gehen Sie für diese Abhandlung auf Deutsch hinab)

Germany is getting rid of its compulsory military and community service for young men, and German hospitals, retirement homes, hostels, Red Cross chapters, agencies serving people with disabilities, and other social service and community agencies across the country are deeply worried about how they will now staff their organizations.

For more than 40 years, young German men, age 18 to 20, were drafted into military service — it was originally a two year commitment, but over the years, it was reduced to 15 months, then reduced to 12 months, and most recently, reduced to six. The reductions have been a result of cost-cutting. Men could substitute community service at German social service agencies for military service; the community service commitment was usually a bit longer, by a few months, than the military service. Men who opted for community service instead of military service are known in Germany colloquially as “Zivis.”

But the days of compulsory service — and the Zivis — are over as of 2011. Hundreds of charities across Germany that have relied on almost 100,000 conscripts to run their organizations are bracing for a severe labor shortage. Many charities don’t believe they will be able to find enough volunteers willing to do the grunt work that Zivis have done – washing dishes, cleaning rooms, preparing meals, etc.

Can Germany recruit 90,000 volunteers to replace Zivis? Yes – but it will take a sweeping, fundamental rethinking of how Germany charities perceive the role of volunteers, and a LOT of training and support to implement this new thinking.

Germany already understands the value of volunteers in fire fighting. Germany has the most volunteer fire fighters, per capita, of any country in the world. In Germany, for a community served by volunteer firefighters, the first truck must arrive within eight minutes. Volunteer firefighters train alongside professional firefighters — there is no two-tiered training system, one for professionals and one for volunteers. Volunteers stay for years, not just weeks or months. And volunteer fire fighters fight fires, protecting humans, businesses and property. Yes, they also do grunt work, but they also fight fires. Whether they know it or not, Germany already trusts volunteers with critical services; Germany needs to build on that for other community services.

The place to start: German charities need to involve volunteers in more than grunt work:

    • They need to think about volunteers in the ways organizations here in the USA that are staffed primarily by volunteers do. Volunteers deliver the majority of services provided by the American Red Cross and the Girl Scouts of the USA, for instance, staffing not just the grunt work but leadership positions as well. Many of their volunteers stay for years, not just weeks or months, because they do much more than grunt work. Volunteering varies across cultures in many aspects, but one thing that is always the same, culture-to-culture, country-to-country: volunteers want to feel like the work they are doing is critical, not just nice, but necessary.
  • In addition, volunteering needs to be tied to high school and university work, where appropriate, giving students practical experience applying what they are learning in classrooms — service learning. Certain community service should earn the volunteer high school or university class credit.

To make this transformation possible, however, will take intensive, advanced volunteer management training for charities, for universities and for government agency staff. It also may mean paying people to do the grunt work, while reserving positions with high levels of responsibility for volunteers – that’s a radical way of thinking for many people.

I trained a few times in Germany, and I was taken aback at how far behind the country is with regard to volunteer management:

    • Representatives from volunteer centers told me they would not use online databases of volunteering opportunities because “then no one will use our volunteer center.”
  • Residents who are not ethnically-German are vastly under-represented among the staff of most charities and community service organizations in Germany; you can go to a village in Germany with a significant ethnic-Turkish population, for instance, but you won’t see volunteers from this population at the local fire house. In my eight years in Germany, I never found any charity or community service organization that involved volunteers that was undertaking recruitment activities targeted on minority communities specifically — yes, I looked.

This is a challenging time for Germany, but it’s also an amazing opportunity for Germany to ramp up its involvement of volunteers, and transform its society in a number of positive, sustainable ways. It could become a model for the rest of the EU! Attention Germany: I’m ready to help!

Read more at this story at NPR.

— Übersetzung in Deutsch —

Die Tage der Wehrpflicht – und der Zivis – sind vorbei ab 2011. Hunderte Wohlfahrtsorganisationen in ganz Deutschland, die auf die Arbeit der fast 100.000 einberufenen vertraut haben, sehen sich jetzt einer radikalen Verringerung ihrer Arbeitskräfte gegenüber. Viele Organisationen glauben nicht, daß sie ausreichend Freiwillige finden können um die Routinearbeit zu erledigen, die bis jetzt von Zivis erledigt wurde – spülen, Räume reinigen, Mahlzeiten zubereiten, usw.

Kann Deutschland 90.000 Freiwillige rekrutieren um die Zivis zu ersetzen? Ja – aber es verlangt ein fundamentales Umdenken wie deutsche Wohlfahrtsorganisationen die Rolle von Freiwilligen verstehen, und VIEL Übung und Unterstützung um dieses neue Denken auch umzusetzen.

Deutschland versteht bereits den Wert von Freiwilligen in Feuerwehren. Deutschland hat die meisten Freiwilligen Feuerwehrleute pro Einwohner aller Länder weltweit. In einer deutschen Gemeinde mit einer freiwilligen Feuerwehr muß nach 8 Minuten erste wirksame Hilfe durch die Feuerwehr geleistet werden. Freiwillige Feuerwehrleute erhalten die gleiche Ausbildung wie Berufsfeuerwehrleute, es gibt keine zwei Klassen-Ausbildung. Freiwillige bleiben für Jahre, nicht nur für Wochen oder Monate. Und freiwillige Feuerwehrleute bekämpfen Feuer, retten Menschenleben und schützen Sachwerte. Ja, sie machen auch Routinearbeit, aber sie bekämpfen auch Feuer. Ob sie es wissen oder nicht, Deutsche vertrauen bereits jetzt Freiwilligen mit Aufgaben von entscheidender Bedeutung; Deutsche müssen dies auf andere soziale Aufgaben ausdehnen.

Der Anfang: Deutsche Wohlfahrtsorganisationen müssen Freiwillige für mehr als nur Routinearbeiten einsetzen:

    • Sie müssen sie genauso ansehen wie Organisationen in den USA, deren Mitarbeiter hauptsächlich Freiwillige sind. Freiwillige übernehmen den Grossteil der Leistungen, die das Amerikanische Rote Kreuz und die `Girl Scouts of the USA` (Girl Guides) anbieten, so übernehmen sie nicht nur die Routinearbeit, sondern auch Führungspositionen. Viele ihrer Freiwilligen bleiben für Jahre und nicht nur für Wochen oder Monate, weil sie viel mehr tun als nur die Routinearbeit. Das Ehrenamt variiert in verschiedenen Kulturen in vielen Aspekten, aber eines bleibt immer gleich, Kultur zu Kultur, Land zu Land: Freiwillige wollen merken, dass ihre Arbeit wichtig ist, nicht nur nett, sondern notwendig.
  • Zusätzlich muss ein Ehrenamt mit Hochschulen und Universitäten verbunden werden, wo dies angemessen ist. So, dass Schüler und Studenten praktische Erfahrungen sammeln und anwenden können was sie in Unterricht lernen — “service learning.” Bestimme Ehrenämter sollten den Freiwilligen bei der Hochschule oder Universität angerechnet werden.

Um diese Transformation möglich zu machen, benötigt es intensive und fortgeschrittene Freiwilligen-Management-Schulungen für Wohlfahrtsorganisationen, für Universitäten und für Regierungsbehörden. Es kann auch bedeuten, Angestellte zu bezahlen um die Routinearbeiten zu erledigen, während Positionen mit mehr Verantwortung für Freiwillige reserviert werden – für viele Leute ist dies eine radikal Denkensweise.

Ich habe ein paar Schulungen in Deutschland geleitet und war erstaunt wie weit zurück dieses Land ist im Bezug auf Management von Freiwilligen“? :

    •  Vertreter von Freiwilligen-Zentren erzählten mir, sie würden keine Online-Datenbank für verfügbare Ehrenämter benutzen, weil “dann wird niemand unsere Freiwilligen Zentrum besuchen.”
  • Einwohner mit Migrationshintergrund sind weit unterrepräsentiert in der Belegschaft der meisten Wohlfahrtsorganisationen und gemeinnützigen Organisationen in Deutschland. Man kann z.B. in eine Gemeinde mit deutlichem türkischem Bevölkerungsanteil gehen, aber man wird keinen Freiwilligen dieser Bevölkerungsgruppe im örtlichen Freiwilligen Feuerwehrhaus antreffen. In meinen acht Jahren in Deutschland habe ich nie eine Wohlfahrtsorganisation oder gemeinnützige Organisation, die Freiwillige einbezieht, gefunden, die Anwerbung speziell auf Minderheiten zugeschnitten hatte – ja, ich habe danach gesucht.

Es ist eine herausfordernde Zeit für Deutschland, aber es ist auch eine einzigartige Gelegenheit für Deutschland, um die Einbeziehung von Freiwilligen zu steigern; und um seine Gesellschaft in einer positiven und nachhaltigen Weise zu transformieren. Deutschland könnte zu einem Vorbild in der restlichen EU werden! Aufgepasst Deutschland: Ich bin bereit zu helfen!

Lesen Sie mehr in diesem Bericht auf NPR (nur in Englisch).

(Thanks to Stefan Dietz and Lis Mullin Bernhardt for the translation)