The 2 “Football Basics” of Volunteer Engagement

footballFall is different things to different people. To parents it’s back to school. To me the lazy days of summer are over, and I have kick off my sandals and start wearing shoes again. To my son Jonathan and his wife Lori… it’s football!

If you live in America, it’s hard to avoid the excitement about this game. Entire nights of television (like tonight) are dedicated to the sport. So what can we, as directors of volunteers in the beginning of a new season, learn from football to kickoff a successful volunteer season?

For those of us who are older boomers, we remember the first years of the Super Bowls when Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers won the first two Super Bowls—after all the trophy is called the Vince Lombardi trophy. According to David Maraniss in his best-selling book, When Pride Still Mattered: A Life Of Vince Lombardi, Coach Lombardi handled the devastating loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1960 NFL championship game by getting back to basics.  When the team met the next July for training camp, Lombardi stood before his team holding the pigskin in his right hand and said,

Gentlemen, this is a football. football1

And as a result of emphasizing the basics, Lombardi’s team became the best in the league at the tasks everyone else took for granted—blocking and tackling.

If I were to stand up in front of my leaders who are in charge of engaging volunteers, what would I hold up to emphasize volunteer basics?  Just as Lombardi’s team became the best in the league at the tasks that everyone else took for granted—blocking and tackling— in our world our volunteer teams can become the best at the tasks that everyone else is taking for granted.  What are they?

In volunteer leadership there are two basics that we often take for granted—asking and affirming. No matter what generation, what professional skills they have, or how busy they are, the basics are classic and they have not changed. Even the New Breed of Volunteer responds to the basics. In our drive to be creative and use all the social media tools to engage volunteers, we often forget that there are some basics that volunteer managers are neglecting. Are these two fundamentals in your playbook?  Do you teach them and emphasize them?

And the most important question is:

Are you just taking these basic tasks—asking and affirming— for granted and assuming that everyone is exercising them with great skill?

Basic one:  Asking
Last summer I was having coffee at Panera with a senior in college.  As we were visiting, two directors of volunteers for a local youth program saw us and stopped by our table. As we visited, they began to talk about how people were so busy that they just weren’t volunteering.  The two leaders were panicked as they desperately needed volunteers.  I asked them what method they had used, and they talked about their marketing campaign and a creative video they had made to show the need and opportunities to make an impact in the lives of youth.

As they walked away, the student said to me, “Why didn’t they ask me? I love to work with youth.”

So I asked her, ‘Why didn’t you volunteer?”

She replied, “What if they didn’t want me?’’

I understood her feeling. These two women did not understand that announcements often don’t get volunteers— or the people you want.  Announcements only awaken passion and cause a person to think, “I could do that.”  But many people won’t volunteer.


The New Breed volunteer will always wonder if they are really wanted if not asked.  But when you ask someone to be a volunteer, you are valuing that person and saying to them, “Your skills, time, and positive attitude would be a huge help on our team.”

Basic two:  Affirming
This summer Ashley, a sophomore in college, worked with high-risk youth. I was invited by the sponsoring organization to an appreciation dessert for these college students who spent their summer working with young people. My wife Susie and I cut our vacation short to attend that dessert—after all, Ashley is our granddaughter.

The executive director called the six students up in front of the group one at a time, and the paid staff told specific stories about what each student had contributed that summer. Then the executive director handed each one a thank you card with a $50 Amazon gift card.

You should have seen the energy and excitement in that room. Ashley and her family were so proud to be a part of the organization.

I was reminded of how effective feedback is to volunteers.  It doesn’t have to be a meeting, a dessert or a gift certificate (although that is cool), but a personal thank you is as basic as it gets.

Legendary coaches focus on basics
Lombardi emphasized blocking and tackling.  Basketball coach John Wooden of the UCLA Bruins even went so far as to teach his players how to put on their socks and tie their shoes. Pat Summit, coach of the University of Tennessee women’s basketball team, said, “Keep it simple — don’t try to teach to many things. It’s not what you teach…it’s what you emphasize.”  She emphasized basics like pressure defense, rebounding, and taking care of the ball.

Obviously there is a lot more to winning football games than just blocking and tackling, and there is much more to developing a winning volunteer team than just asking and affirming.  And I’m not suggesting that we coach our volunteer teams emulating Lombardi’s hard-edge style and grueling training regimens; however, I am urging you not to take for granted these basic tasks—asking and affirming.

In our book,  The New Breed, we show how to use them with the New Breed of Volunteers.  For example, to get an idea of the how we demonstrate asking in the book, see “The Seven Deadly Sins of Recruiting.”  Volunteer leaders and coaches who commit those sins are neglecting the basics.

So as Lombardi’s team became the best in the league at the tasks everyone else took for granted, blocking and tackling, let me challenge you to . . .

Become the best at the tasks that volunteer managers so often take for granted—asking and affirming.

Posted in Leadership, Marketing, Recruiting, The New Breed of Volunteer, Volunteer Engagement, volunteer management, Volunteer Retension | 1 Comment

Hard-to-recruit Volunteers

dreamstime_xs_54565472How to Recruit Door-to-door Political Campaign Volunteers…
and Other Hard-to-recruit Volunteers

On the first day of the Democratic convention Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren challenged the delegates to mobilize teams to go door-to-door and campaign for Hillary Clinton.

Yes… door-to-door!

A few weeks ago I received a call from a staff member of a national organization asking me how to recruit teams of volunteers to go door-to-door to get people to vote for Donald Trump.

Which do you think is more difficult: door-to-door campaigning… or recruiting the volunteers who will do the door-to-door campaigning?

Don’t start feeling overwhelmed… there’s good news. Although door-to-door volunteering may seem like old-fashioned- Kirby Vaccuum-20th-century-salesman work that would never appeal to the The New Breed volunteer, a political campaign is can appeal to the 21st century volunteer.


Because 21st century volunteers are “episodic.” They are looking for short term and one-time opportunities… and election campaigning door-to-door is short term.

So how do I get this episodic, short-term, volunteer to say, “Yes, I’ll do it,” especially in an election year when three-quarters of voters say their pick for president is motivated by a desire to cast their election day ballot against Clinton or Trump, more than those who say they’re voting for the candidate who is the most qualified to hold the office (PBS report—Polls show Americans Fear This Year’s Contenders)?

It’s a hard sell, but here are five steps to help you build your door-to-door election team in this passionless election.

Step One: You Must Believe that door-to-door works and is actually an effective 21st century method of campaigning. Most your volunteers might not know this, so show them the research. Gerber and Green experts in researching these campaigns, conclude that “personal canvassing overall has a far greater influence on voter participation than ‘professionally crafted mail delivered within two weeks of election day.’ Phone calling was the least effective way to reach out to voters and increase voter turnout, especially because many of the phone calling is cold-calling. Canvassing is important, but mostly when it is done locally.” You not only have to believe this, but let the volunteers know how effective their work is.

Step Two:  Develop your Prospecting Gold Mine:  All sales begins with prospecting—developing a list of potential volunteers. Why do I keep getting invitations to a free dinner to look at investment opportunities? Sales professionals know that in that meeting there are prospects who will say “yes.” The following are effective ways of developing your prospecting list– your list of people who will actually go door-to-door:

  • Throw a Party:  Joe Garecht suggests a great way to have your volunteers help you find more volunteers is by throwing a campaign “party.”  This party could be the grand opening of your headquarters, a volunteer-only party (with a street-taco bar), or any other type of event you can imagine.  Invite each of your volunteers, and encourage them to bring 3 friends.  To make your party even more exciting for volunteers, give them actual VIP tickets they can give to their friends.  At your event, ask the friends to help you win the campaign by volunteering as well.  The grateful guests will often be glad to help your campaign (5 tips for recruiting political volunteers).
  • Speak up:  Get on the speaking circuit at local events to give a powerful, motivational talk about issues that that group and the candidate care about. Make your pitch for team members at the end and provide a sign up list for more information.  Work carefully to develop a “big idea-mantra” for your speech that is going to awaken the passion of the potential volunteers.  Bill Clinton’s “big idea mantra” at the Democratic convention was, “Hillary is a change maker.” And Donald Trump has been promoting his “big idea mantra” for the past six months, “Make America great again.”  Come up with a big idea mantra that will resonate with your audience and build your speech around it, illustrating it with powerful stories of hope.
  • Happy Hour:  Millennials will often come for free food and drinks.  By sponsoring a happy hour, it will give you an opportunity to engage them and pitch them to make a difference with your team. (Just don’t send them door-to-door immediately after the happy hour.)  (Tips for recruiting best canvassing volunteers).
  • Tap into Passion. Build your prospective list by tapping into passion. Passion is what drives all volunteers; however, this is so much more difficult this year because so much of the passion is negative. But it is still passion, so use it. Look for people who are passionate about a particular candidate, no matter what the reason, like the ones who have a sign in front of their house or a bumper-sticker on their car.  Ask them.

Step Three:  Mine the Golden Prospects: Develop a prospecting list from the above methods.  When you have developed your prospecting list, target the best people that you met. Make a tailored, personal invitation in person. It’s harder for someone to resist your request face-to-face, plus you are able to give him or her a heart felt invitation on why he or she is the best person to join your door-to-door team.

Step Four:  Look for Bev — It’s not who you know. It’s who she knows.  Each person in your network has a whole group of contacts that you don’t know, and there may be a go-getter in that network of volunteers. In the New Breed, we tell the story of Bev, a retired school principal, who began tutoring at the local elementary school.  In a few months she had 40 volunteers tutoring at that school. The key to this story is that Bev was not a recruiter.  She was passionate about tutoring—not recruiting.  But she became our best recruiter by just telling her story. My conclusion—look for 10 Bev’s to become your best recruiters. Each Bev has a whole network of possible volunteers. You already have a team of people dedicated to the campaign—use them to get more team members.

Step Five  Rejection—get over it: When you are turned down ten times in a row, it is devastating. But you can manage rejection by these three keys:  First, examine your method of recruiting.  Are you ignoring the “Seven Deadly Sins of Recruiting?”  Are you developing prospecting lists?  Are you framing your sales pitchSecond, don’t take it personally.  It’s not about you.  It’s the nature of all recruiting.  And third, learn your “acceptance rate”. Do you need to ask ten people before you get your first yes?    

The bottom line:  In summary, I would hold parties, sponsor events, use the social media, and  speak at local meetings to gain a hot prospecting list of potential campaigners.  Then I’d look for as many Bev’s as I could to recruit and train to go door-to-door.  Lets be honest. Door-to-door campaigning is hard work with tons of rejection.

Oh, and by the way, in case you haven’t figured this out—you are in sales. Recruiting is sales 101. Accept it.

Posted in Recruiting | Leave a comment

Mobilizing a New Breed of Volunteers… in Colorado

10580779_859480480736510_4166228323392133403_oAwakening, focusing, sustaining, and unleashing the power and passion of today’s volunteers– a workshop by Father/Son Team — Loveland, CO, September 21-23, 2016

This September we’re coming to Colorado to teach our 2-day workshop on everything you need to know about recruiting today’s new breed of volunteers.

Name it: recruiting, retaining, motivating, empowering… we’re covering it all.

You’ll get both authors of the book THE NEW BREED in one location for a day and a half. Come join us!

What You Will Learn:

  • How to transition episodic volunteers into high-capacity volunteer
  • How to use duct tape to improve your retention rate
  • How to engage two essential generations of volunteers: Millennials and Boomers
  • How to take advantage of the seismic shifts that have changed volunteerism
  • How to awaken passion to potential volunteers
  • How to frame your recruiting needs to the values, strengths, gifts, and passions of the NEW BREED of volunteerHow to make the perfect omelet (time permitting)

Six Modules:

Module One: Seismic shifts that are changing volunteer engagement

Volunteer involvement has changed significantly over the past 20 years, challenging leaders to adapt to a savvy NEW BREED of volunteers. Plenty of volunteers are willing to get involved, but they’ll become involved according to their rules—not ours. Discover seismic shifts that have created a new volunteer culture and learn how to take advantage of these shifts.

Module Two: The seven deadly sins of recruiting

“I love ministry, but I hate recruiting.” If you feel this way, you’re not alone. But recruiting volunteers can be one of the most rewarding aspects of your ministry—when done right. Examine the seven deadly sins of recruiting as well as our unique “dating method,” which helps you find the volunteers you want to make sure you have the right volunteer in the right position.

Module Three: Leadership and Motivation

There is nothing you can do to motivate a volunteer. Why? Because volunteers do things for their reasons not yours. So, how do you keep volunteers motivated? You must create a volunteer culture that stimulates the inner motivation of each volunteer. Learn how to create this climate and develop the leadership skills to keep their passion alive.

Module Four: Generational Leadership

Take a peek into the unique and rapidly changing world of four generations: the Greatest Generation, Boomers, GenXers and the Millennials. Learn how they communicate and work with others, and how to recruit and lead volunteers in key life stages.

Module Five: Social Media and Volunteerism

Communication is the glue that holds together the volunteer team, yet many churches still rely on old, ineffective techniques (“Didn’t you read my email?”). Learn when and how to use texting, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook as effective coaching tools.

Module Six: Empowerment 

The NEW BREED of volunteer will not be managed. Learn the vast difference between delegation and empowerment, and how to unleash the passion of the volunteer team through an effective system of empowerment.

Workshop Details:

GROUP Equipping Institute in Loveland, CO is featuring father/son team of Thomas and Jonathan McKee in a hand’s-on highly interactive workshop focusing on faith-based organizations on September 21-23.

It is rare that you hear both of the McKees at the same conference. Thomas gives great sage leadership advice on engaging an older generation while his son, Jonathan, offers the fresh ideas and approaches on engaging the young millennials. Not only is their banter back and forth very realistic, but it’s also fun making this day a sure way to get inside the heads of the 21st century volunteer.  Articulate and succinct, they capture the essentials of unraveling the often conflicting motivations of different generations of volunteers. In their 75 years of combined volunteer leadership experience they capture the essentials of working with 21st century volunteer—a whole new breed of volunteer.

Thomas, father, is the owner of Volunteer Power, a volunteer engagement resource training and development company.  He began his career speaking to one of the most difficult audiences, high school assemblies, and today speaks regularly for organizations such as AARP, Make A Wish, Points of Light, DOVIA, and international volunteer leadership conferees in Europe and Africa.

Jonathan, son, is a respected authority on the millennial generation and owner of The Source for Youth Ministry.  He has written 20 books, such as “Should I Just Smash My Kid’s Phone?”, for youth leaders and parents.  Last year he flew over 100,000 miles speaking and leading workshops on how to communicate with the smart phone generation.

Their book,  The New Breed, is an enthusiastic, thoughtful, and contemporary look at volunteering as it is evolving in the 21st century. Susan Ellis, President of Energize, Inc., says of their book:  “In a practical and often humorous way, the authors introduce real-life challenges in volunteer engagement and give wonderful suggestions for everything from recruiting to using computer technology for communication. They aim to inspire the leader of volunteers and they succeed.”

For registration information for the workshop, contact GROUP at

Posted in Keynote, Workshops | Leave a comment

Turn a “No” Into a “Yes”

Framing-Your-Pitch-YesThe Simple Task of Framing

You just made a pitch to a potential volunteer who would be perfect on your planning team… but she said, “No.”

You went to all the trouble to set up a lunch meeting with the prospective volunteer. You developed your recruiting pitch and delivered it flawlessly.

No dice.

Now you have to start all over again.

Rejection is so stressful. And if we hear “no” a lot, we often question our ability to recruit. Self doubt begins to have a negative effect on our ability to cope with the daunting task of recruiting.

One way to turn around our recruiting success is a method called “framing.”  All potential volunteers make a decision based on a buying frame.  Just like a window frame sets boundaries that limit the view, so a decision frame sets boundaries that narrow, focus, and simplify a decision.

Car salesmen do this to you every time you go car shopping. Think about it. What do they ask you?

  • New or pre-owned?
  • Finance or pay cash?
  • SUV, sedan, or sports car?
  • Electric, hybrid, or gas?
  • European, Japanese, or U.S.?
  • Budget… Tercel or Tesla?

They are framing us.

What is a volunteer’s decision frame?

Some important issues might be one or more of the following:

  • What is the time commitment?
  • What is the mission?
  • What the impact?
  • How can I use my professional expertise to make a difference?
  • What’s in it for me?
  • Are you flexible in scheduling?

One pitch doesn’t fit all because each volunteer’s frame is unique. Some framing concerns are important while other framing questions are not an issue. If we don’t know what the volunteer’s decision frame is, we answer questions that aren’t asked and reap two possible pitfalls:

  • We face another rejection as the prospective volunteer says, “No!”
  • Or even worse, we have just recruited a high-maintenance volunteer, and oh how we wish they had said, “no.”

How do we discover the volunteer’s decision frame? 

The 80/20 rule is the key to understanding a volunteer’s hot buttons that frame the decision to volunteer. It’s simple—listen 80% and talk 20%.

We are so passionate we often practice the 20/80 rule when making our pitch—passionate people tend to talk 80% of the time when recruiting. Reverse that. Or as my friend Mike, a U.S. Marine, always says… “Shut your cake eater.”

New Breed volunteers like to be asked, and when asked, they may respond with either a, “No, I can’t do that right now,” or “Tell me more.”  Framing a response to either of those answers is a learned skill that really isn’t that hard; however, it takes the discipline to shut your cake eater, ask questions, and listen carefully for the concerns that frame the decision.

How does it work? 

If the potential volunteer responds by saying, “I would never do that because I hate working on committees,” resist the temptation to launch into a sale’s pitch about how your committees are not the traditional inept, micromanaged committees but empowered teams.  Instead, gather more information… and listen.

Ask about past committee experiences and find out why the volunteer hates committees. As you listen, identify the reservations, concerns, and expectations that define the decision frame.  Then use their key framing words for your recruiting pitch.  For example, after listening for 80%, your 20% presentation could be something like this:

“You’d be perfect. We don’t believe in committees either. We put together self-directed, empowered teams of high-capacity leaders just like you.  At the first meeting we define the scope, budget and schedule of the project and then we turn you loose to get it done. And we really don’t meet very often. We use high-tech methods of communication and our meetings are short, too the point, and efficient. How about it?”

Your chances at “Yes” have just logarithmicly increased!

Why did the volunteer say “YES!”?

Because you framed your presentation according to the volunteer’s decision framing issues:  short meetings, high-capacity team members, a well defined scope of the event, self-directed team, empowerment, and high-tech communication methods.

When we frame our presentation, we not only are able to focus our presentation to the volunteer, but we also weed out high-maintenance volunteers for our important teams, committees and boards. The 80/20 rule helps us to embrace Steven Covey’s communication principle:  “Seek to understand before you seek to be understood.”

Recruiting doesn’t have to be daunting.  Jonathan and I have found that many volunteers have learned the joy of recruiting by using the principles in The New Breed.  Use the linked article as a training tool with your recruiters:  The Seven Deadly Sins of Recruiting.

If you are interested in having Jonathan and/or me help you learn and practice framing your recruiting pitch, contact us at  You will also learn and practice the following leadership tools:

  • The dating method of recruiting
  • Duct tape
  • The echo
  • A button
  • The empty chairNew-Breed-WEB-SM


Posted in Recruiting, The New Breed of Volunteer | 11 Comments

The Check Engine Light of Volunteer Stress

stressed-out-volunteersHow to Recognize and Respond to
Volunteer Stress Warning Signs

Stress has been called the disorder of the 21st century. In today’s economic climate companies are stretched thin and tensions are running high. Financial problems, personal relationships, children, and the daily hassles of just being too busy top the list of 21st century stressors.

If our volunteers are normal… they’re probably stressed. So ask yourself: does their experience volunteering with you add to that stress, or relieve it?

Counselors list volunteering or “giving back” as remedies for stress. That’s why many of our volunteers sign up. Are we delivering? Are we creating that kind of climate? (Are you getting stressed just thinking about this?) Continue reading

Posted in Books, Keynote, Leadership, The New Breed of Volunteer, Uncategorized, Volunteer Engagement, volunteer management, Volunteer Retension, Workshops | 1 Comment

“Mobilizing the Power and Passion of A New Breed of Volunteer” by a Father/Son Team

New-Breed-WEB-SMIt is rare that you hear both of the McKees at the same conference. The County of Maui, Volunteer Center is presenting a workshop on January 29 from 8 am to 4 pm at the King Kamehameha Club House featuring the father and son team, Thomas and Jonathan McKee.

Thomas gives great sage leadership advice on engaging an older generation while his son, Jonathan, offers the fresh ideas and approaches on engaging the young millennials. Not only is their banter back and forth very realistic, but it’s also fun making this day a sure way to get inside the heads of the 21st century volunteer.  Articulate and succinct, they capture the essentials of unraveling the often conflicting motivations of different generations of volunteers. In their 75 years of combined volunteer leadership experience they capture the essentials of Continue reading

Posted in Baby Boomers, Books, Keynote, Leadership, Millennials, Recruiting, Volunteer Engagement, Workshops | Leave a comment

Burnout Busters — Eight tips to prevent volunteer burnout

volunteer burnoutThe 90/10% principle of volunteer involvement: 10% of the membership are burning themselves out to keep the organization on mission while 90% enjoy the benefits and do next to nothing.

When I think of that 90/10% principle, I picture a professional football game where 22 players on the field are in desperate need of rest while 100,000 spectators in the stands need some exercise.

Let’s face it, many of us have a tendency to burnout volunteers– especially our committed volunteers who serve weekly Continue reading

Posted in The New Breed of Volunteer, Volunteer Retension | 3 Comments

Effective Marketing to the 62.5% Who Volunteer— But Not for Organizations

They’ll help a neighbor, plan a block party or organize a local softball game.  couldyoubethevoice6They volunteer, but they won’t volunteer for any organization.  According to the Volunteering and Civil Life in America, 2014 report, 62.5% of people living in the U.S. volunteer, but not for an organization.

Why won’t they volunteer for organizations?

The New Breed of volunteer doesn’t want to follow a volunteer manager telling them how, when, why, and with whom. They are their own own boss working like an entrepreneurial, non-paid independent contractor. No wonder slacktivism/clicktivism and episodic volunteering is growing.

But some organizations are reaching into the 62.5% — How?
Continue reading

Posted in Books, Recruiting, The New Breed of Volunteer, Volunteer Engagement, Workshops | 3 Comments

How To Keep the Volunteer Motivated

Thumbs-UpAlthough volunteers are passionate, volunteerism requires a great deal of motivation to keep the passion alive. The 21st century new breed volunteer has a lot of distractions, and as leaders we constantly face the challenge of keeping the volunteer motivated so that they don’t switch to another cause or drop out.

So the key question is, “How do you keep the volunteer motivated?”  Although it is an important question, in reality there is nothing you can do to motivate a volunteer. All volunteers are motivated, but they do things for their reasons not yours. Since motivation is an inner drive, then your role as leaders of volunteers is the following Continue reading

Posted in Leadership, Recruiting, The New Breed of Volunteer, Volunteer Engagement, volunteer management, Workshops | 9 Comments

The Why, Who and How of Empowering Volunteers — The Ripple Effect of Influence

rippleonwater“If we want to have an impact—a ripple effect impact—we have to quit managing and embrace empowerment.”

In The New Breed we keep stating that empowerment is one of the most essential leadership skills to engage the 21st century volunteer.  People often ask me three questions:

  • Why?  Why is empowerment an essential?
  • Who?  Do we empower all our volunteers?
  • How?  How do we empower volunteers and still control the outcome?

The Why—Influencer vs. manager

Why would you want to turn a bunch of empowered, independent, critical thinking, decision-making, volunteers loose in your organizations? Continue reading

Posted in Books, Leadership, Recruiting, Volunteer Engagement, volunteer management | 3 Comments