In 2002 when I created Volunteer Power, I was convinced that if non-profits did not catch up to 21st century leadership strategies, they would be out of business in a few years. And I believe it even more today.
For 20 years I had been a change-management specialist and trained over 100,000 leaders how to manage the chaos of change in corporate training and development, and I experienced first hand the transition in leadership development at the end of the 20th century. As I interacted with non-profits and how they worked with their non-paid staff—volunteers—I could foresee a huge problem. The 21st century employee would not put up with being managed. The knowledge-worker had so changed the workplace that volunteers were demanding that they be empowered. If an organization did not empower their energy and passion, they would quit and volunteer for another organization that was current. Transitioning from managing to leading was an imperative with the up and coming millennials who would be the volunteers of the future.
So 12 years ago I began to research and write our book The New Breed. When we published the first edition of the book in 2007, only about 5% of the attendees in my workshops were millennials. Last week in a session with over 100 in a attendance, almost 50% were millennials, and they were the classic no-collar, texting, twitch-speed, knowledge-workers sending out tweets during the workshop. The group was from the University of Nebraska — Lincoln Extension which included the leaders from 4-H, Girl Scouts, Master Gardeners, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, and Serve Nebraska. At one point I put all the millennials on one side of the room and the rest of us on the other side of the room. We bantered, laughed, and talked about what each of us bring to the organization and how differently we see the role of engaging volunteers. Change was a hot topic as we looked at the New Breed of volunteer and how to engage them. The millennials were ready to change today. Their mantra? “Why wait? Let’s get it done—now.” Most of those on the Xer and Boomer side of the room agreed that we needed to change some things, and our assignment was to talk about how we can keep the integrity of our mission, our values, our high standards and change.
Although I never said the words, “If you don’t change, you are going to be out of business,” during a break a Gen X leader from Master Gardeners said to me, “What I’m hearing is that we need to change rather than ask our volunteers to adapt to us.” She got it. And Cathy Johnston, 4-H/Youth Development and organizer of the event, summed up my keynote and workshop with these words, “What we have heard today is that we need to change, not expect our volunteers to change.”
I am finally hearing this message from most non profits, and I’m excited. Let’s face it, we are asking people to give up their free time to work for us for no pay. What would motivate a person to get fingerprinted, attend safety meetings, attend training sessions, and actively give their time, energy and skills— all for free— to help us accomplish our mission?
The answer—our volunteer culture.
Since we believe that motivation is an inside job and people do things for their reasons, not ours, our job as leaders in the non-profit is to create a volunteer culture that stimulates the inner motivation of each volunteer.
How do we do that?
I encourage you to examine your current volunteer culture at your next staff meeting or meeting with your volunteer leaders or board by asking these questions. The questions are designed to evaluate if you are engaging a new breed of passionate, slacktivist, episodic, knowledge-worker, empowered, volunteers.
- Are your recruiting methods perceived to be asking for marriage (a life-time commitment) rather than a date (a short-time experience)?
- Are you using events to meet new episodic volunteers as a first date that may turn into marriage (the long-term highly effective volunteer)?
- Are you empowering your volunteers or managing them? The new breed of volunteers does not want to be managed—they want to be unleashed.
- Does your marketing for volunteers awaken the passion for your mission?
- Have you stated your mission in a mantra—one that can fit on a tee shirt? Mantra’s are so 21st century.
- Are you still depending on your posting for volunteers to get volunteers?
- Are you building a network of recruiters? Remember the principle of networking—it’s not who you know. It’s who they know.
- Are you mastering the use of duct tape? Do you practice the 80/20 rule of listening 80% when you interview your prospective volunteer leader to ensure that the leader you are recruiting will be best to fill the role you are seeking so that you don’t end up with a high maintenance volunteer?
- Are you providing flexibility? Today’s volunteer wants to be an asset when they are present, but not a liability when they are absent.
- Are you open to entrepreneurial volunteers who want to create new programs to help you accomplish your mission, instead of just offering the same old volunteer jobs? In order words, do you put out some of your needs and ask for volunteers to come up with creative, new ideas to meet those needs? It is scary, but are you open to it?
- Do you have any recruiting and management systems that limit the creativity and passion of your volunteers? Think of ways to streamline these systems.
- Are you offering on-line training for your volunteers? If so, is it effective and easy to use?
- Do you have opportunities for the virtual volunteer? Can you expand this type of opportunity?
- Are you using web 2.0 instead of traditional e-mail such as wikis, texts, tweets, and instragram?
- How are you communicating to this tech savvy millennial smartphone generation who can’t go 3 minutes without checking Instagram on their new phablet?
- How are you engaging a new breed of empty nester and retiring boomers who don’t want to volunteer in the traditional ways?
These are just some culture evaluating questions . Some are developed from “The Seven Deadly Sins of Recruiting” that 20th century organizations are still committing. Most are developed from our work on The New Breed. As you discuss them, think outside the box of your current culture to bring your volunteer culture into the 21st century—which is actually already 15 years old.