Volunteers are the heart and soul of your nonprofit. Even if you have a large staff. At the end of the day, volunteers can take you to places you haven’t even dreamed of. Our “stop, look and listen” program can help unleash the creativity and power of your volunteers.
Stop. Take time to get to know the people who volunteer with your organization. By volunteers we mean all volunteers, not just board members. For example, look at who donates food, who makes sure your gala runs like clock-work, the men who provide security for evening meetings, and the college students who serve as mentors. Stop and visit with each, one-on-one. Learn their passions. Listen to what they have accomplished in their personal and professional lives. Seek to gain an understanding of their impact, their likes, and where they want to go personally and professionally.
Getting to know the people who invest their time in your institution will pay dividends for years. Here’s a truth – most people who volunteer have lots of ideas about how things could be improved. Most are not shared in open meetings. They are shared one-on-one. When you are the person they share their opinions with, you can help blend them into your vision, making it more powerful; or help it come to life in a better way. The opinions may be about how a program is run; about another organization you can collaborate with; or a business looking for a nonprofit to partner with.
But, you won’t know until you take time to develop relationships. For example, when you have coffee with Mary, briefly share your vision and then ask for feedback. Stop talking. Listen to what she thinks, how she sees things, her ideas, and how she can help. As you listen to how your volunteers respond to your vision, you will find they are a gold mine of ideas and resources. But first, they have to buy into your vision. And they can’t do that if they don’t know you.
Here’s another tip: Don’t let stereotypes cloud your thinking. For example, you may think the board member who is a vice president at the local bank can be of greatest assistance, but, maybe it’s the long-term volunteer for your annual dinner. She may know everyone and be able to open doors you didn’t know were there.
As you look around you will see that your organization is rich in connections and relationships. If you show that you care and are willing to reach out, most people will reach back.
Your volunteers are your most precious asset. Take the time to stop, look and listen. Your organization will go far.