Volunteerism in the 21st Century is not what it was in the 20th. My mother used to volunteer so that she could justify leaving the house, get away from us kids, socialize with her friends, demonstrate that she did, in fact, have a brain, and – by the way – help someone in need. The outlook for women today is very different, and there is no organization that has not been hit by the decrease in volunteers, from churches to the Scouts. Nowadays volunteerism is seen less as a duty than as a hobby, and, like a hobby, it needs to be enjoyable.
All of the sticks that used to be used to push individuals into volunteering are pretty much useless now. Few feel ashamed if they don’t volunteer, and even fewer are shunned. It is hard to imagine a man’s career being affected if his wife doesn’t volunteer (the military may sometimes still be an exception). So, if we don’t have any sticks, what about the carrots?
VISIBILITY: Volunteers like their work to be seen. They like folks to know what they are doing and how much effort they are putting into it. We should be introducing our volunteers at Retreats, not just our officers, but our committee chairs. People like Gevene who pretty much single-handedly runs our website. And Shulamit who edits the articles (including this one) for the Unifier. And Caitlin McGinn, who helped me write another article for this month’s Unifier and has taken over as Fellowship Coordinator. And Terri Michos, who just agreed to be our Social Action Coordinator. And our new Nominating Committee: Peter Jarrett, Eva Kortekaas, and Matt Gilsenan. And many, many, more.
RECOGNITION: Although many of our volunteers are modest, behind the scenes types of folk, they still like to feel their work is appreciated. We usually have a recognition ceremony at the end of the retreats, but not everyone is mentioned (who was that guy who set up the computer registration for us?), and only folks who specifically worked on the retreat are thanked. What about all the fantastic folks who make EUU work year-round? Where’s their bottle of wine or box of chocolate? We need to create Volunteer Appreciation Awards and give them out at the beginning of every Retreat. And your Fellowship Representatives? When was the last time you said thank you to them? Has your fellowship thought about recognizing their efforts at one of your services?
TEAM SPIRIT: Volunteers today are no longer interested in a position or title; they are interested in working with an exciting group of like-minded individuals. They want to have a good time achieving common goals with a team that approaches the work the same way they do. Let’s let them at it!
PROJECT SATISFACTION: This goes along with team spirit. Volunteers today want to commit a specific time period to achieve a specific goal. They want to finish a concrete project that they can step back from, take a look at and feel proud of.
FUN: There is nothing wrong with volunteering being fun. If we want people to do it, it had better be fun. Not enjoyable – unashamedly fun. Get out there and have fun and do some good while you are at it.
If anyone is going to change the face of volunteering in the 21st Century, it’s going to be the folks who do community theater. They use all of the carrots above, and people are having a BLAST. Everyone wants to be involved – entire families. These people work with a team to create a very special product and then they stand on stage and our applauded. And they give recognition and awards to the people backstage. EUU is not community theater (although we have a lot of drama), but if anyone can take the lessons these folks have learned and craft them to our own purposes, we can. Let the show go on!