May 26, 2013

The Neediness of Volunteer Organisations

Posted in Best Practice, Language, Managers Matter, Marketing, Organisational gains from volunteering tagged , , , , at 4:36 am by Sue Hine

Help wanted on clothes lineI’m on my language hobby-horse again, this time on why we should be careful in using the word need.

Mostly I know volunteer organisations are established on the basis of responding to a need, whether it’s for kids sport, disaffected youth, family abuse, or for civic and political protest.  That is, people in the community recognise a gap or a flaw in services and decide to step up and step in to provide it themselves.

I can understand neediness when it comes to funding and resourcing operations.  Even the smallest organisation will be looking to cover costs for stamps and paper, and photocopying minutes of meetings, phone calls and internet services.  Maybe membership fees and dipping into our own pockets will cover the deficit, but that may not be sustainable over time.  The organisation might grow, get some traction through philanthropic grants and perhaps a government contract, though the $$ are never enough to cover total expenditure.

Recruiting volunteers is not the first step in developing a volunteer programme, but it’s certainly the one that trips many an organisation, as reported in the Managers Matter research (2010).  It seems the problem is about posing recruitment messages as needing volunteers.

Twice this week I’ve seen promos for volunteers that are more like begging pleas.  This or that organisation needs volunteers – can you help?  Need and help go together, relying simply on reader perception of these words and possible recognition of the organisation’s brand or logo.  Without indication of volunteer roles and responsibilities and without describing the advantages in volunteering for this organisation I am most likely to offer nothing more than a passing glance to such messages.

NeedHelp – and then add Want, to make a triumvirate of words least likely to attract volunteers.  British World War I recruitment posters no longer have the pull of earlier times: volunteers wanted is just another empty plea.  Empty, because no-one is asking about the skills and experience I could offer, nor describing the potential benefits of volunteering with your organisation.  Help wanted is just another banner fluttering in the breeze of volunteer opportunities.

What does work in attracting volunteers, whether it’s through community networks, a website, Facebook or other social media, or via Volunteer Centre brokerage?

For starters you don’t have to use any of the above: you go ask people.  Not because you need or want them to help.  You ask because they’ve got skills and talents that would be really useful; because the organisation is a fun place to work; because they’ve got a programme that supports and appreciates volunteer work – and a host of other reasons to shoulder-tap and get people interested.  There’s a powerful argument posted this week about Asking being the New Telling.  We’ve known about direct approaches to volunteers for many years, and we need to grow out of relying on begging messages.   Here’s another link promoting the direct ask, and you can’t do better than this compilation of ways to turn your organisation into a volunteer magnet.  Or have a look at Susan Ellis’ run-down on the turn-offs in volunteer recruitment.

I wish we could get past the agonising about needing and wanting volunteers to help organisations.  There is so much good advice available on practical ways to find and keep volunteers we should not have to keep on repeating the begging messages of neediness.

When I get past the neediness pleas I know that volunteering is much more about belonging in and building healthy communities.  And when I find an organisation that offers attractive recruitment promotion I will know there’s a switched-on manager of volunteers who knows how and can do.

It’s long past time to turn on a few more light bulbs.

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6 Comments »

  1. Mike Feszczak said,

    Too right Sue. I have seen some really poor pleas for volunteers when the Organisation could be selling the OPPORTUNITIES available. Opportunities to help less fortunate members of the community, opportunities to use/develop skills, opportunities to be part of a welcoming community etc etc. I NEED to own a Bentley, but I’m unlikely to get one……

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    • Sue Hine said,

      Thanks for your comment Mike. We could discuss the philosophic distinctions between ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ at length, but at issue here is the way we market volunteer opportunities in the climate of competition for volunteers as well as funding. Important to find a point of difference, and to link that with known volunteer interests.

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  2. WaterDragon said,

    Need comes with certain overtones of obligation. I’m known to do the “oughts” as well as anyone, but if I’m putting my time and talents towards a cause I believe in, I don’t want to get the sense I’m doing so because I should/ought to do so.

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    • Sue Hine said,

      Well said! Civic duty or community obligation do not find favour so much these days, so we need to find alternative attractions for potential volunteers.

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  3. Great point Sue! Using the word “need” also implies that we will take every warm body no matter what. Maybe we “need quality volunteers” or “are looking for the best volunteers”. Need implies desperation and negates our role in screening and placing volunteers correctly. Words do matter!

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    • Sue Hine said,

      And what does ‘needing volunteers’ imply about an organisation apparently willing to take all comers?

      Like


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