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Volunteer Management and Environs

Volunteer Management and Environs
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    One of the things I spend a lot of time doing at my job in association management is getting volunteers to do things for free. Some people call it “volunteer management,” while other people call it herding cats. Still, the practice warrants some attention.

    Before we get started, let me explain why volunteer management is increasingly applicable. More and more, we’re seeing organizations shy away from traditional hierarchies. While this leads to more flexibility, it also puts the onus on individuals to contribute freely of their time while at work. Additionally, networking activities often revolve around volunteer activities. In my book, a volunteer is anyone who is willing to help you who isn’t obligated to do so. So knowing the basics of managing them is a good thing to know—and it will probably get lots more important in the coming years.

    In a nutshell, here’s what you need to know to manage volunteers:

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    Planning
    This is essential when working with volunteers. Lately, team-based styles and “agile development” have made the term a little icky. But you need to have at least an outline of what’s going to happen if you want people to contribute. Think about it: you have a couple hours a week to help a group with a project on a voluntary basis. The dude or dudette in charge says, “Will you do x for us?” Chances are, if you have time and know how you’ll do it.

    However, what if they say, “I was wondering if you would kind of figure out what needs to be done. You could talk to whats-his-name and then we’ll meet about it in six months,” you might find yourself making some lovely hair-washing excuses to get out of the job. Krug’s book “Don’t Make Me Think,” though applied to website usability, applies in spades to the practice of volunteer management. People will help you, just don’t make them carry the world on their shoulders if they’re not interested.

    Recruitment
    Recruitment is the simplest part. If you’re involved in something worthwhile and you make people feel useful, they will volunteer. If you’ve got a problem getting people to volunteer, here are some things that you can work on:

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    Did you actually ask? Surprisingly, people from all kinds of organizations could have volunteers out their ears if they would walk up to someone and say, “we need x, will you do it?” Try not to be shy about it. If the person isn’t interested they will tell you. But more often people will step up to the plate.

    Are you being a martyr? I’ve found that sometimes leaders, having been in place for a long time, identify unhealthily with the position. They then say the right things about wanting to step back but they do subconscious (benefit of the doubt) manipulation and never actually empower anyone to take over. The people who are being sort-of asked to volunteer realize they are sort-of being asked and decline, quite reasonably. So, if you are a martyr, take a deep breath and let go. If your organization is being run by a martyr, realize that fact and work with it. If people realize what’s going on, then this situation can be worked through.

    Not enough stakeholders, period? You have to have a certain core group in order to have enough volunteers to do anything. Voluntarism is an interesting statistical function, driven by self-selection—a small group of people do the work for the larger group (as indicated by the STP phenomenon: Same Ten People). If you don’t have enough people to generate the pool of volunteers, adjust your standards and do less. You’ll thank me for it.

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    Orientation and Training
    Volunteers have to know what they’re doing. They are not typically dumb or lazy, although we see that kind all over, don’t we? No, volunteers have very limited time. Remember, these people have 2.5 kids, a dog, and a business trip twice a month. So, they need to know, upfront, what you’re asking them to do.

    Some of the volunteer literature talks about having forms and policies, yada yada and blah blah blah. I take a minimalist approach on the forms and so forth. But you should make sure people know what their job is, and where it stops and ends boundary-wise, and what the timeframe is. If the job is simple and involves simple tasks, tell them. If it’s more complex and you need them to do some judgment calls, tell them that as well. As long as we all know, everything goes much more smoothly.

    Supervision and Evaluation
    I have to tell you about this one, although it could have some negative overtones. Basically, though, it’s very helpful. The leader—and remember this can be delegated—should sit down regularly (or telephone or IM) with the volunteer. Refer back to the agreements everyone’s made at the beginning, and just maintain singing from the same hymnsheet. That’s it. If you integrate regular debriefs, things will get lots better for everyone.

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    And finally…

    Recognition
    Remember, a volunteer doesn’t get paid with money. But they obviously need some kind of remuneration. Usually interaction with others, gaining important contacts, doing good in the world, these are things that make volunteers tick. But it’s important to give awards, praise people, give thank you notes, small things that help keep morale up when you’ve stayed up till 2 am preparing a committee report.

    These steps should help everyone with their volunteer activities, whether a leader or a volunteer, or both! Feel free to let me know in the comments what your experiences have been with volunteering–and what makes you volunteer or quit a group for whom you have volunteered.

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    Nick Senzee works for a professional association in metro Washington, DC. You can find him online at Nick’s Book Blog.

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    Last Updated on November 18, 2020

    15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)

    15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)

    It’s okay, you can finally admit it. It’s been two months since you’ve seen the inside of the gym. Getting sick, family crisis, overtime at work and school papers that needed to get finished all kept you for exercising. Now, the question is: how do you start again?
    Once you have an exercise habit, it becomes automatic. You just go to the gym, there is no force involved. But after a month, two months or possibly a year off, it can be hard to get started again. Here are some tips to climb back on that treadmill after you’ve fallen off.

    1. Don’t Break the Habit – The easiest way to keep things going is simply not to stop. Avoid long breaks in exercising or rebuilding the habit will take some effort. This may be advice a little too late for some people. But if you have an exercise habit going, don’t drop it at the first sign of trouble.
    2. Reward Showing Up – Woody Allen once said that, “Half of life is showing up.” I’d argue that 90% of making a habit is just making the effort to get there. You can worry about your weight, amount of laps you run or the amount you can bench press later.
    3. Commit for Thirty Days – Make a commitment to go every day (even just for 20 minutes) for one month. This will solidify the exercise habit. By making a commitment you also take pressure off yourself in the first weeks back of deciding whether to go.
    4. Make it Fun – If you don’t enjoy yourself at the gym, it is going to be hard to keep it a habit. There are thousands of ways you can move your body and exercise, so don’t give up if you’ve decided lifting weights or doing crunches isn’t for you. Many large fitness centers will offer a range of programs that can suit your tastes.
    5. Schedule During Quiet Hours – Don’t put exercise time in a place where it will easily be pushed aside by something more important. Right after work or first thing in the morning are often good places to put it. Lunch-hour workouts might be too easy to skip if work demands start mounting.
    6. Get a Buddy – Grab a friend to join you. Having a social aspect to exercising can boost your commitment to the exercise habit.
    7. X Your Calendar – One person I know has the habit of drawing a red “X” through any day on the calendar he goes to the gym. The benefit of this is it quickly shows how long it has been since you’ve gone to the gym. Keeping a steady amount of X’s on your calendar is an easy way to motivate yourself.
    8. Enjoyment Before Effort – After you finish any work out, ask yourself what parts you enjoyed and what parts you did not. As a rule, the enjoyable aspects of your workout will get done and the rest will be avoided. By focusing on how you can make workouts more enjoyable, you can make sure you want to keep going to the gym.
    9. Create a Ritual – Your workout routine should become so ingrained that it becomes a ritual. This means that the time of day, place or cue automatically starts you towards grabbing your bag and heading out. If your workout times are completely random, it will be harder to benefit from the momentum of a ritual.
    10. Stress Relief – What do you do when your stressed? Chances are it isn’t running. But exercise can be a great way to relieve stress, releasing endorphin which will improve your mood. The next time you feel stressed or tired, try doing an exercise you enjoy. When stress relief is linked to exercise, it is easy to regain the habit even after a leave of absence.
    11. Measure Fitness – Weight isn’t always the best number to track. Increase in muscle can offset decreases in fat so the scale doesn’t change even if your body is. But fitness improvements are a great way to stay motivated. Recording simple numbers such as the number of push-ups, sit-ups or speed you can run can help you see that the exercise is making you stronger and faster.
    12. Habits First, Equipment Later – Fancy equipment doesn’t create a habit for exercise. Despite this, some people still believe that buying a thousand dollar machine will make up for their inactivity. It won’t. Start building the exercise habit first, only afterwards should you worry about having a personal gym.
    13. Isolate Your Weakness – If falling off the exercise wagon is a common occurrence for you, find out why. Do you not enjoy exercising? Is it a lack of time? Is it feeling self-conscious at the gym? Is it a lack of fitness know-how? As soon as you can isolate your weakness, you can make steps to improve the situation.
    14. Start Small – Trying to run fifteen miles your first workout isn’t a good way to build a habit. Work below your capacity for the first few weeks to build the habit. Otherwise you might scare yourself off after a brutal workout.
    15. Go for Yourself, Not to Impress – Going to the gym with the only goal of looking great is like starting a business with only the goal to make money. The effort can’t justify the results. But if you go to the gym to push yourself, gain energy and have a good time, then you can keep going even when results are slow.

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