Volunteer service is a gift

nan prezzie 2I’ve worked for nonprofits most of my career which has afforded me a lot of experience with volunteering from a staff perspective. That experience taught me how critical volunteers are to an organization’s success, how wonderful great volunteers are to work with, and how challenging it is when the relationship between volunteers and staff gets strained.

Recently, I started helping out in the WordPress.com forums as an actual volunteer. It’s been a wonderful experience. I’ve met great people and it gives me a chance to give back to the WordPress community. It has also given me a bit more insight into why some volunteer experiences are amazing for both the volunteers and the organization, and others–well not so much.

Volunteering is ultimately a gift. Yes, theatre ushers see the show for free, animal shelter volunteers sometimes get discount vet care for their own animals, or have adoption fees waived. Forum volunteers get experience and maybe a new client or two. Those perks are important, and can help volunteers feel appreciated, but ONLY if they are treated as gifts, not as payment.

Volunteers choose to serve because they believe in the mission of the organization, and want to do their part to make sure the project succeeds.  When a volunteer manager gives any indication that they believe they are paying their volunteers with perks the relationship changes in a fundamentally negative way.  If the perks a volunteer receives are payment, then their work is no longer a gift– it’s a transactional exchange. If the time and effort spent helping your organization is “paid in full” with a free coffee mug, or even a $30 theatre ticket, then it’s clear the work is not valued at all.

Once volunteers stop feeling valued, bad things happen.  The best case scenario is they stop volunteering.  They are suddenly too busy, or work gets in the way, or you just stop hearing from them.  The other options are worse.  A volunteer may keep showing up, but will consciously or subconsciously buy into your transactional mentality and start to give you work that is “worth” what you pay them, or start to insist you “pay” more.  She may also start to develop negative feelings about the work she does for you and maybe even the clients you serve.  You may even find that her frustration with you starts leaking into her interactions with the organization’s clients, or the general public.

On the other hand, when the time and effort a volunteer puts in is warmly received with genuine gratitude, when her opinions and ideas are considered, especially in regards to changes that affect her work, when she is publicly thanked for her contributions,  the “perks” simply serve to remind everyone that her work is important, that her contributions are valued, and that the time  she puts in is worth it.

Your Turn

Volunteers, we want to hear from you!  What could the organization you work for do to help you feel more valued?

Take Time for You

This is Jenny. You really want to hang out with her.

The nonprofit life can be a fulfilling one, but it’s also hard.  When resources are scarce, it seems fiscally responsible to put off buying the tools you need to do the job right for “just one more year.”  It seems impossible to hire another employee when, by staying late every night, you do manage to (mostly) get the work done.   Sometimes it even feels noble to ignore your personal needs in order to serve the greater good.

The problem is when you make the “sacrifice” choice every time, eventually you get to a place where you have nothing left to give.  When that happens you, and your organization, suffer.  

Here’s an opportunity to make a different choice.  My dear friend, Jenny Mitchell, is leading her first Mastermind Group.  It takes place over Google Hangouts, so you don’t have to leave your office, she’s only taking the first four people who sign up, so your time will be spent working on specific solutions to your real-world issues, not generalizing about what works for organizations nothing like yours.  I’ve worked one-on-one with Jenny (often over Google Hangouts) for several years and she’s perfect for this kind of work–kind, thoughtful, experienced, open-hearted, and fun.  This blog post isn’t long enough for me to tell you all the ways that hanging out with Jenny and the amazing people she is sure to attract will make your work (and your life) better.

Seriously, go sign-up right now.

New way to find images for your website

Rainbows and open licenses make me happy.  Photo Credit:  Flickr user: Bootbearwdc

Rainbows and open licenses make me happy. Photo Credit: Flickr user: Bootbearwdc

Great news!  Google Image search now includes a filter for searching images licensed for re-use!  Just go to Google Images and search by keyword.  Then under search tools choose the appropriate license under “usage rights”

For example, here’s a search for images of rainbows licensed for re-use with modification.

Not sure which license you need?  The Creative Commons website explains how you can (and can’t) use work based on its license.  Or, leave a comment below about how you want to use images, and I’ll help you figure out which license is right for you.

Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys

I’ve been traveling a lot lately and on one of those trips I had the pleasure of visiting a college friend and her family.  In addition to the general awesomeness of hanging out with people I adore, she also introduced me to my new favorite proverb:

Image Credit: Ashley of BaddestMotherEver.com

It’s so easy for me to get caught up in other people’s decisions, or to feel somehow responsible for “fixing” problems where, not only do I have little to no influence, but often outside advice is not helpful or welcome.

So I’m closing down my unsolicited circus-consulting business and  redoubling my efforts to spend my time and energy making what goes on inside my own three-ring circus the greatest show on earth.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

An Alternative to Hierarchical Leadership

English: From Left: Spc. Christopher Hickey, S...

These guys need a chain of command.  Your family probably doesn’t.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every now and again someone goes on television to talk about how her husband is the head of her household and she loves that because it’s the only thing that makes sense. After all we only have one President, and the military works in a hierarchy so obviously that’s just how leadership works.

Normally I see these stories and roll my eyes or make yakking noises in the privacy of my own home. If I’m feeling really worked up, I treat my partner to a monologue on why comparing the management of a family to the management of the world’s largest economy is ridiculous.

I did all those things this time as well, but after I calmed down a bit it occurred to me that while some families choose a “decider” on purpose, others do so because uncertainty is almost as uncomfortable as conflict and designating someone to make all the decisions is a quick and easy way to minimize the discomfort caused by disagreements.

If you chose to run your family that way because it makes everyone happy, knock yourself out.*

If, however, you are defaulting to letting the loudest person in your house make decisions because you believe that’s the only way to avoid knock-down, drag-out fights that result in doing what the loudest person wants anyway, consider this alternative. Continue reading