Volunteers – How to Get Them and Lead Them

Wisdom from our Mastermind Group

by Jonel Thames Leake, CPCU, AAI, ASLI, CPIW, DAE, CLP

In a perfect world, we would identify a need, ask for a volunteer, get one, assign it and then walk away while the task is successfully completed. Unfortunately, a perfect world doesn’t exist and many of us struggle with recruiting and retaining volunteers. This issue was recently discussed by the “Women of Wisdom” IAIP Mastermind Group. We developed several steps to help us with this challenge and we would like to share those with you. 

The first step in getting volunteers is to admit to yourself that you need assistance. Too many of us believe that we have to do everything ourselves. That is not true. Delegating not only can take a burden off of you, it can also offer a learning opportunity to the person you delegate the task to.

The second step is to ask for help. It is easy to depend on the same people time after time. You know they will agree to help and you know the job will be done correctly. We caution you on always doing this. If it is something that needs to be done immediately, you may have to rely on them, but if it isn’t, try to look for a mixture of those volunteers as well as new volunteers. You might just discover a new treasure. Also, always going to the same few individuals can result in burnout for them and disengagement for those who are never asked. 

Additional suggestions are to know when “no” is a real no and when “no” is really a maybe. If a volunteer says no and they are firm in that, respect the no. If you badger them into saying yes, it will likely end up being a bad experience for both of you. They will not be committed to the task, and it is apt to be left unfinished or poorly finished. Sometimes, however, people say no out of fear. If they are willing to share their reasons for the no, you might be able to address their concerns. Maybe they don’t feel capable of the task. Ask them if they could do a portion of the job or work with someone else in getting the job done. Perhaps they are suffering from imposter syndrome, and don’t have the confidence to take on the job. Simply reassuring them that you have confidence in them and that you will be a resource is sometimes enough to change their minds. In looking for a candidate for regional vice president, one person reached out to the proposed individual’s close allies to ask them to provide that reinforcement. In a similar situation, the reassurance from the committee is what was needed. Knowing your volunteer and what they need can be key. With these tips, you can often turn a soft no into a firm yes! 

Step three starts once you have your volunteers. How do you work with them? Communication of your expectations is key. Make sure they know what is wanted, along with any deadlines involved. However, your leadership doesn’t stop there. We identified a few different types of volunteers and how you deal with them can vary. 

First is the dependable volunteer. They do what needs to be done correctly and on time. This type needs the least amount of supervision but don’t forget to check in on their progress. The downfall of this type of volunteer can be a result of their dependability. They may get bogged down and not know how to let you know or not want to disappoint you. That is why the periodic check-in is so important. Also, make sure you let them know they are appreciated. 

Next is the over-promiser. This is the volunteer who raises their hand at each opportunity but never accomplishes anything. They have excuses for everything. With this type of volunteer, we suggest that you limit the number of jobs you give to them. Also, the high importance and time sensitive task is not likely the best fit for them. If possible, pair them up with a dependable volunteer. Frequent check-ins are critical with this type of volunteer. 

Another type is the do-it-my-way volunteer. They may want to accomplish the task in a manner that you don’t agree with. First of all, communication and an open mind is key. Listen to them and ask questions. Their way may actually be an improvement over the “we’ve always done it this way” method. Set an earlier deadline than you really need so you have time to make corrections while still meeting the true due date. If their way doesn’t make sense, work with them to understand why and come up with other options. It doesn’t have to be your way! Once again, frequent check-ins are key since their method is new.  

The hot/cold volunteer can be a challenge as well. These are the individuals who are all-in when they are there but then disappear for several months. Suggestions for these volunteers are to make sure they know they are appreciated and to see if you can find out why they are sporadic. Is it because of something they don’t like or is it because they are busy and only have a limited amount of time to volunteer? If it is the former, you can address their concerns. If it is the latter, we suggest that you contact them for an occasional task at a specific time. While all volunteers should be thanked, this group is likely to need more positive reinforcement than some of the others. 

Finally, the tentative volunteer. These are the ones who often have to be persuaded to turn their soft no into a hard yes. These volunteers need the most encouragement. Make sure they understand the job and provide them with the support they need. It might be more in-depth training, it might be assigning an experienced volunteer to work with them, it might be assigning only a portion of the task, or it might be providing regular check-ins and praise. As the leader, it is your job to make sure that this is a great experience for them. It often is a case where it would be easier to do it yourself, but this is often a first step for a new volunteer. A successful experience in this situation often results in a future superstar!

The “Women of Wisdom” hope that you find these tips from our session to be helpful in dealing with volunteers in the upcoming IAIP year.  

Jonel Thames Leake, CPCU, AAI, ASLI, CPIW, DAE, CLP is the current Region I Vice President and is a member of the “Women of Wisdom” Mastermind group. Other members participating in this session were: Lisa Hardin, Brenda Buck, Tammy Wascher, Rachael Falk, Brenda McDermott and Michelle Scott.

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