It is a year round job to recruit volunteers for all sorts of jobs. Often it is from that volunteer pool that many non-profits, or even civic clubs find future Board leadership. The biggest mistake many groups make is to put a tepid welcome forward to the new faces. If some one new walks through the door, that’s your first and 10. But there’s a lot of ground game before you make a touchdown. And I mean ground game. Any passing game, no matter how skillfully executed doesn’t allow for that face to face, shoulder to shoulder, side by side, get acquainted and get to work atmosphere. In a passing game its possible to overlook the diligent for the flashy only to find that the flashy have no hands to receive nor the ability to find the end zone.
This sounds a little footbally, but I just happened to meet up with Coach Amos Alonzo Upright, you know him, the guy Notre Dame should have hired. Coach was sitting at the coffee shop in the Land of Lost Board Members chatting with some forlorn looking citizens. By the look of them, I thought they were Monday morning quarterbacking the local NFL team. Coach called me over.
“Hey, Coach, good to see you this morning. Have you replayed last weeks’ games this morning?” I asked.
“Honey, some of those games would have been better off not even being played the first time.” The group at the table nodded in agreement. “But that’s not what I want to talk to you about.” I sat down.
“These folks,” he gestured to those at the table, “need some help. They just tried to volunteer at the Land of the Lost Athletic Boosters and were ignored. Just listen to their story.”
The meekest of the group began in a quivering voice. “We all are financial supporters of the Lost Bawlers, and we decided that there was time in our lives to give some hands on help. After all the quarterly newsletter always invites folks to help, to show our spirit.” He cleared his throat. “So the three of us went to a meeting as instructed in the newsletter. And no one talked with us. Well, that’s not true, some one handed us name tags and asked us to fill them out. And that was the last thing anyone said to us.” The other two nodded. He continued, “We waited, we stood, we sampled some food. We looked around the office, looked at all the volunteer opportunities. But every time we approached someone they ran off to talk with someone else.” He concluded, “They talked with the Senator, they fawned over that glitzy radio personality, and they trotted after that lady with the curly hair. But no one had time for us.”
“Let me get this straight, you walked in to volunteer and were ignored?” I was puzzled.
“In spades,” said the Coach. “I sit on that Board and I noticed them in the background. Let me tell you, Honey, I am trained to spot talent. I could tell after two minutes that I was looking at some great team players.”
“Well, Coach,” I teased, “are you going to take them back in for a more personal recruitment opportunity?”
“That’s what I want to do, but they are disenchanted with the organization now. And I can’t tell you how hard I’ve tried. I was hoping that you could convince them to try again.”
“Coach, I don’t belong to that group. All I can say to them is keep looking – when you find the group that welcomes you, join that team. Agencies and organizations don’t understand that first impressions work on both sides. Your friends may not have a look of potential to many of your Bawling membership, but there is a group out there that will see in them the promise that you see, Coach.”
“But we need them – well, if the Board met them, they would know that we need them.”
“The board never took the time, Coach. They chatted with celebrities, chased glitter and ignored a true volunteer gift. It’s a lesson many groups learn too late. They run to the flash and miss the game close at hand. When a new face comes through your door, take time to get their measure. Welcome them as much as you welcome a long time worker. And long time volunteers should do the same. Don’t stand at a gathering and just talk among yourselves – draw in the newcomer, make all welcome, not just your friends. Remember, an agency is only as strong as the recruitment for new membership is successful.”
“Well, shoot, that isn’t helping me. I wanted these folks on our team. They are solid. They would play their hearts out for us,” he protested.
“I guess that’s a lesson to take back for your Board to add to their play book.”
“One more football reference,” he growled, “and you can pay for your own coffee.”
November 2007 Clique-ity Clack