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Volunteer-Matters

The benefit of shaking things up and looking at your world differently

See volunteers differently

It's important to see volunteers differently.

I have a walk I take most days, along the North Thompson River near my home in Kamloops. I always go the same way. It allows my mind to focus on other things besides where I’m going. Recently though, I dropped something and had to retrace my steps for a short way to retrieve it. In the process, I saw a different view of the river than I had before.That got me thinking about perspective.

Our habits of mind can lead us to miss so many things.

The human brain is a pattern-seeking machine. It needs to be. So much of our daily energy goes to fuelling our brain that if we had to consciously think about everything that we do, we’d be exhausted all the time. Once our brain establishes a pattern, it goes on autopilot and lets the subconscious mind deal with the actions, freeing our conscious mind for other things.

Have you ever driven into the parking lot at work when you had actually set out to go to a nearby store? Once the first few actions are taken, our brains recognize the pattern and go on automatic.

Again, it’s necessary. But it also restricts our perspective. Do you ever wonder why kids are so creative? They have fewer patterns recorded.

Some people deliberately limit the number of patterns they form or, at least become conscious of them. They’re the people who come up with innovative ideas, creative solutions and who see opportunities in things the rest of us don’t even notice. They're the ones who notice the potential in the volunteers in their organization that others don't see.

So, how can you become that way?

Become aware of your patterns, and how they limit your perspective, not just in our physical actions, like the route we take to work, but also in how we look at things and people around us, like volunteers. How do you see and think about volunteers? Is there a way you could see them differently?

Notice your biases (we all have them) and think about how they were formed. Pay attention to things you’ve seen all your life but never looked at—cracks in sidewalks, expressions of passers-by, shapes of clouds. Study the way you do everyday actions, like getting dressed in the morning and think of different ways it could be done.Then break those patterns.

Experiment walking in someone else’s shoes. One morning I decided I would do my entire toothbrushing routine blindfolded. From the time I walked into the bathroom until I walked out again, I couldn’t see. You would be amazedhow difficult it was. It gave me a much clearer idea of what it might be like to be sight-impaired.

You could try something like that, or spend a night on the street to see what it would be like to be homeless, or one of thousands of other ways to help you see how other people live.

Change up your routine. Spend a week driving to work by different routes or switch up the order in which you get dressed.

Most of all, look at volunteers differently. Imagine how they could help you in new ways if they were a rock star or an astronaut or an accountant. Too often we consider volunteers are limited in their skills and abilities because we only see them doing limited things. Play a "what if" game in your mind and see what hidden potential comes out.

If you need a reminder to think differently, wear your watch on the opposite wrist (or carry your phone in the opposite back pocket). Whenever you go to use it, you will be reminded to look at things differently—to be aware of your patterns and what you may be missing by always following them.

Find ways to change your perspective, especially about people. If you’re more tired at the end of the day than usual, you’ll know that you’re succeeding

Me? I’m going to do my entire walk in the opposite direction.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



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About the Author

Karen Knight has provided volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations for more than 25 years.

Her professional life has spanned many industries, working in both the private and public sectors in various leadership positions.

Through her passion for making a difference in the world, she has gained decades of experience in not-for-profits as a leader and a board member.

Karen served in Toastmasters International for more than 25 years, in various roles up to district director, where she was responsible for one of the largest Toastmasters districts in the world.

She oversaw a budget of $250,000 and 300 individual clubs with more than 5,000 members. She had 20 leaders reporting directly to her and another 80 reporting to them—all volunteers.

Karen currently serves as vice-president of the board of directors for the Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association.

After many years working and volunteering with not-for-profits, she found many leaders in the sector have difficulty with aspects of volunteer programs, whether in recruiting the right people, assigning those people to roles that both support the organization’s mission and in keeping volunteers enthusiastic.

Using hands-on experience, combined with extensive study and research, she helps solve challenges such as volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations.

Karen Knight can be contacted at [email protected], or through her website at https://karenknight.ca/.



The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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