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Volunteer-Matters

Even when things are working, fix them anyway

Not broken? Fix it anyway

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a terrible piece of advice.

It’s advice I have tried to eradicate for years. Progress and improvement come from knowing things can always be better.

Humans tend to be risk-adverse, especially in the social impact sector. If something works, we like to stick with it. And why not? Well, as author Jim Collins said, “Good is the enemy of great”.

Take handwritten letters. There is absolutely nothing wrong with them. How many people still write them, though? Emails are better. They are easier, faster and cheaper. But even that is changing and improving. Many people don’t email anymore, they just text.

If no one had bothered “fixing” what wasn’t broken, we’d all still be practicing our long-hand writing. We exchanged the good for the great – or at least the better.

So, what has all this to do with volunteer programs? When was the last time you did a review of your program, your recruiting, training, leadership and an appreciation of volunteers? In any of those areas, are you doing things a certain way because that’s how it’s always been done, and it generally works—at least well enough? How do you know unless you need to change things up?

Start by reviewing your mission. Are you making as much of an impact as you’d like? Or are you just doing all that could be expected, considering what the situation?

Take a look at that “considering” part. Is it that you are doing all that could be expected, considering the number of volunteers in the program? Perhaps you need to shake up your recruiting process. Or, perhaps you’re doing all that could be expected, considering the high turnover in volunteers. Look to how you appreciate the volunteers, or train them, or lead them.

Anytime you find yourself saying “considering”, you have found a place where improvement could happen – even if it is already working adequately.

Next, look at excuses you make. If you find yourself saying things like “well, that’s just the way the sector works” or “everyone knows you can’t expect more from volunteers”, you have found a place to improve.

If you can’t expect more from a volunteer than menial labour or low-level tasks, you need to be looking at your training program. Volunteers are a widely-diverse and talented group of people. Yes, some may only be capable – or interested in – simple tasks but others bring an incredible range of skills that they are willing and eager to share with your cause.

If you find the volunteers who report to you limited in what they can do for you, sorry, chances are the fault is not with them.

How can you improve things so you can use all their skills and abilities? When you accept the excuses, you accept mediocrity.

Granted, this takes thought and creative problem-solving but if you find an area where your volunteer program could be improved, but can’t come up with an innovative solution, do some research. There are thousands of people out there who are talking about the different things they’re doing to try to improve their programs. Join a social media group or follow non-profit thought leaders.

Over the last several years, a great deal of attention has been focused on volunteer engagement. Leaders with decades of experience are questioning the status quo and looking at new and better ways of doing things.

Leaders no longer accept the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” advice and neither should you.

Even when things are working, fix them anyway.

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/.



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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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