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How to Keep the Passion Alive
When Our Volunteer Quit Buying Green Bananas
By Thomas W. McKee


When our volunteers quit buying green bananas, they are telling us that they have lost hope. They either doubt the validity of the mission or your ability as a leader to make it happen. And people who have lost their hope and passion are cynical. Cynicism is deadly in the volunteer organization because it robs the movement of its energy, momentum and power. I believe one of the top priorities of the volunteer manager is to fight the battle of cynicism by keeping the passion and hope alive.

Tami was a part of the planning team. After she had been active for two years, she became what I call "the fragile volunteer". She began to experience things in the organization that she had not noticed before, and she didn't like what she saw. Tami became cynical, and her negative comments were infectious. Volunteers did not want to attend meetings that Tami attended, so they began to miss important meetings.

Russ, the executive director, was Tami's volunteer manager, and he made the mistake that many executive directors, volunteer managers, and ministers make. He was so focused on the mission and goals that he forgot one of his top priorities. And as a volunteer manager he must keep the passion alive in Tami and the other volunteers.

What specifically did Russ fail to do? When you are dealing with a Tami, what do you do?

The following three questions help identify what it takes to keep the passion and hope alive. Ask yourself and your volunteers these three questions to see if you have an energizing, positive volunteer culture.

Question One: Are We Having Fun Yet?

Recently my wife Susie and I were having dinner in one of our favorite restaurants on the Monterey Peninsula in California. Our waitress not only waited on us with charm, grace and professionalism, but she seemed to be having fun. Her fun was contagious, and I noticed at everyone in the restaurant appeared to be having a great time also.

When people have fun, they promote a culture that says, "Come on in and join in the excitement."

I visit a lot of volunteer non-profit organizations from environmental groups, churches, hospitals and governmental agencies. You can tell the volunteer culture when you walk into the front office. While some are alive with energy and laughter, in others you can cut tension with a knife.

In order to try and change the negative, cynical culture, start with the eleven questions of the The Screaming Eleven feedback form. Hand it out to your staff and volunteers. If your volunteers' collective score is over 50, the place is alive. If your volunteer team scores under 40, you have some areas to work on. Begin working on your volunteer culture by handing out the results to your leadership team and begin to brainstorm on what you can do to change the culture.

Question Two: Have I told you lately that I love you?

Sounds like an old love song. Actually it is a love song that was recorded by artists from Hank Williams and Ricky Nelson to Ringo Starr.

Telling someone you love them doesn't sound like a phrase we use in management. It is in some companies. Ever fly Southwest Airlines? In one of the most high-stress industries, they not only make it fun, but Herb Kelleher, the former CEO and founder of Southwest Airlines, says that he wants a company that is motivated by love, not fear. They promote a culture of love. They believe in love so much that they even paint hearts on their planes, and their stock market symbol is LUV.

I'm not suggesting that we ought to go around telling all of our volunteers that we love them-although it might not be a bad idea. But we can tell our volunteers how much we care by regular affirmation for their service. The best way to keep stimulating the inner passion of each volunteer is to take the time to hand write thank you notes to let them know just how special they are. Give specifics about what you observed, such as, "Thanks so much for arriving early and setting up all of those chairs, and then taking them all down when it began to rain. I couldn't have done it without you. . ."

Feedback is a gift. Without feedback we don't know where we stand. Here are some ideas that work. Check out these links for ideas that work.

Question Three: How can I help you?

The effective volunteer managers keep asking their volunteers, "How can I help you?" This question is the foundation of resource management. In essence the volunteer manager is a resource manager.

What is a resource manager? Glad you asked.

A resource manager for the non-profit organization recruits and leads volunteers because volunteers are the supreme resource for the organization. But a manager also provides the best possible resources for their volunteers.

I wish you all could have met my father, who passed away almost ten years ago. He was one of the best volunteer managers I ever met. He was rather quiet and not a dynamic, enthusiastic speaker, but he was always coming along side people and working with them. When he was in his 20's, he was a Boy Scout leader. Later in life he was a minister with over 500 volunteers working alongside him--not for him. He was always asking his volunteers questions such as, "How can I help you? What do you need?"

So What? How does this keep the passion alive?

Volunteers who are having fun, feel that someone cares, and have the resources to do their volunteer job well, keep their passion. They stay motivated, and motivated volunteers buy green bananas because they have hope. They have vision. They have energy.


Thomas W. McKee

Tom McKee Tom McKee is president and owner of www.volunteerpower.com a leadership development firm specializing in volunteerism. He has over 40 years of experience in volunteer leadership. Tom began his speaking career to one of the most difficult audiences-high school assemblies. Since those days he has addressed over 1 million people spanning three continents-Africa, Europe and the U.S. Over the past 40 years he has trained over 100,000 leaders how to manage the chaos of change in an organization.

The New Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer Tom and his son Jonathan are authors of the book, The New Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer (Group Publishing). The New Breed details the new cultural shift in volunteer management and also includes valuable, applicable resources for leaders, including job descriptions, icebreakers, team-builders and community-building activities, equipping leaders to move forward with confidence and empower valuable volunteers.

About The New Breed:
The New Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer by Jonathan McKee and Thomas W. McKee. Group Publishing. Paperback, 176 pages. ISBN: 978-0764435645. The book can be ordered at www.volunteerpower.com.