Recruiting and Keeping Your Volunteers Around
My name is Jewell and if you have ordered anything with Lambda AV you have probably received an email from me as I work to fill orders, schedule installs, and send invoices. If you haven’t heard from me, hopefully you will in the future; I’d love to meet all of you! This article is from the perspective of both a volunteer and as someone who is learning the AV industry from the company I work for. My experiences come from volunteering for my own church in AV, as well as many other volunteer and volunteer management positions working on theater productions and even with being a General Manager to employees in past work related positions in the guest service industry. Hopefully that helps you understand where I have come from and why Ryan asked me to write this article. I hope it brings you a bit of insight and of course I’d be happy to hear from you too about this topic!
Lots of Audio Visual systems are run with the help of a volunteer or could be completely based on volunteers. As an AV person who has made tech a part of your life, your first thought about volunteers may be where to find them and convince them to help you! But there may be more to recruiting volunteers than you might have initially thought.
The first step, naturally, is to find people who are willing to volunteer. More than that, you need to find people who are willing to learn a complicated system. After that “easy” first step, you need to find a way to organized them, be willing and able to work around their schedules and take on the task of training them. Training employees can take an amazing amount of patience and flexibility, but sometimes it can take even more with volunteers. If you don’t take the time to do things well or are unorganized it can be frustrating as a volunteer and…we may just leave. After all, we don’t HAVE to be there. And that will be frustrating to you!
So, how can you make an experience that your volunteers will enjoy, understand and be helpful with the things you need to get done? It’s the age-old question of recruiting free labor.
Where slavery was an option in ancient Egypt, most have resorted to bribery or, in some cases, guilt tripping. Where bribery can be useful, especially in the case of providing food or coffee, there are better options to help you find volunteers and keep them. Options that will create an environment of happy, loyal workers and happy unstressed managers.
1. Be nice. Some of the best volunteer experiences are created by having fun with the people you are working with. I am 90% more likely to volunteer if I know I’ll be working with kind, encouraging people. Hey, we’re all human, just smile and offer a kind word and be willing to answer questions and you’ll have people stick around.
2. Inform. Provide a way to tell people what kind of service you need. Be open about sharing what your end goal is and what you hope to accomplish. From there volunteers are able to tell you, “I can do such and such, but not the other part”. This will leave you opportunity to offer training or for a second person to offer the rest of the service.
3. Offer feedback. I have been on both extremes of this. In some cases there is so much feedback that I might despair that I’ll ever do it well. So, why volunteer to put myself in that situation? I might as well let an expert handle it. On the other hand, if you aren’t willing to offer tips and suggestions, how are your volunteers supposed to learn and grow in their role? How cann you conquer these two extremes? Always, always be HONEST…With a measure of grace. Rule of thumb to follow: Offer a compliment, Give one or two tips and feedback, Finish with Thanks or Compliment. Volunteers will learn and get better. Have the patience for that to happen, but be willing to teach them and they’ll stick around.
4. Stay organized. This is important. There are multiple volunteer aspects this can apply to.
The first point I'll suggest is organized training. Arrange to have specific times for people to come and learn. Saying "Come any Wednesday you want for training" is frustrating when you show up and there is nothing you can do or learn. It would be better to ask them if their is a day they could come or find a way to schedule them into a slot that works for you! They will be less likely to “just show up” whenever they want and willguarantee someone to be there to show them the ropes.
Second, if you can’t stay organized or aren’t sure what to have your volunteers do when they do come, they will wonder why you asked for volunteers in the first place (Unless was a plea to keep you creative types organized!). Most people volunteer for a reason. To help. Let them help and be prepared in advance with starter tasks for them to do. Write lists of things that need to be done and assign according to how much training each volunteer has already received.
5. Schedule. One of the systems that I have enjoyed being a part of is: planning.center. Your volunteers can schedule out days they can’t help and then you can add them to your calendar accordingly. After that, they can accept or refuse your invitation to volunteer on that day. This not only helps you to officially schedule them and automatically gives them reminders, but it will help you from over scheduling your volunteers. The last thing you should ever do is rely on your volunteers so much that you burn them out and make them try to avoid you! Check it out and see if it’d be right for you.
As someone who has never been very involved in working with tech, it’s intimidating to try. But it’s still something I want to do and learn more about. I find it incredibly fun to do and am happy to volunteer. Sometimes just opening up and offering to train someone, an anyone can do this attitude, will be enough to help people take the first step in volunteering and help make your life easier. I am so thankful my church has provided a way for me to learn and help out!
If volunteers are an important part of running your AV system, take a few minutes to think over your process and see if there are ways you can improve it. It could make a world of difference in who volunteers and who sticks around to keep helping. Have fun!!