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Valuing stories and Checking assumptions

Holly D Daniels | Published on 7/13/2022
The purpose of District Council meetings is for volunteer engagement leaders to connect and support each other, ask questions, and share ideas and wisdom. 

Our meeting on 7.6.22 for the Northwest and West Central parts of Minnesota yielded three takeaways that were too good not to share!

The importance of checking in with volunteers
We considered the opening prompt: "Share about a great relationship with a volunteer."

One volunteer engagement leader shared a story of a retired legal secretary who came to volunteer because she was new in town. She was placed in a role. But when the volunteer coordinator checked in with her, the coordinator realized that she’d been stuck in a little room working on projects alone, and she was about ready to quit.

Instead the coordinator offered her a different role, with the senior companion program. That check-in was pivotal — the volunteer was finally able to shine. She stayed in the role for 4 years and became a lead volunteer!

Measuring success; valuing stories
How do we measure success? Traditionally we measure the number of volunteers and hours. But what if the volunteers aren't coming? How do we prove our worth to our organizations? Can we get more creative?

But what about the internal metrics like creating a staff culture that values volunteer contributions? We may not be able to measure enthusiasm, but what about counting the number of paid staff we convince to involve volunteers in their work? This article from Sue Carter Kahl gives more ideas on creative counting.

What about focusing on the quality of the volunteer experience, in addition to the quantity of hours? Can we survey volunteers to learn if they understand their impact? Can we empower them to share their stories on social media? Do they know what hashtag to use when they post? When stories are shared online or in-person, is there an official "story depository" where they are collected, that everyone knows about?

Checking assumptions
Sometimes we make assumptions about the issues/causes that people will or won’t care about, because of their political affiliations (for example, nature preservation). 

In the meeting we challenged each other to set aside stereotypes and seek to uncover what volunteers really want to do. We all have biases. 

We need to recognize and set aside our preconceived notions about who might support the efforts we are encouraging.