Home Books Resources Articles Workshops Contact Links
Volunteer Power!
Volunteer Power News - Number 106
Author: Thomas W. McKee
"Volunteer Power News" Monthly Newsletter

© 2012 Advantage Point Systems Publishing

A warm welcome to all volunteer managers-those of you who recruit, motivate and mobilize volunteer workers.

You are receiving this newsletter because you signed up or asked to be on the list. Please recommend this e-mail newsletter or ezine to anyone who is interested in volunteer management.

If this newsletter was forwarded to you and you'd like to receive your own personal issue each month, please subscribe to receive free tips on how to recruit, manage and motivate volunteers.

Featured Article: When the "Always Be-In-Charge" Person is Only a Team Member.
Lessons Learned from Volunteering in Uganda
When the "Always Be-In-Charge" Person is Only a Team Member.
Lessons Learned from Volunteering in Uganda
By Thomas McKee

I am second in line-without water on my head.
I am second in line-without water on my head.
I just spent two weeks working on a team in Uganda. For years I have recruited and led volunteer teams and served on long-term volunteer boards, committees and service projects. But I was usually in charge. I accepted this opportunity because I saw a huge need in Uganda and thought that I could make a difference. In addition to impact from the Ugandan people, I learned several important lessons for all of us who lead volunteers--what it is to be a volunteer when you are not in charge. I want to share those lessons with you as you evaluate how you lead your volunteers.


The recruiting was text-book New Breed recruiting. That is probably why I said "Yes" in the first place.

Very specific request: I was asked to go and do a very specific job--training and development. I had heard the announcements, thought about it, and knew that it was a very expensive trip--pay for your own airfare, food and lodging for 14 days. But I was asked to do what I love to do-leadership development.

Awaking my passion: I was first introduced to the needs in Uganda when my sixteen-year-old granddaughter asked me to accompany her to help put together the World Vision Care Giver Kits designed to equip volunteers who care for those affected with AIDS. How could I say no to her? Last August as we assembled the kits, I heard about the AIDS epidemic in Uganda and how World Vision was providing training for Ugandans on how to use the medical kits to treat AIDS patients in the very rural areas. Although I felt that I was doing something, I knew in actuality I was one of those typical episodic volunteers who once a year volunteer to put together those kits. And it was important. I don't want to knock that, but for me it was the first date to awaken my passion.

While we were putting the kits on pallets to be shipped to Uganda, the team leader approached me with a challenge, "Tom, we are taking a team to Uganda next February for two weeks. I would love you to be a part of the team." I asked, "What would you want me to do?" If he had said, "We are still working on that," I probably would have turned it down. But he didn't. He said that he would like me to teach leadership workshops. I became curious and discovered that he was working with a leader in Uganda who was setting up training in the capitol, Kampala, and the rural villages up North. The leaders in Kampala were college educated, and the leaders up north had very little education and did not speak English so I would have to teach through an interpreter. My awakened passion began to take on a new focus-I could actually do something.

When he outlined how we would travel on dirt roads, cross scary bridges, sleep under mosquito nets, and eat a lot of rice and beans, I knew that I was definitely out of my comfort zone. But I was hooked so I asked, "How much?" After all usually I get paid for this stuff and stay in nice hotels. When he told me the price of the trip, I gulped, but my passion had been awakened. No "Oh, by the ways" -- he laid it all out.

After a talk with my wife, we decided that I should go.

The Volunteer Team

Our team of fifteen included eight women and seven men. The two youngest were two very mature high school girls. At 70 I was the oldest member of the team (I am the same age as Paul McCartney who will turn 70 this June and wrote - When I am 64 when he was 19. And we are not sitting by the fireplace in rocking chairs-we are very active). I found out that gray-hair carries a lot of respect in Uganda as the average life span is 45. We had nurses, business men, corporate managers, students, housewives, an accountant, and a minister, who had all taken off work and school for two weeks to be a part of this team.

AIDS prevention education: Much of the time we would split up according to our specific responsibilities. Since AIDS is a huge problem in Uganda, most of the team went to public school assemblies and taught over 1000 children and teens a curriculum about AIDS prevention. The response from school age children and teens was overwhelming. The young people were asked to write questions about AIDS, and we were amazed that almost all of the students wrote questions. Then different members of the team would answer the questions. The questions were heartbreaking:
  1. I have AIDS. Is it O.K. if I have sex with my boy friend? (from a 15 year old girl)
  2. I have been raped by my father. How can I find out if I have AIDS? (a 13 year old girl)
Micro Finance: Eighty percent of people in Uganda live on a dollar a day and are barely able to produce a sustainable income on their small plots of land. Women walk miles and carry water on their heads that they get from a local well. They live in mud huts and the men ride bicycles. One of
Micro Finance
the major goals of our team was to help the poor work together to end the cycle of poverty in their community. One way to accomplish that goal is through micro finance. We met a group of women with AIDS who had established businesses through a micro finance program. Some were born with AIDS; others had been raped. But these women shared with us that since the micro finance program they had hope. They sang and danced with joy as they showed us the jewelry, scarves, and even chickens that they had raised. These women were young entrepreneurs who were learning to carve out a life beyond merely sustainable income.

Leadership Development: The highlight of the experience for me was the opportunity to be on a team of three instructors, two from the U.S. and one African leader from Kampala. We met with 60 ministers in rural, Northern Uganda, a seven hour drive north of Kampala on rough roads. In African culture these ministers have great influence in their villages. We led a 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. workshop for four days. Many of these men had ridden bikes for miles (some over 60 miles) and slept on mats each night on the dirt floor of the church building to attend the conference because
I'm visiting with one of the young leaders.
I'm visiting with one of
the young leaders.
they had huge concerns about the needs in their communities. They wanted to learn how to be better leaders and how to mobilize their church members to make a difference. We taught them principles of leadership, study skills, communication skills, and money management. These ministers were very responsive about their roles and opportunity of influence by example, and as we left the conference they kept thanking us for coming and asked us to please come back again. They kept saying to us, "Important people from Kampala or across the sea rarely come to help us learn how to be better leaders. Thank you." I'm not going to let my wife ever forget that I was called an important person.

Effective Volunteer Leadership-Learning from Our Leader of Volunteers

Our leader was the role-model leader of volunteers. He was our cheerleader because we were often exhausted and drained emotionally at what we saw. Each night at our evening briefing meetings, he
Effective Volunteer Leadership
would publicly affirm each of us and give out the "rock star" award-- a verbal acknowledgement of something one person did over and above. He would say something like, "Our rock star award goes to Sarah, who when we were stranded by the road with a broken down van, gathered a group of children around her and was playing games and showing pictures she had taken on her digital camera and iPad." Sarah was one of our 16-year-olds who never seemed to get tired. How I longed for her energy. I was called aside several times during the two weeks by our team leader and given personal encouragement about my workshops. He gave me some of the feedback that he had received, but he also coached me by telling me to slow down when I talk because the translator was having a hard time with my accent. I laughed, "I'm from California--we don't have accents." But to the Uganda translator my California accent was sometimes difficult to understand.

On our closing night our team leader gave out gifts. He gave me an African cane--beautifully carved out of African wood, and I proudly have it displayed in my office to remember an incredible volunteer experience. And to those of us who had left spouses at home for the trip, he had a small gift for each of them. My wife, who loves tea, got several boxes of Uganda tea. That made huge points when I got home. The gifts were small and didn't cost a lot, but they said volumes.

Not being in charge

At times it was hard not being in charge. Leaders always see things that they would have done differently. Sometimes I felt that African culture of "time is not important" was an excuse to be unorganized. For a person who is almost anal retentive on organization, this was a huge adjustment for me. But in retrospect it probably was good that I wasn't in charge as I probably would have tried to micro manage Africans which would have been disastrous. But it was also good for me to be a volunteer who had to do what I was told rather than facilitate the work. I was empowered to do my research, develop the lessons, and organize my breakout sessions. When I shared my ideas with my team leader, he was open to them and incorporated them into the workshops so that I felt valued at each stage of the project. The bottom line is that I didn't feel that I was ONLY a team member. I felt that I was a valuable part of a team.

Am I eager to return? Absolutely. The need is huge, and we talked with African leaders about forming partnerships to work together. So I am hoping for continued good health to return. In fact, our African contact who set up our training opportunities, personally asked me to come back and teach workshops on non-profit governance and how to lead volunteers. He had no Idea that I had written books about those subjects and that my business gave me the financial resources to even make this trip.

In Conclusion--So what? Why am I telling you all about this? Five Reasons

First, you are committed to the power of volunteers and understand what volunteers can do. I knew you would be interested in my experience and identify with this story-as a leader and as a volunteer. I was amazed at how many of you e-mailed me with interest in this trip. Many of you have actually been to Uganda or on such a trip to a developing country. You encouraged me to tell you my experience.

Second, seek out my generation. We are eager to make a difference and use our training, skills, and resources to help serve with others. I know we are opinionated and sometimes hard to work with, but we are a huge resource. Just remember to give us a specific task and empower us to get it done.

Third, remember the effectiveness of the dating method of recruiting. If the leader of this team had not approached me personally, I probably never would have responded to this need. He made me feel that I could do something.

Fourth, when you lead a group of volunteers, give constant feedback. The daily feedback was so important to a physically and emotionally drained team. And the small, inexpensive gifts that said, "Thank you" were huge.

Fifth and finally, don't forget to volunteer yourself. We who often lead volunteers get so busy in our own world, that we forget we have some huge skills to offer in a world of need. Many of us need to get out of our comfort zones just like we ask our volunteers to do.

Thanks for all you do in leading volunteers. When I look over my mailing list I am so encouraged at what you do with volunteers to change a society that has huge needs. One of the qualities that we all have in common is that even though we get discouraged and tired, we see the great potential in what we do-volunteer power.

Volunteer Power Key-Notes, Workshops, Or An Education Day
The New Breed of Volunteer
A Volunteer Power Workshop
Recruiting and leading the 21st Century volunteers who want to do it their way

Workshop Content

The questions: Volunteerism is hot. From American Idol, Disneyland, Glee, Lady Gaga, President Obama to Wells Fargo, Intel and Wal-Mart, giving back is the rage.
  • How do we take advantage of this trend in our organization?
  • How do we mobilize the passion and power of volunteers in a culture that sometimes stifles passion and professionalism because management only allows volunteers to stuff envelops?
The answer: A 21st Century leadership strategy. We need to know how to impact our volunteer culture so that we can recruit and empower a whole new breed of volunteers.

The 21st century volunteer culture is very different because of tectonic shifts that have changed volunteer leadership. These shifts have impacted the volunteer organization; therefore, how we recruit and lead the New Breed of volunteer is a whole new game. The tectonic shifts include the following:
  • Twitch Speed - The core characteristic of Lady Gaga is speed. She is doing in 10 minutes what it took Madonna ten years to achieve. How nimble is your organization in responding to today's volunteers?
  • Generations - Gen Y and retiring boomers-the new frontier of volunteers
  • Technology - The addition of social networks as a leadership tool
  • Empowerment - The knowledge worker demands to be led - not managed
  • Slacktivism - Getting involved with the click of a mouse
  • Episodic Volunteering - Sign up for only short-term projects or only when unemployed
A LEADER OF VOLUNTEERS STRATEGY: In this workshop you will learn ...
  • How to manage change: How to interpret a changing culture
  • How to empower the volunteer without dropping the ball
  • How to coach your volunteers instead of manage them: The four stages of coaching
  • How to frame your recruiting message in order to transition slactivists and episodic volunteers into valuable non-paid staff
Contact us to book a workshop, key-note presentation.

Subscribe: If this newsletter was forwarded to you and you'd like to receive your own personal issue each month, please subscribe to receive free tips on how to recruit, manage and motivate volunteers.

You're receiving this recurring mailing because you either directly subscribed to the list, signed up on our website, or emailed a request to be subscribed. Volunteer Power respects your privacy: We won't rent, sell, or share your email address with any company, organization, or individual.

Please recommend this e-mail newsletter or Ezine to anyone who is interested in volunteer management. Thank you for reading this month's issue of Volunteer Power News!