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Volunteer Power!

Volunteer Power News — Number 52
Author: Thomas W. McKee
"Volunteer Power News" Monthly Newsletter

© 2007 Advantage Point Systems Publishing

When all that volunteer power feels mushy
How do we connect our passion to power?

I recently received this e-mail from a friend that reminded me of the reason that Volunteer Power exists:

I really like your last statement of your mission statement, "We are dedicated to reconnect you to your power and passion." How nice. I can sure use that. I'm all about passion but feel the power lagging. And passion without power just feels mushy some days. Anne

I identify with Anne. At times our passion does feel mushy-anything but powerful. The role of leadership is to capture the passion of our volunteers and mobilize that passion into a powerful force to make the difference that we believe in.

How do we do that?

It starts with a Popeye Moment

Volunteer organizations are born with what Bill Hybels calls a "Popeye moment." Some of us who are older boomers remember one of my favorite cartoon characters - Popeye. When Popeye was pushed to the limit, he would down his can of spinach and then morph into a super hero, crush his opposition, and rescue his "goil" Olive Oyl as he exploded with his famous one-liner,

"That's all I can stands, and I can't stands no more!"

Though Popeye could use an English class, his famous outcry is the reason that you volunteer. Today we call it "make a difference." Doesn't quite have the same ring as, "I can't stands no more," but the message is the same. Ever have a Popeye moment? Your heart finally breaks over an issue or an injustice, and you decide that you "can't stands no more". You become burdened over those who live in extreme poverty, global warming, animal rights, a broken health care system, or civil rights. You have a Popeye moment when you say, "That's all I can stands, and I can't stands nor more!" At that moment you are moved from a spectator to a pacesetter because you see that there is something wrong in your world and you want to make a difference.

Most of you who are reading our newsletters are leaders in an organization that started with a Popeye moment. Someone, and maybe it was you, couldn't "stands it no more" and with a few volunteers you began to mobilize a movement to change the world. That is the passion. But - here is the "but" - Popeye moments are not enough.

Passion is not enough. It takes more than spinach - it takes volunteers who have your passion.

The leader of a non-profit organization with a mission to change the world cannot do it alone.

Enter volunteers.

The leader who feels "I can't stands it no more" needs the united power of volunteers to "make a difference." The more volunteers the leader can mobilize the greater difference that leader can make.

Popeye-moment people are passionate, but they are also opinionated, sometimes arrogant and often very emotional about their passion. Sound like your board? Sound like your volunteers? How do you get them to work together in synergistic harmony?

Charlie Brown was watching TV when Lucy walked in and changed the channel. Charlie yelled at her, "Hey, what makes you think that you can come in here and just change the channel?" Lucy held up her hand and said, "These five fingers. Individually they are weak and anemic. But when I ball them together in a tightly wound fist, they become a power that you don't want to face." In the last picture of that comic strip Lucy is watching her program and Charlie Brown is looking at his five fingers and saying to them, "Why can't you guys get together like that?"

Charlie Brown's question hits the core element of leadership - the focused power of individuals.

Can you imagine having Senator George McGovern and Senator Barry Goldwater on your volunteer committee to raise $8 million? About the only thing those two had in common is that they each lost their run for president (Goldwater in 1964 to Johnson and McGovern in 1972 to Nixon). In those days we called Goldwater a "hawk" and McGovern a "dove" to describe their stands on the Vietnam war. But Jan Scruggs brought these two opposite leaders together in a united purpose-raising money for the Vietnam Veteran Memorial.

The first essential for mobilizing the power of passion is focus. When Jan Scruggs had a passion to build a memorial for the Vietnam veterans, he had to overcome the feelings of anger, failure and disunity of a war that divided our country. Yet Jan Scruggs, when he was raising the $8 million for the Vietnam Memorial, was able to involve opposites like George McGovern and Barry Goldwater because he discovered a word that would bring unity. That word was "veteran." The memorial is a veteran's memorial, not a war memorial. The word "veteran" brought focus. The American people got behind the project because they wanted to honor the veterans. The word "war" would have brought chaos and sabotaged Jan's passion. He raised $8 million in 2 ½ years (in 1979), 2 1/2 years ahead of his goal. (To see how a group of volunteers who had no money, no power, and no influence changed a California law, see our story: The Power of Volunteers: How a volunteer group can change the world - a true story)

Anne's comment brought me back to our mission, to help reconnect your power and passion.

Three ways that we can help you:

Free Resources:

Copy these articles for your publications or copy them to discuss with your volunteer leadership as a training activity. The following are resources, articles and past e-zines that tell you how to restore the passion of you, your board, your staff and your volunteer's Popeye Moment.

  • Restoring Board Passion: How do I restore the passion that the board once had for our organization?
  • Restoring your Passion: Seven ways to revive your passion when you're overwhelmed and exhausted
  • Newsletter #18: How do we motivate the 21str century, very busy, very independent volunteers, who suffer from the "bowling alone" syndrome?
  • They Don't Play My Music Anymore: A Three-Step System for Creating Personal and Professional Harmony During Times of Change


Want to motivate your association leaders? Bring Tom McKee to your group for a one-hour motivational, key note session to charge up your leaders.


New book!Tom and/or Jonathan Mckee - co-authors of their new book to be released in November, 2007 - are available for a ½ day or full-day workshop.

The New Breed of Volunteer
Recruiting and Managing 21st Century Volunteers Who Want to do it their way

Workshop Content:

Section I: The Changing Volunteer Culture

The 21st century volunteer culture is very different because of seven seismic shifts that have changed volunteer management. These shifts have impacted the volunteer organization; therefore, how we recruit and manage the new breed of volunteer is a whole new game. ·

  • Family - The transition from Father Knows Best to Gilmore Girls
  • Community- Synergistic Committees, Team of One, or Bowling Alone
  • Marketing - Interruption marketing or permission marketing
  • Generations - Gen Y and retiring boomers-the new frontier of volunteers
  • Technology - The addition of the virtual volunteer to the face-to-face volunteer.
  • Empowerment - The knowledge worker demands to be led-not managed
  • Loyalty - The exponential increase in competition among volunteer organizations and the fact that people are volunteering for more than one agency.

Section II: The Volunteer Recruiter

Seven really cool ideas - without any "R" word (recruiting, retaining, rewarding)

  1. Understand the role of announcements
  2. Ask for a date-not marriage
  3. Interpret the hidden meaning of a "no"
  4. Build an effective network that will exponentially increase your number of volunteers
  5. Use the motivated sequence to fill very specific positions
  6. Develop clear position charters to avoid the four words that volunteers hate: "Oh, by the way!"
  7. Hire staff that are passionate about working with volunteers

Section III: The Volunteer Manager

  • Motivating this new breed of volunteers
  • Empowering volunteers who want to do it their way
  • Evaluating your volunteer culture
  • Managing the high-maintenance volunteer
  • Managing the virtual volunteer

Tom McKee is a leading volunteer management speaker, trainer and consultant. You can reach Tom at (916) 987-0359 or e-mail him at tom@advantagepoint.com. Other articles and free resources are available at www.volunteerpower.com.