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Volunteer Power!
Volunteer Power News - Number 97
Author: Thomas W. McKee
"Volunteer Power News" Monthly Newsletter

2011 Advantage Point Systems Publishing

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

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In This Issue
  1. Featured Article: Knowing When to Ignore Critical Feedback About Our Volunteers (or From Our Volunteers)
  2. Check this Out: Seven Tips for Recruiting Today's Volunteers
Featured Article: Knowing When to Ignore Critical Feedback About Our Volunteers (or From Our Volunteers)
What do you do with survey feedback, especially when the response is negative? The hospital staff takes a survey, and several employees and patients write, "When are you going to get rid of these flaky volunteers and hire staff that you can manage?" Or the youth pastor in a church tells his head of staff, "I'm sick and tired of these undependable volunteers who don't show up. I want to do what most churches are doing these days and hire student interns. Why do I have to depend on unreliable volunteers?"

When I get critical feedback, I am reminded of the words of Paul Valerio, who says that innovative leadership is like the first rule of stand-up comedy-"Know your audience and then ignore them." Valerio says,

When it comes to innovation, the customer is rarely right. At least, they're rarely right about what they want next ... A comedian doesn't ask the audience what the next joke should be about, he has the skill to tell them. Great comedians are tremendously astute observers of human beings. They know how people think, what experiences we have in common, and how to direct (or misdirect) our attention. They have to be ahead of their audience, but not so far ahead that they baffle us instead of amusing us. Similarly, the best market research is aimed at understanding how customers interact with a given product category, not asking them what should come next. (Paul Valerio "What's So Funny About Innovation," or "Eight Things Stand-Up Comedy Teaches Us About Innovation")

As I thought about Valerio's advice, at first I wanted to high-five him because of all of the idiotic feedback I have received. But then I began to process these questions:
  • What does a leader do with the negative feedback we get?
  • Do our customers and/or volunteers really know what is best or what they want?
  • How can I be out in front of my audience, but not so far that I have lost touch with them?
Our members are pushing us to take surveys, get constant feedback, and listen carefully to them. And feedback is important; however, there are times that we need to disregard what we hear and charge ahead. After all, leaders lead. That's what leaders do. And the wisdom to know just what to do with all of that feedback is what often marks the difference between an innovative leader who goes where no one else has gone and the manager who just supervises the status quo.

So what do I do with feedback? The answer to that question is one word--process. A leader knows how to process feedback. The following five process steps help me know whether I should follow the admonition of the feedback and change the way we lead volunteers, or if I should ignore the feedback and charge ahead the way I think is right.

Process Step One: Listen Before You Ignore

The first process step of innovative leadership is to listen. There is a huge difference between ignoring feedback and listening to it. The fool is the one who doesn't even listen. The leader reads the surveys, listens to volunteers, and from time to time forms focus groups to keep in touch. As Valerio said, "The best market research is aimed at understanding how customers interact with a given product category, not asking them what should come next." As leaders of volunteers, we do our market research with our volunteers by listening and understanding how they react to our organization, our governance and our mission. How do we do that? We focus on needs by framing our listening with the next four process steps.

Process Step Two: Consider the Source

The second process step of innovative leadership is to consider the source. Is the feedback from someone who is on a personal mission to change your organization? Do they have a private agenda? Are they always finding fault? Is the criticism coming from someone who is always very positive? Or is the feedback from a new volunteer who has a fresh outlook on your organization? That new, uncontaminated perspective might be something you need. After considering the source, apply the third process step-search for root causes, not solutions.

Process Step Three: Search for Root Causes Before Solutions

Behind every criticism is a kernel of truth. The value of searching for the kernel of truth is that the leader is forced to focus on the root of the problem before suggesting a solution. Too often people taking surveys love to give solutions without taking the time to search for the source of the problem. Survey-takers frequently shoot from the hip as they brainstorm an alternative way to work with volunteers.

Take the suggestions from the surveyors above who wanted to exchange non-paid staff with paid staff. What is the kernel of truth in the words "flaky" and "unreliable"? The innovative leader will ask questions about the flaky volunteers. What is the real problem? Why are we facing the crisis of flaky volunteers? Is it a recruiting problem? Is it a position description problem? Is it a training problem? Or it might just be the flaky leader of volunteers who is not leading. These are important questions, and they must be asked in searching for that kernel of truth. And to discover that kernel of truth for what the customer needs, not what they want, by searching for a root cause is most often found in the fourth process step-sharpening the iron.

Process Step Four: Sharpen the Iron

The fourth process step of innovative leadership is to remember that we are not alone. An old saying of leadership states, "It's lonely at the top." But that is an old saying-it is so early 20th century and completely wrong. Innovative leaders understand that you are in the people business, and if you are lonely at the top, you are not doing something right. John Maxwell, in Leadership Gold, outlined his own leadership journey that followed a progression like this:

"It's lonely at the top," to
"If it's lonely at the top, I must be doing something wrong", to
"Come up to the top and join me," to
"It's not lonely at the top."

Innovative leaders never climb the mountain of leadership alone. They take team with them, and the leadership team analyzes the feedback carefully. Leadership is not being so out in front of everyone that the leader is alone. As the Hebrew proverb says, "As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend" (Proverbs 27:17); wisdom is often found as we sharpen each other. Which leads me to my last step of processing feedback-the prayer for wisdom.

Process Step Five: Pray the Serenity Prayer for Wisdom and Courage

And finally the fifth process step of innovative leadership is to pray the famous serenity prayer written by Ronald Niebuhr: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can and the wisdom to know the difference." Actually, this should be the first step, but I often put it off to last.

To ignore or not ignore is not the question. As a leader I don't ignore feedback-I process it. The question is how I process the feedback. When I have listened, considered the source, looked for the kernel of truth and discussed it with my leadership team, then I am in a position to act on the wisdom and courage of innovative leadership. Think about it. Leaders who stand out are the ones who have this kind of wisdom and courage.

Check This Out: Seven Tips for Recruiting Today's Volunteers
Sue Brage, from GROUP Publishing, the publisher of our book, The New Breed, attend a New Breed Workshop for leaders of volunteers recently. She wrote the following report and article about recruiting volunteers for churches.

As I shared previously, I recently attended a Volunteer Power workshop with author and speaker, Thomas McKee. His presentation about working with today's volunteers was right on! And his strategies for bringing people into service confirmed much of what I've been learning here at Group.

Today's spotlight is a little different, as I really wanted to get a couple things into your hands from Thom's presentation.

One is this article, 7 Tips for Recruiting Today's Volunteers and the other is his groundbreaking book, The New Breed. Both of these resources, if put to use, can revolutionize your recruiting efforts! Hundreds of great ideas and practical techniques will make you more effective as you invite people into ministry.

Thom's background, experience, and charisma has made him a popular speaker with large corporations and non-profit organizations. He is an amazing resource for the church and I'm so excited that Group chose to support his work and publish his book.

With no further delay, I want to let you dig into 7 Tips... and strongly encourage you to order his book today. You can even read the first chapter FREE at Group.com.

Have a great weekend!

Thomas McKee's 7 Tips for Recruiting Today's Volunteer
  • Ask personally rather than rely on announcements. Remember that you're not looking for someone to "volunteer;" you're looking for someone to commit to a specific position.

  • Develop strategic recruiting partnerships - build your network or a recruiting team. Don't go it alone.

  • Recruit short-term project teams. The more specific the time limit, the more people you'll likely get to join you in help with a project. And short-term commitments might open the door to longer commitments.

  • Assume that a "no" means "not now," or "not this position." Think of a "no" as an open door to listen carefully to the reasons behind the "no."

  • Develop roles and responsibilities or a position description for each role. Don't fill any position until you find the person who matches what you're looking for.

  • Recruit specific people for specific roles. Ask professionals to be in charge of significant areas of your organization that also represents what they love doing.

  • Hire equipping managers - people who know and live out the principles of recruiting and mobilizing volunteers for your mission.
*Adapted from The New Breed: Understanding & Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer, Group Publishing, 2008

You can purchase The New Breed and we will ship it free.

Volunteer Power Workshop: Reenergize Your Volunteer Leaders with a Half-Day, Full-Day or Two-Day Volunteer Power Workshop.
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 or key-note.

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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!