Saturday, November 29, 2008

Matching volunteers to their skills

My worst volunteer experience was when I was assigned to work painting faces at a holiday fair at the school my kids attended. We had "mandatory volunteer hours" and I signed up for an event and was assigned face painting. No one checked to see if that's what I wanted to do or if it was something I had a particular talent for. Now as an association exec, there were likely a dozen things I could have done really well. I never would have selected face painting.

Rather than complain or try to change I figured it wouldn't be too hard and it was "only" two hours. Totally, totally stressful. It felt like 2 years. Kids apparently don't just want polka dots on their face or whiskers - but were requesting really complicated things like a Patriots football helmet (with logo) or vines intertwined with flowers and ladybugs. The other mother painting faces excelled in all these artistic requests. I quickly noticed the only ones in my line were the kids with impatient parents (the other line considerably longer than mine) or ones with toddlers too young to notice the difference. One kid even told me that he really wanted "the good mother".

What I learned from this:

1. It makes sense to ask volunteers what they want to do. List the tasks within the scope of a committee instead of just the entirety of it.
2. Ask what their talents are. Sometimes associations hear "I'll do anything" without checking to see where that volunteer may genuinely excel. Testing in a random role may or may not give positive results.
3. Give an option to stop. If it's fairly clear someone isn't enjoying their role - why not ask if they want to stop rather than assume everyone wants to ride out the length of time they originally committed to?
4. I never volunteered for that event again - in any capacity. Want to turn a volunteer off - give a bad experience.

1 comment:

Cynthia D'Amour said...

I would be with you - running the other way when it comes to face painting!

I like the four lessons learned. I would also add to it - don't play psychic and assume you know what people want to do based on what they do for work.

When I was a teacher, people often tried to sign me up for some sort of education outreach to students - which was the last thing I wanted. I spent 60+ hours/week with kids and teaching work. I was looking for adult time.

Being forced into kid-related opportunities was a NEXT! for me. Other teachers I knew loved it.

Assuming didn't work well.