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Organizations Are from Mars, Volunteers Are from Venus—Keys to a Successful Relationship

I’ve heard that volunteer recruitment is like dating. As a Volunteer Manager for a couple of organizations, I can say that I’ve experienced how similar these two activities can be. They both involve—

  • Meeting someone new
  • Learning a bit about that new person (or organization)
  • Both parties decide if they like each other enough to begin a relationship

Agreeing to volunteer at your organization is just the beginning of the relationship. Good relationships take work and are constantly evolving to meet the needs of both sides. If either side doesn’t take the time to put in that effort, that’s when things go awry.  

We’re not connecting anymore.

The more time you spend with someone, the more you learn about them. You start to ask yourself if this person is really someone you like spending time with. That first date with an organization is often very different than the third or fourth one. There may have been some initial chemistry, but after you’ve gotten to know the organization a little more, you might start to question if that spark is still there.

If we don’t express these concerns, negative feelings fester inside of us and we run in the other direction as fast as we can without warning.

We’re not communicating.

How do you prevent this Road Runner-style exit from occurring? A breakdown in communication will eat away at any relationship. Volunteer managers need to make sure they keep the lines of communication open, and learn how each volunteer prefers to be communicated with.

It's also important to provide feedback on how volunteers are doing. It can be difficult to have conversations with volunteers when they are not performing well, but making the effort to respectfully address the issue shows that you care about their contribution and want to work with them to improve. Plus, volunteers usually want to hear how they can get better, and be praised for what they are doing well.

It’s just not working out.

It’s hard to hear someone say that they prefer to move on without you. Breaking up is hard to do. Sometimes we are the ones who do the breaking up, and other times...well, we get our hearts broken. It’s a part of life, and it can make us stronger if we learn from the experience.

As a volunteer manager, sometimes you have to have a conversation with a volunteer who’s not working out for whatever reason. Other times, volunteer managers are the ones whose hearts get broken when valuable volunteers decide it’s time to leave. At the end of the day, respect and honesty is key to ensuring that any relationship ends on good terms.

What other ways do you see working with volunteers as similar to being in a relationship? Do you have any good volunteer “dating” or “break-up” stories?

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