Afflicting the Comfortable or Staying Comfortable: What’s Your Choice?

May 24, 2012

Today’s guest post is written by Jill Friedman Fixler, speaker at our National Conference of Volunteering and Service this June. Cowling is a nationally known leader recognized for her innovative approaches to re-inventing, re-engineering, and re-vitalizing nonprofit and public sector organizations.

As a nonprofit consultant I often joke that my role is to afflict the comfortable. I am often taken back that so many organizations are satisfied with comfort when the world is changing at such an unprecedented rate. What worked well five years ago may be only marginally working today. And somehow we are content with this. In my view, this is the definition of insanity—trying the same thing over and over again and expecting the same result.

Volunteer programs do this a lot. Virtually every volunteer program in this country was built on what traditionalist volunteers (adults born before 1946) have been willing to contribute. They represent the loyalist generation who work for and appreciate the 20 year pin, who work tirelessly for organizations doing what is asked of them, and who have carried many organizations to this point in history. As the traditionalist population ages out of the marketplace, the volunteers who are replacing them (b=Boomers, Xers, and Millennials) expect their volunteer experiences to fit their schedules to utilize their skills, and to have immediate impact.

Volunteer engagement professionals are at the epicenter of this change. So many of them tell me that they recognize they must do things differently but they are waiting for permission slips that never come. I say, “What are you waiting for?” I recommend starting somewhere in your own practice. Stop being comfortable, take some risks, and try out some new volunteer engagement strategies. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I leading the change I wish to see?
  • Do I engage high impact volunteers in my work? In my department? Throughout the organization?
  • Is our volunteer program diverse for age, ethnicity and gender?
  • What are the opportunities to utilize skilled volunteers in my department? What help can I use to accomplish my goals for the year, that align with organizational strategic priorities and/or can fulfill my dreams for the organization?
  • Who are the champions for volunteers that I work most closely with? How can I engage them in the changes I want to make?
  • Once I make the change, how will I know I have been successful? What are the benchmarks for success? What is replicable and sustainable outside of my department?
  • How will I tell my story of change? Who will I tell?

In order to make the change, you will need to see your role differently. The task moves from maintaining the status quo to leading the change you wish to see. It will take letting go of the ways you have always worked, suspending what you know in exchange for experimenting with new volunteer engagement  strategies, and planning for a different outcome for your work. It is always best to start small and start in areas where you know you will be successful, as success breeds more success.

Let’s face it, we can wait for change to happen to us or we can embrace change and make it happen. I know what I would choose. How about you?

 Jill Friedman Fixler will be presenting at (2897) Summit on Advanced Volunteer Engagement: Leading at the Crossroads(2390) The Volunteer Leader as Consultant and Change Agent, and (2908) Civic Fellows Leadership Exchange – Jill Friedman Fixler. She combines her skills as a trainer, facilitator, and public speaker to promote excellence in volunteer engagement, strategic planning, and board and organizational development for organizations throughout the U.S. and Canada. She is the president of the JFFixler Group.