Concentrate on People, Not Problems at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service

May 17, 2012

Today’s guest post is written by Martin J. Cowling, speaker at our National Conference of Volunteering and Service this June. Cowling is a leading global consultant on not for profit and volunteer management. He will be presenting at the Summit on Advanced Volunteer Engagement: Leading at the Crossroads and Volunteer Management Toolkit sessions in Chicago. 

Pollution, poverty, powerlessness

So much seems to stand in the way of creating the world we want.

A guy I was talking to yesterday said “There are only 13 of us in our group. How can we change the world?”

My answer is this: Let’s concentrate not on problems but on people. We should focus on the people we need to mobilize and engage in order to achieve our aims – and therefore change the world.

We want to engage more people to donate, more people to volunteer and more people to talk about ‘us’ (or our cause) with their friends and communities.

To enlist more people to support our cause, we need to answer three questions, and answer them honestly:

1. What causes are people in our community or sphere concerned about?
2. What do people really want to see happen?
3. What are people focused on when they hear about your cause/organization?

If for example in answering question one, we realize that of the many causes which can capture the attention of the community, people are not as concerned or interested in ours as we need them to be, what do we need to do to change that? For example, one agency I worked with was focused on Hepatitis C. They had difficulty recruiting volunteers because the citizens of their community did not see it as a relevant issue. Before recruiting volunteers, the organization had to demonstrate that it was indeed an important and relevant cause for all people.

With question two, many agencies undertake activities that are not actually what people want to be involved in. Many in today’s community are looking for volunteering that is easy to get involved with, easy to fit into their lives and which makes an impact quickly. How does your volunteering measure up?

Finally, many people fail to attract volunteers because of their image or reputation. When you spruik for volunteers, is it clear what you want people to focus on? One charity I worked with asked people why they did not donate or volunteer with them. The response was overwhelming. People did not understand the name of the charity and did not see it as relevant to them. They were focused on something else every time the charity was mentioned. A name change resulted in significant sponsor and volunteer growth.

Respond to the answers to each of these questions in a new way and you could enlist many people in finding innovative solutions to engaging the community in reaching our 21st century goals. I believe people can overcome powerlessness, fight poverty and stop pollution with the right tools of engagement.  You just need to know what to ask.

Don’t forget to register for the National Conference on Volunteering and Service to see Cowling speak in June!