guiding leaders of volunteers to feed the passion of those who choose to serve


Engaging in meaningful, purposeful conversation with a volunteer is the most powerful choice a leader of volunteers can make. 
These chats are Otherliness in action.  Recognize that every volunteer who serves wants to serve.  Volunteers enter into service with
a vision for how their volunteerism will meet their needs or align with their passions.  They carry expectations.  Those expectations can easily be met.  The leader of volunteers may begin feeding those passions by first asking, in a straightforward way, what they are.    

The Guide for Engaging Volunteers is a useful tool for leaders to discover a volunteer’s internal drivers.  The Guide has six steps, displayed in an order that may follow a typical interaction between a leader and a potential volunteer. 

Step #1:  Seek

Leaders of volunteers are encouraged to demonstrate leadership presence at organizational events and initiatives.  Carrying a hyperawareness of the environment is an essential first step to seeking out potential volunteers.  Establishing eye contact, nonverbally and verbally greeting others, introducing ourselves, wearing a logoed nametag and wearing appropriate attire are all part of demonstrating leadership presence. 

The first step in The Guide also incorporates digital connection with potential volunteers.  Responding warmly and promptly to database enquiries, e-mails and phone calls is another meaningful way to demonstrate leadership presence. 

Otherliness means setting aside the logistical and administrative aspects of the role enough to dedicate time and attention to others. 
Scan the environment.  Seeking people who have not connected socially in a group setting is part of a leader’s responsibility. 
Yes, easier said than done at times, but critical to success as a leader of volunteers.             
Step #2:  Touch

Seeking occasions to interact leads to moments where an emotional connection is formed.  Speak with others at every opportunity. 
Capitalize on touchpoint moments to connect with people.  Begin conversations.  Use open-ended questions as a tool for engagement.

An open-ended question is any question that cannot be easily answered with yes, no, or a one-word response.  Typically, open-ended questions begin with the words who, what, when, where, why or how.  Open-ended phrases can be equally effective in encouraging others to share deeper responses.  Such phrases start with “Tell me more about . . .” or a similar lead-in. 

Open-ended questions and phrases are highly effective in encouraging others to elaborate on a subject.  Leaders can facilitate a meaningful conversation while saying relatively little.  Open-ended questions are an expression of Otherliness.  They are inseparable from effective leadership.  Open-ended questions also do not come naturally to most people.  Being able to artfully produce open-ended questions in the midst of a conversation is a skill that requires intentional development to master.   

Adept use of this style of question can also make the user appear to be a brilliant conversationalist.  In reality, the facilitator of the conversation is leading the other person to speak about their favorite subject—themselves.                   

Step #3:  Tune In

As the purposeful conversation with a future volunteer unfolds, pay close attention to determine if any potential interest in involvement enters the exchange.  By tuning in closely, the leader may pick up a few hints that reflect openness to serving. 

This is the time for the leader to be in the moment.  Leaders should free themselves of distractions, human and digital.  By giving t
heir undivided attention, the leader gets to know a bit more about the other person.  A future set of passion-driven, helping hands
may be discovered!  

Step #4:  Flip

At the slightest hint of interest in volunteering, Otherliness kicks into overdrive in this interaction.  Flip the conversation to ensure that this moment is not about the leader, the organization, the cause or the beneficiaries.  Use open-ended questions to get to the heart of the volunteer.  Sample open-ended questions may include the following:

“What brings you to this event?  What attracted you to this organization?” 
“Tell me more about your interests and hobbies.  What do you like to do?  What do you prefer not to do?” 
“What special skills, talents or strengths do you have that could benefit others as you share them?” 
“Talk about your passions . . . what gets you really excited about serving as a volunteer?” 
“How would you describe your career path?  What do you do professionally?” 
“Describe your career goals.  How could serving as a volunteer help you develop in your profession?” 
“What is important to you as you consider sharing your time and talents for this organization?”
“What makes volunteering meaningful to you?”
“In your past experiences, what has ‘gotten in the way’ or discouraged you in your volunteer efforts?”   
“How do you envision making your greatest impact as a volunteer?” 

What do these questions have in common?  They cannot be answered with a yes or no response.  The focus of each question is on the other person and their passion points, not the leader or the organization.  A leader using open-ended questions to engage a prospective volunteer in the Discovery conversation is Otherliness in action. 

Step #5:  Listen and Learn

As the Discovery conversation continues, it is tempting for the leader to begin assigning this newfound volunteer to an existing role.  That would be the most efficient approach.  Leaders of volunteers are cautioned to resist the temptation, however.  Listen and learn from what the prospect is sharing.  Their insights are golden in helping the organization leverage the person’s unique gifts.  Opting for the efficiency of rapidly plugging the new volunteer into a needed role can be a fateful move.  Leaders should be intentional when aligning the volunteer with an opportunity that will best match their needs, wants and desires.  Patience is the most effective strategy.   

Step #6:  Next Steps

Now that the volunteer has stated their intentions to get involved, explore and agree upon the next steps.  This could be a follow-up phone call or e-mail, an invitation to an upcoming orientation or event or a live or virtual introduction with another person serving the organization.  Another open-ended question may help define what happens next:  “How would you like to proceed?” or “What do you see as our next steps to get you more involved?”  Another option is “What is the best way for us to continue this conversation?”  The urgency lies not in getting the person aligned to a specific role.  Instead, capture their enthusiasm and interest through connection and prompt follow-up.     

Given the unique nature of every volunteer-supported organization, The Guide for Engaging Volunteers may or may not suit every purpose or every volunteer opportunity.  One size will not fit all.  These initial Discovery interactions could meander in many different directions.  The Guide is not meant to produce a formulaic conversation.  Leaders of volunteers will glean the value of each of the six guidance steps and apply what is relevant to deliver desired outcomes when engaging their prospective volunteers.   

How does a leader discover the intrinsic motivators of an individual volunteer?  People constantly provide clues about what is important to them.  What they talk about, what they don’t talk about, the way people react to situations—all provide insight into what stirs in their hearts. 
What they wear, how they present themselves, their reading tastes,
movie preferences, TV and entertainment pleasures . . . all reflect
what is meaningful.  Everything people say and do professes on the
outside what is on the inside. 

Despite all these leads, there is still a better option.  A more direct path to discovering individual intrinsic motivators exists:  ask them. 

the guide for engaging volunteers:  the discovery conversation