Why do volunteers falter?

discouraged_200Scouting is a volunteer organization. We knew that already. Except for a relatively few paid staff members at the national and local council levels, almost all of the work of Scouting is done by volunteer adults, giving of their own time and resources to make Scouting happen for the youth.

Because of this volunteer nature, the people who actually keep the wheels turning are in a different position and place than in a typical large organization such as a corporate or governmental entity. Much of this involves generous people stepping forward to take on sometimes challenging roles; other times we invite selected individuals to join our movement and carry its aims forward.

However, there are similarities between the corporate world and ours. There is a hierarchy in almost every element: unit, district, council, region, area and national. People have to be assigned to specific roles in specific places, and it’s not uncommon for some to feel they are in the wrong place or to get discouraged fairly easily. Some derives from lack of familiarity with the job but much of this disenchantment can come from working with other volunteers.

In an article rather provocatively titled How to make sure employees fail from day one, corporate trainer Jeff Havens reveals the startling statistic that 20 percent of new hires become disenchanted with their work – leading many to quit – after only six weeks on the job! In the corporate world, this is a big blow to the organization because of the high overhead involved in recruiting and training a new employee – Havens cites a study showing companies spend twice a worker’s annual salary to do so. We don’t have those direct costs for Scouting volunteers, but we certainly have a lot of toil and tears of our own in finding and inviting just the right person – and sometimes a lot of frustration when the person we feel is perfect for the job turns us down, or changes his or her mind after just a few weeks.

Havens discusses three scenarios in which new employees might be led to feel remorse or disappointment about their new jobs, and even though we’re Scouters (definition: someone who pays to do Scouting), the same applies to volunteers as well.

One is in giving new people thankless tasks. Meaningless jobs and menial assignments don’t do much for spirit. In other words, a new volunteer shouldn’t be asked to do grunt work, things that don’t produce results, or given a position with little or no actual responsibility. Their efforts should count as much as anyone else’s. Another is in asking them to do something they aren’t suited for or are unwilling to do. It’s unfair to ask someone who isn’t good at working with young boys to be a den leader, or who’s not an outdoors person to lead your troop’s camping support. While most volunteers would just say “no” to such requests, it’s best to not even go there, but come to a mutual agreement on what’s best.

The third one is something the Boy Scouts of America believes very strongly in, and that is training. Anyone who takes on a volunteer position should be encouraged (and in some cases, required) to take the training for their position and beyond. Don’t approach it so much as a requirement; rather, present it as an opportunity for the volunteer to learn more about their job and how to do it smarter and easier. Advanced courses like Wood Badge shouldn’t be out of the question, especially for top unit leadership, and it’s always beneficial to take the basic training for other jobs in a unit as well as the many supplemental training opportunities the BSA offers.

Besides formal training courses, it’s just as important to work closely with volunteers, providing the support they need to do their jobs. Top unit leaders, including the Scoutmaster or Cubmaster, the committee chair and the chartered organization representative, should be there to support the rest of the adult volunteers by giving them clear, consistent direction, gentle mentoring, and arranging for the resources they need to make the most of their time and their Scouting experience.

Don’t allow your volunteers to falter. Treat them with respect, make sure the work they do is meaningful and appreciated, and show them the way through training. It’s one of the essential elements to supporting a high-performing unit.

Image courtesy of Stockimages / Freedigitalphotos.net

This post first appeared on Bobwhite Blather.
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2 Replies to “Why do volunteers falter?”

  1. I totally believe in trained leaders. I am the membership coordinator for the troop. The parents will register and take the YPT but most of them will not complete Troop committed Challenge which allows them to be a member of the committee. In our council this is available online,

    Unless the parent is mostly in (one step below all in) they see no reason to do any additional training. The parents only want to complete the minimal amount of training that will allow them to participate in campouts and other scout activities.

    As a result the troop has a large number of members listed as Unit College Scouter Reserve (91U). At this level they are not a member of the committee.

  2. When I was Scoutmaster I got my CC to agree with me that the two of us would handle all of the business of the troop. If something needed doing, we would do it. Then as folks came along and offered to help, we would ask, “What would you like to do?”. In almost every case we ended up with volunteers who were doing exactly what they wanted to be doing. They enjoyed it and were productive at it.

    If someone quit or moved away, we would pick up their duties until someone else stepped up. Once we built up a pretty good sized group, most of the time people would happily volunteer for open positions.

    What this did was minimize any squabbling, poor execution or bad attitudes. If a small cadre of 2, 3 or 4 people get together and agree to be responsible for most everything that happens, then after a while it’s easy to recruit helpers who pick up just the tasks they want to do, are good at doing and no one else really wants to do. Worked for me.

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