What Does Your First Date with a Volunteer Look Like?

Guest post by Robert Grabel, Training for Good

A client recently shared that they had been trying to connect with a volunteer that had approached them. She had enthusiastically contacted the organization and there was a quick discussion.
How to have a first date with a volunteer to help make sure there's a second.

After that first meeting the dialogue – or should I say “almost dialogue” evolved into a game of cat and mouse. Despite the volunteer director’s phone calls and emails and the prospective volunteer’s few attempted returns (reportedly, a 3/1 ratio), they had to accept that it was not to be. Something was out of sync and and they couldn’t figure out what.

While in romance and perhaps a few other things in life, the chase is as exciting as the catch, not so when it comes to volunteer engagement. Perhaps it’s a stretch, but maybe there are a few parallels here:

  • Both parties come together with lots of expectations
  • Those expectations often aren’t expressed up front (and sometimes not until it’s too late) and;
  • Communication is key!

I’m sure there are other similarities, but I think these are good starters. This got me thinking:

What are the best questions to ask a potential volunteer on an initial meeting?

In other words, what are some things you (as the organization) should ask on that all-important first date to ensure a second? Here are my suggestions:

  1. What got you interested in volunteering with us? Are you looking at similar opportunities with other organizations? (Translation: Are we special? Are you looking for a commitment? Or, are you playing the field and checking out other options?)
  2. Are there special skills you’re looking to utilize with us? (Fairly standard: What do you bring to this relationship? Taking it a step further, are we going to be able to keep you busy doing what you do?)
  3. Are there skills YOU are looking to develop? Are there experiences YOU are looking to have? (These two are my favorites because they say WE CARE ABOUT YOU, not just what you can do for us. Backed up with sincerity, this mindset keeps volunteers engaged and part of your organization)
  4. Would you consider taking on a leadership role if the opportunity was right? (This re-affirms their long-term interest and speaks to the critical question of leadership succession. Committed, active volunteers with a stake in your future are your leaders of tomorrow)
  5. What’s the most effective way to build our relationship? How can we be sure we’re meeting your expectations? And what’s an effective way for us to give you feedback? (This gets to the heart of the communication issue and sets a platform for honesty and continued growth)

At the core, these questions speak to an organization’s mutual interest in the volunteer’s experience, growth and long-term prospects with an organization. While I can’t guarantee every first date approached this way will mean a second, you’ll at least feel confident asking.

I’d love to hear what works for you. Please share your “first date” experiences in the comments below!

Robert Grabel is the President of Training for Good, a consultancy that trains charities to become business development experts consistently generating new leads and developing rewarding relationships. Robert has over 25 years of professional experience split equally between business & finance and the nonprofit sector and has held Senior Leadership roles at the Cabrini Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, Volunteers of America Greater New York, Turnaround for Children, The American Heart Association and Spoons Across America. You can follow Robert on Twitter and on his blog.

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