The Accidental Collaborator

When a short exercise went a long way towards staff engagement.

Guest post by Elisa Kosarin, Twenty Hats

This post was originally published on Twenty Hats.

engaging-staff-with-volunteers-twenty-hats-300x297In my local DOVIA (Directors of Volunteers in Agencies), one of the most common workshop topic requests is: “How to get staff on board with volunteer management.”

It’s a complex subject, most likely because staff engagement brings us into the murky world of soft interpersonal skills. We anticipate barriers and may feel discouraged about achieving any sort of progress.

Sometimes, though, a hard skill exercise goes a long way towards nurturing staff engagement.

That was my recent take-away when talking with a volunteer coordinator who participated in my recruitment planning course. As part of the course she ran what I call a “DNA Study of her successful volunteers.

In a DNA Study, you ask co-workers who supervise volunteers to provide a list of their most successful volunteers. Then, you run the demographic data to see what commonalities surface. The information is priceless when developing a profile of your ideal volunteer.

Unexpected Results
When my student ran her DNA study, she uncovered plenty of interesting findings about her volunteers – AND she noted one unexpected consequence: the process engaged the staff. Being consulted about the volunteers made the staff curious about the study results and more invested in the outcome. In fact, my student and her co-workers are now taking things a step further and convening a focus group to better understand what motivates their volunteers.

What was it about this study that united the staff? I think there were several reasons:

  • Being consulted validated the supervisors and showed that their opinion mattered.
  • The project was simple, with a clear beginning, middle, and end.
  •  The exercise was data-driven, and therefore less subjective.
  •  There was a payoff for the supervisors because the project helped clarify which volunteers would most likely succeed in the program.
  • The process was fun – how often does that happen?

What’s your take?
Someone steeped on organizational management may not have been surprised by these findings. If you have ever studied the collaborative process, you probably know that rule number one is to rally individuals around a common goal.

So this one example makes me wonder: are there similar ways to engage your staff in the volunteer management process? If you have had a similar experience, where a project of yours helped bring the staff together, please email me about your project and your results. OR, if reading this post gets you curious to try your own DNA Study and see what happens, keep me posted on your results.

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Twenty Hats is authored by Elisa Kosarin, CVA, a nonprofit professional with 15+ years of experience in nonprofit marketing, development, and volunteer management. She founded the site to help volunteer managers master the skills they need to make their jobs easier.