Oct 15, 2009

Will Volunteerism in TV Plots Promote It in Real Life?

According to the article by Gary Strauss, "TV: It's prime time for volunteerism," in the Tuesday, October 13, 2009 issue of USA TODAY, there's a movement afoot: to promote, not only through public service announcements, but by actual examples in scripts of prime-time TV plots, the great things about volunteering for a cause.

Yes, you read that right. It's part of a project called "I Participate," and if you keep your eyes open and your tube plugged in, you might notice, for example, crime solvers on Ghost Whisperer donating blood; doctors on Private Practice treating the homeless; 12-year-old Louise on Gary Unmarried making videotaped greetings for U.S. troops; and more.

Of course, the question on everyone's lips is whether this will make a difference. But hey, Strauss points out, when the character Fonzie on Happy Days got a library card, kids all over the U.S. ran out to do the same thing.

All of which leads to another question: If more volunteers start coming your way, will you be ready? The world is full of disgruntled volunteers who started with great intentions, then dropped out because they were bored, frustrated, or felt like they weren't really make a difference.

This seems like a good time to remind readers of the basic principles of orienting and keeping volunteers (which are covered in far more detail in my book, Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits), including:

  • Figure out their personal motives for volunteering, and try to satisfy those at the same time as you get some work out of them -- even if they just want to get some exercise or meet other singles!
  • Train them well, and ask for a specific time commitment. Counterintuitive though it might seem, demanding more of volunteers can make them understand their own importance to your organization.
  • Make their commitment as convenient as possible to fulfill, including finding ways they can work odd or irregular hours if possible.
  • Make it fun! You probably need a lot of tedious tasks done, but don't lay these on too thick. Also figure out how to integrate more interesting work into the time volunteers spend at your organization, such as working directly with people or animals.
  • Show appreciation much more often than you feel is normal. Everyone likes to hear a "thank you," or receive one in writing. Singling out volunteers in newsletters, throwing volunteer appreciation parties, or simply saying "See you next week -- and thanks again for all the great help!" are great ways to do this.
With committed volunteers at your side, you can get oodles more done, and need to fundraise less.