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Chronicles from a Caribbean Cubicle

7/29/2007

Volunteering and Standards

I once "worked" as a volunteer for an organization that had 200 employees and 3000 volunteers. What was remarkable was that this company was a for-profit company.

There are a few companies that I have volunteered for that I consider to provide the kind of experience that made the time well worth it, and many that I think could learn a thing or two.

There were three lessons that I learned from my volunteer experiences.

Savvy organizations realize that volunteers give of their time for every reason that employees do, only without the prospect of material compensation. They seek to learn and grow themselves, to make a real difference and to be acknowledged for their contribution.

Savvy employees know that they need to make it easy for their volunteers to gain the benefits they seek.

Many of the best practices used to manage employees still apply.

Best Practice #1 - Insist on Providing Value
Managers of volunteers know that they need to sit down at the beginning of a volunteer assignment and talk about what the volunteer would like to gain from the experience. They talk about their goals, and what they would like to learn while they are on the assignment.

Some go even further, and explicitly insist that a condition of their engagement as a volunteer is that they gain value that exceeds the cost to them in time, money and energy. In other words, the onus is on them to gain the benefit.

Here at Framework, this is a part of our own volunteer agreement.

Best Practice #2 -- Make the Agreement Explicit
A written agreement works better than one that is spoken. It covers the necessary basics that relate to any contract employee, minus a section on remuneration. 'nuff said.

Best Practice #3 -- Maintain High Standards
In the best organizations, volunteers are part and parcel of the high standards the organization aims to deliver to its customers or constituents.

The question I ask myself most of all when engaging volunteers and employees alike, is whether or not they have what it takes to raise the standard of work done in the company, or whether or not they will have to be managed carefully so that they don't lower it. With volunteers, the key is to create that expectation from the very beginning, and to be very clear with them that they are part of delivering it.

If they are treated as if they can deliver great things, they are much more likely to do so.

On the other hand, if little or nothing is expected of them, then it is likely that they will live down to that expectation also.

The bottom line is that the volunteer to company relationship is not very different than an employee to employer relationship.

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