Over the past few years, I’ve become actively involved working with two volunteer committees. One is a local civic charity and the other is a professional business organization. I’ve learned several ways to get things done and become a productive member of the team.
Working on volunteer committees is similar but also very different from working with others at a paid job. Most significantly, there is no real threat of firing or quitting. There is no compelling obligation. You (and others) are there because you choose to be there. You can’t really fire anyone on the committee for not doing their job, and you can’t use the threat of quitting as a means to impose change. When you work on a volunteer committee, your only real strategy is to do the work yourself and attempt to influence others to do the work that needs doing.
Here are six ideas that help me be more productive and enjoy my experience of working on a volunteer committee:
1. Be a Friend First
If you’re going to be part of a volunteer group, the first thing to do is make friends. Not phony, manipulative friends … but genuine, real, common-interest friendships. Becoming friends takes time and could be viewed as unproductive time initially, but the good news is your experience will be much more enjoyable and group productivity will increase exponentially once friends start working together.
2. Do the Job No One Else Wants to Do
When you first join a group (or even after you’ve been a member for a while), it will be easy to identify a major challenge or dirty job that needs doing. And … no one wants to do it. This should be the job you grab by the horns and wrestle to the ground. You’ll not only earn the respect of others, but you’ll feel good about having significantly contributed … and my guess is you’ll make a few new friends.
3. Identify What Needs to Be Done
It’s been my experience that many of the people on the committee want to contribute but just aren’t sure what it is they’re supposed to do. If you can identify easy jobs or simple tasks that need doing, then others will frequently jump in and volunteer to take those jobs. Note that I didn’t say tell others what to do … that won’t work. When you simply identify basic tasks in a group setting, you’ll be amazed at the volunteers who raise their hands to help.
4. Lobby One-on-One Prior to Group Meetings for Big Ideas
When you’ve identified a major challenge that will take the commitment of the entire group, you don’t want to use the above approach of simply identifying it in the group setting. That technique works only for simple tasks. For major change to occur, you want to have lots of one-on-one conversations prior to the group meeting. You want others to understand your position. You want to strengthen your position by getting others’ input beforehand. Your major initiative, or big idea, will not be a surprise. And the idea will be theirs as much as yours. Warning: This approach takes time and patience. This strategy is not a quick fix. It works best when used for major initiatives.
5. Thank Others Often for What They Do
Reward good behavior frequently, in large doses, and publicly. Avoid all negative commentary 100% in public settings. Stay publicly positive. Bite your tongue on all things negative in group settings.
6. Accept That Not Everything Will Get Done
Volunteer committee work is very similar to the paid work environment in that not everything will get done. What’s the biggest difference between the two? It’s worse in volunteer work. But that is OK. Focus simply on one important thing at a time. When that gets done, then focus on the next thing.
I personally find my involvement with volunteer groups – whether civic or professional – enjoyable on several levels. First and foremost, I’ve made some real friendships. I get personal satisfaction from accomplishing things that significantly better the group. And since my day job is mostly working alone, I enjoy participating within teams – especially when they function well together … with Gumption.
I’m also selective about the groups in which I choose to participate. I’d rather participate actively with a few select volunteer groups than be a ceremonial participant in lots of groups.
What’s been your experience working on volunteer committees?
Have your experiences with committees been mostly positive or frustrating?
What suggestions do you have to make working within volunteer groups more productive and enjoyable?
Next Blog Title: Safety Gumption
Next Blog Date: April 19, 2012