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Herding the Volunteer Cats

Posted by Tara Puckey on Apr 5, 2017 12:00:00 PM


The success of any association depends greatly on the strength of its volunteers. After all, as William James once said, “A chain is no stronger than its weakest link.” As noble as the cause may be, inspiring, guiding and teaching volunteers to work cohesively can often be likened to herding cats. Wild, feral cats with the ability to spring off course at any given moment, destroy the furniture and look you in the eye while doing it.

Deep down, they’re good cats – I mean, people. The trouble is, while they’re highly skilled in whatever trade or focus your organization works with, they sometimes lack the skills needed by an association. The biggest challenge, especially for organizations with a chapter structure or committee leadership? Teamwork in small groups of volunteers.

This is where the Engine of Success comes in, perfectly positioned to help guide your volunteer teams to achieve goals beyond your wildest dreams.


Quality of Relationships – Start here. Encourage volunteers to build relationships with the people they’ll be working closely with. Not quick-intro-get-down-to-business relationships, but meaningful relationships. I always encourage each team to hold a retreat at the start of each year and commit to talking about anything but the association for the first hour. Find out if your teammates are married, if they like to ski, where they’re from, their dreams. Learn who they are as a person, not just a cog in the machine of the association.

Quality of Thinking – Building relationships is a critical part to this next step. Why? If you know the people you’re around, you’re more likely to share thoughtful ideas. There’s no wondering if something you’ll say will offend, you’re not afraid to be shot down or embarrassed and you feel free to play off ideas that others generate to create something bigger and better. In the most basic sense, everyone is free to throw as much spaghetti at the wall as they want, in any way they want, to see what sticks. Better relationships equal better thinking.

Quality of Actions – Go back to that spaghetti on the wall. If there are a ton of good ideas that stuck, the actions resulting from those ideas are sure to be just as good. Plus, the team benefits from those relationships a few steps back and work harder for each other and the team, not just for the project. Better thinking equals better actions.

Quality of Results – Whatever project the team was working on, if the action itself was good, the results will be good. Excellent reviews, a standing ovation, applause for days. What happens then? The team celebrates its success together. And that, my friends, is where we start the engine all over again. Reveling in a job well done brings the group closer together.

It’s the simplest circle of all, but impressing its value upon volunteers isn’t nearly as simple. Some will get it, some will continue to destroy the furniture. But, if you put the engine to work from the very beginning and make it part of your culture, you’ll find things start to improve faster than you think.

Teamwork makes the dream work. And, if it doesn’t, there’s always this.

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Topics: Association, Volunteers, Associations

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