Cynthia Smith

Prime-Connections: Volunteers – The Ride!

Prospecting, recruiting and retaining volunteers-Oh, my!

Think about the last time you went to your favorite amusement park. What ride held most spectators spellbound? Which ride garnered the most screams? Which ride was the most fear inducing? Which ride do you see people riding over and over again? When you think of Six Flags or Cedar Point, what ride comes to mind? Yup, you guessed it, the roller coaster! Some liken working with volunteers similar to riding a roller coaster. Indeed!

Recently, as a leader in a women’s organization, I was tasked to recruit a team of multi-talented volunteers to help with an annual fundraising event. Amazingly, no one volunteered because the call for volunteers went out through the newsletter! Prospecting, recruiting and retaining volunteers has never been a daunting experience for me because time is taken upfront to create prime connections with every potential volunteer candidate. Before one person is approached, the organization’s needs are outlined and a job description is created. What do these potential candidates need to know? What skills do these women need to be able to contribute for this event?  Matching talent and time commitment towards ‘best fit’ is paramount.

How do I find these fearless women who will face all their fears and jump on the coaster with me? Let’s go back to the amusement park. Look around. Do you see some potential volunteers or coaster riders watching from afar? These people are assessing how much time will be required or if they can get on and off the ride safely. When approaching these candidates, communicate both the task and the time commitment honestly. Assure them that riding with you is safe because you will respect their time and talents. Do you see some want-to-be coaster riders who are at the gate, but never get into the seat? These need a friendly invitation to take the first ride. Going alone is all too frightening! Consider providing the support and encouragement needed by riding along or asking someone to pair up with them. Some coaster riders as well as some volunteers may require a bit of hand holding until a comfort level is reached. Some just get on the coaster alone and ride all day! These folks have conquered their fears and have learned to throw caution to the wind! These ride-repeaters are often wonderful recruiters! The loops, the hills, and the hairpin curves of the ride have been memorized long ago, yet these funsters embrace the challenge and find new thrills every time they get on board. Oftentimes, this third-party recommendation is the lynchpin of solid recruitment and ongoing involvement. Back to the roller coaster, reluctant riders are often cajoled to ‘ride it just one time…!’

There is an ebb and flow to working with volunteers. Volunteers come and go for many reasons. Yet by creating prime connections upfront, trust is established. Volunteers can be inspired to jump in to the roller coaster car for at least one ride!  Some will take the front seat-some will not. Some will scream at the top of their lungs and some will close their eyes. Others will waive their hands in the air but others will clench the safety bar for dear life! Some will ride again, and some, well, will need additional time to reflect on the activity before getting in line! The volunteer leader must take the time upfront to get to know each rider before boarding to create that trust.  The organization’s pledge to take care of all of the riders along the way to both insure and  ensure safety needs to be heartfelt.  Volunteers, like roller coaster riders, must make it back to the station in varying degrees of  happiness. Thrilled that they participated or at the very least, happy to live for another day!

Prime-Connections: Using Improv Techniques to Create ‘Prime-Connections’

From TV shows, improvisation (improv) is often used by a comedian to supply a quick rebuttal towards hecklers or naysayers. However, when I attended Rochester Women’s Network Summit Business Conference, I curiously chose the breakout session on the topic of improv.  The presenter, Ms. Caitlin Drago from the McArdle Ramerman Center in Rochester, NY, demonstrated that improv is a great technique which can empower trust, especially during critical conversations that often result in communication break down and ill-will.Improv Blog 4

The attendees were paired up and were given a scenario. One lead with the problem and the other teammate responded with the problem statement and then added the word ‘AND…’ followed by another statement that was not necessarily congruent with the first.

It went like this:

Scenario: A teenager was confronting his Mother regarding curfew.

The teenager said ‘Mom, the curfew you have given me doesn’t work for my social life’.

The Mom replied ‘Yes, I understand that the curfew I have given you doesn’t work for your social life AND you need to be home early on school nights.

The teenager said ‘Yes, I understand that I need to be home early on school nights AND I need some time with my friends after spending all day in school.

The Mom said ‘Yes, I understand that you need more time with your school friends after spending all day in school, AND, I am tired by 10pm and need to go to bed knowing you are home and are OK.

The teenager said ‘Yes, I understand you are tired also, and you want to be in bed by 10pm AND thanks Mom for caring about me!

I would challenge each of us to continue critical conversations by reiterating the words from the speaker. This forces us to REALLY LISTEN. Resist the urge to use the word ‘BUT’, which tends to refute the value of the speaker’s ideas or sentiments. Instead, try inserting the word AND to link the conversation towards negotiation and understanding.

Those who participated in Ms. Drago’s presentation felt very awkward in the face-to-face confrontational scenarios. Many of us commented that our need to be ‘right’ or our need to ‘win’ the argument was sometimes overwhelming and definitely presented a challenge. In a competitive world, many have been trained to win at any cost. OUR ideas must be foremost and final. Caitlin helped each of us understand that improv can help us to say ‘yes’ in new and creative ways, rather than shutting our partner down through bullying or power trips. Improv’s goal is to increase trust, teamwork, listening skills, and creativity among people.

Need a way to build prime connections with significant others?  Let your listening skills be sharpened through capture and repetition. Bridge both person’s statements with AND, and lastly, have ‘no buts about it’!