Last time I wrote here, I was asking myself “Who do I work for?” Now that I’ve read Nikki Russel’s last Reading, Resource and Leadership Corner, I’m inspired to think about the question “Why?” Why does my organization have volunteers and why do they need me to manage those volunteers? These are definitely important questions. I thought I might find an answer in our volunteer program mission. “The mission of the volunteer program at the CRWEC is to provide added-value services for community members by supporting and enhancing the mission of the CRWEC while creating meaningful opportunities for volunteer growth and education.” My first thought upon reading that was “Oh dear.” Ok, maybe someone is saying “that’s great”, but I suspect I may have lost a few readers now.
I don’t think it completely missed the mark though. “Growth and education” are powerful words and they graze the edges of “why”. I just had a conversation with a volunteer about these ideas. She helps in our Heritage Library and after ending her day she had some questions. She then proceeded to tell me she feels “dumb”. That she has volunteered here for years and there is so much she doesn’t know yet. After some reassuring words I said I’d let her in on a secret. I told her that a big part of why we have volunteers is because they are so eager to learn and volunteering presents so many opportunities to learn. She smiled and joked about being a captive audience. Well yes, that’s right. We need an audience here. A key word in our title is “Education” and without people we can’t teach. Volunteers are great because they become students and teachers both. So do I, I’m here to learn how to make their time as beneficial, for them and us, as possible. I’m here to pass on the wisdom and experience of the volunteers to our staff so we can better teach and reach more people.
Maybe sometimes organizations are afraid to ask that question about why we need volunteers. What if the answer is uninspiring? What if the answer is that we really need someone to fold papers? We often do need that help here. Folding papers (or whatever the task) isn’t the answer though, it’s the methodology. I think a lot of food banks have a good grasp on this. There answer to why is simple “We feed the hungry”. Yes, that is something that truly matters. Now that I’ve written this, I’m thinking more about why we have volunteers. The Cedar River Watershed is closed to the public and that’s why we educate. We want this land and water to be protected for generations to come, and we know that the desire to protect will only exist if people know why it makes a difference. The opprtunity to make a difference, that’s what creates passion. Don’t be afraid to ask why, because your work matters the answer can be truly powerful.
Written by: Chris Holland, VAN Steering committee