It has been about a month and a half since my last post, and I am very nearly volunteering somewhere! Sort of.
Following the near success that turned into an unreturned email, I again spent a fair amount of time on a volunteer application for a nature center near my home. The application called for three references, something I had not expected but something we do at my organization, and made sense for volunteers interacting with the public and specifically with children. It also indicated a potentially well-organized system, which was sort of refreshing. However, after seeing the number of references needed, I felt momentary panic – what was I getting myself into?! Something that required THREE references and SEVERAL short answers to even apply must be a HUGE commitment! But I forged ahead, determined this time to actually communicate with someone at the very least.
I filled out the application, stating that I’d be interested in agricultural opportunities and potentially acting as a naturalist, and submitted it. I received a response the very next day! The response email asked to clarify some of my experience and informed me of possible special events volunteer opportunities. If you recall, I did not apply for special events opportunities. And while I realize of course that it was practically winter, I thought there may be greenhouse or winter naturalist positions available for the season, and was hoping to at least hear about some opportunities. I responded to the email restating my interests and giving more detail on my experiences, hoping that more information and a clear interest on my end would be to my benefit. After sending this email, I received no response!
For five days that is, until I emailed again to check in about possible opportunities. After sending my check-in email I received a response just a few hours later asking if I would be able to come in to have an informal interview, talk about my interests and experiences, and learn about the opportunities available. After this meeting my information would be distributed to the appropriate staff members and I would hopefully have some sort of position.
The meeting went quite well – I felt as though the woman I met with was interested in using my skills and experiences as well as finding a place the organization could use me effectively. She even confessed her not-always-prompt email correspondence! It was very refreshing to speak with an actual human instead of a listserv, and I forgave the few miscommunications we had previously.
During the meeting we discussed how opportunities would pick up after the first of the year, which was fine with me given how busy I was feeling at the time. I was anticipating checking in early January and was pleasantly surprised to receive an email update at the beginning of this month detailing how my information had been passed along and staff from two departments would be contacting me. Then later that day one of them actually did! I was quite pleased with how things were going, and wasn’t even phased when I sent off a quick reminder email to the other staff member to check in (which I got a response to within hours).
All things considered, this attempt was a success, and my more forgiving attitude towards communication definitely helped. However, when it came to naturalist training, all of the opportunities were during the work week. As someone who works on the weekend to be available to volunteers, I was a little disappointed that training wasn’t on a Saturday morning, for example. Different from my program however, there were individual trainings for each naturalist class, which were scheduled before or after actual classes so new naturalists could observe the classes. After explaining that I couldn’t attend any of the trainings save for one in late winter, the lead educator offered to look at the schedule with me to see which classes I could observe on days I was available so I would be able to begin teaching as early as possible.
My experience with this non-profit has been infinitely better than those I’ve had with the others I’ve mentioned, and that seems to be due to several factors. I was definitely more persistent about my skills and experiences and how I’d like to use them, which proved successful, and had a more personal interest in the organization. After making a strong connection, the individuals at the organization were really what drove the rest of the process. Their genuine interest and continued contact made me feel as though they actually wanted me to volunteer, something I certainly didn’t feel from the other organizations. The previous organizations had information for potential volunteers, but didn’t seem to actively court them. I’d like to believe they were interested in cultivating volunteers, but the manner in which our interactions were handled made it seem as though they felt they didn’t need to put forth effort to garner new volunteers, but that volunteers would naturally be drawn to them and would be happy with wherever they were placed.
The more personal approach of this most recent organization seems to be less prevalent in the broader world of volunteer management. Even large organizations can cultivate this kind of relationship if they focus their energy on utilizing the skills and interests of their volunteers. Of course, this is only possible if those skills and interests can be used at the organization. The balance of organization need and volunteer interest is essential – I would not have been completely happy had I accepted the offer of special events volunteer, and so I continued to investigate the opportunities. It’s logical for organizations to offer what they have available, but consideration of the volunteers abilities should obviously be taken into account. Having skilled AND satisfied volunteers will result in a more productive, successful organization.
Neighborhood Resource Coordinator
Minnesota Children’s Museum