By: Kristin Clements-Effner, MSW Training Coordinator/Cofounder
One of the most frequent questions we get from nonprofits is how to turn a one time volunteer into a long-term volunteer. Many people are introduced to the concept of volunteering and to the work of an organization through these one-time serving opportunities and it is what we like to call “The First Date.” My husband and I recently volunteered at an event and the “date” was pretty rough. We had decided to give a couple of hours of our time because the event was centered on one of our common passions. My husband is fairly new to the world of volunteering and he was excited to put his actions where his values lie.
The experience went something like this:
- Sign in at the volunteer tent and got work assignment. We were told to find a specific individual in a crowd of several thousand and that are job was to be “in the know” at our specific tent.
- We arrived at our station at the designated time and stood around waiting for some direction or for the person we were told to find to tell us what we were supposed “know.”
- No one ever came to greet us or give direction during the entire three-hour time period. We floated around and asked if anyone needed anything. When someone did request supplies, we tried to track someone down in the crowd that looked like they knew what was going on. Often, with no success of tracking down the supply we were asked for.
- At the end of our shift (honestly before our shift was over), we packed up and went home.
We both felt very unprepared and deflated after the experience and we decided that we would never do that again. I think there are many lessons to learn from our experience, including always make sure volunteers feel prepared, have a point person for individuals to discuss concerns, and have clear directions on where to get needed materials. The bigger lesson is that one bad volunteer experience can impact a person’s desire to volunteer in general regardless if the experience was with your organization. I personally have had several good volunteer experiences in my lifetime, so it didn’t impact my desire to volunteer. Although, I will probably not be inclined to give my time for an event again. However, my husband who is newer to volunteering and hasn’t had positive experiences to draw on might not be as eager to give his time for a cause. This is a lesson to us all to keep in mind that our volunteer opportunities are “first dates” and first impressions make all the difference.