Problem solving for group leaders
Organizing groups of people for any activity can come with challenges, and volunteering is certainly not exempt. As the leader of the group, there are some common problems you may face and although there are no easy answers, you may find some helpful information if you find yourself facing any of these.
Problem: NO ONE IS INTERESTED IN VOLUNTEERING
Assuming that your group members have a choice in whether or not they volunteer, you may find that what a few people thought was a great idea (volunteering as a group) is not what the rest of your group thinks.
Possible Solution – Part 1: Ask for their input.
Some people may not be that opposed to the idea of volunteering, but they need to have “buy-in” from the start. Ask people if they would like to volunteer, and if so, where and then what they might like to do. Having an idea of their expectations right away will help you to effectively manage those expectations.
Possible Solution – Part 2: Communicate the benefits of participating.
Being realistic, share the benefits of getting involved. There is much information available regarding the benefits of volunteering, and even specifically the benefits to your group or team. When sharing notices about your group opportunity – make sure to always convey “what’s in it for them”. List everything, including the benefits for the organization and its clients.
Consider these questions when thinking about benefits of getting involved in your group venture:
Do staff get to volunteer during paid time? If so, then think of what they will be doing that is different (and maybe even better than) their paid work. Ask them things like “How often do you get to really make a difference in someone’s day by serving them a meal they would not otherwise get?” Or, “It’s not every day that you get to be outside in the beautiful river valley, instead of sitting at your desk!” Tailor this to your particular group.
Does your group need to bond or get to know each other better? Let them know that this is an excellent opportunity to interact outside of their regular roles – all while helping others! Maybe top level management or school principals, coaches, etc., will be working alongside other team members – and that never happens. If so, share that info: “Want a chance to hang with the boss?” Make it lighthearted and fun. You can gauge whether or not this is a benefit for your group.
Will your group be doing something that will benefit their work or company directly? Perhaps your group is in an administrative role but volunteering puts them on the front line and from that, they will come back to their paid work with a different perspective. Or maybe the work of your company aligns with that of the non-profit you are helping – how does that benefit the company and ultimately your volunteers?
Or perhaps your group is a leadership class at a high school – does helping others in the community help to raise the image of teens in the media? Let them know the possible longer-term impact.
Maybe your school, company or team already supports an organization with fundraising ventures – it might be nice for your group to see that organization in action – to see where their dollars have gone.
Problem: TOO MANY PEOPLE ARE INTERESTED IN VOLUNTEERING
This seems like an envious problem to have but it’s not easy to turn people away if they want to help.
Possible Solution – Plan ahead.
The best way to approach this is to be proactive and plan for an overabundance of volunteers. You may not end up in this situation but if you do – you’ve thought about it already. You can let people know the maximum number of volunteers accepted, have a lottery, or a first-come-first-in system. Maybe you can have a waiting list in case people cancel or change their minds. If you have a lot of people sign-up, then perhaps you can have two groups on two separate occasions.
Problem: PEOPLE SAY THEY’LL VOLUNTEER BUT THEN CANCEL LAST MINUTE – OR DON’T SHOW UP AT ALL.
Unfortunately, this is a rather common problem – especially if the volunteering takes place outside of paid work or class time. It is not a good feeling to show up with 4 people instead of the 10 you’d promised at a non-profit organization.
Possible Solution – Part 1: When recruiting, be sure to let them know the impact they will be making.
This not only helps to recruit people and get them excited about what they’ll be doing, but also can show them that by NOT doing that, the opposite will be true. For example, if your group is helping with a seniors' craft party, then fewer volunteers means fewer seniors get to participate and therefore may not get to make a handmade gift for a loved one, making them feel less independent and less part of the community outside of their institute or care facility. Remind them as well, of the fact that they are representing their company, school or team and the impact that could have on that reputation.
Possible Solution – Part 2: Be honest and upfront with the volunteer coordinator at the organization.
Ask them when you are setting up the placement what will happen if fewer people show up than what they planned for? Unfortunately, this is not uncommon for volunteers to be “no shows” so they may already have contingency plans. Also, volunteer coordinators are excellent recruiters of volunteers – so don’t feel bad about asking their advice about how to make sure people follow through with their commitment.
Possible Solution – Part 3: Be an excellent communicator.
Be sure to let your group know ALL the details and do so very clearly. Tell them the date, the time, where to meet (include a map if possible), what to bring, what to expect, what they’ll be doing, who to call if they have to cancel last minute and any other information that they may need in order to feel confident about their volunteering. You want to eliminate any kind of barrier (or perceived barrier) for them to get to their assignment. Have a document that you can attach to all emails so that everyone is receiving the exact same (accurate) information. If your group is made up of minors, be sure to communicate directly with parents as well. Don’t rely on your team or students to share that info.
Possible Solution – Part 4: Have your group actually “sign up.”
There’s nothing wrong with having your group do more than simply reply to an email. The more important the numbers for the organization, the more diligent you should be about ensuring that your team members are fully committed. For example, if you are working in a large warehouse with many other volunteers then being a few short may not be as big of an issue as if you were volunteering at an event where your group are the only volunteers. You can even have your group members sign an agreement to volunteer. Many organizations will likely have something similar that you could use, or they may have waivers or something similar that you will have to get your group to sign.
Problem: I CAN’T FIND A PLACEMENT FOR MY GROUP OF MINORS
It is especially challenging to find a place for a group of youth or children to volunteer for a variety of reasons – including insurance, risk management, people’s perceptions of the age group, the maturity level of the group and the organization's work, clients, etc. Many organizations are concerned about the ratio of adults to minors. For example, one or two teachers bringing a class of 30 students can be challenging in a classroom, let alone in a non-profit setting. Also, there are simply some places where it may be inappropriate to bring young minors.
Possible Solution – Part 1: Plan early.
The more challenges you can anticipate finding a placement, the earlier you should start looking. This not only gives you a chance to investigate larger numbers of non-profits but also may give a non-profit ample time to plan for your group.
Possible Solution – Part 2: Think outside the box.
Is there another way you can involve your group without being front line volunteers? It’s not uncommon for a classroom to make cards for clients of a non-profit (think seniors' homes). Why not ask if there is a room that your class could make the cards right in the facility. Or if you are interested in helping the homeless, maybe you could make cookies at the organization. If that’s not possible, why not do it at your school and ask some staff and maybe even clients from the organization to come in and meet your students. If there’s something that you can do that gets your group to be at the organization but in a lower risk environment, that could be a great solution. Pair that with some kind of interaction with the staff and/or clients and you’ve achieved all you wanted from this activity. The key is to be creative, invite the volunteer coordinator to brainstorm with you and who knows what you’ll come up with!