Volunteering without ‘saviourism’

Helping to find solutions

I’m a lucky person. Actually, let’s use the real word. I’m privileged. I’m white, cisgendered, well-off financially and fully able-bodied. I know that my path, mostly because of things out of my control, has been smooth. I also know that there are places where I’m not even aware that the path could be rough. I’m grateful for that.

Like many people who realize their good fortune, I want to give back. I see people whose lives aren’t as easy as mine and I want to help. I want to remove the rocks from their path. And so far, so good.

“Saviourism,” however, rears its ugly head when people like me feel that we can fix the problems of a group or community of which we aren’t a part. (White “saviourism” is the most common form, but saviourism can also show up in other ways, such as well-off people offering advice to those who are struggling financially, etc). It comes when we think that we have solutions the community itself hasn’t thought of. We don’t.

Let’s face it, challenges always look easier from the outside.

We have good intentions, we just don’t have the intimate knowledge or experience. We don’t know the extent of the issue. We may not even understand what the real issue is! We simply can’t come in and solve other peoples’ difficulties.

And even if we could, it’s not our place. Even if our solution would work, it may not be one that the community itself would be comfortable with.

Think about it this way. Here in North America, we have a number of problems caused by our capitalistic society. That doesn’t mean we want someone from a communist society, for example, to come in and “cure” our headaches by installing a communist system here. It may solve the problems of capitalism, but we wouldn’t like it, and it would bring in its own issues. A communist society would not want us to go in and solve their issues with our capitalist programs.

The same goes for traditionally marginalized groups. A solution that may work for us, may not be right for them. We need to be OK with that.

We can’t assume that, because we can’t see anything being done to solve the problems we see, that no one is doing anything. There may be many grassroots organizations or individuals within the community that are working hard in the background. Significant progress can be made without being obvious.

How do we volunteer, then, without falling into the “saviourism” trap? During a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion workshop I attended, I heard a quote that really resonated with me (I have it written on the whiteboard in front of my desk).

“We can’t create equity for people. We have to co-create it with them.,” said Dr. Moussa Magassa, a professor at the University of Victoria. “And that is how we can avoid saviourism.”

We need to support the community in its efforts, rather than trying to take over. We have to do our research. Before we volunteer, we should find out what organizations from the affected community are working on the issue that concerns us. Look at the people on the staff or boards of societies that are involved in the challenge. If they are not, or mostly not, part of the affected community, keep looking.

It’s also important for us to try to find someone who was talking before anyone was listening.

Some causes can become bandwagons that privileged people jump on (again, with the best intentions), because they’ve made the news or were taken up by a famous person. If we really want to help that cause, we must join with the person or people who were fighting for that cause before it became well-known.

They will know more about it than anyone else and may already have a structure in place we can become a part of. They may also have tried some of those solutions we think are so good.

If we are already part of an organization that is working for one of those causes, we need to take a look around. What people are missing from the conversation, even if they’re in the room? If the ideas and decisions are all coming from voices of privilege, there’s a problem.

We need to listen. We need to talk with and learn from people in the community. What are the issues really and what is their scope? We need to listen and learn before we offer any solutions, and even if our solutions would work, understand they may not be accepted. And that’s OK. Our only role is to assist them in finding their own resolutions.

We need to be co-conspirators, not saviours. You never know, we might actually make a difference that way.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Finding and using corporate volunteers

Corporate volunteers

Are corporate volunteers part of your program’s strategy? You might want them to be.

Good journalism starts with answering the five Ws – who, what, where, when and why. The Ws can be used to explain more than news stories. They’re a great way to understand a lesser-known concept, like involving corporate volunteers.

I’m going to take them out of order, though, and start with “what.”

What are corporate volunteers?

There are a few different ways that a corporation or group can bolster your volunteer program, depending on how they are set up.

One is by encouraging their employees to volunteer in the community through providing paid volunteer time off or other rewards and incentives. In this case, each individual chooses which organization to volunteer with. You, as leader of volunteers, would treat them in the same way as any other volunteer, with perhaps a media shout-out to the company. Because of that, this blog will focus on the next method.

The second way is that the company can participate in larger scale volunteer events or projects. An example of this might be to provide a number of employees to help the organization with running a fundraising gala, or by building all new kennels for your animal shelter.

Finally, they can provide a pool of highly experienced managers and executive to serve on your board of directors.

Why corporate volunteers?

Well, besides the fact that most organizations are always looking for skilled volunteers, by reaching out to local companies, you can increase awareness of your cause.

Depending on the size of the company, you may introduce your organization to dozens or hundreds of new converts. This not only can bring you new volunteers, but it may also bring you new donors. Also, when corporations are involved with an organization, it is to their benefit to promote what they’re doing, so you get the spin-off marketing.

By having a corporate group come in to do large-scale projects, you can reduce the wear and tear on regular volunteers. This can help reduce burnout, and allows the regulars to keep to their usual schedule.

An extra bonus of having corporate groups is you don’t need to do the regular screening and training you would have to do for individual volunteers. The company is responsible for the behaviour of their staff while volunteering for you and roles for events and projects tend not to require the same in-depth training as other roles.

Who are the companies that have volunteering programs?

So now you know what corporate volunteers can do, and why you might want to involve them, who are they?

Start by talking with other organizations in your community. Who have they brought in to do project work? What was their experience like? Next, reach out to your local chamber of commerce or board of trade. They may have a list of companies that are willing to do volunteer work, or they may allow you to reach out to their members.

Finally, use good-old Google. Research companies that have been noted for volunteer work in the past. You may come across old news articles about their contributions, or they may even have a page on their website dedicated to their social impact work.

Where do you start?

You’ve decided that you want to involve corporate volunteers, and you may even know a couple of companies that have volunteer programs. Now what? Where do you start?

First, look at the tasks and projects you have coming up. Is there something that needs doing that you’ve been putting off because you don’t want to overload the volunteers you currently have? Reach out to the group and find out if they’re interested, and what they need from you to move forward.

When should you involve corporate volunteers?

Bringing in corporate volunteers for one-off tasks is ideal. Rather than involving them in day-to-day tasks, think in terms of projects. Maybe your thrift store needs to be reorganized, or your hospice needs to be painted. Perhaps you have a food drive coming up. Maybe you just need a new fence built.

These kinds of projects are ideal for group volunteering. You say what needs doing, and the company brings in the people to do it. You can even target specific companies for specific projects – a retail outlet to help reorganize the thrift store, or a construction company to build your fence. This gives you skilled labour, and it gives the company a chance to market themselves.

Involving corporate volunteers should be a key part of your program’s strategy.

There are incredible benefits all around: to your organization and the cause it serves, the company you partner with, and the volunteers themselves.

And that’s the five Ws of corporate volunteering.

As for that tag-along "H" in the five Ws explanation, "how" (as in how do you set up your program to involve them?), I’ll answer that in another column.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Dealing with unappreciative clients

Helping volunteers cope

It happened near the end of a long, stressful shift.

A client came up to the registration desk, and blasted the volunteer for the length of time it took to get through the people in line ahead of her.

Fortunately, a supervisor was walking by at the time. Laying a comforting hand on the volunteer’s shoulder, the supervisor explained to the client that the volunteers were all working as quickly as they could, and while she understood that the client was under a lot of stress, to please not take it out on the volunteer.

Has anything like this ever happened to you? It’s a hard thing to deal with. Unfortunately, other than posting signs asking people to be respectful of the volunteers, and stepping in when a problem occurs, there isn’t much we as leaders can do to instil appreciation—or even courtesy—in unappreciative clients.

And maybe we shouldn’t try.

Let’s face it, the clients are there because something horrible has happened or is happening in their lives and they don’t have the emotional bandwidth to care about anyone other than themselves and their families.

In the situation above, the client was one of close to 1,500 people who were evacuated from their homes at a moment’s notice because of a fast-moving wildfire. She didn’t know whether her house was still standing. Her dog had wandered off just before the evacuation order so she didn’t know whether it was alive or not. She had nothing but her purse and the clothes she was standing in. Her life was in ruins and she had to stand in line two hours before she could even register as an evacuee at the reception centre.

Suddenly a stressful shift sounds pretty minor, doesn’t it?

So, what can we do? What doesn’t work is becoming resentful, and lecturing unappreciative clients about being nicer. They are already teetering on the edge, and adding more to their emotional load will only make things worse. In fact, the only really useful thing you can do is encourage the volunteers to not expect the clients to appreciate what they do.

Help them understand the mental state that the clients are in. Teach them the value they provide is not measured by thank-yous but by the difference they are making in people’s lives—whether those people recognize it or not.

In other words, intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation.

I’m not in any way saying volunteers should accept verbal or physical abuse. There is no excuse for that. Just don’t expect clients to be pleasant or sympathetic and understanding of the volunteer’s situation. If volunteers can develop that kind of mindset, the clients who do have the ability to express their appreciation will seem like superstars, rather than just average people. The clients who don’t have that ability won’t be seen as terrible, but as people who need even more care and attention.

Finally, you, as the leader, need to provide the appreciation and understanding that the clients can’t. Ten fold. That’s because volunteers need appreciation, and lots of it. —just not necessarily from the clients they serve.

The client mentioned above lost her home to the fire, but her dog was found and rescued by a neighbour. Her insurance kicked in and allowed her to rebuild. And the next day, she found the volunteer and apologized for her behaviour.

As leaders of volunteers, it’s up to us to build resilience in our teams to help them deal with situations like unappreciative clients—and to thank them for their service when the client can’t.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

'AIDA' is a good process to follow when recruiting volunteers

Using 'AIDA' to recruit

There is a simple acronym that marketing people use—AIDA—that can help you recruit volunteers.

AIDA stands for attention, interest, desire and action. This is the four-step process that everyone goes through before a purchase—or any other decision.

My marketing guru friend, Patty, uses this analogy. Think about walking in a grocery store. You cut down the cereal aisle and you notice a particular brand (it’s got a bright red box). You may or may not be actually looking for cereal, but this one grabs your attention.

You pick up the box and read that it’s sugar-free but still delicious. Hey, that’d be nice. Now you’re interested.

You read the ingredients and other info and realize it gets its deliciousness from real raspberries – your favourite. A desire to try it grows in you.

Whether you were originally looking for cereal or not, you take action by putting the box in your cart.

Cycle complete. Attention. Interest. Desire. Action.

When buying a box of cereal, this process may only take a few seconds but the exact same process is gone through when making any purchase, even buying a house. It also works for things that don’t actually involve money.

Let’s look at it from a volunteer recruitment perspective, from the point of view of a prospective volunteer – me!

Attention—Understand, there is no way I’ll volunteer for you if I don’t know you exist. Pretty basic. I need to know you’re out there. This is where your organization’s community awareness strategy comes into play, just like the bright red cereal box on the grocery shelf. The more people who notice you, the easier it is to find volunteers (and donors, clients and other stakeholders). Spend some time thinking about what you can do to raise your organization’s profile in your community.

Interest—Once you have my attention, you want to interest me in what you do. On your website, in general conversation, on social media and in any other way that you can think of, tell me – and everyone else – about the wonderful ways that you are making a difference in our community. Tell stories about the clients you’ve helped, the beaches you’ve cleaned. The impact that you’re making.

Desire—Now that I see what amazing work you’re doing, I’m starting to wonder how I can get involved. Again, on your website and other platforms, talk about what volunteers do for the organization and what a difference they make. Show how easy it is to volunteer, and list the benefits that would come to me by volunteering with you. Tell about how much fun the volunteers have, and what a great social community I could be part of. Make it easy for me to see myself in one of your volunteer roles. I want to help your cause! I want to be part of your team.

Action—Now all you need to do is make it easy for me to sign up. The simpler and more convenient it is to apply, the more likely it is that I will. You have caught my attention, excited my interest and stirred my desire. All that’s left is to have me take action. Don’t make me jump through hoops at this point. Make it as easy as dropping a cereal box in my grocery cart, or clicking a button that takes me directly to an application form. The interviews, security checks and all of that can come afterward. By then, I’ll be hooked. Don’t make me phone someone, or print a form and upload it, or anything else that takes extra work.

As a leader in charge of recruiting volunteers, you are a marketer. If you think about the recruitment process the same as you would retail marketing, you will find that the same techniques work just as well to find volunteers.

As my friend Patty says, you don’t need to sell people anything, you just need to make it easy for them to buy, or in this case, volunteer.

Using the AIDA process will do that for you. Good luck.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More Volunteer Matters articles

About the Author

Karen Knight has provided volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations for more than 25 years.

Her professional life has spanned many industries, working in both the private and public sectors in various leadership positions.

Through her passion for making a difference in the world, she has gained decades of experience in not-for-profits as a leader and a board member.

Karen served in Toastmasters International for more than 25 years, in various roles up to district director, where she was responsible for one of the largest Toastmasters districts in the world.

She oversaw a budget of $250,000 and 300 individual clubs with more than 5,000 members. She had 20 leaders reporting directly to her and another 80 reporting to them—all volunteers.

Karen currently serves as vice-president of the board of directors for the Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association.

After many years working and volunteering with not-for-profits, she found many leaders in the sector have difficulty with aspects of volunteer programs, whether in recruiting the right people, assigning those people to roles that both support the organization’s mission and in keeping volunteers enthusiastic.

Using hands-on experience, combined with extensive study and research, she helps solve challenges such as volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations.

Karen Knight can be contacted at [email protected], or through her website at https://karenknight.ca/.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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