We (Heart) Volunteers

Volunteers have been supporting the activities and budgets of public media stations from the beginning; ever since the olden days when we were known as public broadcasting. Digital media, and telecommunications introduced new tools that help stations collect pledges and data, e.g., via online donation forms or call centers.

Of course, many stations still utilize volunteers for pledge collection during on-air campaigns. The volunteer recruitment process for pledge volunteers (even for television) can be daunting. I have observed that there seem to be fewer people raising their hands to participate in this type of volunteer activity, even though more volunteers are participating in all manner of capacities for non-profits. In addition, the rules around PCI data privacy compliance can put stations in peril should any sensitive data be compromised. There is also the opportunity cost to stations, as personnel are shifted to recruiting, scheduling, feeding, managing, and following up with pledge drive volunteers.

With station personnel stretched to the max, there is some merit in exploring ways to both preserve the time spent on core fundraising activities and provide our devoted volunteers with meaningful, purposeful, and satisfying opportunities to make a difference in the organization.

One way is to assess the tasks currently carried out by volunteers, as well as the skill sets your volunteers bring to the table.

First Generation
The timing was right for that first generation of volunteers: we needed people who would answer phone banks, stuff envelopes, shepherd items in and out of auctions, and help us send out premiums. This is the generation that lined up to donate blood and rubber tires during WWII. Many of them, including the Korean War generation, are still volunteering in our offices.

Second Generation
The Baby Boomers, who essentially built, staffed, and managed public broadcasting stations, are now the second generation of volunteers. In retirement, this well-educated set of former professionals are interested in lending their expertise in management and leadership to non-profits. These volunteers can be valuable resources to help us make strategic decisions about the direction and scope of the organization. As members of advisory boards, they can also help us raise money and awareness.

Third Generation
Generation X and Millennials (those who were born into a world that always had public broadcasting)come with a different energy and set of skills that could also help stations move forward in ways we couldn’t have dreamed. For example, a couple of younger fans wrote an app for a public radio station in California that mapped out places where the station’s member discount card could be used.

In the next post, I’ll talk about ways to start moving away from process-oriented volunteer assignments (such as answering phones during pledge drives) and toward volunteer engagement that will help us raise more money, and refocus volunteer and staff time.

Barry NelsonComment