“Men don’t volunteer as much as women do,” or so says conventional wisdom. But Susan Ellis counters: “Men volunteer a lot; they’re just not called volunteers. They’re called coaches and firemen!”
With new waves of stimulus package volunteers and retirement-age volunteers coming down the road, it’s even more urgent that we change the way we talk — and think — about volunteers.
Old language (often said in apologetic tone): “We have only a few staff, so we have to rely on volunteers.” New language: “Because we have so many volunteers, we don’t need more than a few staff.”
Old: “Our volunteers help us [staff] so much!” gushes a nonprofit staffperson. New: “Volunteers help the patients so much!”
Old: “We have a couple of volunteers who help with the newsletter,” said the director of a nonprofit legal services organization, adding, “Oh yeah! And some pro bono attorneys.” New: “Our organization is lucky to have pro bono attorneys, pro bono writers, and pro bono graphics and layout staff.”
Old: “We have 25 staff and 175 volunteers,” said a museum director starting a speech. New: “We have 200 staff, of whom 175 are volunteers and 25 are paid.”
To quote Susan Ellis again: “Paul Revere made his living as a silversmith. But he’s remembered for what he did as a volunteer.”
If you’re a volunteer (messenger, revolutionary, American hero like Paul), print out this article and give it to the volunteers and staff you work with. Let’s change not only the world, but the way we talk about it. –Jan Masaoka
* This issue hear from an Air Force captain who moved to the nonprofit sector; learn how to accelerate board recruitment, and Take a 3-Minute Vacation to the Land of Your Dreams.