The Volunteer Sweet Spot
One summer I spent a bit more time at the golf course. My son's golf instructor talked to him about finding the "sweet spot" on his club to maximize his golf swing. I like the term. It has a nice ring to it. Wikipedia defines the sweet spot as "a place where a combination of factors results in a maximum response for a given amount of effort.1" As I think about how this relates to volunteers, where would you define the "sweet spot" of volunteering?
Volunteers are a great resource for nonprofit organizations, schools and community-based projects. Organizations use volunteers to complete tasks like cleaning, accounting, making copies and working at events. Not always the most glamorous jobs, but tasks that are essential to the work of the organization. Volunteers can also provide leadership for committees and comprise the Board of Directors. Volunteers are also the best advocates by providing a voice in the community for the organization’s mission and work. Volunteers meet a critical need by providing resources and helping to increase the organization’s impact.
On the other hand, volunteers also benefit from helping the organization. A volunteer often connects with an organization because they share a passion for the mission of the organization and want to be involved. It is often a way for volunteers to use or expand their skills outside of paid work. The volunteer may become involved with the organization to connect with others sharing the same passion for a cause. Each volunteer has a unique set of reasons for choosing to help a particular organization.
The "sweet spot" in volunteering happens when the passions and needs of the person align with the mission and needs of the organization. While a volunteer who has a passion for the organization and is skilled at event planning may be willing to make copies all day, they may be more likely to continue volunteering for an extended time if the organization utilized their skills as an event planner.
The challenge for volunteers and organizations is to recognize the connection between their needs. Organizations need to get to know their volunteers and volunteers should be willing to share what their true needs are in terms of available time, skills and tasks they are willing to accomplish. One of the best volunteers I ever worked with was a recently retired business owner. It would have been natural to assume she would be willing to lead a project. However, upon talking with her, she shared her favorite part of retirement was no longer having to be some place at a specific time. I found her plenty of tasks that were not deadline driven and could be done at her convenience. It was a great fit for both of us. It was our “sweet spot!” Where are your volunteer “sweet spots?”
1. "Sweet Spot (sports)." - Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, N.p., n.d. Web Sept. 2013.