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Volunteering is a team sport…and you are the Coach

Volunteering is a team sport. You are the coach.  Coach your volunteers to be successful.  

I know… it seems like analogy to sports is a cliché and often overused.  But there is a good reason, most people can relate to different types of sporting events.  And they activate emotions.  You have an event or competition you are preparing your team for.  For the upcoming event, you have a strategy, a plan, that you’re preparing your team for. You practice the skills and plays they will need to execute. You are preparing your volunteers for an event, each time they are called into to service.  It is about coaching.

To effectively coach your volunteers, consider four elements:

  • The Plan
  • The individual assignments they will need to execute to be successful
  • The importance of the contribution to overall team success
  • The encouragement and reinforcement of effective execution

The Plan

Most people understand the importance of having a Plan.  It provides the direction in which you are moving.  What you want to accomplish during the month, quarter, year or given period of time. Most organizations have strategic plan. It is a formal document.  It may even be posted for all to see. That is the starting point. How well can all the members of your organization articulate the Plan?  Do you have a condensed version of the Plan with the points clearly identified? 

The Plan is a living document.  However, it is sometimes a posting that is fading with age because it is not refreshed.  Is your plan fading from view because it has not been updated or refreshed?

The Assignment

Sometimes the specific assignments for individual volunteer members are not clear or not communicated to the individuals.  Each team member has an action, or assignment, to carry out.  Do they understand what that action is?  Do they understand how it fits together with what other team members are doing? Do they understand the purpose and importance of why it needs to be done in a certain manner or fashion?

What is the playbook for your strategic plan?

The Contribution

The contribution of each volunteer is important and make a difference in the overall outcome.

Most times, the value of the individual volunteer’s contribution to the success of the Plan is not fully communicated to the volunteers.  How often do you let a volunteer know the importance of their individual contribution and why it makes a difference to the overall success of the Plan?  Do we take the contribution for granted?  Do we automatically expect them to make the contribution?  Do we expect them to continue making contributions in the future?

Repetition and Reinforcement

When you prepare your team for an event or competition, how many times do you repeat the plays?  Once, twice?  Or, more? How often do repeat and reinforce what they do?  And it is not only the number of times, but also the frequency over a long period of time. It is about practice.  You may have heard the phrase, “practice makes perfect”.  Practice makes permanent…perfect practice make perfect. It is about doing it the right way…the effective way…that will make the difference.

Repetition and Reinforcement is usually absent. The reason for this is because we are busy with other things. Have you ever felt you just do not have enough time with your volunteers?  We know what the Plan is, we have assigned the tasks.  We know the contribution of the value the volunteer is making.  But do each of your volunteers know? It is so important to effectively communicate the value of each volunteer’s contribution to the success of the executing the Plan.

Certainly, we must have reminded them.  How do you remind them?

Signs, phrases, slogans, images posted in the offices, workspaces, around the station.  They must be there.  Right?  Not necessarily.  Some may say that they may be overdone.  What and where are the reminders?  You put up signs reminding them to use proper lifting techniques.  The reason is for their safety and to prevent injuries to their back.  You put up signs reminding them to be careful about slippery surfaces and to prevent injuries from falls. Reminders may be about compliance, but their purpose is for the benefit and wellbeing of others.

Slogans are short and easy to remember.  They repeat and reinforce values and purpose. Here are some examples:

  • Semper Fi
  • Be All that You can Be
  • The only way to make headway is to head the same way.
  • Coming together, sharing together, working together, succeeding together.
  • TEAM Together Everyone Achieves More.

The posting of slogans should be colorful, attractive, easily seen and understood.  Frame the posters.  Put them in an area where they are visible.  Use them as a coaching tool not just wall decorations.

Effective Coaching is Effective Communication

Great coaches understand effective coaching is effective communication.  Often times, people see a coach as a one-way communicator.  Sometimes, very loud and demanding. Remember that communicating with your volunteers involves speaking, listening and understanding. Individuals may communicate with the emphasis being on speaking or telling others about their position or point of view.  How well do they listen to what others are saying to them?  Most importantly, how effectively are they at understanding what is being communicated by others?

I encourage you to learn more about famous and successful coaches.  It is more about their ability to attract, motivate and retain talented athletes that the sport itself.  Coaches have different styles based on their personalities. Consider their philosophies and the life lessons they teach.  Select the ones that work for you and your volunteer organization.

  • Volunteering is a team sport.  Coach your team for success.
  • Develop and communicate the Plan to everyone in your organization.
  • Articulate individual assignments and their importance.
  • Explain the importance of each volunteer’s contribution to overall team success.
  • Use frequent and consistent reinforcement.