Kamren Kubesh

Organizer @ TEDxUMN, Cuningham Group Architecture, P.A.


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What was your volunteer experience? The good and the bad.

I am doing some researching on the problems within out volunteer systems. I am looking for varying answers, it may be something personal or a large organization. What works and what does not work?

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      Apr 28 2013: What great experience you have, Kate!

      Training is so different in different organizations. I have volunteered places that offer no in-person training, rather using only training videos.

      I have worked places where there is supervision on site by more trained volunteers, where volunteers received classroom training, and where there was no training but where there was ready contact with a supervisor.

      I have volunteered places where the only training is a handbook on which one is given a test prior to the first day on the job.

      I have volunteered places that offer no training at all and no supervision.
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    Apr 28 2013: Great question.

    I think different volunteer experiences work for different people, depending on their goals for the experience. It is useful for potential volunteers to understand what they can expect to give and what they can expect to gain, or the organization can find itself a revolving door for volunteers that don't stay as long as would be ideal or who are poorly suited for the work at hand.

    Some people volunteer because they want mentoring and work experience. Such people may be frustrated if they are given tasks from which they do not learn anything and where they receive no training or mentoring.

    Some organizations give their volunteers too little to do or only mindless work. Volunteers time should not be used inefficiently, just because it is free to the organization.

    Particularly while people are learning their jobs, it really helps if volunteers are at least connected to each other in some way so they can help each other troubleshoot. It is also true that working on a team on something worthwhile is exactly what draws many people to volunteering, so they will likely be happier and more committed if they feel connected to something larger than themselves.

    Just as in a regular workplace, people will probably be more committed if they feel like they understand the organizations' mission and are a valued part of it. This is easy to communicate.

    It is best for the most unpleasant tasks to be assigned to people who are being paid to do it rather than to give that to volunteers.

    The talks that first came to mind to me related to your inquiry are Seligman on positive psychology, Ariely on motivation, and Yochai Benkler, though Benkler's law journal paper called Coase's Penguin is even more closely connected to the factors that drive commitment to volunteerism.
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    Apr 28 2013: The talk you linked is terrific and he nailed the bottom up idea which is the opposite of most organizations. As he says the key is to find out what is wanted. Thus eliminating the types of incidents that occur with the hippos.

    But you also need the top down which he also talks about. The idea is that you have to channel the inflow if it is one guy he is going to get blasted into oblivion but if you can divert the flow to channels which each area being handled by a different person.you have an organization. Which is that the whole is is greater than the sum of the parts. I will disagree with what the speaker said about planning which imo would be tantamount to driving a boat without a rudder.

    It is important to institute policy so you aren't making the same mistakes in perpetuity. If you have no policy you are forcing the guy to invent his own. This is at the heart of your training. Training towards the goal is the magic part of an organization and where you will become a Juggernaut. Cannot overstate the importance of this.

    I would look into lean manufacturing as this is relevant to any business.

    You need to establish metrics for the main areas of you business so that you are not basing your decisions off of opinion or rhetoric.

    You can determine the quality by comparing what you are doing to what the customer wants this guides the purpose of your business. Which is something that the customer wants. Don't think because you are a volunteer organization that you do not have a customer. The main goal of your organization should be very well known and trained toward if you assume you will be dissapointed.
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    May 26 2013: Two years ago I worked with Peace Corps Volunteers in my country, Ukraine - and I sill can't forget that wonderful year spent with people who actually CARE. We worked on HIV/AIDS problems and spread knowledge in schools and universities, discussed the tolerance issue and participated in various events. I've found out that GIVING is paid back not only with money. Money, actually, isn't always the best reward for your work. We saw our results in the eyes of people who gained knowledge, who became more careful to their health and we were happy about it!
  • Apr 29 2013: I did some interesting work looking at sources of funding for a charity, and whilst it was directed it was interesting. As soon as that task was completed, I stopped volunteering with them as there were no tasks on which to work.

    So, interesting and directed work is good. Just saying 'do what you can' doesn't work, maybe it does in other environments such as travel/volunteering.
  • Apr 28 2013: I worked as a Scout leader while my kids were in it for about 10 years. The experience improved me professionally and proved the adage "Scouting is its own reward".

    There were frustrations involving organizational bureaucracy, parents, and occasionally the kids, but all were relatively minor relative to the rewards. I went through the program as a boy and it helped me, so I came into the adult volunteer experience with a positive outlook. I think this is important for success as an adult leader in any volunteer experience. If you do not agree with the purpose, you might bring more harm than good.

    Scouting is very organized and structured. I liked that aspect of it. Not all volunteer experiences have this structure.

    There were places for many different talents, skills, and backgrounds in the program. Volunteers can serve in many ways.

    There is a structured program for recognizing adult volunteer. There are also many training opportunities, some required, some voluntary. Most of the leadership positions have a training path that leads to a volunteer 'knot' for adults. These knots represent training, experience, and honors received as an adult leader within the program. They are small, but are worn on a leader's uniform recognition of service.

    There were almost always a group of dad's, ex-leaders, and adult volunteers in our troop that made he adult experience pleasant and friendly. I think this fellowship was a big draw for adults. Many of the friendships established during the experience have endured beyond scouting. The hardships of the work part of the experience sort of galvanized the group.

    The lessons being taught to the boys were also interesting to adults. Similarly, the places we visited and outdoor experiences we had were also fun.

    Scouting has been around a long time. Perhaps how they treat their volunteers is part of the success.

    Maybe some of these concepts will help with your research.
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    May 1 2013: My volunteer experience is usually alerting my city to problems within the city, such as areas of high litter, grafitti, etc. What works is when you make a request to keep a record of the request, usually you can get a work order number, then, if it doesn't get cleaned up, you can call back and refer to the work order number.
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    Apr 29 2013: Thank you so much for the great responses so far! I am a little surprised by the number of responses I have received. The stories and tips have been great and very useful! They have reinforced some of the ideas and structures that must take place within an organizations to make it a good volunteer experience. Thank you and I look forward to hearing more!
  • Apr 28 2013: Volunteer work usually involves dealing with a bureaucracy - so there are laways pluses and minuses.