Stuff To Ponder: Volunteer Bill of Rights

One of the many items I bookmarked to write on when I returned from my holiday break was an entry Robert Eggers did on the Volunteer Bill of Rights he helped institute at DC Central Kitchen. He said he took his inspiration from a concept championed by restaurant reviewers in the 1960s and 70s that diners had rights and didn’t have to take what was set before them if it was sub-par. (Hard to imagine there was a time when you didn’t send cold food back to the kitchen.) Eggers says this is what drove restaurants to offer better service and improved and expanded diners’ culinary knowledge to the point where we are now focused on the provenience of our food. One result he says is that every city now has great dining establishments rather than just a few cities.

In the same way the Internet provides a channel for customer driven feedback, Eggers feels that encouraging volunteer feedback and involvement will drive innovation faster than hiring expensive consultants. (DC Central Kitchen has 14,000 people volunteer every year which certainly does represent a lot of brain power.)

DC Central Kitchen’s bill of volunteer rights is:

ALL volunteers have the right to:
* Work in a safe environment.
* Be treated with respect by all staff members.
* Be engaged in meaningful work and be actively included regardless of any physical limitations.
* Be told what impact your work made in the community.
* Ask any staff member questions about our work.
* Provide feedback about your experience.
* Receive a copy of our financial information or annual report upon request.

They want their volunteers to ask the tough questions that will help them operate better, but Eggers says the middle right is the most important.

“….but the most purposeful of these is the one right in the middle—the right to “be told what impact your work made in the community”. THAT’S the kicker. We want, and think it’s critical, that every nonprofit in America be prepared to answer that question, in detail. No more fuzzy, feel good platitudes. No more bromides, brothers and sisters—it’s about facts and figures. Verifiable, Hard Core, Detailed Deeds.”

And following his philosophy of using the feedback of volunteers to make DC Central Kitchen run better, he solicits the assistance of the reader and offers some himself.

“We are an open source organization, so feel free to use this Bill of Rights in your shop. Add more rights if you see fit. If they rock, let us know so we can adapt our version. Call if you want and we’ll talk about how we trained our staff to translate talking to volunteers about these rights into opportunities to elevate the idea of what we are doing, together, so that folks can’t wait to come back—with friends, time and wallets in tow.”

Info You Can Use: Cost of Volunteering

Hopefully if I have planned well, the next post you see will be written by me upon my return from vacation. I have sort of saved the best for last. In this 2005 entry, I covered a study about the costs and benefits of volunteering. I think the topic is still very relevant because people probably don’t examine whether they are using volunteers to their best effect and if the time, energy and materials invested in training a volunteer is at least balanced by the volunteer’s productivity. There is also the shifting expectations of volunteers about their experience.

An excerpt from the entry-

One very interesting observation that the study makes is that half of the participants in the survey were unwilling or unable to accept more volunteers at the time. “This finding fundamentally challenges the assumption that the only requirement to engage more citizens in volunteer service is an effective call to serve.”

Calling All Men

I came across a pretty interesting piece on the Chronicle of Higher Education about motivating men to volunteer. If you are having difficulty getting men to volunteer or want to do a better job of inspiring men in their work, you may want to take a look at this.

As you might imagine from the source, the article is about motivating college men to volunteer more frequently and is a result of a $600,000 grant to study the issue on 14 campuses. However, one of scholars quoted near the end of the piece suggests, as with so many things, that the root behaviors and attitudes about involving oneself in service learning activities were developed as young boys. I am sure there are similarities for the way men react to a call for aid in post-collegiate life too.

Among the tactics the different participants identified as useful were enlisting peer leaders to promote opportunities and have people extend personal invitations. On the whole, they found that male students were externally motivated and would become involved when it was a requirement or a project of a group with which they were associated.

Language use also appeared important. The article notes that when an instructor shifted to more action oriented language- “‘Social Justice: A Service-Based Exploration” to “Working Toward Social Justice.”

‘She saw a pretty spontaneous increase in the number of men enrolled,’ Mr. Chesbrough said. ‘That plays to gender stereotypes, but those words were more likely to catch men’s attention.'”

This piece is too short to be making decisions that will reshape your volunteer recruitment and training. The book talking about the study is due out this summer if you really feel you need to make an effort to involve more men in your organization. There are also a few other books on the subject.

My only caveat is to be skeptical about some of the generalizations about gender you may come across. I have seen enough debunkings of methodology on similar studies to have a cautious approach. I don’t deny people are motivated to volunteer for different reasons. In my experience there just isn’t any straightforward consistency in them.

Just the same, I have never really thought that we might be attracting or losing male volunteers based on the way we structured the appeal and volunteering experience so the concept is something to consider.

Neither Carrot Nor Stick Does Creativity Make

A couple links as complement to my entry yesterday on motivation, customer service and volunteers.

First, Americans for the Arts, hearing President Obama’s call for Americans to volunteer more has created a website at which people can share their stories, pictures and videos – United We Serve.

A newly posted video on has Dan Pink talking about motivation. He provides some interesting findings about motivation, namely that when it comes to performing creative tasks conditional rewards (if you complete X by Y, you will receive Z bonus) are not as effective as intrinsic rewards in obtaining results. The conditional rewards actually get in the way of creative thinking. This may explain why arts people are able to create in the absence of monetary reward.

I wouldn’t let this get around lest people insist that paying you more may rob you of your creativity.

He makes a link to our current financial difficulties saying that there is a disconnects between what science has known for over 40 years and what businesses does, which is essentially the carrot and stick approach.

Pink says the new operating model should be based on:
“Autonomy- Urge to Direct Our Own Lives
Mastery- Desire to get better and better at something that matters, and
Purpose- The Yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.”

Sounds a lot like the way arts organization and non-profits have been running things for awhile. If the next wave of economy is indeed going to be Creative, then perhaps non-profits and those who work for them will have something of increasing value to offer. We just need to understand what we do, how to do it well and how to teach/model it for others.