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.

A Folding Table, A Jug of Water and Thou Sweating In The Parking Lot

I am reading a book about customer service right now. My intention is to report some observations on the text as a whole at some point. However, I saw an illustration of one of the points made in an early chapter today. The book had noted the veracity of “time flies when you are having fun” pointing out that a well designed wait that is 30 minutes long can actually seem shorter than a poorly designed wait that is only a third as long. Because human perception is involved, you can ruin a relationship with a customer in the latter situation even though you significantly reduced their wait time.

Our campus is in a situation with many strikes against it. Budgets have been cut so staffing is down but enrollment is up adding an additional 1500 student to our commuter campus. Alas, the heretofore un(der) used overflow parking is now inaccessible due to long delayed construction projects.

There wasn’t much to be done about the parking unfortunately, but someone got organized this year and had information tables distributed about the campus with all sorts of hand outs and big coolers of water. There were also large color campus maps that someone slapped up on the sides of buildings so people didn’t have to seek out kiosks to figure out where they were.

I looked around wondering why no one had thought to do this before. People had always volunteered to serve an hour or so on the welcome committee but it was never this organized or welcoming. People stood around smiling, answering questions and engaging people who looked lost. Now there is a table identifiable as a source of information from a distance that is stocked with information—and most importantly after trekking in from that parking space in the hinterlands you stalked for 30 minutes–water to drink.

While I walked around comparing what I was seeing to previous years, I realized that tweaking your customer service up a level or two doesn’t just help your relationship with those you serve. It also sends a message to other employees about the commitment of the organization. Memos about improving service are useful and identify areas for improvement. In this case, there were no memos that went out about how things were going to be done better—it was just done.

I am obviously someone whose business it is to think about improving customer interactions so I notice such things. But I have to believe that others noticed the improvement, how it fit in the context of other recent changes and what it all says about the direction of the organization.

I also had some insight into the issue of providing volunteers with opportunities to feel they are doing important work. I have never really had much desire to volunteer for welcoming slots before. Today when I witnessed the increased effort at hospitality, I had a desire to participate next time around. (Just have to remember not to schedule sending the brochure to the printer, interviewing a ticket office clerk and starting internet sales on this day next time.) In previous years, my impression of the job was that it provided a pleasant first impression of the institution and directions to buildings. With the addition of tables, maps and water jugs, suddenly it seems like an important contribution to relieving anxious new arrivals.

We are planning a volunteer luncheon/training in a few weeks so perhaps I am in a receptive mindset on the subject. We have been thinking about how to design the volunteering experience so people have a greater feeling of doing something of value. We have been discussing increasing volunteers’ scope of responsibility and authority. I believe we also have to consider if these duties will allow them to feel they are providing a service patrons find valuable. Though certainly, people volunteer for different reasons and more authority may be a bigger motivator than being useful.

Human Touch Is Always Important

Back in March I had mentioned that we were in the process of re-evaluating our emergency procedures and noted we had recently had automated external defibrillators (AED) installed.

If you aren’t familiar with them, AEDs are designed to save lives by essentially talking untrained people through the process of shocking a person’s heart back into a normal rhythm. The machine can detect a normal heartbeat so that you can’t actually use it on someone who doesn’t need it. (Such as part of a fraternity prank.) In fact, it is apparently mandated that the machine rather than a human make the decision as to whether a shock should be administered. The devices were first deployed around O’Hare airport and were such a success at saving lives, you can see them placed all over these days.

I was refreshing my CPR/First Aid training today in a session that also dealt with AED use. Due to my impression that the machines empowered an untrained person to save a life, I was surprised to learn that CPR training was an essential component of AED use and training. The AED isn’t of any use on those whose hearts have stopped but can help if your efforts at CPR have managed to establish a rhythm. (Our model at least coaches you on whether your compressions are deep enough and provides metronome cues to keep you on pace.) Of course, CPR should be started while you are waiting for the AED to be retrieved.

There are apparently companies that eschew the CPR training and insist only on the AED training depending pretty much entirely on its abilities and those of anyone who may be passing at the time. I don’t care if the machine gets to decide whether to administer a shock. Given how much arts organizations depend on the goodwill of that community, I can’t imagine eliminating human contact in favor of a machine is wise when it comes to life saving. It was a good idea to have some CPR trained staff before the AED came on the scene and it still seems prudent even with the presence of equipment that greatly increases survival rates.

Another interesting tidbit I learned, though I can’t attest to its veracity, is that most of the first AEDs manufactured were red. Given the association of red with emergency services, this seems logical. According to our trainer, lay people were less likely to use the AEDs because they perceived them to be emergency personnel only equipment. Seems reasonable, but maybe he was just trying convince us to accept ugly neon green AEDs.

While that little fact has nothing to do with the importance of training our staffs, it does illustrate just how important even the most subtle design choices can influence people. (And lends credence to the consultants who get paid to obsess over what tie a political candidate is going to wear.)