Volunteer Organizations: Why are some effective, others not? | Eastern North Carolina Now

Ineffective groups tend to be top-down driven.  The officers don't change very often, and when they do, they're often just swapping chairs.  They say they want help, but their clique is tight, and if anyone new manages to get in, they tend to be picked on and complained about.


    We conservatives tend to notice what's wrong with our republic and what's wrong with the world, and as a result, some of us seek out organizations that share our values.  There's comfort in confirmation, and groups of people working cooperatively can multiply one's efforts.  It's more than addition.  It's multiplication.  I've noticed that certain traits mark effective groups.  Ineffective groups tend to have very different traits.  Tell me how a group works, and I can probably tell you whether that group is effective or not.  I'll bet you can too if you think about it.

    Ineffective groups tend to be top-down driven.  The officers don't change very often, and when they do, they're often just swapping chairs.  They say they want help, but their clique is tight, and if anyone new manages to get in, they tend to be picked on and complained about.  Oh, and everyone is super aware of who gets the credit for this, that, or the other thing.  Egos tend to be large, but fragile.  Members of the clique fail to see the valuable traits of others, but oh boy, can they ever make a catalogue of their flaws!  They tend to "meet, greet, perhaps eat, and then retreat."

    In interesting contrast, effective groups tend to have a lot of people willing to take on responsibility for some area of the group's goals.  They attract self-motivated, well organized people who have disdain for "make work," but who are willing to work hard to achieve worthy goals.  Volunteer groups typically have documents that guide them.  By-Laws, a Plan of Organization, a Mission Statement, and/or a Statement of Goals are typical.  People who accept an area of responsibility are expected to be guided by those documents and their own common sense.  Often people who serve as a president or chairman of an organization for a year or two, see an area that offers opportunity and seeks to take advantage of that opportunity when another president or chairman is elected. 

    Examples of seeing areas of opportunity might be thinking, "If we had better PR, we could have better attendance at meetings, and grow our membership.  I'd like to volunteer to work on that."  Another possibility is thinking, "Our members don't really understand the US Constitution like we should.  I'd like to volunteer to have a series of classes on our founding documents and the design of our government."  Still another is, "Our finances are holding us back.  If we had more money, we could have great speakers with national reputations, attract more people to our programs, and persuade more people to our worldview.  I've got some ideas for fund raisers; I think I'll volunteer to do that."  In effective organizations, these sorts of things are met with cheerful, unequivocal acceptance and appreciation.  There is no sense of competition.  Only appreciation for another willing pair of hands.  The work of the organization is seen as expansive, even limitless, and when the preponderance of members feel that way; it is!       

    People thrive in such organizations.  They invest their ideas, talents, time, and often money, too.  They see results that are beyond what they could achieve alone and are buoyed by it.  When they do have a "down" day (or period of time), they have hard working buddies who carry the ball without their help for a while knowing full well the favor is apt to be returned at a later date. 

    Effective volunteer groups are like highly functional interdependent families of independent people.  While sadly, ineffective volunteer groups are like dysfunctional families; in-fighting tends to be epic.  If the pay is high enough, some people will put up with an awful lot, but effective volunteers demand the psychic rewards of succeeding in something worthwhile and having enough elbow room to actually make a difference.  If you belong to such an organization, cherish and nurture it and your fellow members; they have great value.

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