People are the Big Why

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Sitting in a coffee shop on a rainy June afternoon, I am sharing Vantage Point’s people engagement philosophy with someone who has never heard of us before. We are discussing why Vantage Point chooses to engage highly-skilled volunteers in its organizational model. It may seem like a simple question, but it’s really a big WHY.

Oh I get it” says my guest, “by engaging talented people you don’t require as much money to deliver your mission”. I hum and haw. This statement isn’t untrue, but it’s not accurate of WHY we engage talented volunteers.  I try and explain again. She thinks she comprehends: “So you want to engage highly-skilled volunteers because you can achieve more without having to pay more staff”. Hmmm…I’m still not quite getting my message across. How can I convince her that this has little to do with money and everything to do with people? Being people-first means that this is the lens that drives everything we do. The financial piece is only one outcome. It’s not the driver.

Why am I having so much trouble explaining this?

Then two days later the words I’ve been searching for appear on my desk in a Nonprofit Quarterly article by Peter O’Donnell, It’s a New(Old) Day for Volunteerism: Crowdsourcing Social Change. I’m paraphrasing now, but essentially O’Donnell states that successful volunteer mobilization is about leadership and staff at all levels seeing volunteer participation as crucial to an organization’s success (yes - that’s what we think!).  That organizations value volunteers so highly that they give them freedom to serve and lead in ways that meet their goals and build structures that truly empower volunteers to do great things, not simply support the efforts of paid staff (yes, yes, yes – that’s what we do!).

That’s it, that’s what I’m talking about. As a not-for-profit we are “owned” by the community and therefore our social license to operate includes providing meaningful opportunities for people to become connected to the cause. It’s not an add-on to be more efficient or effective, it’s an imperative. We serve the community beyond ourselves and we do this through volunteerism. Volunteers are a required part of our team and we owe it to them to provide ways to harness their passion AND their talents to “do great things”. Just as we owe that to paid staff. Social movements are about an abundance of willing and talented people becoming mobilized to make significant change happen. Not about an organization filling in its financial gaps with unpaid people. As a community organization, our responsibility is to the people. 

That’s the “why” for us. Is that the “why” in your organization?   

About the Author

Annastasia Forst contributed her creative and analytic work ethic (not an oxymoron) to Vantage Point as a past Director of Learning. She is passionate about working with many talented knowledge philanthropists to develop, deliver and evaluate Vantage Point’s board and executive leadership...

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Vancouver, BC V6E 2X5


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