Volunteer or You’re Fired

When somebody offers you their time or wisdom or any other resource, recognize this, that a gift is being shared with you. Now, it’s true that your benefactor might be gaining something of value in return, whether something concrete from the outcome you create or more abstract (but still so very important)  like a deeper relationship with you. Of course the list doesn’t stop there.

I remember a marketing class project from a couple of years ago on behalf of a local company. The firm wanted our help in developing a charitable community service event, one with almost no budget but still many needs. One of those needs was people; they needed people to help run the event. Our class discussion turned to this topic and many in the room agreed that we would need to recruit volunteers. This was a marketing project in itself, convincing people to exchange their time and energy and their very presence in exchange for a return that may be totally abstract. Not an easy ask.

“Sure it is,” challenged one student.

Several classmates turned to him, some in disbelief.

“Really? What’s so easy about finding volunteers?” replied one, who herself was an active participant in her local community events.

The first student responded. “Look, it’s not a big deal. You tell some local businesses to tell their employees to show up on Saturday. We do it all the time.”

I knew that this student was used to being on the telling end of such conversations more than on the being-told side of the deal. And you might say that his privilege was showing.

It was a good lesson in perspective for the class, and for me. We have to understand that we don’t all see the world through the same lens. That what we think is wrong might seem like nothing but right to somebody else. How can we work with that person on the opposite end of the telescope?

There’s a more pragmatic lesson too, in that sometimes the answer to finding a lot of resources is to find one person (or company) that has a lot of those resources at their disposal, rather than mining for one at a time.

What can you offer in exchange for those resources? What can your partner gain? The answer is never “nothing.” And how can your relationship grow so you both maintain the mutual benefits of your partnership?

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