Lessons Learned: Invest in Volunteerism

What’s better than a volunteer? A volunteer who can train other volunteers.

Habitat for Humanity is well-known for its use of volunteers.  Many of you have probably swung a hammer or dipped a paintbrush with a local Habitat affiliate. And our  team did a lot of hammering and painting during build days.  After all, when 20 extra able bodies show up to your site, having lots of easy, low-skill work is great.

Take this paint brush.  Paint.  (Of course, being hospitable, Habitat did say ‘Please.’)

While pulling in large groups of eager volunteers is important to certain parts of construction, it’s not as pivotal as you might think.  Schools (especially high schools and universities), churches, and other community institutions are regular suppliers of volunteer groups.  The real challenge is organizing these able bodies to use their time and energy most efficiently, which benefits Habitat (lots of quality work is accomplished) and the volunteers (feel like they really accomplished something).

So, who organizes these herds of volunteers?  Often, it’s other volunteers.  But these aren’t just average, weekend volunteers… these are super-volunteers,  “The Regulars.”  Many of the super-volunteers we met had given over 500 hours last year, some over 700 hours.  Their service was impressive, but what mattered the most was their skill-set.  These folks knew exactly what needed doing and they could communicate that to a bunch of novices.  They weren’t just volunteers; Regulars are skilled workers, managers, recruiters, and teachers.

Can you imagine the cost of these skills?  The lesson here is to take care of these super-volunteers.  Create ways to keep “The Regulars” coming back and passionate about the cause.  Investing in these volunteers improves future volunteerism and keeps build sites safe and efficient.

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