Happy Nonprofit, Happy Volunteers: how one outside-the-box thinker gets it done

Happy Nonprofit Happy Volunteers - Twenty HatsMeet Joe Landmichl (not the fellow to the left — see below). He’s the volunteer manager for the Grand Rapids Public Museum, and one of the most impressive people that I met at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service.

What makes Joe a standout? It’s his talent for engaging volunteers of all ages within the museum. Joe places volunteers everywhere: as educators, as graphic designers. Joe even has volunteers working in the museum’s accounting department.

Joe was hired by the museum just six months ago, and in that time has already doubled the number of active volunteers – imagine what his program will look like a year from now.

A Staff That WANTS Volunteers

I hear from a lot of volunteer managers who find it incredibly difficult to get the buy-in of staff to work with volunteers. Not so for Joe – and that’s why I wanted to interview him. I wanted to know what it is about Joe’s approach that makes it so easy for staff to embrace the use of volunteers.

 Joe Landmichl talks up an exhibit with two of his volunteers
Joe Landmichl talks up an exhibit with two of his volunteers

One reason is visionary leadership at the museum. This is an organization that understands the power of volunteers to expand capacity.   The museum was growing rapidly and realized it did not possess the skill set on staff to engage more volunteers. Joe was hired for his track record of approaching volunteer engagement in innovative and creative ways.

Getting Strategic

Another reason is Joe’s strategic approach. One of the first things Joe did was meet with staff from all departments to brainstorm needs and new ways to use volunteers. He asked, “If you could have more volunteers, where would you want them?” He created a detailed list of opportunities throughout the museum to complement the traditional roles. The list includes plenty of short-term opportunities for younger volunteers who have less time to give.

Then, Joe set the goal of engaging those younger volunteers. He started out by giving tours of the museum to representatives from surrounding colleges. That process allowed him to establish relationships at the colleges and opened the door for Joe to make presentations on the campuses.

Thinking Outside the Box

Perhaps the third and most powerful reason for Joe’s success is his thought process when engaging volunteers. When he talks with in interested person, he does not limit the possibilities to professional skills or interests. He asks each person “What is a day in your life like?” and unearths even more possibilities for engagement.

Take these examples:

  • A mother who volunteers with her twelve year old son, knowing that the teen years will soon affect the time they spend together.
  • An exchange student from Turkmenistan who is giving talks about his culture and why he chose to study in Grand Rapids.
  • A graphic designer with very limited time, who is assisting the marketing department with small projects as-needed, like designing infographics and retail merchandise.

The bottom line is that Joe does more than manage the volunteer program at the museum. He leads it. Rather than settle for the status quo, he remains on the lookout for new ways to engage volunteers. As a result, the Grand Rapids Public Museum is more than institution: it’s a community that encourages the public to live by its motto, “Be Curious.”

Let’s Talk About Buy-In

Achieving buy-in requires skill and strategy. I’m hosting an interactive webinar on the Principles of Buy-In for readers on the Twenty Hats mailing list. The date is Wednesday, December 9, 2:00 pm – 3:00.  Email me to rsvp and join the list.

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One volunteer manager placed volunteers in just about every department – and doubled his capacity! http://twentyhats.com/?p=1973

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