Are buy-in and inclusion two haves of the same whole?

Right now I have a great project – I’m working with a museum client to create a Volunteer Engagement Strategic Plan. It’s a year long undertaking rather than the typical short-term one. That’s because the actual plan will not be the end of our collaboration.

We’ll have an additional nine months to implement, assess, and adjust our priorities to meet the real life demands of the volunteers, the visitors, and the museum. Odds are, this plan will shift the perception of what volunteers can do and the value that they bring to the organization.

There’s one prime reason why I’m confident that this shift will occur: this plan is being created with a healthy cross-section of participants: the volunteer program staff, the volunteers, staff from other departments, development staff, and the board. The entire organization is coming together to create a vision of what’s possible for volunteer engagement.

Better still, the participants are motivated. They want to help shape this vision, including the staff members who rarely engage volunteers. They are excited about what’s possible, in large part because they are part of the solution.

This experience reminds me of one of my volunteer manager clients. She attended my workshop on marketing volunteer positions, where we created profiles of our ideal volunteers by analyzing the commonalities of the most successful ones. This volunteer manager took the profile idea back to her workplace and called a meeting with the program staff. Together, they reviewed the commonalities and crafted an even better persona.

The upshot? When it came to volunteers, staff was more invested and more willing to collaborate because they helped envision what was needed.

The common thread between these two examples is the visioning. When you invite others into the dreaming process, you naturally create the buy-in that you seek.

Visioning is affirming. Oftentimes, our efforts to achieve buy-in are serious ones, where we try to persuade or negotiate our way to agreement. When you envision a shared future, though, you can reach the same goal with less tension and more energy.

The pandemic-induced pivots that we are all making may require an increased level of buy-in from leadership or staff. If that’s the case for you, and if you are finding your efforts unsuccessful, back-up a bit. Organize a visioning session with those you need on board. Use the session to brainstorm around broad, open-ended questions, ones that encourage people to think big:

  • How would our organization look different if we engaged volunteers in new ways?
  • What might you accomplish with the help of volunteers?
  • Where do volunteers fit into our mission?

I once blogged about a volunteer program that created a strategic plan. The staff stuck with the plan moved it forward for this same reason – they all had a stake in the outcome and wanted to see it succeed. This group also made it fun Meeting to review plan progress was a special break in the routine, something to look forward to. Wouldn’t you prefer to meet your goals like this and enjoy yourself along the way?