Love Thy Volunteers (Respect the Title)

That's right. I'm proposing to you the radical idea that for the people who give of their time, their physical labor, their emotional work and gas money, "Volunteer" is a title. And one they (should) wear with pride.

I've been in a couple situations lately where the word has been bandied around in a casual way, or given to groups, who, while very generous and caring, are by no stretch of the imagination "volunteering."

Namely, I was at a presentation at a fundraising conference and the speaker talked about young people wanting to "volunteer" in "fun ways that fit their lifestyle" and showed a group of 20-somethings bowling while dressed like band members of Devo.

*sound of car brakes screeching to a halt and a giant explosion here*

That isn't volunteering.

I'm not saying volunteering can't be fun. But referring to people who attend an event or gather a group of friends to go bar hopping for a cause as volunteers cheapens the word and disrespects the folks who really are volunteers. Is it just me?

Volunteers are people connected to the core work of your organization. In most nonprofits, they're the ones who actually do said core work. They show up, they sacrifice. They have some skin in the game.

I'm all about going to the bingo game that benefits the organization (beers at Hamburger Mary's? Heeeeyyyy!!). I'll walk a charity 5K on a Saturday with a friend. But I won't call myself a volunteer for those groups.

Here's to the Volunteers who have earned the title.

Put LinkedIn to Work for You!

“I’ve signed up for LinkedIn, but I haven’t really done much with it…”

I’m always surprised when I get that response, particularly from someone who is looking for work (job opportunities or business development).

LinkedIn is a great tool, but it doesn’t work on its own. Here are five ways you can put LinkedIn to work for you.

1. Contacts are an ongoing effort. You can’t sign up, send out a few invitations and sit back to reap the rewards. Commit to building your list of connections, which will increase your visibility. Set a goal to add at least one or two per week.

2. Check your contacts’ connections. Second-degree connections may offer additional opportunity … particularly if your mutual contact will facilitate the introduction. Be upfront and honest when asking for help (and remember, the people most likely to get help are those most willing to give it!)

3. Update your status regularly.
Less than minute-by-minute but more than once a month. And always relevantly! Let your network know about key accomplishments or ask for help with a challenge. (Fill out your profile, too; it’s a great way to help the search engines.)

4. Find groups to help develop your skills.
Use the search box in the upper right to identify groups active in your area(s) of interest. Sign up and watch the conversation to see if it’s pertinent. Ask and answer questions. Watch for thought leaders who might be good connections to add to your list.

5. Be judicious in requests and referrals. Don’t abuse your network and always acknowledge (and return!) a favor. (That said, avoid the you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours reciprocal references … they don’t do much for either party’s credibility.)