I believe that fostering a strong volunteer culture is essential for TFN. I also believe that offering good volunteer opportunities, which give purpose to people and that help them grow, is an important responsibility for every non-profit.
TFN did not begin with a culture of volunteerism. Volunteers were always present, but the original office staff and the systems administrators were salaried — at regular, industry rates. After funding from government and from commercial benefactors dried up, the budget shrunk to almost nothing. But TFN continued paying its working participants, just less. I have been trying to rejuvenate TFN by getting people involved for the fun of the task, rather than for the "honoraria".
In just 5 months, without even soliciting, simply by following up with people who would inquire, on their own, about volunteering, I have increased our technical staff from, like 4, to 12! Another 11 are in the pipeline or due to return from absences. Of course, it takes time to train new volunteers. Also, the newcomers' skills don't all match with our immediate needs. And their investment of effort must still accumulate before they feel sufficiently possessive of the organization to be willing to stick around and push through when the going gets tough. It will be at least a year before all this translates into increased workload capacity and better service delivery from TFN. But we had to start sometime! I regularly allocate my time for new volunteers who are growing their skills.
Earlier, shortly after I joined the systems administration team 2 years ago... actually there was no such thing as a systems administration team. Each person mostly communicated with the executive director. For weeks, I would scavenge for names in configuration files and would then ask the executive director what these people did. Eventually I assembled them all in a hokey mailing list and got them talking to each other. That gave us the beginnings of a team. The messages are archived, so we can look up facts that got posted earlier. We are still short-staffed and dysfunctional but at least we no longer forget people when we send a message. And we have an easy way for sharing knowledge and for getting technical feedback on proposed system changes.
My objective on the board will be to try to make TFN as welcoming as possible for volunteers, and to try to re-engage ordinary members. I will do to the entire organization what I have been doing with technical people. If you elect me, I hope that you will also add your efforts to mine, and volunteer to help turn TFN around.
next: Rejuvenate the mission
Copyright (C) 2009 Iain Calder. All rights reserved.