The Magic of Altruism: Step 2

The second step people take towards being altruistic, or in other words volunteering, is situational. There is a powerful leadership component in this concept. In order for people to take the next step in volunteering I, as a leader, needed to create a certain environment.

I was in a position to test this information.  Would it really work? I wanted to use the first step and build on Step 2 to boost member participation in a club I was leading. I wanted to step down from my leadership role and have someone take over. I had nothing to lose. So I started with Step 1 and moved on to Step 2.

There are three situations that can influence a person in their choice to volunteer. In other words, I needed to create a specific environment in order for people to take action.

1. Independence
It is in our human nature to desire independence. As a leader of any group, take the time to create this type of environment. There is often a lot of pressure to conform to a group when creating any type of club. Sometimes I am told that in order to get from Point A to Point B, I must follow this path. Take great pains to indicate to your members that creating an independent learning environment is the most important thing you offer your members. Being, acting and thinking independently is encouraged and rewarded in your club. Growth, is the most important thing you can offer. Watch and see if members rise up to the occasion, come up with some innovative ways to learn new skills and somewhere along the way meet club goals that had been set up. Instead of focusing on obtaining the goals choose to nurture independence.

As a result of these choices we grew immensely in stature, membership, and obtained our goals in spite of ourselves. Fostering independence made our club an attractive group to join.

2. Dissent
It is also in our human nature to butt heads with anyone telling us to keep our opinions to ourselves. Your organization becomes more attractive if people feel safe and comfortable to say what is on their mind. Take the time to answer questions and always ensured members they can contact executive members privately or publicly to….well dissent.
As a result of this our club grew, changed and became startlingly innovative. People took it upon themselves to come up with new and exciting ways to attract more members and attract we did!

3. Personal Return On Investment
What’s in it for me? By fostering independence and dissent people realized they got a kick out of being in a place where they were the change-makers. Social networks sprung up, a new way of formatting our meetings appeared and members stepped up to take a very active role in creating functions outside of our regular meeting times.
It is downright intoxicating to watch this happen and to my surprise our membership started increasing.
Without direction, active members in our club chose to take great care sharing what they got out of volunteering for roles and functions. If this doesn’t happen naturally take the time to have members share what their personal return on investment was.

It goes without saying that hindering independence, muffling dissent and not offering a clear personal return on investment will result in people “showing up and hoping for the magic to just happen”. Very few people will go out of their way to make innovative and exciting things happen if this type of environment doesn’t exist. The magic just isn’t there.

There are some specific situations that will actually cause inaction.

1. Crowd influence
This is a situation that has been understood for some time. You know those examples. Someone gets hurt in a busy downtown area and no ones stops to help. Bystanders all have their reasons for not helping but what did this have to do with what I was trying to do. When only one person was around they helped. It was rare a bystander broke out of the crowd to help.
I mulled over this concept wondering how I could apply this to a volunteer situation. If a crowd would result in no help…. then maybe I needed to take the time to talk with each member individually. If I took the time to be inclusive, on an individual basis, I would eliminate the effect of a crowd.

2. Social Loafing
Social loafing is similar to the influence of the crowd and it often occurs in an “office” environment. You may have experienced at school, one time or another, when your teacher told your class everyone was going to work in a group to complete a project.
I see I’ve got your attention.
There were always people in the group who didn’t do anything and no matter how much you complained they got the same grade as you.
How can you avoid this. Well the research suggests that if you give specific tasks to each person in the group this might work.  But that just creates more work for you.

The most effective way I’ve seen work is to plan an annual strategic meeting on goals for your organization. Create a list of tasks from your goals and ask people to choose the tasks they are interested in.  Any left over tasks? Talk about who would be the best suited for them or enlist other members in your organization to help reach the goal. Have the tasks, strategies and goals listed on a chart, website or social group listing. Make these goals the meat of your monthly meetings. Everyone gives an update or have each member submit a quick summary update and cut down on the meeting time.

3. Increase in Risk
If there is an increase in risk of danger, loss of money or unnecessary loss of time and energy there it is less likely that people will volunteer. In the volunteer world, the biggest increase in risk is loss of time. There are many ways to handle this issue and the internet can be your greatest ally in this. Meetings can now be done via webinar, conference call or various methods of VOIP. Learn how to create a tight agenda and stick with it. Toastmasters is an excellent place to learn how to run a tight meeting.
Deal with as many issues as you can via email and telephone. Meetings never need to be longer than an hour.

It’s not enough to assume that people will see these points of action and inaction. I believe that if you are in a Leadership role it behooves you to share how all these situations are dealt with in your club or organization. Be up front and share how you foster independence, dissent and personal return on investment. Clue in your prospective volunteers on how your organization combats the things that can lead to inaction: crowd influence, social loafing and risk

What are some things in your organization you would like to change?
How can you ensure that volunteers don’t feel manipulated when you utilize these concepts?
How would you have dealt with these situations?

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One Response to The Magic of Altruism: Step 2

  1. Pingback: The Magic of Altruism: Step 3 | Rewired2Change

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