The following blog entry is a cross-post from my blog Realizing Your Worth.
Tourist – Traveler – Guide. This is the journey of the volunteer. The great failure of volunteer coordinators lies in expecting tourists to act like guides, treating guides like tourists,
and ignoring the traveler all-together. Its time we meet people where
they're at. Here's what you need to know to get started:
Stop treating everyone the same
When volunteers show up for the first time, we generally try to give them the same opportunities, attention, responsibilities and recognition as
we do those who have been volunteering for years. Seems appropriate
but....it's not. It's wrong. Here's why: people are not the same. We
are all at different stages on the journey. Some of us are tourists, some travelers, others guides, and the rest? Well, they're somewhere in between.
Recognize the differences
The Tourist: Tourists are excited, enthusiastic and a little stumbly as they figure out what they're looking for. The space is new and the potential is endless.
Tourists want to love their experience; but first impressions are
paramount. If it doesn't meet their needs, they'll probably never come back.
No problem. This is the group from which you will discover the best and
most loyal of your volunteers. Do not expect long-term commitment from
this group – they're not ready yet.
The Traveler: Travelers have been here before. They know where to go when they arrive and what they like doing best. At this stage, volunteers begin to
invest in the cause. Because the space begins to feel like “theirs”
they will ask hard questions and even begin to complain a little (which
is a good sign that they're connecting emotionally.) Travelers want to
be seen and heard. They want someone to confirm that they belong here. Discover them; give them space to continue to the next stage.
The Guide: Guides know they are home and will show the way for tourists and travelers. This group is as dependable as the Executive Director, and
maybe even more committed. There are only a few of them, but they will
lead your organization into the future. Do not treat these volunteers like first-timers; do not give them buttons and trinkets as thank you's. They own the space; treat them as such.
What you need...
As a Tourist: You require spaces of discovery where you are free to investigate. At this point, pressure and obligation will only hinder you, so long-term
commitments aren’t really what you’re after. You’re at your best when
compelled to ask better questions and go beyond what you’ve always
known and believed.
As a Traveler: You need permission to feel some ownership, which in some cases will mean you're a little angry and a little confused. You know that committing to this
organization is akin to committing to a relationship: If you never get
past the infatuation stage to start getting angry, hurt and wounded,
then you probably never cared much in the first place. When things
don’t matter, things are easy. You are ready for substance and you hope
that the organization can prove to you that they’re ready for your
As a Guide: You need a space brimming with offers of high-level, contributing responsibility. You know they know you’ll take care of the ditch-digging every time, but
they respect you too much for that. You need to be treated carefully
because, like a long-term relationship, this kind of commitment is rare
and fragile - not to be taken lightly.
Paying attention to people's differences is not as difficult as it may seem. Check back in next time for a few guidelines on what it looks like to
work with Tourists, Travelers and Guides as they journey through the 3
stages of a volunteer.