How to Find Your Influentials and Let Them Lead

Managing a company’s employee volunteering program is almost always a daunting task. This is partly because most employers approach the task as an add-on – surely finding a place to volunteer will just take a few minutes? Turns out, scheduling events, negotiating with nonprofits, communicating events to employees, and looking after unending details – is a full time job.

Here’s a little-known truth that could potentially change your life (and I’m not exaggerating): When it comes to working with volunteers, the less you do, the more you accomplish.

Instead of trying to manage everything yourself, find and focus on your volunteer “influentials.” The influentials at your company are those who have moved along their volunteer journey to a stage where they sort of “get it.” We would call them a high-level Stage 2 (traveler) or Stage 3 (guide). Read descriptions of the 3 Stages here.

Take a second to think about your influentials. Here are the characteristics you’re looking for:

  • They already volunteer somewhere – or have in the past for significant periods of time.
  • They think everyone who gets into volunteering will love it. Volunteering is a way of life.
  • They have strong personal reasons for wanting to volunteer. Its not about doing something for others as much as its about doing something for themselves.
  • They regularly invite other people to join – “just try it.”
  • They understand the issues they volunteer for and are eager – put not pushy – to share their knowledge with others.
  • They have strong opinions about the issue they volunteer for – particularly regarding the use of resources and the types of activities

Finding your influentials is important enough – and helpful enough – that we recommend putting a little extra work in up front in order to properly identify them. This usually looks like a simple interview and evaluation process. (We can help you with the right questions or even provide a tool.)

Once you find your influentials, begin to consider what needs to happen for you to let go of some of the leadership – and some of the control. Your influentials have been waiting (whether they know it or not) for someone to ask them to take more responsibility in this area. Remember, you’re helping them live out an important part of their identity.

Here are some practical first steps when inviting influentials to take a leadership role:

Step 1: LISTEN

Step 2: PITCH (but don’t stop listening)

  • Make a strong case for why the company’s employee volunteering program is worth their time. (Make sure you believe it before you try and prove it.)
  • Clearly explain your expectations for them in this role and your own commitments to their success. Pay attention to their reaction.
  • Offer to provide the training, administrative support and clear communication channels. (Make sure you can deliver before you make this offer.)

Step 3: SUPPORT

  • Work with your influentials to come up with realistic goals and objectives for them and the program. (This is usually fun in workshop style.)
  • Schedule annual performance reviews and be sure to include ‘terminal’ points so you both have the option to renew commitments and adjust expectations. (It’s not a life-long appointment.)
  • Design and facilitate a measurement strategy in order to collect good data and be able to clearly demonstrate the value of your influentials’ leadership. (We all need a sense of accomplishment – “it’s the right thing to do” is never good enough.)
  • Facilitate any relational issues that may arise in the process of peer to peer leadership – especially since many of your influentials will be junior level employees leading upper levels of management.
  • Provide training and other events that will facilitate the leadership role. (Such as conferences, workshops, seminars, webinars provided by training organizations such as Boston College’s Center for Corporate Citizenship.)
  • Provide Resources and tools that relate to the specific social issue the influential is addressing. (Workshops provided by the partnering nonprofit or community organizations, periodicals, books, online materials, etc.)

If you feel ready to take on these 3 steps, start by asking yourself, “Am I ready to switch my focus from handling all this work to facilitating the contributions of others?” If you can say yes, your potential is virtually unlimited.

If you can’t say yes yet, consider how you perceive yourself. What do you understand your long-term role to be? Your approach may be to utilize volunteers to maximize the efforts of a handful of staff (or just yourself). Jim Collins refers to this approach as “a genius with a thousand helpers.“Unfortunately, the result of this approach is almost always one where the leader (you) becomes the bottleneck in the growth and impact of the employee volunteering program. It also squashes any ingenuity or energy outside the parameters of the genius’ own comfort. So…I don’t really recommend it.

At Realized Worth, our favorite thing to talk about is employee volunteering. If you still feel confused about the benefits of finding your influentials, leave a comment below or email us here: chrisjarvis@realizedworth.com or angela@realizedworth.com. Cheers!

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