Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose: Framing the Volunteer Experience

If you’re ever feeling down or lost or just plain tired, Google “most inspirational pregame speeches“. You’ll soon enter a YouTube rabbit hole, with tears and spine chills at every turn. You’ll see high school football coaches cutting deep into the souls of his players; you’ll see grown men in complete rapture of oratory excellence. And you’ll see how sports really has more to do with the mental challenge than any physical feat.

By Corey Diamond

After an hour of watching these videos, I came to realize that the actual playbook for the game plays a distant back seat to the coach’s greatest contribution – how she can frame the experience for her players.

This blog post is part of a series that outlines some of the most fundamental principles of the Realized Worth methodology. It started with Daineal Parker outlining the importance of paying attention to the motivation behind why someone volunteers (if you haven’t read it, Daineal’s motivation is, um … interesting?). And then Kelly Lynch explaining how humans have evolved with empathy as a core part of who we are.

Let’s focus our attention now to how framing the experience of the volunteer event is crucial to ensuring the volunteer has a meaningful experience.

There are three key principles at play here:

Task Significance

This is one of my favourite topics. “Task significance” is a fancy, academic term for something we all have inherently known since kindergarten – if you know why you are doing something, you are more likely to put special effort into it. In the context of volunteering, this is done most effectively before the volunteer task is undertaken. Volunteer leaders – just like the inspiring high school football coach – can relay a personal or emotional story to connect the volunteers to the people benefitting from the task. This will plant a seed in the volunteer’s mind – “Hmm, I hadn’t realized that packing these boxes can have such a monumental effect on someone …”.

And speaking of people benefitting from the task …

Proximity to the Beneficiary

… the closer you are to the beneficiary, the more effective the story. If the volunteers can see or listen to a story from someone affected by the mission of the nonprofit, there is a greater sense of understanding the “why” behind the volunteer task. Volunteer leaders can work with nonprofits to highlight success stories of people positively affected by the organization’s mission, and relay those stories before the volunteer event begins. Alternatively, a video can be used to relay the same message (the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank does this really well – check out the video they show before a volunteer event).

Just as Coach Taylor in Friday Night Lights did, the volunteer leader must use the “pregame speech” to inspire and motivate by connecting the volunteer experience to the volunteer’s emotional core. The more personal the pre-volunteer “brief,” the more effective it is.

Critical Reflection

Framing a volunteer experience must also include a reflection afterwards. Imagine the high school football coach who brings the team together after the game is over to go over what happened. Sometimes this can be difficult. Meaningful reflection (the kind that motivates change) is not always natural or easy. Your volunteers have put their time in; they have completed the task; and now they have to get going. Here’s a quick and easy method that provides a safe space for people to reflect:

Bring people together in an informal huddle for 5-10 minutes and ask them the following 2 questions:

  • What did you experience today?
  • Was it what you expected?

The goal of transformative volunteering is to create the space for the individual volunteer to experience an epiphany. All too often, volunteering can seem disconnected from the cause. After all – someone has to pack those boxes, sort those receipts or cut those carrots. Framing the experience before one of these seemingly mundane tasks will connect the volunteer to the greater purpose, the bigger picture, the grander context. And reflecting on it afterwards enables the individual to make sense of what just happened. These elements are absolutely critical in creating a lasting impact within the individual.

Want to see an example of how to frame a volunteer experience? Check out this video from Chris Jarvis.

All we need to do now is get Chris to coach a high school football team!

Did this article resonate with you? Are you trying to determine better ways to motivate your employees to get involved in meaningful ways in the community? Are you looking for ways to help your volunteer leaders become better at leading volunteer events?

Empathy in Motion: The Power of Employee Volunteering is a free online course and it’s open for enrollment now! Starting March 14, 2017, the course offers a new perspective on the power of volunteering that goes beyond the traditional transactional model. Anyone can enroll and can share course details with colleagues, other volunteers, and even family and friends.

You can view or download more information at rw.institute including outlines, overviews, and frequently asked questions. You can simply enroll right now by visiting openSAP.


Realized Worth designs and implements corporate volunteer programs. Call us to discuss opportunities for your company, or email us via contact@realizedworth.com. You can also reach out to us on Facebook and Twitter.


Corey Diamond
Chief Operating Officer
coreydiamond@realizedworth.com
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