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:

Working with the Stages

The idea of taking the time to pay attention to the differences in your volunteers may seem exhausting. Noticing their name tags is difficult enough! The fact is, it tends to take more energy to neglect the differences than it does to address them. Trying to treat everyone like they’re exactly the same is a waste of time. We’re not the same. Volunteers – as with all people – must be met where they’re at rather than expected to be something they’re not.

Before you continue reading, take a second to get caught up by skimming Part 1 here: (The Journey of the Volunteer)

Working with Tourists: Most of your volunteers are tourists. This is a stage that’s easy to manage and offers tremendous benefit to your recruiting and screening process. (You can read more about this in the article “Automatic Volunteer Management: How to Offer a Great Volunteer Experience.”) Tourists can can be so excited they’re annoying, or so cynical they’re infuriating. Sometimes they just won’t show any emotion at all. The point is, they’re new. They need to be allowed to look around and take it in without much expected of them. When it comes to tourists, you will be spending a little bit of time with a lot of people. This stage is a place of discovery for you and the volunteer. Resist the urge to develop, recruit, or retain. Just observe, gently guide, and when they go – let them. Tourists who stick around will be doing it because they choose to for internal reasons – and that is the type of volunteer you want.

Working with Travelers: Travelers can be a little tricky. This stage can go by quickly or it can last for years. Each traveler has unique issues, questions, and reasons for volunteering with you. They tend to identify themselves by asking questions, showing up with regularity, making themselves more available, and becoming a bit difficult to deal with. Resist the urge to give pat answers. More importantly – do not blow these people off. Offer answers to their questions in the form of training or increased exposure to issues. Better questions are the point so focus on guiding travelers further down the road of discovery. Classes, assessments, time at a coffee shop, field-trips and introductions to broader networks will all be valuable tools for a traveler.

Working with Guides: Guides will consume most of your time and energy, and they should. At this stage, you will spend most of your time with the fewest number of people. A true guide will pay off in spades for every investment you make. They have moved beyond the need for external constructs like your volunteer program. Drop them anywhere on the planet, and they are such dyed-in-the-wool-sold-out-for-the-cause believers they will invent ways to do what they do. Facilitation is the key word here, along with collaboration. Use their ideas, partner with them, give them what they need, resource them and then let them loose. They will recruit, promote, network, fund raise, whatever – all the time. All. The. Time. And you know why?
Because they are doing it for their own reasons – not yours. There is convergence between your needs, the required work, and their needs. All three horizons (that of the tourist, traveler, and guide) have merged and now they are operating at their highest level of contribution. The only thing you can do to mess it up, is treat them or talk to them like they are tourists.

Now, volunteer coordinators, we’ve started you off with just a few basic concepts. In order to receive the greatest benefit from this article, you should take the following steps:

1. First: Don’t do anything.

Seriously. Just read about the journey of the volunteer and let it all sink in. Allow your mind to wander through personal experiences and examples of volunteers you know who fit these profiles. But don’t do anything. Your first step is to become familiar with the concepts.

2. Second: Re-observe.

Go to the next volunteer event and observe. Watch the people you know and how they interact and mentally categorize them as a tourist, a traveler, or a guide. Choose to appreciate the way they act based on the category they’re in.

3. Third: Choose an action.

Now, go back and read again about the Journey of the Volunteer. As you read, consider what it will take to help others in your organization meet volunteers where they’re at. Should you simply introduce the concept to the board? Maybe you want to ask volunteers to read the descriptions of a tourist, traveler, and guide and identify where they fit. Once you identify and take this first step, you will be on your way!

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