by Karla S. Kurtz

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I was invited by a friend last week to attend a monthly meeting of non-profit volunteers for a local nonprofit.

She has been part of the group for just a few months and wants me to get involved.

The group started with introductions and then there was a post-mortem evaluation of a recent fundraising and friendraising event.

Not long into the discussion, one of the leaders spoke up to say that they needed to do a better job of being sure when volunteers showed up to help that they had something for them to do. That seemed like a legitimate point to me; however, the head of the group took great offense and went into a tirade of how many hours he had spent preparing and running the event, there was plenty of work to do, and people should be adult enough to just jump in and find something to do.

Then he wanted to know who it was.

Wow, talk about making a visitor feel uncomfortable. The person being referred to was my friend and it was her first event with the group. She was sick that day, but went on anyway because she had made the commitment to help. She stayed two hours and then left after asking a couple of people what she could do to help. Now, thankfully, both of us are outgoing people and don’t get intimidated easily.

Next they moved to discussing upcoming events.

They talked about planning fundraisers or helping other nonprofits with their fundraisers. I was surprised at the list of groups they were talking about helping. There was nothing wrong with the list of groups at first glance. They were well known and active in the community. However, the values and mission of these groups were at odds or in total conflict with their own organization.

As I have reflected on this event, there were three important points for me that they will have to address if they want me to join their group.

1. When you have an event, make sure someone is in charge of coordinating volunteers. Make sure new volunteers know who to contact and have a way to get involved. Volunteers are a precious resource so don’t let them feel they are unneeded or wasting their time.

2. Are we sensitive to visitors at our meetings open to the public? Some discussions should be held in private at a later time.

3. Do we take time to think about the other organizations and groups who are our partners? Do these relationships make sense and do they fit with the mission and values of our organization?

Research says that people make their initial judgment of you and your organization in the first three minutes. What and who have your visitors encountered in those first few minutes?

Remember, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

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