The Good News
There is a lot of time and effort directed at motivating grassroots volunteers. The bad news is that much of it is directed in the wrong place.
What is lacking in most organizations, most markedly in the corporate grassroots programs, are grassroots managers with the motivation and team leadership skills who can motivate your members or employees to become raging grassroots thunder activists. Like it or not, just as a CEO or department Vice President imbues a type of leadership and culture upon their organization, the grassroots manager also does this with the grassroots program. Even Fortune magazine noted the drop in Christian Coalition membership when its charismatic leader, Ralph Reed, resigned.
Why Can’t We Motivate Grassroots Volunteers?
Most public affairs specialists cite external factors when they lament the lack of grassroots volunteer motivation. Here are my favorites:
- “We need more money.”
- “The issue isn’t interesting.”
- “There’s nothing going on in the legislature right now.”
- “The issue is too technical – they won’t be able to understand it.”
- “The legislature is controlled by Republicans/Democrats, etc., so we can’t win this one.”
- “We don’t have the resources.”
Steps That Will Help You Motivate Your Volunteers
Listen to your volunteers. Public affairs communications often take the “top down” approach. It’s better to go straight to your customer, the grassroots volunteer, and ask them what would influence them to act. I have learned much from this approach and I assure you, it will make your job much easier.
Recruit staff who have excellent presentation skills, or are willing to develop such skills (This applies to all public affairs staff). Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE (www.fripp.com), an award-winning executive speech coach and customer service expert, interviewed Dan Conley, a former speech writer for Virginia Governor Doug Wilder, Chicago Mayor Richard N. Daly, and several senior vice presidents at IBM. Dan said the following about the art of public speaking: “I’ve been a professional speech writer for a dozen years, and it seems to me that the only coachable speakers are those that understand that a speech is a performance. I’ve had it with people who think slides are stories and who think their job title is a substitute for stage presence. Public speaking may terrify many executives, but their contempt for the art of speaking shows a total disrespect for those who have to sit through their mindless ramblings.” I wholeheartedly agree.
Immerse yourself in the nuances of volunteer management, specifically, long distance volunteer management. Supervising employees is not the same as supervising volunteers. The excellent grassroots leaders understand this and practice superb volunteer management techniques. Are you reading about volunteer management and motivation?
Learn how to be a motivating team leader. People aren’t born motivators, but they can learn the skills to become motivators consistent with their natural communication style.