Friday, August 28, 2009

Creativity in Volunteers and Staff

From time to time I encounter volunteers who really give association management professionals a run for their money, in terms of creativity and what they can get done with limited resources.

Recently, I marveled at the accomplishments of some small groups of volunteers who had essentially no financial resources at their disposal. The problems they had to solve would have been easily solved if they had access to ready-money. But they didn't. All they had were problems and some creative volunteers to solve them.

Instead of throwing money they didn't have at a problem they had to solve, they tapped the creativity of the group to unleash exciting, fresh, innovative ideas. They searched for and implemented free technology tools that enabled them to harness the power of other members to "spread the word." They worked "deals" with other organizations to get products to sell to supplement event revenue. They took advantage of low-cost and free online services to get printing and promotion done.

In short, they did what we always expect association staff to do. But too much time in an office, watching deadlines approach, can stifle the recognition that being creative is more valuable than rotely turning to "the way we've always done it." It's certainly easier to just do what you've always done, but it makes one worth less and less as time goes by. That's why it's important for association staff to get out from under the routine on a regular basis...try something new and different! And it's important for staff to tap into the creativity of volunteers.

The reason volunteers can sometimes seem so much more creative than the staff they work with is that the tasks at hand are NEW to the volunteers, but they may be viewed as "old hat" to the staff, who tend to think they have all the answers. When a volunteer comes up with a brilliant idea, sometimes a staff member feels slighted or threatened or just annoyed that it was not HIS idea! Staff members need to recognize this, but so do volunteers. The volunteers who work with staff can spark creativity in the staff, just as the staff member sparks creativity in the volunteer when she says, "we didn't budget for that."

Volunteers who are alive with creativity can put staff members on their toes by challenging them to respond to creativity with creativity. Staff members who truly understand their roles respond to that challenge with creativity of their own.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. Organizations get the most out of their staff when leaders think critically and challenge their staff to do the same.

    Although our staff generates a lot of ideas, it takes the collaboration with the board(s) to make them happen -- and often the volunteers are the ones with the creative juice to make our collaborative efforts work.