Specific, measurable, tangible results can be some of the most satisfying job products–a reassuring reminder that all the hours spent sitting at a desk have not been in vain, and you are an effective team member. I’ve become locked-in to this system of validation, both as a means of proving the value of my work to others, but also to myself, something I’ve never been more aware of than recently in my position as a Centennial Volunteer Ambassador.
That’s because quantifiable benchmarks don’t always apply to volunteer coordinating and outreach. Some things take time, and some things are intangible, especially when it comes to building a community and network of stewardship around your site. I’m the only position focused on volunteerism here in Omaha, but that hardly means I work in a vacuum–on the contrary, it means I can’t work in a detached and insular unit, but instead have to work harder to branch out to the rangers and other divisions, not to mention in the immediate metro area and along the trail.
Step one of all of that is developing relationships. One of the hardest things to do when there are just so many things to do is slowing down and taking the time to get to know people, even though the strength of that connection is ultimately what decides if your program succeeds or fails. It’s the human factory, the reason a strong volunteer base isn’t just a formulaic equation.
Sitting at the table during a meeting of our local Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation chapter was fun, but I got restless as we went around the table with general member news — vacations to Boston, how grandkids fared in sports competitions, and other sundry items. It wasn’t that I didn’t care, but flitting around in the back of my head were emails to be sent, calls to be made, recruitment to organize, forms to be filled out, and so on and so forth. It felt wrong to kick all of those things to the back of my mind to hang out with the study group for three hours, but I knew what I was doing was important. I kicked the nagging urge to the curb, laughing at stories, admiring one woman’s grandfather’s diary from 1882 (“Taught school today” started most entries, prosaically; he was a school teacher.) Paying attention to and acknowledging different communities, some of whom may feel neglected and unimportant, is one of the most vital means of building bridges. Per the rule of reciprocity, to get people to care about you and your causes, you have to demonstrate that you care about them first. Lay down the sword of efficiency. Ask questions. Make jokes. Hang out.
Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail hq