Guest Blog: Stepping Up and Stepping Into Challenges

stepping upI was recently faced with the challenge of developing a workshop for a group of volunteers. Even though I don’t wear a cape or Wonder Woman bracelets, the client was anticipating I would be able to address the long list of needs identified in their stakeholder survey. In a mere two hours, they expected me to provide participants with solutions and tools to help engage more citizens, and to address a declining volunteer base. It wasn’t an easy workshop to design and one that in some ways I had been dreading.

While I felt a longer session would be required to address the issues and challenges in a meaningful way, there was only so much time. And not only were we short on time, but participants attending the workshop were stretched pretty thin, bearing out the Statistics Canada survey results showing that 10% of volunteers account for 53% of all volunteer hours dedicated to nonprofit/voluntary organizations. It wasn’t my first rodeo, so I dug deep and thought back to what I had learned, taught and applied over the years that really had an impact when it came to engaging citizens, and recruiting and retaining volunteers.

While it was a lot of work, it was all worth it when one of the participants spoke to me after the workshop and thanked me for what she had learned and for ‘talking her off the ledge’. When I asked her what she meant by ‘talking her off the ledge’, she explained that coming into the workshop she had been planning to quit her volunteer position. As a result of the workshop she decided to stay on as a volunteer.

That result in itself made it all worthwhile.

I left feeling happy that I was able to address a tough challenge and see results. It turns out that author Rosabeth Moss Kanter has come to a similar conclusion. She suggests that the happiest people are those dedicated to dealing with the most difficult problems. Many of these people are working or volunteering to make our communities healthier, safer, and more vibrant places to live, work, and play. They face tough challenges and are willing to serve others. In her book, Evolve!, Moss Kanter identifies three primary sources of motivation: mastery, membership(belonging) and meaning. Another M, money, turns out to be a distant fourth. As she puts it, money is a form of measurement, but it doesn’t necessarily get people excited about getting up in the morning, or leave them with a sense of fulfillment at the end of the day.

While it’s common these days to encourage people to find their purpose and passion, Moss Kanter suggests that regardless of our paid work, we each need to embrace a sense of responsibility for changing the world in one small way.

While Charlie Brown said that happiness is a warm blanket, maybe it’s more about stepping up and stepping into a challenge to try to make a difference.

Brenda Herchmer

CEO of Campus for Communities of the Future
Owner of Grassroots Enterprises


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