Volunteers Know What Matters

The recent PR firestorm involving two well-known women’s health organizations (I’m not going to rehash the situation here) reminded me of an experience I had in my early years of nonprofit consulting.

I was asked to facilitate a special meeting between two nonprofits involved in helping people with cancer – one was an established organization, the other was a relatively new start-up. The existing nonprofit felt threatened by the new group. In my meetings with senior staff from the existing nonprofit, some people admitted they wanted the new organization to just “go away” – they were concerned about competing for donor and volunteer support. Fortunately, they accepted the new group’s invitation to sit down together and explore how they could both serve the community.

Can’t we all just get along?

I remember my feelings of trepidation as I prepared for the joint meeting – I was a facilitator, not a peace-keeper! But my fears dissolved after I interviewed a number of volunteers from both organizations. Their message was clear and consistent: “We don’t care who we work for as volunteers, we just want to eradicate cancer! So find a way to work out your differences.“

That was the message I shared with the two organizations at the outset of their meeting-of-the-minds. Their volunteers provided the critical reminder that purpose supersedes politics.

Both organizations took the message to heart. I’m happy to report that meeting was held more than 20 years ago, and both organizations continue to co-exist and collaborate in their efforts to serve people with cancer.

Special Note: National Volunteer Week is coming up soon: April 15-21, 2012. Special thanks to all volunteers who help make a difference in our world!



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