Recruiting and Keeping Volunteers!

March 7, 2023

An online discussion to support organizers of dance, music, and song groups

In our mostly volunteer-powered community, we’ve long faced challenges when it comes to finding and keeping the people who make our organization’s dance, music, and song activities possible. The COVID pandemic exacerbated those challenges and impacted both our organizations and the environment in which we work.

CDSS Executive Director Katy German hosted this Web Chat to discuss volunteer management and address key volunteer-related questions, such as:

  • Where do we find new volunteers?
  • How do we appreciate the volunteers we have and help them avoid burn-out?
  • How do we create processes for training volunteers and planning for position turn-over?



Full Transcript

Transcript of CDSS Web Chat: Recruiting and Keeping Volunteers!

March 7, 2023


volunteers, people, organization, dance, role, lydia, board, person, question, recruiting, miriam, events, hear, plan, younger, tapestry, folks, dances, group, joanna


Katy German, Lydia McAnerney, Miriam Graham

Katy German 00:00

I’m so excited to be talking about today for a number of reasons, not the least of which is we have been getting a lot of questions about how do we get volunteers? How do we keep volunteers. So I know that this is a topic of discussion for a lot of groups. And I hope that you all are ready to participate near the end. So if you make sure your microphones are muted now, we will go ahead and get started. And that means I have to do the right thing. Oh, got it. Hang on. I’m sharing my screen. Did you say unmuted or muted? You did, please mute it, okay. Yep. Thanks. All right. Oh, I still did the wrong thing. There we go.

I hope that what you see in front of you is a slide; is that correct? Not great. Wonderful. Thank you. On recruiting and keeping volunteers.

Welcome, everybody. I am your host for this web chat. As many of you who have attended before know, Linda Henry got our web chats going, and she retired in December. So we’re sending her love, and hoping she’s having a great time as we move her work for her forward.

Just the quick tech tips today: we will be recording this so that other people can access it later. If you do not want to be seen, please turn off your camera. We do ask that everybody remains muted while we proceed. While we hear the main portion. We will let you know when it is okay to unmute. There are live captions for this video. And you can turn them on or off by clicking closed caption. Okay, that appears at the bottom of your screen. And this is the symbol that says live transcript. Also, while I was sharing the screens, you can adjust the size by dragging the vertical divider line left or right. So great, let’s proceed.

So I am the Executive Director of the Country Dance & Song Society. And it is very important to me that our work continues into the future. And so I moved this portion up front and center. We have camp programming and online programming, and we charge people registration fees for those, but we do a lot of work at CDSS where we don’t charge. These web chats are one of the examples of that. We’ve also overhauled our website, which we’ll get a peek at later. And we provide a Resource Portal.

All of that work, all of the free resources that we provide, are supported by membership and donations. So if you are a Member, thank you so much for your support and making that happen if you’ve made donations. That is fantastic. If you feel moved today, we would love for you to donate by going to So thank you again for helping us continue to make these free and available to everybody.

All right, so our web chat format tonight. After I’m done with my introduction bit, we are going to do a little bit of an overview of best practices and volunteer management. That is actually a big topic that could be a whole series. But we’re just going to scrunch it down to the essentials tonight to get kind of your gears turning. And maybe we can do some follow up down the road or you can connect with each other to follow up.

We also have two featured guests tonight: Lydia McAnerney from Tapestry Folkdance Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Miriam Graham from Moab Community Dance Band in Moab, Utah. These are great guests for tonight, because they represent two very different size organizations. Tapestry in Minneapolis is a very large, complex organization with lots of events, they have their own facility, their own building. So there they will be able to talk about a much kind of more complex system for managing volunteers. Miriam is from this small community group that is entirely volunteer run, and is really a much a much more small town feel.

I know that there’s not going to be one, one-size-fits-all program, because we are not one size as organizations. But I’m really grateful that the two of them are able to join us today and talk with us.

After we hear a little bit from them, we’ll do a Q&A session. Joanna and her cat will monitor that, moderate that. She’ll let you know how to submit questions for that. And that’s an opportunity to hear more from either our guests or if there’s information that you have that you can share a question if you’re like, “Oh, I haven’t answered that.” Or “Oh, we dealt with that. I can share.” We would love for you to participate. And we’ll tell you how to do that when we get there.

At the very end, I hope that you’ll hang around, we usually talk about our resources. I’m going to just very quickly, I promise quickly take you to our new web page and show you where some things are. Because we really have tried to make it a lot more user friendly and intuitive so that you can find what you’re looking for. And you’ll get a heads up on upcoming programming.

So that’s the plan. Here we go, you ready, get loose, shaken a little bit? Okay. Best practices in volunteer management.

So I want to tell you really quickly, why I’m talking about this. CDSS doesn’t manage a large group of volunteers. But before I worked at CDSS, I worked for a Feeding America food bank. And if you have ever been involved in a large food bank, you know that that is there is a huge volunteer system and structure and in place there. And in my capacity, when I worked there, I managed a highly skilled volunteer team that took a lot of training and a lot of communication. So my experience managing volunteers is not actually because of my work at CDSS. But I thought it would be helpful for folks to know that.

So the thing I want to say is what I’m about to talk about, it is work. There is no quick, easy fix, for suddenly waving a wand, getting a bunch of volunteers and not having to think about it afterwards, and it just going well. I mean, I’m sure those people exist, but you just can’t count on them being available to you and walking into your door. But what I can say to you, unequivocally, is that the work that you put into preparing and managing your volunteers is absolutely worth the effort.

So I just want to kind of get that, get that out there. Because if you feel if what I’m talking about feels like, “Well, that’s more than I really want to bite off,” most of what I talk about are concepts, and I really want to emphasize that you need to scale it to what fits for your organization, and your events and the needs that you have.

So there are some really big benefits to putting the effort into getting volunteers. Obviously, we want to reduce organizer burnout, which is a huge problem right now, for all of us. That’s maybe the most important thing, all of you who’ve been working so hard, you deserve to be supported and have some of the burden shared and lifted off of your shoulders. But it also provides a great opportunity to clarify what your organization’s needs are now: having the conversations about “What do we need? And what do we want?” helps you kind of update your thinking about, “Oh, actually, it’s really important that we do this and not make assumptions about always needing the same things in the same way.”

So examining what your organization needs is a good thing. It can build a sense of belonging and buy-in among your participants, which keeps them coming back, keeps your events on their mind and in their hearts. It can help you identify potential new leaders. And…it’s a doorway for new perspectives and new energy to come in. So just keep referring back to this down the road when you’re overwhelmed and thinking it’s not worth the effort. It really is.

All right. So the first step in managing organizations is preparation. You laying the foundation for your volunteer management program, even if even if you’re just talking about a few volunteers, you need to think about it as a volunteer program that you’re creating. So step one, identify your tasks. Talk to your organization team, the people that help you put things on some examples carrying sound equipment winding the sound tables, filling water coolers, social media person, you know, just sit down and think about what is it that we need to happen that isn’t happening. And think about it in tasks.

Next, organize those into roles so that you’re looking at things that pair well together. Because you might have a list of 27 things, but you might not be able to get 27 volunteers. So start thinking about “What are the most important things?”, or “Are there tasks that could be paired together into roles?” So like a sound equipment assistant could carry sound equipment, wire and sound cables; they could bring a latte to your sound card person, who really just needs that boost of caffeine before your event starts—you know, whatever it is, that’s the clump that they do.

And then what you want to do from there is create role descriptions, not job descriptions, but similar kind of thing. You want to describe the work that needs done, what tools are needed, and where they can find the tools. When you expect them to do this, and how often any required training or organization that you need them to do, like going back up, winding sound cables.

If any of you cringed when I put that up there, it’s because sometimes there’s a way that something needs to be done. And you need to think about how you’re going to tell your folks, show them the way that you need them to be done. You also need to identify the point person for them, if they have questions, if something comes up, and they’re not able to cover their shift, if they, you know, want to try to shift things, they need to know exactly who to contact.

So those are kind of the fundamentals of creating role descriptions. These slides will all be available online after this if anybody needs it.

You also need to think about the data that you need from those volunteers and come up with a plan for managing it. So what do you need to collect? Name contact information? Do you need their email address and their phone number? Do you need more than that? Stick to what you need, don’t go, I would say, don’t go overboard. Right off the bat. We’ll talk about why in a minute.

Where will you keep this information, and who needs to access it? So it can be something as basic as “I have purchased a notebook; this is my group’s volunteer notebook. This is who has it; this is where all the information is kept.” It can be more complex: you can do Google Sheets, a spreadsheet. There are also more advanced systems that bigger groups use. The point is you need to think about it ahead of time, so that you know where that information is going to go.

And it would be good to think about how you might want to use that information in the future. So a lot of groups I know sometimes send out an annual appeal, or fundraising, or if you’re doing a capital campaign, course, any equipment or anything like that, you want to make sure that the people who have stepped up to your volunteer call are included in that, because they’re bought in and they care about the future of your organization.

And finally, you want to map out your communication system. So that sounds overwhelming. But what I mean is, how do you plan to connect and communicate with the volunteers. Sometimes you might need to ask them what they prefer. There are people who are very responsive to texts, there are people who are very responsive to emails, there are people who will only really engage if you call them. Those are the kinds of things that it’s good to understand about the people who are volunteering for you. And if you plan to send out eblasts, tell them “We plan to send out some eblasts, we’d appreciate it if you’d read it. But we’ll do our best to communicate with you in in the way that we can.”

There are so many options for this. Just talking through how you want to start, and then evaluating it as you go, and see if it’s working for your volunteers in your team. And think through: are some roles going to need more communication than others?

So I always like coming up with communication plans where they’re the most efficient as possible, right? We want to email everybody at one time, get all the message out and give everybody everything they need. But if you have some roles that need a lot more information or a lot more communication, and the other roles don’t need that, then it’s worth thinking through.

Okay, how about our plan is that the people filling this role that need the extra information or contact, we plan to do some extra reach out to them and follow up? This is all very big, but I think some of you can think, you know, think about the difference between sweeping a floor and opening up the building, or picking up the rental sound equipment or or the chairs that you’ve rented for the event, whatever it is that you need. There are different levels. So just think ahead a little bit.

Oh, there’s one final note on preparation. Go ahead and plan ahead on appreciation. Think about building into your calendar in your annual plan special recognition for your volunteers. And that could include having a designated person at the mic. It could be offering free or discounted admission, if you are in a position to do that. And I do know that our guests will be speaking to that a little bit later. A gratitude event like a party or a potluck at the end of your season, or if you have any swag or bling like T shirts, or old hats or towels with Ed Stern’s face on them, because that’s a chemistry thing. But what what do you have in stock that you can show, give as gratitude. Go ahead and plan ahead for that, because it’s too easy for things to get stressful down the road and to to not make it happen. But if you plan ahead, it happened.

And then this is a pro tip. This is something that we heard over and over again at the food bank. Never, ever, ever underestimate the power of “Thank you.” And I think what I would say is, never assume that people know how grateful you are for them. I mean, I think that’s probably true for humanity in general. But for volunteers in particular, once things are moving like a well-oiled machine, it can get really easy to think, oh, you know, you nod and wave. It’s no big deal. But having someone or multiple people who are involved in leading the organization, say, “Hey, thanks, we really appreciate your doing a great job.” It makes a huge difference. It helps people know that they’re valued.

I have been to dances, I have volunteered at dances where that doesn’t happen. And it’s not because anyone means any harm. But I think this is something that you need to get your whole group on board with, if you’re really serious about keeping your volunteers.

Okay, so let’s move on to recruiting. Again, I’m powering through this because I want to get to the guests. So sources of volunteers. I think as you know, your best source is your participants. And I can feel like you’ve asked before and you haven’t gotten a response. But I would say, don’t be deterred, keep asking, keep trying to ask in different ways, because those people are already somewhat bought into what you do and why you do it. And they want it to keep going.

If you feel like you need to look beyond, the local universities and high school students…High schools often have community volunteer programs where organizations can sign up. And students who either need to fill service hours or are interested in volunteering, can look at the organizations and make some choices. I would say that it’s worth doing it, I wouldn’t put your all your eggs in that basket. But there are a few folks who have had success doing, reaching out to universities that have those programs. It’s important when you’re recruiting to take a multi-channel approach.

So I’m just going to talk about talking about recruiting from your participant pool right now. I think a lot of folks do an ask at the mic. That’s one channel. Another channel is could be Facebook messages. Another channel could be a written letter that you send to your mailing list or phone calls. direct conversations are definitely in there. But think about trying to message people in different ways.

Because we have a lot coming at us at all, all the time. It’s easy to hear or see something once and think, “Oh, I’m going to remember to follow up on that,” and then not do it. So just give people a lot of opportunities and plan to really message it for a period of time. So your recruitment shouldn’t be based on one event, you should have a recruitment season where you are messaging over and over again, the need for volunteers.

And yeah, so I think whatever you choose on the multi-channel approach, however you want to get your message across, you need to be ready to follow up with individual conversations. So I hope you are looking around you and seeing, starting to think about who is it who’s been coming and who, you know, looks like they could lift a broom really well or who you know, who who tends to who’s showing some interest in in our social media or responding to our social media posts and Facebook posts. Follow up with folks, say “Hey, did you hear that announcement? Did you hear it? We said, I think you’d be great. I’d love to talk to you about it.” You really need to, when you’re recruiting, think about your messaging.

So this is, okay, I’m taking a breath, because this if you walk away with nothing else from this web chat, I want you all to walk away with this, in your mind. Nobody wants to jump aboard a sinking ship. When we’re stressed, and when we’re overwhelmed, and when we need volunteers most. We can feel, you know, desperate, urgent, stressed and anxious. But when you approach someone to volunteer, you’re inviting them into your world. And if the first dominant impression of your experience is that it is driving you off the deep end, they’re not going to want to join. So you’ve got to really focus yourself, take a deep breath, be calm and positive when inviting people to volunteer.

I’m not saying you can’t be honest, if they’re asking, you know, “What’s really going on? How bad is it for you?”, but they probably won’t in that conversation. So think about getting that under wraps before you approach people. Shrink the ask. And that goes back to why you’re developing role descriptions, right? You want to ask someone to do something they feel is in their capacity to do, hopefully in their capacity to do easily, without a lot of, you know, inconvenience.

Do you know the story “Stone Soup?” Sailors come into town. They’re hungry, they’re starving, they ask people to feed them. Everybody in town is impoverished as well and doesn’t feel like they can feed hungry soldiers. So that everybody says no to these desperate, sad, you know? So child soldiers on their last leg, they sit down, they think about it. And then they start instead of asking for to be fed as a group, they ask, you know, well, they say it’d be nice if someone we had carrots, I wonder if there any onions. And when the ask changed from “Feed me and my comrades who are desperate and on our last leg,” when the ask changes to “Do you have a few carrots to spare? Do you have an onion to spare? Yes, and celery,” then people open their doors.

Yes, it is a story. But it is one of the most one of the wisest stories I’ve ever read. So just think Stone Soup, keep it calm. Nobody wants to jump on board a sinking ship. Shrink the ask and emphasize how clear and easy it’s going to be.

So you can say, “Hey, we’ve made it super easy. Here’s an entire job description. Everything you need is here, this is who you contact.” That’s what you want to do.

Another thing that you want to do when you have those recruiting conversations is to set expectations from the beginning. So refer to your role descriptions and make sure that what you’ve written and what you’re talking about is clear. Discuss any necessary training. So if someone’s going to be your sound equipment assistant, go ahead and talk to them. Like, “Hey, there’s a way that we’ve found that works really well. And we’re going to help connect you with Hannah over there who runs our sound, and she’s going to help you. She’s going to make sure that you know, everything you need to know.”

And then say, “I’m going to follow up with you. Here’s when I’m going to do it.” Like “I’m going to give you a call,” or “I’m going to take you out for coffee,” whatever, it depends on how well you know them. So that they know exactly what to expect next. And all of that really sets the tone that this is this is you have thought through this, this is a reasonable ask, this is something that you’re going to set them up for success. It’s no big deal at all.

If you do want to recruit at your events, you could think about ways to make it fun. Some people have done skits to catch people’s attention. I know that when you’re at the mic and people are making lots of announcements at the mic, they kind of tune it out. So anything, anything to draw some extra attention. 

Okay, so you’ve identified your roles, you’ve made some recruitment efforts. You’ve got some people who’ve taken the bait. Now you want to think about training and support. You want to make sure that you scale your training requirements to your volunteer roles. You don’t have to make complex training plans for every role that you have. You just want to make sure that you’re setting folks up for success. That there’s a way you want that floor swept. Tell them, don’t make it a guessing game. Be sure that what’s going to just that little bit to the side.

Be sure that your volunteers know, if you have a mission, vision, or values, or things that are important to your organization, make sure your volunteers know that up front. And especially if you have a code of conduct or behavior policy, go over it with them, or point to it and make sure that they read it. The last thing you want is someone who is representing your organization in a way that you’re uncomfortable with. So just really make sure that they know what they need to know about what you expect.

I’m planning to have a check in conversation to give feedback and answer questions, like right up front, say, “Welcome to your first shift. That’s great, you have what you need. Wonderful, I’m going to follow up with you at the end of the dance,” or “I’m going to follow up with you next week and see how it went and see if you have any questions.” And that’s a chance to just touch base and get things adjusted quickly if they need to be adjusted.

Oh, there’s one thing I did forget to say. Back up when we were talking about your volunteer roles. One role that you really need to consider making is a volunteer coordinator. It’s really, groups of people do this, and they do it well. But it can be hard. And if you are in a position where you can designate one point person as as the person heading this effort up, it really makes things go smoother. And I thought of that here, because it’s often that person that’s following up with books.

Okay, so as you continue to train and support them, you want to be be sure that you’re communicating both proactively and responsibly. So send reminders and appreciations as your proactive communication plan. You thought ahead, you knew you were going to do this. But also be ready to respond quickly. Don’t leave a volunteer hanging, because it kind of makes them feel like what they’re doing for you doesn’t matter. If you can build this into your team, try to remember to tell to go beyond the thank you and tell your volunteers that they’re doing a great job, not just the volunteer coordinator, but coming from other organizers or other people involved in the dance, that can really setting a whole culture of showing appreciation for volunteers can go a long way.

Right? I think we’re almost there. So there will be difficult situations, something will go wrong at some point, because that’s what happens with humans, it does not mean that you’ve done anything that your whole program is wrong, or that your efforts have been for naught, you need to just expect that there will be some mismatches and be ready to respond to it.

So some things that you would want to do in a situation where a volunteer has not, you know, examples would be if a volunteer is showing up later than they need to, and it’s causing problems, or if if someone is wrapping the sound cords the wrong way, I’m sorry, there are better examples. But that’s the one that stuck in my head right now. Or if you know, maybe it’s a behavioral thing, you want to address it immediately. You don’t want to let time—or as soon as possible, you don’t want to let a lot of time go between when the issue happened and when it didn’t. And it can be as simple as a calm and honest conversation. You want to avoid shame, and guilt and condescension.

I think that can be hard when you’re frustrated with someone. But I think it’s really important, because if this is just a blip, you could lose a very solid volunteer or long term supporter of your organization. So really just you know, again, try to get in the right headspace before you talk to somebody. You want to differentiate between their intention and their impact. So you, you can you know, the difference between—I think everybody understands that, but I would just say that, you’re there to address the impact, not their intention. And if if they’re feeling defensive, you might need to read, you might need to affirm their intention, or that you understand that they didn’t have bad intention, or that they had good intentions. But that can kind of help someone feel like “Oh, you’re not judging me as a person. We’re just talking about the impact of my behavior and my actions,” and give them a chance to course correct.

It’s helpful to refer to the original role description or behavior policy or things that you talked about up front. You can think about: is there a better role that would suit them? Maybe arriving 20 minutes before the dance is just something they can’t do. I have trouble arriving on time. I would, I might be one of those people where you would have to say, “It’s important that this person in this role arrives on time. If you think this is going to continue be a challenge, would you like—can we talk about a different volunteer role?” Right, give them an opening.

But what I want to say to everybody, and what’s important to keep in mind is that yes, you can set boundaries with volunteers. And you can fire a volunteer if you need to. I’m sure nobody wants to do that. I’ve done this many times. It’s a weird thing to say, but I’m fairly good at it. So if you are in that situation, and feeling uncomfortable, and you want to reach out and just kind of use me as a sounding board, you are always welcome to do that.

But, you know, just because someone is a volunteer, it doesn’t mean you cannot do what’s best for the organization, you just want to make sure that you’ve been really clear with the expectations upfront, you’ve been on it with the training and support, that you followed up immediately and gave them some options for a different pathway. And at that point, if it’s still not working, then I think then you can say, “You know what, let’s go back to when you were just a participant,” but in a better way.

So, okay, that went a little longer than I meant, but that’s my spiel. And so, I think next, you’re going to hear some more concrete, real-life dance situations that will hopefully get your wheels turning, thinking of some questions and some things that you want to bring into the discussion later.

I want to do a quick check. Joanna, do you know if Miriam has joined yet? Miriam is—she has—great. Okay, so I’m going to just show two slides. And then I’m going to turn this slideshow off and we’re going to feature those two folks.

Our first guest is Lydia McAnerney from the Tapestry Folkdance Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She’s not in this picture. It’s just a lovely picture. Tapestry has been around since 1983. They purchased their own building in 1999. And they run a wide variety of programming, including English country dance, contra, Scottish, morris, community dances, songs, and a whole lot more. So Lydia will be talking about a larger, more complex volunteer mechanism.

And we also have Miriam Graham from Moab. And as I said, Moab, the Moab Community Dance Band, it started out as musicians who wanted to increase their skills, and they are focused, they were focusing on contra, Irish and dance music. And they, the musicians, are the ones that work together to put on dances to go with their music. I just love that. That’s the direction of that.

So without further ado, let me stop sharing my screen. And then Joanna, if you can, we can highlight those folks.

Okay, are we seeing? Let’s see. I think I need to change my view. Okay, great. Wonderful. So I asked these fine folks, five questions. So I’m going to read out the questions. And then Lydia and Miriam, I’m gonna let you chime in. The first question I had for them was “How do you recruit volunteers?” So Lydia, do you want to get it started?

Lydia McAnerney 34:15

So Tapestry Folkdance Center has basically six programs that we run as Tapestry programs. And each of those programs has a steering committee of volunteers. And in the steering committee, there are different roles. And one of those roles is the volunteer coordinator. So supposedly, and sometimes it doesn’t work this way, but mostly each steering committee recruits volunteers from their community. A lot of it is by asking individually, and we do have an E-News that goes out from the office saying, and we have a volunteer recruitment season when we really push volunteers and salute them, acknowledge their work.

It’s really individual asks that makes the most difference. And I think you can say all kinds of things from the mic, but until you actually say, “Sarah, would you like to do XYZ?” That’s really, really the best way that we’ve gotten people. And I think that that makes the most difference is the individual ask.

You know, I’ve been working with volunteers for 30 years. And when I have a general “Would you like to do blah, blah, blah?” in a newsletter—that’s just letting people know that that role is out there. But when you actually ask people, I would say about 90% of the time, they’ll say, “Sure, I can do that.”

And I like what Katy said about role descriptions. We have those, I think we’ll get into that a little bit later. But having role descriptions, we’ve put a lot of things together to support the volunteers, and that people need to know that they have a support. So when recruiting people, we always say, you know, “Here’s how we’re going to train you. Here’s how we’re going to support you,” so that they know that.

Katy German 36:03

That’s great. Miriam, how about you? Might be muted. Okay, good. Yes, that’s perfect. Thank you.

Miriam Graham 36:31

You can hear me? Yeah, I’m actually, we do things very similarly to Lydia’s really big organization, although ours is really small. And this is a mobile app. It’s a very small town, and very gossipy. And so the way that we get volunteers, if they’re not already band members, is totally from word of mouth and speaking to friends and friends of friends. And that’s mainly, you know, I might call somebody up who is a friend or an acquaintance and who I see at the dances all the time. And also, we have a Facebook page, and we seek volunteers occasionally on that. And we have a big long dance mailing list. But it’s mainly word of mouth, I think, and talking to friends on an individual basis. Just like Lydia was saying. Yeah.

Katy German 37:33

Great. It’s good to know that that same approach is wildly successful for large and complex organizations and smaller ones.

Miriam Graham 37:41

Well, it’s hard to say no to somebody that you already know, you know?

Katy German 37:49

I’m going to stay with you, Miriam. So the next question is, do you offer any incentive to your volunteers for their labor?

Miriam Graham 37:56

Well, if they’re not already band members? Sure. I mean, well, our dances are by donation. And so we can say “You can get into the dance free,” but it’s more like a token symbolic. You know, because a lot of people don’t donate anyway, when they come to the dances, maybe half. But we make it so that they don’t have to worry about, you know, admission fees or anything like that.

Occasionally, we have some extra t-shirts around. So we try to give those out as well. But mainly, I think our incentive is just to—at least I try to make people feel that they’re really valuable. And as you were saying before that, you know, you can’t thank them enough. I’ve been a volunteer a lot in my life. And I’ve also supervised volunteers, like we talked about at the food bank, and in my opinion, volunteers are like gods, and you know, you just have to really revere them for you know, and you know, and and be really genuine about it. So those are the incentives.

Katy German 39:09

Great, yeah. Lydia, how about you? What do you all do?

Lydia McAnerney 39:11

Well, I think you know, I agree with Miriam. I think people volunteer because they want to support the organization. And I think we that’s always, for me anyway, the top reason for being a volunteer is to support the organization.

We have different roles because we own a building and we have different programs that happen at different nights, right? We have three sort of main volunteers for events, and those people are the openers, people who open the building, turn on the lights, the heat, make sure the HVAC is working, get money out. Sometimes we have admission volunteers who take all the admissions. They sit at a desk and they have certain things, we use a Square, so that they need to know a little bit about that. And then we have closers. People who for the second part of the dance will do—close the buildings. So they turn everything off, make sure everything buddies out, make sure the building is clean and set up for whoever’s coming next.

So we’ve recently kind of revised some of our policies. And so someone who can dance, so an opener and a closer can dance during the dance, they come in, they open them there, you can dance all night. And admission volunteers really needs to sit at the table, at the admission desk for the first, at least the first half and part of the second half of the dance to take care of all the money. So they get a pass. And the pass is good for one year.

People who are on the steering committee, people who are on the board, they don’t—there, the incentive is, again, to support the organization. So they don’t, there’s no incentive for them. I think there’s a lot of thank yous, and that’s fast and furious. I think we try to make sure people who are who are dancers will support and thank the people who are on the steering committees and who are in the board. So that comes from the top, but it comes from the bottom also, you know, sort of the bottom that people who are dancers are not, don’t have a role. We’ve tried to get them to thank the people who are also, you know, volunteering in those capacities.

We used to have a member dinner that the board would would provide to support members and volunteers. We sort of gone away from that. And I’m hoping that we can sort of revise that, because I think we’ve tried to do volunteer events. And usually people don’t come to a volunteer event. So no, they don’t need to know there’s, they’re thanked all the time, and they know they’re supporting the organization. So we don’t really do a big volunteer end-of-the-year kind of thing anymore.

Katy German 41:42

So that makes sense. Yeah. All right. Okay, Lydia, I’m sticking with you to start the next here. Okay, how do you keep track of who’s doing what?

Lydia McAnerney 41:52

Okay. I guess for the three sort of main volunteers, admissions, openers, and closers, we use Signup Genius. So that’s a free program, we put out every month, we have a volunteer who takes care of organizing that, then checking with the calendar that we have, making sure that all the events have slots for the opener, closer, and admissions volunteer. And then the great thing about Signup Genius is once the person has signed up, they get a reminder, not only a reminder that they’ve signed up, but also a couple of days before their shift, they get a reminder that nobody has to do—it’s all automated.

So for us, we have, you know, during the year, during the month, there’ll be a dance on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Every month, there’s a dance once a month on a Monday. So there are lots of volunteer slots that are open. And we have a pretty regular cadre of volunteers. I think there’s about 100 people that volunteer but really, maybe 30 or 40 people who are regular openers and closers. So right, you know, I do a shift, I think, try to go once a month to do a shift on on one night. But sometimes I miss that. But you know, we have people who do regularly or irregularly sign up. So we have a pretty good, good, solid cadre of people. Great.

We also have, you know, a spreadsheet of volunteers, we use Google Sheets to keep track of people. And we’re working on putting a database together, which hasn’t really been in existence. So we do collect information on people and try to reach out to them on a pretty regular basis. So we keep that that information.

Katy German 43:37

Great. So, Lydia, if if anybody wanted to reach out and get some more information about how you set that up? Could they do that?

Lydia McAnerney 43:47

Oh, sure. Yep. I can put my email address in the chat if that would be helpful.

Katy German 43:51

Great. Thank you. Well, we’ll include it in follow up information as well. Miriam, how about you? How do you keep track of who’s doing what it’s not as big of a challenge, but still a challenge? Well,

Miriam Graham 44:05

I don’t, we’re such a small operation that we really don’t have any kind of system like that. And I don’t think we need one. I mean, we don’t need too many volunteers, and the band members do most of the stuff. And it’s probably not the best way, but I do just keep it in my head. I might do recommend that to other people. But it you know, our operation is so small.

Katy German 44:34

But that’s going to be the reality for some of the smaller groups. And if it works, it works. I think that’s—I’m actually really glad you said that, because I I just want to reemphasize over and over again that this this needs to be scaled to what makes sense for your organization and what works for you. And so yeah, you’re a great example of how it doesn’t have to be a complex system to be successful. program to attracting volunteers. Great.

Miriam, question number four, what’s the biggest challenge been for you so far? And not—I mean, in terms of managing volunteers is what I’m asking. 

Miriam Graham 45:15

Well, I thought of a couple of them. One was, lately, we’ve been having a lot of young folks at our dances and also in the band, which is really wonderful. One thing I’ve noticed is that young folks are very busy. They’re very enthusiastic, but they’re not real high on commitment. So they may say they’re interested in doing something or they are—they’re gonna do it—but then something comes up…things like that. So that can be a challenge. And so sometimes it’s better to get a retired person, or somebody who’s not so busy.

The other challenge is something that is a…personal challenge. People get used to me doing everything. And I think that that’s a challenge for me too. You know, get more volunteers to do stuff so I don’t burn out for one thing. And, you know, just keep track of that. So, yeah.

Katy German 46:26

Yeah, great. Lydia, how about you what’s been challenging and most challenging so far? 

Lydia McAnerney 46:32

Well, you know, I wrote a couple of things when I sent you my my notes. But I think, as Miriam mentions, young folks being, you know, hard on commitment, I think we have a problem.

I think our biggest challenge is that most of our volunteers are older, and we have our younger volunteers, and younger dancers are not as many as we’d like to see. So for us, I think, relying on older people, which is great, but as they age out, we had two people who used to do lots and lots of things, and they’ve now have health issues, and they’re not able to volunteer anymore. And so how do we replenish our volunteer corps with people who are younger, and you know, able to make a commitment? But I think recruiting younger dancers is a big challenge for us as well. So I think that’s one of the challenges—just not having younger volunteers.

And there are a few people who have been doing everything. And again, how do we move on from having those people be replaced, or maybe not replaced.

But adjunct add to people who can be in charge, we have one volunteer who travels a lot. And she’s been basically our volunteer coordinator, and she’s about to be gone for three weeks, and who’s gonna jump in and take take care of some of the issues that she deals with? Probably me. But, you know, I don’t want to be the main person either.

So I think that’s the challenge that we need to really look at is how do we… manage our volunteers without one person holding all the cards? I think that’s a big challenge.

I think one other thing is that because we’re a larger organization, we are using technology, and some of the older people have a hard time using that technology. And so that sometimes becomes a problem. And so training is over and over and over to try to make sure people know how to use the technology that we use.

Katy German 48:30

Yeah… I know at the food bank, sometimes a strategy that our volunteer center would employ for the more complex jobs is to try to recruit people in pairs or clusters, so that there’s a built-in social connection and commitment. And I wonder if that would that would apply in this situation?

Yeah, that’s hard. And I also know, I mean, I imagine it’s hard too: what technology means varies widely. So something like there are people who are not very comfortable with emails even, or that they don’t do a lot of emailing. It’s very targeted. And they’re also people who almost never use email anymore. Like they very rarely check their email or they only have an email because they’re required to pay to buy something or sign up for a service.

And so I’m there are people, young folks I know, that almost never communicate via email. And so if your entire communication plan is email based, that’s that’s a barrier right there. And that’s kind of goes back to why if you have the capacity and time and energy to talk to people about “Hey, what’s the best way to get your attention? Or or talk to you? What do you respond to best?” But yeah, thank you for being candid about those challenges, because that’s gonna impact a lot of us. So, kind of maybe sticking with you, Lydia for a minute, you had a few things that you recommended that you would recommend to people. What are those things?

Lydia McAnerney 50:28

I think we do use job descriptions. We’ve spent quite a bit of time in the last couple years putting together a volunteer handbook. And again, we’re a larger organization, but I think even a small organization can make sure that there’s a job description or role description, so people know exactly what they’re going to be doing, how long it takes, what is their training, you know, what am I? what are five things that I have to do as an opener? or as whatever the job is. And I think, you know, the handbook has been really helpful.

For Sally, who’s been our volunteer coordinator, has made pictures of  all the things that you need to do as the admissions is probably the most complicated job, she’s gone through and make pictures of everything. Here’s how you do these things, so that [if] you can’t figure out how to do it, you know, here’s the picture of how it works.

And our finance person who’s a staff person at Tapestry is helped to put together a report, so that at the end of every dance, we know how to record: Here’s how many people came; here’s how much money was made. And so that gets turned in. So I think having some things that make it easy and very clear for the volunteers, if they need to make a report or need to turn a piece of paper in, that they know exactly how to do that.

Katy German 51:53

So and that’s something that could be that could help someone else step in— like if someone else needs to step in and support volunteers or cover things— having that. I know Joanna, you mentioned that your—Miriam, I’m going to come to you in just a moment. But I think Joanna, you are talking today about what your group did. Do you want to jump in here?

Joanna Wilkinson 52:15

Sure. So I have long been a member/caller/volunteer for the Germantown country dancers in Philadelphia. And one of the things that we do for all of our various committees or areas is every group is responsible for creating a procedures manual. So that contains all the different things like how to do this job, what is the timeline of the year? Where do the responsibilities fall within the year?

And another thing each group is supposed to think about is position turnover. So whether that is planning for the next person to come on board, or what are the skills or things you need to know or be able to do to do this job. And for our organization, we have a nominating committee. And they are supposed to keep track of some of the things in the procedures manuals and take these things into account, as they are looking for the next group of committee leaders or ball chairs, or whatever it is for the next year.

Because another thing that’s very important to us is that no one is really allowed to own a position. And I say that knowing that recruiting volunteers is hard. And having people who really know how to do their jobs and who are willing to do it for year after year after year is fantastic. And you don’t want to tell them no, we don’t need you because we do need you. But at the same time, physician turnover is important to help people avoid burnout, and also to bring new people into the organization, whether you’re giving them a large role or a smaller role. So those are just some of the things we think about.

Lydia McAnerney 54:07

I would agree. We have several people who run events, and they’ve been doing it for 10, 12 years, and it’s their thing, and they can’t—it’s hard for them to give it up. That’s the other the other piece of it. It can’t change because this is mine.

Katy German 54:22

So, well, even when you know you should give it up, it’s hard to give it up. I mean, that’s just anytime you love something and you put that much work into it, it is hard. Miriam, I asked you the same question to if you had any recommendations for folks. What do you say to that?

Miriam Graham 54:41

Well, just to tag into what you were saying, what Joanna was saying. It’s important to not be so attached to, you know, doing things the way they’ve always been done or how you want them to be done. It’s really important to accept new ideas, especially with younger people, and not to micromanage them, you know, and make sure that you can let go of the need to have everything done exactly your way. And the other recommendation is, really, to just have volunteers period, because if you’re trying to do everything yourself, you’re just going to burn out. The other things that you, Katy, were talking about when I first tuned in here, you know, giving people small jobs, thanking them a lot, just kind of human things.

Katy German 55:50

Right. All right. Well, those were the questions that I asked of our guests today. It’s, I think, time for us to go to our Q&A portion, which is a chance for anybody to ask questions. Again, we’ll give our guests an option to respond, but if you yourself have an answer or response to the person, and you’d like to offer that—oh, sorry, I’m doing Joanna’s job. Speaking of doing your job,  Joanna, and not micromanaging, tell us how people can…

Joanna Wilkinson 56:29

You’re doing a great job! You can keep going. So yes, so as Katy just mentioned, all of you have experience and you might have ideas and can help answer some of these questions. So if you do, you know, I’m going to give Lydia and Miriam a chance to answer first, but please use the raise hand feature, and I’ll call on you and ask you to unmute. And the way you can find the raise hand feature is looking, usually, at the bottom of your screen where it says reactions, and then you can click raise hand, and I’ll call on you. And then you can lower your hand or on your screen, you might have to click More and then find the reactions and raise hand. Great. So I’m going to start with a question that was put in the chat. And this is from Joe. So here’s one of Joe’s questions. And this is something that we’ve touched on a little bit, and it’s about attracting and retaining younger volunteers. And do you have any approaches for that? So Lydia, let’s start with you.

Lydia McAnerney 57:31

Now, I think we’re not super successful at that. We have some younger people. And again, we needed someone to help with an event that we’re planning. And I would suggest, well, let’s ask Sarah and nobody who did so. So I asked. And she said, Sure. So, again, it’s that—it’s just asking.

And again, I feel like my body is old, but my brain is not. And so I sort of approach people thinking, Well, I don’t look that old, but I am. And so I think it’s harder when you have older people asking younger people. And so if we can, we have a couple of new board members who are younger and getting them to be our sort of frontline people I think is really going to be key to starting. We have a young musician who has been at college and he’s graduating, he’s coming back. And he’s in three bands. And I think having him there and getting Matt to be able to start asking people to help, I think that’s really going to help us and we need to start relying on them a little bit to be helpful. So it’s still the direct ask, I guess.

Joanna Wilkinson 58:43

Great. Miriam, what about you? Any approaches for younger volunteers?

Miriam Graham 58:50

I agree with what Lydia just said. We happen to have a band member who was young and very good at talking to his younger friends. And, but if you don’t have somebody like that, you could, I would find a younger person who comes to a lot of the dances and just approach them. And it seems like […] younger people like to do stuff with their friends and, and, you know, start with one person, try to get them to get some of their friends to help out.

One thing we do at the end of a dance is we just get on the mic and say, “Can we have some people to put away chairs?” and you know, usually there’s, you know, groups of people standing around who are friends, and we never have trouble getting help that way, even though we haven’t planned it in advance. Which may not be the best way but it works for us. So…

Joanna Wilkinson 59:47

One approach that I have used for events is something that was touched on earlier, is asking a group of people to take on a task or a job running an event. And that’s where, if you have a group of younger folks, you know, maybe a small group or a larger group, depending on what it is asked, Can you as a group just make this thing happen.

And sometimes making it bigger, like develop the system for putting away the chairs; that’s just an example. That gives them a chance to make a mark a little bit or make an event of their own. But part of that is the rest of the group. Being willing for that to happen. And to accept changes, that may not be the way it has always been done. So something to think about, too. We had a couple of hands raised. I don’t know if it was on this topic or another. Dana, you have your hand up? I don’t know if you have a question or if you have a comment or an idea about recruiting younger volunteers.

Dana Best 1:00:50

Hi, thank you for this wonderful discussion. The group process that Katy and then Joanna just discussed is how to, you know, you’re talking about how to ask a couple or a group of people to do a task. Can you elaborate on how to do that? We have a particular need for people to get trained to do check-ins at the desk. And our check-in process is fairly laborious is because we’re still contact tracing.

Joanna Wilkinson 1:01:25

Lydia or Miriam, do you have any thoughts about that?

Lydia McAnerney 1:01:36

We did contact tracing—not really contact tracing, I think that would be laborious, to be honest. We had a list of people who had COVID vaccinations, and we check people in that way. We just use a spreadsheet to check people in, and we had a volunteer whose particular job was that. So that was separated out from doing admissions, so that we had just one person doing that one task. And that wasn’t a very long task, because most people come within the first 15 to 30 minutes of the dance, and then that person could go dance. So it was—you know, they didn’t have to pay to get into our dance. So I think trying to maybe separate out the tasks so that you can make them be, you know: this is the only thing.

Dana Best 1:02:24

I’m not asking about the process  because our process is pretty well defined. I’m talking about how to get a group of people, or a couple of people how to identify them, and then ask them as a group to do a volunteer job.

Joanna Wilkinson 1:02:41

Yeah, so I’m gonna call on Gaye for a moment. Gaye, you put your comment in the chat, but just in case people didn’t see it, I thought you had an insightful comment, especially bringing this around to younger volunteers. Do you want to say what you wrote in the chat?

Gaye Fifer 1:02:55

Sure. Um, I just I know a community that spent a lot of energy recruiting younger volunteers, and then told them, This is exactly how you have to do it. And so the young volunteers weren’t allowed any creativity or any, any chance to figure things out on their own and come up with different ways to do things. So I just am cautioning us that when we recruit, especially when we recruit young volunteers, we need to give them space to do things in new and different ways as well.

Katy German 1:03:27

I think that’s an excellent point. Part of the danger of condensing volunteer management best practices down into this tiny thing is that there’s a lot of nuance that is missed, I think. You know, setting people up for success is something to think through. I think there’s real opportunity in the follow up to say, “Do you have any ideas for how this could be done differently?” And that’s not just a youth thing. That’s anybody who volunteers. So I’m so glad you brought that up.

Dana, to your point, I think if I were in your position, I would approach your group or people and say, “Hey, we’d really love to get—we need some more volunteers. We thought it’d be fun for people to do things together instead of signing up separately. What would you… would you all be interested in being a volunteer team to cover something or X, Y and Z?” Like you have to have something specific. I mean, I think that’s, that’s the first way to go about it. Just to say that you’re kind of acknowledging that. It can be not fun to do something by yourself alone, but that you care about their fun and their enjoyment. And that could be a piece of it as well. And I don’t know that I have any more direct experience.

Joanna Wilkinson 1:04:49

I’ll make one comment about it and then we may have some other input from Miriam or for some others. If you are paying attention to who these folks are— whether they’re they’re clustering by age group or whatever else they’re doing—after a while, you’ll figure out that there’s one person or maybe a couple of people in that cluster, who are the instigators, who are the leaders, who are the people that make things happen.

So I taught dance to college students for years and years and years. And we had different periods of time when the students were very active and went to lots of events in the community. Why? Because of one person usually who said, “You know what? I’m going to get permission to drive a college van. And we’re all going to the contra dance on Saturday nights.” And you know what? They all went to the contra dance. So we figured out who those people were, and that could be the person to approach.

So you’re not talking to the whole group. You’re talking to one person: “Hey, let’s have a conversation! What would be fun for all of you? Do you think you could run one of the dances on Saturday night or whatever it is?” So pay attention to your people. And you may learn who’s the person to talk to. I hope that answers your question, Dana. Miriam, any other input on that? We didn’t hear from you on attracting clumps of people or clusters, or groups of folks. 

Miriam Graham 1:06:26

No, I agree with what you said though. Often there is one person who is going to grab other friends or whatever to do something, you know. We happen to have somebody in the band who does that. But yeah, it’s… I think that’s a really good way to go about it, to identify somebody who is good at that.

Joanna Wilkinson 1:06:54

Anne, did you have a comment on this topic? Or did you have another question? Different other questions? Great, why don’t we go on to your question, and why don’t you go ahead and ask your question.

Anne Smith 1:07:03

So this could be a big can of worms, and I don’t want to have us all disappear down the rabbit hole. But Lydia mentioned that there may be looking at or starting to use some kind of electronic database platform to organize membership. And then also I know it can be used for identifying volunteer interests of people that join the organization. And our group is currently looking at—we need to change what we’re using now. And what we’re using now is MemberPlanet. And it doesn’t…do what we want to do. But I was thinking maybe if people just had experience really liked the program they were using, they could just put them in the chat or something like that. Because right now we’re about to do a process of checking them out and making recommendations

Katy German 1:07:56

How about if we, I’ll put a prompt in the chat. And then if you can hit a reply to it, that would be great. So let me put that prompt in.

Joanna Wilkinson 1:08:06

All right. So while that’s happening, Lydia and Miriam, I’m gonna go on to the next question that we have. And this is an interesting thing for organizations to think about. When does your organization get big enough or complex enough that you change from one person doing everything, even if that’s one person recruiting all the volunteers to suddenly needing? Person number two, who’s a volunteer coordinator to help? Lydia, I’m going to start with you from a larger organization, from Tapestry. Was there a magic moment when you suddenly needed a volunteer coordinator? And does that have to do with how many events you have, how many volunteers you hope to have? …

Lydia McAnerney 1:08:56

So we actually don’t have a volunteer coordinator who coordinates all volunteers. So as I mentioned, each of our our six programs—well, five really: contra, English, Israeli, ballroom, international—they each have a steering committee and each of the steering committees, they’re volunteers, and one of the tasks is to be the volunteer coordinator. So they’re the ones who check Signup Genius every month and see if there’s nobody, they send a note out saying, you know, we need somebody for March 12th or whatever.

So, but we do have this one woman who has been kind of the volunteer coordinator and realizing her tasks have gotten bigger and bigger and bigger, and we really do need somebody to coordinate all of the volunteers and I think that’s something that we really need to take a look at. In a way, we’ve gotten bigger because we have a lot of rental groups. We don’t really need volunteers to deal with them. Our executive director does.  But the volunteer situation is it’s just gotten more organized but more complex at the same time. So I think that’s something that we really need to take a look at and either find a staff person to do that. if that’s possibly the next move, because we do have three staff, part-time staff people.

Joanna Wilkinson 1:10:20

So complexity is really the pivot there. Miriam, what do you think, from a smaller organization? 

Miriam Graham 1:10:29

Yeah, I agree. We don’t need anything like that now at all. And we’ve been going for over 15 years. I think the point at which we would need a volunteer coordinator—in our case, anyway—is if we were to put on say, a contra dance weekend, and then we would find somebody to volunteer to be a volunteer coordinator. But other than that, we don’t need one. Because we’re small. 

Joanna Wilkinson 1:11:04

So if anyone else has any comments on this topic about that moment when you need a coordinator, underneath a leader to help with your volunteers, this would be great to hear from you. Or if you have any other questions, you can use the raise hand feature or pop them into the chat and I will call on you or read out your question. Anne, did you get your question answered? Are people going to give you some answers about member database software? 

Anne Smith 1:11:28

Not sure how to find the answers. Oh, there they are.

Joanna Wilkinson 1:11:31

They will be in the chat for you.

Katy German 1:11:34

We haven’t gotten any responses yet that I can see.

Anne Smith 1:11:42

Thank you.

Joanna Wilkinson 1:11:43

All right, I think we are at the end of our number of questions.

Katy German 1:11:50

Wow, I really expected more. We just got a… Oh, Lydia said that they use MailChimp for communications.

Anne Smith 1:12:04

And I’m sorry, Flipcause? What is that? That’s like an accounting program?

Lydia McAnerney 1:12:11

It’s an accounting program. But we just today, I think found out that it will link with our new website. The new website actually went up today. And it will link through Flipcause. We use that. It’ll be our database place where we can have a database [that] is kind of all encompassing.

Anne Smith 1:12:33 

Do you know what it costs?

Lydia McAnerney1:12:35

I don’t know, I don’t know. But I could put you in touch with… if you email… finance @ Tapestry Folkdance. Heidi, you can probably answer that question. She’s our finance person.

Anne Smith 1:12:49

Thank you.

Joanna Wilkinson 1:12:54

So I was just given a clarification on the previous question, which puts sort of a different spin on it. And I think it’s more for individuals who have started events rather than organizations that run events, which is: How do you know when it’s the right time to get volunteers at all to help you versus doing everything yourself? Because again, there is that simplicity, in knowing everything and holding all the pieces together. But there’s a moment when that becomes untenable. And I think probably many of you have experience with that.

Miriam Graham 1:13:31

Right? Yeah, can I say something about that? For me, it’s when you start to resent the fact that you’re doing everything—and hopefully before that! And you don’t have to start with a whole bunch of volunteers. You can start with a friend or one of the dancers and then you can kind of work up to more volunteers, if that’s what you think you need.

Joanna Wilkinson 1:14:01

There’s a group I know of that got volunteers to run a dance weekend because all of their meetings were actually brunch dates, and I think included champagne or something. [Laughter] Everybody wanted to be on this committee to help out. But it was a bigger event. So one person couldn’t do all of the things to make it happen.

Katy German 1:14:26

I have something to offer that’s not from the dance world, going back to food banking days. So this is something that I spent a lot of time working with pantries on, in my capacity is coming up with long term planning and succession planning for how their pantries are managed.

And there was definitely this—we had a rural service area, there’s so many caveats that go into this. There is definitely an archetype that that we—that I dealt with, which was basically “this will fall apart without me.” And sometimes there’s ego involved, and sometimes there’s not ego involved. But I would say, if that statement feels true to you, it’s time to talk to think about bringing more people in. You don’t, I would say, maybe don’t wait until you’re burned out. There are people who can go for years and years and not get burned out. But they’re going for years and years, and they may not be able to successively build buy-in with new people, if people don’t feel like they have a way to belong, and be a part of it, and contribute.

The other thing is, we never know what the future is going to be. There’s always, you know, the proverbial “get hit by a bus,” but there’s also “win the lottery and move to Portugal,” or you know, whatever, something, something significant happens in your life. You’ve put years into creating this. If you’re not happy, if you are at that point, whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, Would you feel good with this falling apart once you leave? And would you feel good about having to scramble and dump it on someone at the last minute if that’s the case? And I think nobody feels that way.

So I would say, ask yourself, would this fall apart or not happen without me? And if the answer’s yes, then it’s time to think about bringing some other folks in, just so there’s stability, because if you truly believe in the goodness of what you created, the goodness of what you created needs to outlast you, or your energy, or your capacity to service. So that’s my answer to that one.

Joanna Wilkinson 1:16:53

So we’ve had another question, which is about a different kind of volunteer recruitment. We’ve been thinking about your volunteers to open and close your dance and other really essential things. But how do you get volunteers to do things like form a board of a small organization that has never had one or recruit new board members?

So again, Lydia, and Miriam, I’ll ask you to think about this. But others of you in this meeting might have experienced doing this, and we’d love to hear from you too, just raise your hand, and I’ll call on you.

Katy German 1:17:36

But I didn’t get the raise hand function, I raised my hand. I would recommend taking a similar approach to recruiting volunteers, which is think about the roles that you want to fill first, you know, and describe what the work of that role would be. And think about how, you know, most boards need a president and a treasurer. And what are the responsibilities of those people? Where are the boundaries? How do they interrelate? How do they connect to the to you the person who’s trying to put this together? What role will you play? I think thinking through it from the standpoint of responsibilities and roles is the first step.

I do believe that asking someone to serve as a board member is asking them to take on more responsibility than the general volunteer. So thinking through trying to find the people who you feel would take that responsibility seriously, not overly seriously, but the right amount of seriously and who you would like to work with, and build a kind of a common plan for the future for your organization. I have not actually been in a position of having to start a board from scratch. So I’m speaking hypothetically, and I defer to anybody who’s had that experience, directly.

Lydia McAnerney 1:19:15

I think I like Gail’s idea of having a community meeting. […] our board used to have a member meeting once a year where we would make soup and dessert and people would come and eat food. And then we’d have a short, maybe 30-minute, meeting to let them know the state of the organization.

And for us, we have a lot of members […] somewhere around 200, 150-200 members, inviting them and letting them know what’s going on so that they know exactly what’s needed. And even if you’re a small organization, inviting people for food and short conversation can let them know what’s going on. I think the food is always the caveat. Let ’em eat first. Eat, drink and be merry— and then talk. It can be a serious talk. But…

Katy German 1:20:07

I completely agree with that.

Joanna Wilkinson 1:20:11

Anne, did you have a thought to share about that? 

Anne Smith 1:20:14

Yeah, I just wanted to share the evolution of the Corvallis Folklore Society. It started back in the ’70s. About …trying to think… Well, somewhere in the ’90s or early 2000s, they went through the process of becoming a 501(c)(3). And when you mentioned boards, I’m thinking, yeah, it’s because of the 501(c)(3), but maybe not everybody here has that status. So that’s a whole different thing to run a workshop on.

It’s quite a process, but it’s very helpful. You get discounts on your insurance from CDSS, et cetera. When I joined the board, they were in the process of revising their bylaws. And then you are restricted in certain ways once you’re a board and have to comply with the regulations of being a 501(c)(3). So that we cannot pay for any position; we can’t, we don’t have employees. And so when Lydia mentions having… I think she maybe implied they had several paid jobs, that… just wondering how you how you get around that if you go through all the, you know, withholding tax and all of that stuff. But so in general, I guess I’m just just putting out there for people to consider whether or not they should try to become a 501(c)(3). 

Joanna Wilkinson 1:21:47

And we’ve had some other comments in the chat. And yes, board basics is definitely a topic worth pursuing on its own. So stay tuned, we’ll get there too. But I want to make sure, Miriam, if you have something to add to the recruiting board members conversation that we hear from you, too. 

Miriam Graham 1:22:03

No, I don’t. I don’t have any experience. There is a board, an Arts Council that’s above us, but we’re under their umbrella. So fortunately, I don’t have to go to board meetings.

Joanna Wilkinson 1:22:19

So I want to see if there are any more questions on the chat. And Katy, make sure that you have enough time to look at the website and the resources. So let’s just take one last question here. This is again about boards. So for those of you who have boards, and experience with this, is it better for all board members to have specific responsibilities? Or should there be at-large board members without a particular role?

Katy German 1:22:52

Anne’s hand is fresh. 

Anne Smith 1:22:58

Yeah, in our board, we’re fairly fluid in that at our annual meeting, which we’re required to have, that’s where and the membership has to elect the board members. The members are approving a slate of people to be on the board. And then we assign the actual roles. You know, like, later on. So people change roles.

And this leads into the idea of succession. We’re working with that a lot now, where we’ve instituted, you know, when you want to become a board member in a certain role that that current board member, let’s say as treasurer, they will mentor the person for a year, then they work for a year and then the third year, they will mentor the next person.

But as far as how you get people to get into that it really, just to go back to the face-to-face recruiting. It really comes back to that and getting people who, well, go-getters who have other friends, you know, that are good, they’ll get those people on. So we are now gearing towards a somewhat younger demographic on our board. That means like early 30s. So it feels really, really good. That’s all I can think of.

Joanna Wilkinson 1:24:21

Joe, you had some comments here about boards.

Joe Harrington 1:24:24

Yeah, so I’ve been on I’ve been on a couple of boards both for dancing and for other stuff, and it really depends on the size of the organization and the scope of the work that the board has. So if you’re a small organization, you can barely get a president, vice president, secretary treasurer, right? The basic four; you may not have or need all that many people to make the thing run.

Boards basically have two purposes. One, is they’re the ideation, the creation of how is this I’m going to be done. And they also tend to be the people who are doing it. And there may very well be plenty of volunteers who are outside the board, but the ones on the board are the ones that are really committed to spending regular time on it. And so one of the ways that you can incentivize people to spend regular time on it is to put them on the board. And, you know, if you’re not even a huge, but even just a decently large dance, you may want to have three or four or five people who are on the board without a specific role, both for the ideas they bring, and for the ability to say, “Okay, we need some work in this area right now.” And you know, you guys are going to do it, or you ask them to volunteer for what things they want to do. So you have that labor pool, and you have the idea pool.

So I would say, if you can get to the size of organization where you can have, you know, an eight or ten Member board, you know, maybe you have your basic four offices, and then you’ve got maybe a volunteer coordinator and a booker and you know, one or two other things that are dance specific, you may still have three or four slots for at-large, and they may that may be very helpful.

Joanna Wilkinson 1:26:06

Lisa, you have your hand up.

Lisa Brown 1:26:09

When I joined the Country Dancers of Rochester, which happened when I moved from one city to the other, I didn’t like the way the board was set up, I felt that it didn’t give representation to both dance forms. So basically, I made it so that it changed. And I had to start from scratch.

And what I did was I looked at the way other boards and other dance groups were set up all over the country until I found one that I liked. And then I proposed one that had equal representation for both dance forms, or many or multiple dance forms. And then I said, this is what we should do. And basically cajoled everyone to accepting the fact that equal representation was important, and that we had to move to a new way of doing things.

So I kind of started from scratch, basically, and then had to we had to get somebody who was good at writing policies to form these new policies and the way that the organization was going to be set up. And basically, we have designated roles, we have the four officers which are required by law. And then we have three representa[tives] from each dance form. So the coordinator for that dance form, the booker, and the treasurer, and they form our board. So I did kind of have to start from scratch.

Now, I didn’t mean to cause a coup d’etat. But that’s basically what happened. I don’t recommend a coup d’etat to everyone, or to anyone. But sometimes, you know, when things are unfair, that’s what you have to do. So, what I recommend is going to see how other dance organizations are organized, find one that you like, and then emulating that—that organization.

Joanna Wilkinson 1:28:41

Thank you, Lisa. I think we’re going to leave our Q&A there for the moment. But just as a segue, conversation about boards and recruiting board members and board structures, and what boards do is very important, and it’s a topic that we’ll return to. Following this presentation, we will send you a survey and one of the questions we ask is what topics would you like to see in the future? So please write down all of your ideas. We really appreciate it, and we pay attention to those when we’re planning programs. So, Katy, I think we’ll turn things over to you.

Katy German 1:29:14

Great, thank you so much. I would like to okay, this is the point where people start saying goodbye and leaving, but I’m asking you to not do that just yet.  I want to show you our new website and show you where some things are. And partly because I’m really proud of it. And we’ve put a lot of work into it, yes. But my biggest reason for doing that is that we want to create a place where there is an exchange of information that may or may not have anything to do with CDSS, right?

So there’s so much knowledge and experience in our community. We have so much to learn from each other. Almost anything that comes up, there’s someone else in the country or in our community that has experienced something like that, that has advice to give and can be helpful.

So what we’ve tried to create with our website with the Resource Portal is a place for people to share information. So I’m going to share my screen and show you how to access that really quickly, if you’ll bear with me.

Okay, brain, let’s see, oh, I remember share screen. Basic, ha, ha, ha, ha, see, I’m so good at this now!

All right, and you see the CDSS web page? Grand! So this is our web page; we’ve recently redesigned it to try to make it more user friendly, so it’s easier to find what you’re looking for. So what I want to point to first is in under Resources, the Resource Portal, that’s the place. That’s the place that I that we want to create as a conduit and a way for people to exchange information.

You can easily go to, for organizers here, or you can go to the filters.  Sorry, it’s late in my neck of the woods. There are a lot of resources here. Some of them are things that CDSS created. Some of them are things that committees created, some of them are things that individuals created, what we do when we receive a resource, and that could be anything—could just be a PDF write-up of something that happened in your organization that you that you think others could learn from. We add some metadata to it, we add flags to it to say, this appeals to callers, to musicians for English country dance, etc. You can add different filters. So this is a list of resources that are of interest to contra dance organizers. You can just scroll down and see by topic.

So this is a living, breathing thing. The more resources we get from the community, the more we will create topics, subcategories, filter, we are going to actively tend this. But this would be a great place—we could add a topic that says volunteer management. And we can share some information.

So if, Lydia, if you have some information templates, ideas, sample job descriptions, anything that you all have, we could build this together for each other and for organizers who weren’t able to join tonight. And that’s true on any number of things. And I really, we really need your help the community’s help to make this a valuable, relevant resource.

It’s really easy to submit a resource, you just click Submit a Resource, and it opens an email that I will read. But what we want to talk with you, you know, if you have an idea, but you’re not sure how to put it together, or if you’re like I this thing, but I’m not sure if you consider it a resource, please reach out, we really want to work with you on this. And, and make this as strong as we can for as many people.

The other things I want to point to here. So I’ll just go back to the main page, which isn’t even necessary. But up at the top, there’s an events calendar, which I can’t see because of zoom thing that is implanted. But if you I can’t get to the events calendar, because I can’t see it. Anyway, if you click on the events calendar, you can add your organization’s events. And that also has new, more usable features where you can filter by state and town, people are starting to use that. So people are looking there. And they’re calling CDSS, to say, “Hey, I live in Iowa, and I’m looking for dances” or “Hey, I’m traveling down to Texas, and I’m looking for opportunities to dance.” The more we put on the calendar, the more we can use the calendar, people can use it to help to find things. So please do that.

If you want to find out about our camp programs or programs that we do, they’re here. We have a lot of things in our publication where you can look at things to read, things to listen to, or podcasts or here, things to watch.

And there’s a new place just for affiliates. So if you’re an Affiliate, if you’re thinking about being an Affiliate, you can go this is a place where all the Affiliate information is in one spot. You can see the people that you need to talk to about things.

So I just really I’m I’m so pleased with how much of an improvement it is. There’s always room for more improvement. If you have more ideas on our website, we would love to to hear that too.

And if you’re just, you know, wake up feeling like “Man, that CDSS, I really appreciate them. I’m gonna donate 20 bucks to them today.” Up at the top is that donate button and you can use it right now, you can use it anytime you feel moved to do that.

So that’s what I really just wanted to make sure folks had a chance to see and invite you to help us make that resource better. So I’m going to go back to the same PowerPoint presentation. Right? Nope, didn’t quite do that. Right, almost. There we go. Tada.

So, heads up for some programming that’s coming out. We have a new podcast episode out, From the Mic. It’s the podcast that has in-depth interviews with callers from around, contra dance callers, mostly contra dance callers. It’s great insight as an organizer. If you have not listened to the From the Mic podcast or the Contra Pulse podcast—as an organizer, hearing what your callers and musicians think about things, experiences they’ve had, things that that would work for them—it’s a great place to go get kind of an a deeper understanding of that. And just hear the voices of people. People you may haven’t seen in a while.

Our camp programs are filling, they’re not full, but they’re filling up. We have a lottery date for oversubscribed weeks coming up on March 20. I want to remind you all that we have a number of  intensive courses that are particularly skill building for callers and musicians. We give priorities to CDSS Affiliate groups that are sending people to camp. Even as a camper, if you let us know that you’re sending someone, they will be prioritized. And we match scholarships with our Affiliate. So as CDSS Affiliate who gives money to send someone to camp, if you are putting forward $500 to that effort, we will put forward $500 to that effort. And depending on how much you give, it’s an opportunity to cover the cost of camp for for someone in your community.

We are not the only camps in town. But we do love our camps, we put a lot of effort into them. And we really deeply want them. We want campers to come, have a great time, and go back to their home communities feeling energized and inspired and ready to just step up and help help spread the joy where they live. So that means a lot to us. And we work very hard to make that happen.

The other thing I want to mention is that we will have another Web Chat for organizers later in the spring. the topic will be back to our “Let’s Talk about Reentry.” That’s the post-COVID reentry. We’ve had seven of those discussions so far on different topics. And due to popular demand and high number of requests, the next topic will be something along the lines of keeping groups together. When there’s not consensus, or when there’s disagreement on what should be happening. Spoiler alert, we don’t have a magic formula. But as with all things, we think just getting together and talking through it and hearing from others can go a long way in moving some things forward. So please spread the word about that and keep an eye out for when that is scheduled.

We also want to [ask] again, please, if you can, fill out the survey to help us know how to make these web chats more relevant and helpful for you. As well as if you have ideas for future topics: That goes to the web chat team, so we will see those email addresses and those emails and respond. Also on our website, you can find all previous web chats and the transcripts and videos and materials from today will be posted in the next couple of days for that. So I think that’s it!

Back to the theme of showing gratitude for people who do things out of the kindness of their heart, we want to say a really great big thank you to all of you from the CDSS staff. We love, love the work that we do. We love serving you and supporting you and we want to do it better and better. So thank you for being here today. Thank you for giving us your ideas. Thank you for sharing your experiences, and we hope that you will keep doing that.