Engaging Volunteers in a Meaningful Way

March 23rd, 2009   •   Comments Off on Engaging Volunteers in a Meaningful Way   

Six years ago, Scott Neeson took a five-week backpacking vacation through Asia. Today, Mr. Neeson’s Cambodian Children’s Fund operation is in its sixth year – and he has traded in his successful Hollywood career, 36-foot yacht and luxury lifestyle for a single room in the children’s centre he operates and funds. Rather than a Porsche, he now drives a scooter, and running hot water is a thing of the past.

How does this story relate to meaningful engagement of volunteers? While on his backpacking vacation in 2003, Mr. Neeson stopped in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. He was struck by the number of street children rummaging through the city’s dumps – scavenging for plastic, bits of metal – anything that could be sold for pennies or traded for food. Feeling compelled to help, Neeson sponsored a family – providing a street child clothes, food, a space in a private school and extended rent on an apartment. He was later stunned to discover his efforts were for naught. The family sold the clothes, left the apartment, and withdrew the child from school – all to collect the money.

Because Mr. Neeson had already experienced a first-hand, personal connection to the plight of these children, he did an extraordinary thing. Within one year, he had resigned his executive postion at Sony Pictures, sold his five-bedroom Hollywood home, his yacht and his Porsche and purchased a building in the heart of Phnom Penh’s slums which is now the Cambodian Children’s Fund facility – a centre dedicated to providing for the city’s most neglected and impoverished children.

The lesson to be learned from Mr. Neeson’s story is that finding ways to connect volunteers personally to your organization’s service delivery, in a way that is meaningful, will generally result in long-term and truly committed engagement for your organization. For most of us, there is nothing more powerful than touching the life of another – and having them, in turn, touch our lives.

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