How to Make New Friends
Are you worried that your Friends group is “aging out?” Are you concerned that there just aren’t that many available volunteers to sustain your group into the future? You will probably be surprised to learn that there are many young volunteers ready and willing to work with your group. While most Friends members guess that the largest cohort of volunteers in America are over 65 years old, the truth of the matter is that the largest cohort of volunteers are between the ages of 35 and 54 years old.
It is true that those with children in school – those averaging from ages 34-45 years are mostly volunteering in youth-based organizations and education, those over 45 are volunteering in large numbers in community organizations – like Friends of Libraries! So, just how can a Friends group reach out to these “youngsters” to get active members? It’s simple, all you have to do is ask!
Ok, maybe it’s really not that cut and dried, but it’s true that you can get volunteers of all ages to chip in to help make your group successful, but it takes making changes to the way your Friends group has traditionally operated. Most Friends groups are still doing business the same way they have been for the last 50 to 75 years, but the world has changed and groups who want to attract new and active members must change as well.
One of the biggest changes will come as no surprise; women who used to be homemakers are now largely in the workforce. This means that groups who have traditionally met once a month to hear committee reports are becoming increasingly unable to attract working women and men. Another big change is, of course, technology. Many volunteers today are interested in being able to do some of their volunteer work remotely.
How do you attract working men and women? It’s easier than you think. Your board must begin to consider ways to break down your various programs and fundraising events into small discrete tasks. And, you probably already have a model – your on-site book sale. These events often involve scores of people. You enlist cashiers, sorters, boxers, clean-up crews, and set-up crews. You reach out and ask a lot of people to spend several hours to help in these categories – and most who are asked say yes!
Think about your other programs. Maybe you have an annual membership drive. Don’t look to one or two board members or a committee of one to accomplish this. Instead break this down to simple and discrete opportunities for many in your community to give back. One person may design a brochure, another may take the design to the printer, others may be called upon to distribute the brochures to the library and its branches, to doctors’ offices waiting rooms, to the local community college, etc. Still another might be responsible for taking in the contributions and yet another to reach out to those who offer to volunteer in the future. You get the idea. It may seem counterintuitive to reach out to more potential volunteers when you feel you can’t get even one more to volunteer, but when you have a clear description of what you are asking a volunteer to do, can predict the time it will take to do it, and have an established deadline, you’ll be surprised at the number of folks who will say yes.
Here’s a quick check list of what today’s volunteers are looking for:
- A clear and discrete task that is flexible in its ability to be carried out
- The ability (for some tasks) to be done remotely
- The ability for the volunteer to use their professional skills in the accomplishment of the task
- A feeling that what you are asking them to do will make a difference
- Being thanked!
Here’s the number one thing most of today’s volunteers do not want to do:
- Attend meetings!
Most of today’s Friends groups are very meeting-centric. While the board may meet monthly or quarterly to plan events and distribute money to the library, the vast majority of your active volunteers need not attend, but simply be asked to contribute a limited amount of time to make a program successful.
You can find these new volunteers in lots of places. Begin by asking your own friends and family. If you are only asking for a couple of hours of their time and you’re sure to pitch this as an opportunity for them to support their fabulous library, it’s really not a tough sell. Also, contact your area schools – many of them will have a requirement that their students volunteer. Contact your civic organizations such as Rotary Clubs, Lions, etc. These groups are established to give back to their communities. See if you can advertise in local church bulletins. Use your imaginations, the opportunities to recruit are endless.
One last tip, be sure to keep a database of every single person who agrees to make a time commitment and their contact information because in all likelihood they’ll be willing to do something again. All you have to do is ask!