Volunteer Engagement Venn Diagram / Copyright Beth Cougler Blom

The other week I was in Burnaby facilitating the first day of the “Leading Volunteers: Foundations in Volunteer Management” course, our blended model course in volunteer management. We have a small but mighty class of 11 people going through this 30-hour course, with the first day being in person followed by four weeks online.

At some point during the day we were talking about how the task that a volunteer is given has to fit their motivation to volunteer, it has to be a “win win” for both the organization and the volunteer. All of a sudden I got this image in my head of a Venn diagram that could explain the whole concept. I went right away to the flipchart and drew my vision out, it’s what I’ve graphically depicted above.

This is what volunteer engagement looks like.

Now I’ve never seen a diagram like this to depict this concept before, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t exist and I just don’t know about it. (Or perhaps I really did make it up!) But look at how simple it is. We have one circle showing the volunteer and their motivation – their “agenda” some would say – to volunteer. And we have one circle showing the task that the volunteer is asked and agrees to do. And then we also have a circle to represent the organization’s mission. When all three intersect, that’s volunteer engagement.

It means we can’t have two circles intersect and not the third, and really be successful in engaging a volunteer. For example, if a volunteer does a task that they are motivated to do but doesn’t fit the mission of the organization, we will find it hard to justify why the volunteer is doing the task at all. Their activities could take us away from doing the important work we are meant to do at the organization and it could even result in mission creep. Next, if an organization has an idea for a task that fits its mission but doesn’t fit the volunteer’s motivation or reason to volunteer (or their skillset), then the volunteer will likely not agree to do the work, or will not stay long at it even if they do agree to do it for a little while. And lastly, if we have a volunteer who is motivated by the mission of the organization (ie. they believe in the cause) but we can’t find them a task robust enough to fit their skillset or interest area, we similarly won’t be able to engage them properly. We need all three circles to intersect in order to really call what we’re doing volunteer engagement.

So, what do you think? Does it “speak” to you? Did I miss anything? I’m workshopping this image here for those of you who work with volunteers to see if it resonates. Can the basic concept of volunteer engagement really start off as simple as this? I’d love to hear your thoughts.