Benefits of Creating Volunteer Opportunities

There are infinite benefits of creating volunteer opportunities within your organization or business. It can help your organization grow, will bring zest and new insights to your business, and creates a “positive feedback loop” of giving and receiving. Here Yogi Aaron (Founder of Blue Osa Yoga Retreat + Spa) shares his wisdom and experience on creating a successful volunteer program.

“If you want an unhappy volunteer, give them the job of cleaning toilets.”
volunteer4I quickly came to know how true this statement really was. Even a paid employee never really wants to clean up after messy guests. At the conception of Blue Osa, we always had the dream to include volunteers – to invite them to be a part of our daily life. But very quickly we realized three things:

1.We did not need or want volunteers to be cleaning toilets, rooms, washing dishes, or even raking leaves. We had competent employees who could do it better.

2.We did not want to manage volunteers.

3.We did not want to give away essential jobs to volunteers.

Being an Eco-Friendly yoga retreat, part of our mission was to support the health of the local economy and ‘eco-system’.  Most gringo local employers hire their employees seasonally. The local people work for six months and then are off for six months. This has detrimental effects on the economy. Blue Osa made the decision that if we were going to hire employees, it was for the whole year. 

 

Thus, the volunteer program was shelved. Until one day, after four years of being opened, I reached a state of burn out. I was burnt out from all of my responsibilities. I was burnt out from carrying the weight of Blue Osa. As my business partner Adam was still in NYC running his own business, I was left shouldering the burden of Blue Osa on my own. I was responsible for everything, including the marketing.

And the marketing was not volunteer1only getting left behind, I felt that all my creativity was completely used up. I literally cried out to the universe to please send me someone to help me.
 
And then I took action. I set out to place a notice on our Blue Osa Facebook Page and my personal page: Marketing person needed at Blue Osa – If any of you know of a person who has marketing skills – SEO, Adwords, phone skills, a people person, creative, not afraid of taking on projects and would like to live at Blue Osa for a few weeks or months and volunteer, can you have them contact us!

Within hours I had more responses than I knew what to do with. But the key was in finding the right person. And then it happened. Lynan Saperstein from the Big Factor contacted me.

When asked why she wanted to come and volunteer, she replied….“I am in a place in my life where I want to take a pause to reflect. And I want to give back.” In speaking with Lynan in our original interview and planning, we both decided that having a few extra writers and copy writers at Blue Osa would be a great idea. Somehow, we managed to attract a team of five amazing people who came and spent the entire month of March with us. In that time, we did many things. The biggest gain for us was the creation of an entirely new website for Blue Osa.

5 Tips on Having Successful Volunteers:

1. Never make them a part of your critical operations, i.e. your business will not fall apart if they have to pick up and leave all of a sudden. Hire people for that. (A lot of businesses stupidly have volunteers to run critical operations and then are really disappointed when the volunteer doesn’t fulfill their expectations. It is bad business to have volunteers fill these kinds of roles.) Your volunteers should be helping with the projects that you can never get to, or that you dream about having done. For example, Adam (Blue Osa Founder) and I would love to create signature music playlists for each day of the week. But we don’t have time and we have been putting this off for seven years. So we placed an ad on Yoga Trade and found the person we were looking for within two days.

2. Get really clear.  Here are the things you MUST be clear about and upfront with them. If you follow these simple things, your life will be easier when they arrive and EVERYONE will be happier. And you will most likely get what you are asking for.

volunteer3– Is there any compensation? Stipends? Are you clear with them about how much spending money they might need to bring?

– Why are you asking for volunteers. Is it because you support a bigger cause? Or are you trying to save money. Either answer is fine, just be up front, honest and clear.

– Where are they going to sleep? Are they sharing a room? Are they sharing a bathroom?

– What is the food situation?

– Are they allowed to have relationships with your guests / clients / employees? What is your policy?

– Do they have access to your kitchen? If not, what arrangements will you make?

– What hours will they work?A big part of our volunteer program is writing copy. In having so many writers here, I initially gave them assignments and then waited for them to complete them. This did not work. People inherently procrastinate and do not work well without structure. It is better to have set hours in a designated location where everyone can see them and know when they are working for you.- Is there any nightlife nearby? What is there to do or not do where you are located.

– Do they need to provide for any of their own equipment: computers, cameras, or gardening supplies? Or will you provide these things for them?

– Will they be picked up at the airport / train station / bus station? Do you include transportation?

3. Set the tasks and then give your volunteers the space to make it happen. In other words, don’t micromanage them. Each volunteer will bring their unique brilliance to the table. They want to share it with you. They want to give it to you. Let them!
volunteer5
4. Take care of your volunteers. Your volunteers need to be taken care of. If they don’t feel taken care of and nurtured, they will not be happy and not produce. On the flip side of that, if they are not living up to their end of the bargain, don’t be afraid of asking them to leave. There was one volunteer we had stay for three months. After the first two weeks, we knew it was going to be rocky. The biggest regret we have today was in not letting this individual go, thus creating issues in our community.

5. Ask for what you want. Don’t be afraid of asking for it. Just ask for it with clarity and honesty. My first mistake in starting the volunteer program was in not being clear.Overall, we have had a lot of success and the most amazing people who have come and graced Blue Osa with their presence (Lynan being at the top of the list). But there were a few who did not need to cross our threshold. I do not blame them, I blame myself for not being clear enough in asking for what I wanted, and in setting clear expectations for them. Being clear and asking for what you want and need will attract the right volunteers to you.

Creating opportunities for volunteerism in your establishment is an excellent way to engender community. We have been so blessed over the past two years to be surrounded by so many amazing people, most of them coming to us from Yoga Trade–each of these people unique and so willing to share their gifts, willing to step up to the challenge of helping us achieve the mission of Blue Osa.

Aaron
Yogi Aaron brings passion and a spirit of adventure to his teaching. Thus inspired, he guides students to secret, far-flung locales, which not only empowers them to realize their own limitless potential but also makes yoga relevant and accessible for the modern world. Since 2002 he has been traveling and leading retreats worldwide. He currently serves as the Yoga Director at Blue Osa Yoga Retreat + Spa in Costa Rica. 

 

Yoga Teacher Training
with Yogi Aaron
Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/BlueOsaYogaRetreat
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