Volunteers Are The Real Lights This Holiday Season

"A candle loses nothing by lighting another Candle" - James Keller

Just in the past 2 weeks I have seen holiday lights pop up everywhere in every shape, size, and color! As I drive around neighborhoods I'm amazed, and puzzled, how some of the lights ended up where they now hang sparkling away. I love Christmas lights and I wish that most of them would stay up year round. There's nothing like a twinkle in the trees and a warm summer breeze to help me relax and enjoy the night colors of a garden. The glow of  lights always brings a glean to our eyes and wonderment at all the kaleidoscope  of colors. The best part about lights this time of year is the reaction that they bring out in people and the delight in young  happy faces.

There is an endless array of lights to choose from. I remember when I was little we were stuck with the big, colored, hot lights that looked fake and BIG! Now we have LED, color changing, icicle, net, solar, specialty, globe, Princess, Sponge Bob, Mickey Mouse, - the list is endless! What I enjoy is how lights just seem to give and give while twinkling  their hearts out.

What are YOU doing this year to bring out the light in people?

To me, the true bright lights of the season are all the wonderful unsung heroes that volunteer year round to help others. These giving souls kick it into high gear during the holidays and have a passion for making a difference. These "lights" don't ask for recognition or a standing ovation. Volunteers love to bring out the light in others and leave a lasting glow. I have a close friend that runs around this time of year delivering for the Santa Claus girls. She's exhausted but glows after a long day. At my company we had an Angle Tree for those who have so little. The generosity of complete strangers was astounding. The giving bestowed a glow that lasts throughout the holidays. I've seen it so many times - people doing for people.

As I get older I am less enchanted with the holiday season itself, the presents, the relatives, and the Christmas splashed all over for weeks and weeks. What warms me is seeing others give so much of themselves expecting nothing in return. No applause, no spotlight, no newsflashes. Just humans being, well, human. I eat up stories about people doing for other people. Being a light in the dark. Bringing hope and letting others know someone is thinking of them. Why can't the lights shine bright all year?

If volunteers are the lights, then our various charity organizations are colorful bright beacons. These organizations run on passion and their volunteers are their electricity. If you have ever worked with groups of volunteers you know that it's important to keep those 'lights" burning so that your volunteers have the time, energy, and drive to carry the light out to those that need it. Leading volunteers is a gift and you need to keep them glowing and growing in order to help others.
How do you keep the light burning when leading volunteers?
  • Select the right people. Find those that share your vision and understand your mission so they stay on board for the long term.
  • Consistently share your organization's mission and goals. Update your volunteers on your progress.
  • Show your passion, frustrations, hopes, and disappointments. Be human. Be a leader.
  • Help your volunteers connect with each other and feel a part of the group.
  • Help your people to learn and grow with your organization. Keep them informed.
  • Enable your people to  shine all year. Let them know every day how critical they are to your success.
  • Play and have fun. Set up times to socialize with other volunteers to share stories,  struggles, and triumphs.
  • Constantly coach and mentor people. You will lose volunteers if you fail to mentor them and don't consistently connect.
  • Provide professional training and support.
  • Let your people lead. Have them set the direction and become leaders of new volunteers.
  • Say thank you every day.
  • Know how people want to be thanked. Some volunteers cringe at public recognition. Some eat it up!
  • Celebrate wins as a team. Cry on each others shoulders when there's pain.
  • Be approachable and "one" of them. If you are a director remember that titles are just that - letters.
  • Remind yourself that YOU are the electrical current that can keep those volunteers glowing. Keep the lights on!

"A volunteer is like a rare gem. When placed in the right setting and cared for, they will shine and give pleasure to all who see them" - Unknown

Leading volunteers is a gift and such an honor. They are the energy in any organization. I know from experience how easily volunteers slip away and how challenging it is to keep their fire lit. Take care of your people. Help them grow as individuals and in your organization. Challenge them. Thank them every day. Make them feel needed. Empower them to bring your message out into the community. Be the electricity to keep their light glowing.

To all who volunteer all year long.. THANK YOU!

Photo courtesy of newwavegurly via Comfight