For ages I’ve been trying to work out some of the magic that helps create the friendly, welcoming spirit throughout the Dutch Salesforce community. I’ve thought about it for quite a long while, but couldn’t quite put my finger on what the magic ingredient was.
Helped by a recent “staffing” issue at the Amsterdam User Group (which I will explain below), I think I’ve now worked it out. I think one of the core reasons is our volunteers; I think that asking people to volunteer can have unexpected benefits. Let investigate and see what happens!
The immediate background:
Monday: Kathryn, co-leader #1, is swamped with a project “go live” where the dates have been brought forward, beyond her control (sound familiar?). She calls in and asks if she could skip tomorrow’s meetup. “Sure, no problem” we say.
Sergey, co-leader #2, then reminds me that he’s on a training course and won’t be around. So, we’re left with me and one other. A bit tight, but we already know the venue so should be fine.
Andre, co-leader #3, then mentions that he’s got a cold. He thinks he’ll be coming, but can’t be certain, not wanting to distribute the virus to others.
Suddenly having 94 attendees the very next day, with our usual rate of 20% first timers with, at best, just 1 co-leader doesn’t seem such a good idea.
For once I don’t panic. Let’s think about this again: what would Kathryn, Sergey, Andre and I normally be doing?
Volunteer Station 1: the door
Actually this one is already taken care of: Given the size of the group, we always have two people to give name badges, distribute swag raffle tickets, point out where the drinks are, and help people feel welcome.
As co-leaders, we used to do this ourselves but it was a bit stressful as we also need to welcome presenters, deal with technical setup, chase the food delivery or just hang around and chat to members who want to say hello.
Volunteer Station 2: our minglers
This was my epiphany. What’s also important at our meetings? That new people aren’t standing around not knowing who to talk to.
So I scan the guest list, get on the phone and make some phone calls. I call up some regulars and ask them to keep an eye out for those standing alone; to introduce them to others – whether that’s just a support a conversation between newcomers, or introduce them to those they may have something in common with.
Just like a business startup, I realise, we’ve used the first few “members” to set the tone for everyone else: to make introductions for those that are shy; to demonstrate that we’re all friendly and approachable; to highlight that there’s often lots in common with those just standing next to you. This way anyone else coming in feels that tone in the atmosphere and usually understands that they can act likewise.
During the evening, when it comes to the food, rather than saying “No, I’ll tidy that up myself”, when asked if I need help, instead I say “Yes, thank you, help would be appreciated”.
I’ll go further though – in the past, if no one has offered, I’ve simply asked someone standing nearby to help me out. Here’s the crucial part – it means that the other person is involved, has ownership and has helped make the evening a success.
And this skips past our presenters, who are also volunteers.
It’s a great evening with everyone loving the presentations; I feel the content is strong and the first timers say what an amazing atmosphere it is. We get a higher-than-usual rate of no-shows, but that’s a problem for another blog!
What do the volunteers say? They love it, they actually come back and ask if more volunteering opportunities are available.
So let’s recap and see what’s happening here
There are two halves. The first half is that we benefit as a group and are able to expand:
- Inspire our members to practice their own leadership skills
- We are able to welcome more people at our events, whilst maintaining a personal connection
- We are able to run more activities
Our members have “graduated” and gone off to run their own activities such as Salesforce Saturdays, new Community Groups, other study groups; are helping refugees learn new careers and get into Salesforce, or even participate at Salesforce HQ events.
The other part is that the volunteers are able to grow too, they:
- Get to meet the crowd from a safe place and introduce themselves to people they may not have otherwise said hello to
- Are able to stand in front of a large crowd and give a presentation for the first time
- Gain knowledge, experience and network
- Improve other business skills (e.g. finding sponsors, understanding venue logistics, budgeting and events planning)
But what about getting those volunteers?
To reiterate the point, we don’t wait for people to come to us, we went out to them. Whether by hunch, personal knowledge from chatting with them, networking and hearing about people who may be interested, or looking at the attendee list and seeing who regularly comes, we seek them out, individually, and ask. We even delegate tasks that we want to ourselves because then we can do things that we hadn’t even considered before.
To add a bit of perspective from the other side: Many people want to volunteer, but ask once and think that us organisers don’t need reminding (we do, we’re human!); or don’t know in which way they can lend their skills (that’s fine, we’ll try a range of activities until we find something that fits). Or some people don’t even know that we’re ready for them to be a volunteer – they might think that we’re thoroughly organised and don’t need the support (if only they knew!).
And because we’re Ohana, we’re aware that not every request will work out. Sometimes you can only find this out by asking or by trial and error. Someone who’s good behind-the-scenes may not want to get up on stage; at other times what appears to be a “leap” may actually need be a carefully built series of small steps. Depending on the ask, have a discussion, see what your participant wants to do and has availability for, and go from there.
Some other examples
- Get someone to run the swag raffle or perhaps the welcoming Kahoot. These are five minute activities that have concrete action plans; someone might discover they like being at the front of stage. Bonus: you get a few minutes to scoff some pizza and have a drink without worrying about the running order for the evening.
- Ask/suggest if someone wants to start a Salesforce Saturday. You don’t need to do run that event yourselves, just give someone the suggestion. Imagine it as putting a little water into a flower bed. You’ll be amazed to see what can grow.
Lastly, the self-benefit
Here’s the last secret: For organisers, this means that if you are ill, get hit by a bike (in Amsterdam) or a car (in London) or a boat (is there a Salesforce Community Group in Venice?), or simply have other unexpected priorities, you’ll have a strong group that can take your work forward for an evening or the longer term, and you can be proud, knowing you have enabled this.
And if you’re not an organiser, offer to volunteer anyway. It’s hugely rewarding, and saves us having to ask you, which you now can’t avoid anyway 😛