It’s that time of year again. The time when we sort out the best and the worst of the year behind us. I thought I might use hours, a common volunteer engagement metric, to assess key relationships in my life.
As I review my calendar, one friend stands out for the amount of time we spent together. We connected for at least 22 hours.* We went out to lunch or talked in her kitchen. Sometimes, we gardened, digging in the dirt and tending to plants. Fresh air and flowers definitely contributed to the quality of the time we spent together. When I consider quantity of time too, she’s the clear winner.
Then again, another friend and I met for walks. We got together several times and covered at least five miles on each occasion. We also covered a lot of ground working through professional and family challenges. I’m not sure how much time we walked but know it was less than 22 hours. I wonder if I should count the exercise as well as the time?
By hours, my garden friend is the better relationship. However, walking while talking was technically more productive given my movement goals. I’d like to name one of them as an Outstanding Friend of the Year but am feeling torn given the metrics I analyzed. Perhaps I should tally the number of texts each of these friends sent to make a final determination for who deserves recognition…
Solving for the Wrong Problem
Of course, this is absurd. Regardless of the amount of time and texts, all my friends enriched my life in meaningful ways.** They improved the quality of my life. They showed up. They listened and helped me sort through tough situations. They made me jam from fruit in their garden. I could go on but you get the point.
And yet, when it comes to the volunteers we cultivate as part of our agency community, we feel the need to count them and their time to make sure they were worth it.*** There is pressure to run everything through a cost-benefit analysis of sorts. As if the costs and benefits of community are always quantifiable. Or visible. Or evident in a short timeframe. As if we can count our way to community.
From Solving to Involving
I have yet to meet the nonprofit that can complete its mission with only paid staff. We need to involve, engage, and partner as community through our roles—as volunteers, board members, participants, donors, staff, and more. We also act as community through our functions—as wisdom sharers, listeners, and problem solvers (and maybe gardeners, walkers, and jelly makers, too).
I wonder what our volunteer reports might look like if we stepped back from defining value primarily in numbers. How might we celebrate, instead, the ways that we showed up for each other in and as community?
*Admittedly, my recordkeeping for tracking hours was spotty. I understand some agencies have the same issue with volunteers.
**Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am so grateful for each and every one of you, no matter how much (or little) time we spent together.