When Nā Kama Kai first launched its Ocean Safety & Conservation Awareness Clinics for keiki in 2007, Founder & CEO Duane DeSoto reached out to a list of personal contacts for volunteers.
“I would call as many as 200 people for the help we needed at a clinic,” he reflects. “In the beginning, it was a huge process to get 40 people at the beach.”
Through his meticulous undertaking of assembling volunteers for each event, DeSoto began eliminating names of people who didn’t respond in order to formulate a call sheet of dependable helpers.
In time, Nā Kama Kai gained momentum, and its popularity grew. People became attracted to helping the organization’s mission of nurturing the relationship children have with the ocean. Thus, the demanding process of influencing personal contacts through phone calls and emails turned easier as self-motivated individuals joined the operation.
Today, many of Nā Kama Kai’s volunteers are community leaders who bring a number of their own volunteers to every clinic.
“These leadership-type volunteers are key to the organization, because they are out in the community championing Nā Kama Kai for me,” DeSoto says.
When it comes to volunteers returning to Nā Kama Kai’s clinics again and again, Desoto emphasizes the importance of establishing personal connections by engaging volunteers individually and expressing gratitude for their loyalty and support.
“I need to address everyone by name as much as possible. I have to understand where they are from, what they do, and why they like coming to Nā Kama Kai,” he asserts.
Another key factor in retaining volunteers lies in DeSoto’s efforts at striking the delicate balance between three crucial leadership elements:
- Maintaining high expectations and standards for the clinics (particularly, adult/keiki interactions),
- Empowering volunteers to be themselves, and
- Avoiding micromanagement.
“At first, I needed to micromanage to make sure the quality of the transaction between keiki and adult was up to my standards, for the child’s sake,” he explains. “This caused me to lose many people in the process, but it was necessary for consistency and continuity. We have many recurring volunteers that now establish the baseline for me and enforce our standards amongst fellow volunteers.”
Even more, it is the internal fulfillment and sense of purpose that Nā Kama Kai volunteers feel after a day on the water with the keiki that has them coming back.
“The true reward for a volunteer is knowing they are making a difference in the keiki’s life, and that Nā Kama Kai and myself acknowledge that our success is because of the efforts of the village, not one person,” says DeSoto.
Things to Keep in Mind
Since Nā Kama Kai’s inception in 2007, Duane DeSoto’s experience and knowledge in finding and retaining volunteers is an invaluable source of guidance for beginning nonprofits. He offers some lasting, honest points on the topic that will, hopefully, carry leaders through the volunteer component of nonprofit development. DeSoto says:
- Coordinating and culturing volunteers is a complex, multifaceted, and dynamic process.
- There is no “one way” to build your volunteer base.
- Not everyone is cut out to volunteer.
- If people aren’t there to give selflessly, it’s highly probable that they will find a reason why your organization isn’t for them or that they didn’t feel individually welcomed.
- Finally, don’t expect to keep all volunteers. It’s impossible!
Written by Erin Delgado