Posted on June 3, 2009

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This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series All I need to know about poly community organizing...

One of the challenges that I’ve had as a local leader is that of finding volunteers for different projects.  I’ve hosted informational booths alone and spent hours putting up or tearing down party rooms on my own. I’ve spoken with group organizers in other areas of the country and found that they are struggling with the same thing – a level of apathy among the members of their organization when it comes to volunteerism.

From what I’ve seen – it’s not a question of whether or not these events and activities are beneficial to the group. In most cases, the gatherings that are planned and hosted by a few (nearly burnt-out) people end up being well attended by the larger membership base.  I also want to give the group members the benefit of the doubt and not assume that they are the type that will simply take without giving something in return. This still leaves the question on why the needs and desire of the whole are left on the shoulders of the few.

I have a theory as to why the leaders within the polyamory movement (both local organizations and the larger, national ones) are having difficulty finding volunteers for various efforts, and thus getting things done.  This hypothesis is based upon my personal experiences with the two organizational models highlighted in this series (churches and big businesses), as well as my personal research into books on management and productivity. 

Leaders within the various polyamory organizations typically operate from a position of scarcity, rather than that of abundance.  They focus volunteer recruitment efforts on getting any willing person to perform a task – even someone that they may not be best suited for the job – rather than identifying and individually soliciting those who have the appropriate talents or skill set.   This tactic discourages three groups of people:

  • The person that volunteers, because they feel they need become something that they aren’t in order to get the job done right
  • The other group members, because they have no idea on how they can contribute to the group. To them, the idea of volunteering seems intimidating and nebulous, because they don’t know how they can fit in
  • The leader, who is stuck chasing down new volunteers


The Church Model

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.”

~1st Corinthians 12: 7-12 

The Evangelical and Charismatic churches have a method to identifying and discussing the individual strengths of the Christians in their community.  They refer to these strengths and talents as “spiritual gifts” or “charismata”.  In these churches, they work towards identifying the spiritual gifts of a particular member and help that person find a way that they can aid the whole.  The list of possible gifts ranges from the supernaturally spiritual (like those referenced in the quote) to the mundane (administration, teaching, giving, etc.)


The Corporate Model

Secular organizations have come up with their own common language for identifying and discussing the natural talents of the individual.  The theory behind this is that each person has talents that naturally develop from childhood through late puberty, and they thrive in situations where they get to strengthen these natural abilities.  Placing these people in situations where they can utilize and sharpen their natural talents leads to more engaged employees. In addition, it typically costs less to develop training that builds upon personal strengths (rather than focus on overcoming weaknesses)

Forward-thinking companies are realizing the importance on focusing on the unique strengths of the individual, rather than what’s on their resume, to determine how best that person can fit within their organization.  The emphasis on individual talent and strengths not only lead to greater productivity but also better retention rates.  An employee is less likely to leave a job that they find personally fulfilling.


A Diverse Community With an Abundance of Talent

People can learn knowledge and skills, given enough time. However, to truly engage them to participate for the long-term, they need to find a sense of fulfillment in their efforts.  Organizational leaders can fascilitate this by placing volunteers in tasks that utilize their innate talents, and actively seeking out additional people to fill the roles that they’re best suited for.  Some group members don’t volunteer because they don’t know how they can contribute to the group, which means that they are a resource that is typically left untapped.

For organizational leaders to reach the next step of effectiveness, here are some things that they should consider:

  • Develop a language for identifying the personal strengths, talents, and passions of those around them. You do not need to re-create the wheel for this.  Leverage books that have already been published about this topic.
  • Identify your own personal strengths and talents, as well as those of the people around you.  That way, you know what types of projects and tasks would engage each individual.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  If you know that someone in your group has a specific set of talents that will help your organization go from good to great, ask for their assistance.  If you give specifics on the type of tasks that they would do, they may be more likely to participate.


What I’m Using

With my own organization (more specifically, the Outreach/Activism Committee of MNPoly), I am encouraging my team members to identify their personal strengths and talents as defined by Clifton Strengthsfinder 2.0.  For those that are interested, copies of this book and others in its series are available in the Leadership section of my bookstore. :)

The creators of the book, Gallup Press, developed terminology to explain the 34 common “themes of talent” they identified when researching people of all walks of life.  The book includes an access code to take an online assessment to determine your “Top 5 Themes” and provide an action plan on how to turn those natural talents into personal strengths.  The terminology used in the book helps to provide a common language for people to discuss their individual talents with others and see how best they can work as a team.   One of the subsequent books in the series, Strength-Based Leadership, identifies the 4 things that people need in order to feel supported by their leader, and show how a person can leverage their natural talents to accomplish this.


Personal Results (aka “My Profile”)

I find that I’m better able to articulate on how I can contribute to the polyamory community at-large after reading through the various books and taking the online assessments (I did one for Strengthfinder 2.0 and one for Strength-Based Leadership).  I wasn’t surprised by any of the results, but at the same time the assessment gave me a more thorough assessment than the one I developed through self-reflection.  For those that are curious, here’s what I look like when I’m in my “zone”:

When I’m truly engaged in an activity- whether it’s learning something new, getting something done, or showing off – I lose track of time.   I also find myself becoming irritable if I’m distracted in the midst of my work or a social engagement.  There were times in college where I was so engrossed in developing a new computer program that I would pull an all-nighter. It wasn’t a matter of the assignement being due the next day, either.  I was having too much fun finishing the project to break away. I find the same happen when I develop a website or a really good essay nowadays. 

I like seeking out new information.  If there’s a topic that I’m curious about, I will try to learn more: first through Wikipedia or similar sites, and then by raiding the nearest bookstore.  I’m not kidding here – I have over 400 books in my personal library ranging from computer programming to Christian theology to psychology and personal relationship development.  When it comes to knowledge, I not only seek information on a large amount of topics, but I will pick a couple (or several) that are of a special interest to me and try to develop a deeper understanding of them. 

When it comes to dreaming up ideas and bringing them to fruition, I’m probably one of the more impulsive people that you’ll meet.  Sometimes this means not thinking things through before I jump in, which occasionally leads to some rather impulsive purchases (like my library…).

Finally, when my “inner introvert” isn’t getting the best of me, I crave attention.   I thrive on social recognition for my talents and achievements.  I’m motivated by being placed in the spotlight and in front of the camera.   This not only drives me on a professional level, but it is one of the reasons why I built this site and why I’m out and active within the polyamory community.

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