Thriving on the Prairie

Show Notes

Sue Milender, NDSU Extension agent in Barnes County, talks with North Dakota 4-H volunteer development specialist Rachelle Vettern about what volunteers and volunteerism look like in the 21st century.


Sue Milender: Welcome to Thriving on the Prairie, a podcast exploring issues concerning families and communities that inspires North Dakota movers and shakers and community makers to engage in lifelong learning. I'm Sue Milender. I'm Barnes county extension agent. And today I'm honored to introduce you to Rachelle Vettern who is a professor and the leadership and volunteer development specialist for North Dakota State University. In her extension role, she conducts research and provides education for both youth and adults in the areas of leadership, ethics, generations, youth development and volunteer development. You know, she works in both the NDSU Extension Center for 4-H Youth Development as well as family and community wellness. In her faculty role she teaches online classes for Great Plains IDEA I-D-E-A youth development master's program. You are busy Rachelle. She has her B.A. in psychology and an M.S. in counseling and human resource resource development sorry, from South Dakota State University and her PhD is in counselor education and supervision from NDSU. And she lives in Hawley with their 17 year old son and 13 year old daughter, Emily, like I said, we're sure you are really busy.

Rachelle Vettern: Well, thank you, I appreciate you reading all of that I didn't know how much I should share with you. So thanks. Um, yeah, it's fun to talk to you on this Finally, Sunny spring day with all sorts of exciting things happening, our 4-H club meetings are starting or groups are starting to meet face to face and spring sports is happening. So it's great to have a chance to chat.

Sue: I know and you know, 4-H season is gearing up. And I as a 4-H coordinator in Barnes County, I’m calling all sorts of volunteers to the task of judging and looking at different projects. And so I've been doing some reading on volunteerism and I what I've noticed, Rachelle, is that it has really changed. So the book that I've been reading is called, The New Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer, by Jonathan and Thomas McKee. And what what captured my attention was the 21st century volunteer not, you know, I'll be the very first to admit I'm old. And when I think of volunteering, I think of gosh, I've got to commit my firstborn when I volunteer, because I'm there for life. And I actually took a step back, and I was calling all these volunteers. And Rachelle, I was getting so frustrated, because I was like, Oh, these aren't the same kind of volunteers and, and attitudes that I had back in the day, or that my mom demonstrated for me back in the day. And so I thought, well, where are these passionate volunteers? And then of course, as we all do, I went into this defense mode. And I said, well, it's not my fault. Everyone is so busy and sports consume people. And, gosh, there isn't time to turn around, let volunteer. But then I started reading this book. And Rachelle, I realized, gosh, it is my fault that I am not reaching these volunteers because times have changed. And the way people want to volunteer has evolved in this 21st century. So I'm not alone in this. I know that there are lots of people who are trying to gather volunteers, churches and civic organizations and schools. And that's why I thought it's so important for us to understand what the 21st century volunteer looks like. And so that's why I'm interested in talking to you and finding out how you can, you know, steer us in the right direction so that we can gather all these wonderful people.

Rachelle: I am excited to talk with you about this too, because it is such an important subject. And I don't want to say gone is that are the days of that 30 year volunteer, but it it volunteering does look different for just the reasons that you talked about. We are looking because of the different opportunities that we all have as far as getting engaged in our communities. Volunteers want to try on different things. And so we have to offer things in a different way. Much like what the book that you read talked about. So I would love to get into some of those details related to how that kind of looks. But I know I think you have some more questions for me.

Sue: I do. So what I'm thinking is that I need to learn about maybe how to empower volunteers to serve in ways that meet their needs as well as my needs and I have to pay attention to the needs that they have and what they want to get out of volunteering.

Rachelle: Well, so I think really thinking through the kind of volunteer that you're looking for, and what your needs are for your organization, whether for us, it's extension, but if as you look in communities, like you mentioned, faith communities and other places that use volunteers, what are really those volunteers that you are looking for? And then what kind of qualifications Do they have, because you have have to have really a good idea, a clear idea of what you're asking before for before you ask those volunteers, because in this day, and age, volunteers want to know what they're committing to, they want a role description or position description that tells them, okay, this is what they're asking of me. And this is the time commitment they're looking for. Again, maybe it's that I'm going to volunteer once a month for three hours a month, or maybe it's going to take some more prep time. But they do want those specifics. And then they a lot of times, they really want to be recruited for their expertise. So if you have someone that you know, is excellent, as we talked about, in managing social media, maybe you've just you follow them. And you've realized that they really great at getting messages out. And you know that an event that you're having, or having coming up, maybe it is something related to a church function or an extension function, you say to that individual, you know, I know you're busy, but your skills I have noticed in social media are amazing. Would you be willing to contribute to this community function that we have coming up, and helping manage the social media. So it'll be for the three months coming up to that event. And then it'll be done, you know, or maybe some posts afterwards. So it isn't like this, I'm asking you, and it's gonna be 10 years, you're gonna have to help me out with this. That makes sense?

Sue: It does make sense. I really like the idea of having not only that designated timeframe, but also what the roles and responsibilities of that position are. Because sometimes, my guess is that, at least, when I volunteered, I didn't really know what my role was. And sometimes I felt like I was doing some sort of, well, role creep or mission creep, where I would, I didn't want to step on anyone else's toes. And then I also didn't always understand my terms, like, okay, I am, I'm on for this particular role, and it will be three months. And I think people are so busy now with all their kids’ activities, and, and, you know, wanting to travel, if you're older than you really don't want to be kind of stuck forever, and then feel like you can't get out. So that would really help. And I love your language about noticing what they're good at, and then plugging them into something that they're feeling comfortable with?

Rachelle: Well, that's really what I know, specifically, our baby boomer volunteers out there, because of the travel probably being retired wanting to spend time with their grandchildren, a great way to recruit them is to say, you know, I realized you're really good at photography, or maybe at financial management, would you be willing to come in and talk to our group about how we really keep the treasurers books in a good way for our nonprofit? Would you be willing to come in and share like, on one Saturday, do a photography workshop for us? So, it isn't that it's that long term commitment, but you can they get a taste of it. And then if they like it, they may come back for more. The other thing I wanted to mention too, is when you're you're recruiting, you really do want them to feel like they're going to make a difference. Because no matter what generation of volunteer, you're you're talking about, they want to know that their volunteering is going to make an impact and make a difference in your organization and or your community. And the importance with all of that is after they volunteer, you need to come back and share that impact with them. So, because of you, here's what we saved as far as maybe the value of volunteer time and the dollars that you saved as an organization. Or look at this because of your volunteering. We now have this amazing structure at this community park or we've been able to expand our library or you know, just to give them those that they've made that impact in their communities.

Sue: You’ve given us a really good kind of overview of how to approach a volunteer. The book talks a little bit about dating. He says you could look at recruiting volunteers in terms of dating, can you tell me a little bit about what he meant by that?

Rachelle: Well, that ties into really knowing kind of, first of all, what you're looking for, for your organization for you know that your volunteer needs, and then targeting those individuals you think that would meet those needs, but you don't just walk up and do that kind of cold ask. You need to do the dating, like you talked about. So maybe you invite them out to coffee, and have a conversation to find out about their interests, what they're passionate about, perhaps like what their schedule kind of looks like so that you know that they get to know you and trust you, that they kind of maybe and you get a chance to share what your organization does, and how you're looking for some people to make an impact in that. But you kind of want them to feel comfortable with you, before you make that ask and that you hear about them. So that eventually, you know, what would be the right ask in order to get them to volunteer and get them right in the in the right position in your organization as a volunteer.

Sue: You know, I thought it was interesting, because if I ask and they say no, I really don't want to ask them again. But I think I should, shouldn't I? And how do I do that?

Rachelle: So that's exactly the book talks about just then No, just probably at some times means not yet. So coming back, maybe letting them think about it, maybe it letting them take that position description for that, eventually, on one of your maybe your second meeting with them, you bring along kind of what you were thinking they'd be a good fit with. And just say, I'd like you to think about this if maybe you're too busy right now. But maybe in two or three months or a year from now you'd consider helping us out with this. Maybe the event we're hosting you have a conflict this year, but are you willing to come in next year and help us out? So that it isn't that no forever. Just maybe no, not right now.

Sue: Yeah, I just don't want them to meet them walking down the street, you know, and then they're see me and they're like, oh, gosh, and turn around and walk the other way. I don't want that. I don't want to scare away finding volunteers. Um, I know that he talked about Seven Deadly Sins of recruiting volunteers, can you touch on a couple that really resonate with you?
Rachelle: Well, one of the things we always say is that well, like you were discussing, those personal asks really are the way that you recruit volunteers, that dating piece, just sending out a broad post, maybe in the newspaper or on your social media, or just in general an email to like a whole group of people saying we need volunteers is really not going to get at the volunteers that you want. People have a tendency just to gloss over those things, and not really and say, oh, they'll find somebody else that fits the bill. But if you make that targeted ask when you said if they run in the other direction, you know how many times when someone's asked you to volunteer, aren't you honored? And if they give you the specifics, you know, if they say, Sue, I really want you to volunteer for our organization, because you bring, bring these wonderful, creative ideas and your excellent organizational skills, you have wonderful connections in the community, you would be the perfect fit for us. How many times have you said, Oh, my gosh, yuck, I'm, that's terrible that they said all those great things about me, I don't ever want to talk to him again. Would you ever say that?

Sue: No, I actually, you're right, it would be very honored. If I were targeted, based on my skills and expertise and what I could bring to the program, you're right, I wouldn't run away, I'd probably run toward that person.

Rachelle: Right. So. So again, one of the deadly sins is just that blanket recruitment. And then for you, too, you might end up with people walking through your door that don't fit your needs. And then the worst thing you can do, I always say if you don't use your volunteers, you lose your volunteers. So that would mean, you know, you're losing that person that's coming through the door. That's saw the ad but really don't have anything for them to do right now. You know, because maybe, in our program, we're not covering that subject that they're good at or something. So that's one of them. And then we talked about the recruit only one of the deadly sins is only volunteers who can make long term commitments. I know just personally for me, with the volunteer roles I'm in, I want to know kind of what the timeline of them is. And then I also want to know, a lot of times for me, it's a relief to know that there are a couple other volunteers that will be there to co-volunteer with me. So when I've done snacks at church for our youth programs, or whatever, I've had two other co-volunteers that are there to kind of help manage the load or in our 4-H club that I volunteer in, there's two other volunteers that are 4-H volunteers with me. So, it's kind of a balance. And if one time I can't make it to a meeting or an event, there's two other ones to back me up. So again, those shorter-term commitments with maybe some help. There's lots of other ones. Again, I can't think we talked about one of them says re-recruit, and just basically anyone and I think you've heard me talk about again, that targeted recruitment is is really important.

Sue: So, you know, you're talking about targeted recruitment, and I'm thinking about generations. So, I'm thinking about my parents who might be in their 80s, who could bring some wonderful skills to the table. But also, I live in Barnes county with Valley City State University, and we've got some young whippersnappers. So how does generations play into volunteering?

Rachelle: Well, you are right that that your opportunities there are endless. As far as giving those generation Z's at Valley City State those that was generations now that are in high school, or middle school, high school and on to college, even a chance to really gather some experience or gain some experience for volunteering for you. Gen Z has some different desires related to volunteer experience, while they want to be engaged in schools and communities and all of that, they really do want their experience to look a little different than perhaps like you said, your parents’ generation, they look to communities that offer opportunities to really tackle some of the social problems we have, or societal problems, they want to make that large difference and make a change. But the cool thing about them is, like we talked about, I really, they want to not only just work at the soup kitchen, or collect food for the food pantry, they want to get to the root of the issue and tackle food insecurity, they want to figure out what they can do to address those needs behind it are there is there legislation that they need to work on, are there certain things they can do with technology and food production, to make it that they're addressing that, behind the scenes, the bigger picture, rather than just a band aid approach. They, they, they don't want that they want to do more than that my, my son says I want to build a business someday. So mom, people are paid well enough that they don't need that extra support, they need to actually they want they're going to be successful in their communities, without needing you know, being hungry. So it's those, they are looking at a different way of doing things.

Sue: You know, I think that pretty much nails it. Because when we're looking at volunteerism, it's not just that you can put a certain volunteer into a certain role in I mean, you've got volunteers with tons of different passions and coming from a lot of different generations. And our role in finding volunteers, like you had said is finding their niche, and then asking them personally, to help you with the impact and solve either this problem, or to help you out with this. And I would think that would be almost a self-esteem booster on the volunteer side, community help for for everybody within that, you know, the area and then also as a volunteer recruiter, gosh, that's that would be a great way to build your slate of volunteers. So, I've got a ton more questions. And I've absolutely pummeled you with questions, you're just a wealth of information, so much fun to visit with. And I would love to continue our conversation and dive deeper into how to empower the volunteers once you have them. And then how to retain them. Because let's say you have them for that three months, short times span, how can you get them to come back for that three months for another three months? You know, or how do you get that second date, as we say?

So thank you so much for coming out and visiting us visiting with us about volunteerism, because like I said, it's, it's a problem trying to, you know, we need volunteers for so many things. And if we, as the volunteer coordinators can really help them help volunteer future volunteers to fill their needs, as well as filling ours. It's a win win. So, thank you so much, Rachelle.

Rachelle: Well, yes. And I just want to say thank you, I love him, as you can tell talking about this. And just as we leave want to say that whatever you do, at the end of the day, as someone who works with and manages volunteers, don't forget to say thank you and really recognize them for the work, the amazing work that they're doing, and share that impact about the things because that will keep them coming back. That they know that they've made a difference that they've made a contribution to your organization or community is so important, much more important than any plaque or pen or metal that you could give them saying thank you and telling them how they've made a difference is the most important. So, thanks for inviting me to talk with you today.

Sue: Well, I think it's appropriate to say thank you as well for volunteering to come on our podcast this afternoon. Thanks for listening to Thriving on the Prairie to subscribe to this podcast and access a full transcript and resource links from this episode visit You can find more resources for families and communities at This has been a production of NDSU Extension extending knowledge changing lives.

What is Thriving on the Prairie?

A podcast that inspires North Dakota movers, shakers and community difference-makers to engage in lifelong learning, featuring conversations with NDSU Extension professionals and guests exploring issues concerning families and communities.