Are we on a mission impossible? When I took on the role of CEO for Conservation Volunteers International Program five years ago, I knew it would be a difficult task. The image of Don Quixote came to mind.
ConservationVIP® leads volunteer trips to world-class destinations to work on conservation projects. The nonprofit was started in 2007, with energy, enthusiasm and no money. The idea was to have volunteers pay to work in foreign parks. This was not an obvious model for success. Yet we have managed to survive and grow. Some days I’m amazed by what we have accomplished. Other days I’m overwhelmed by how much there is to do.
We can only accomplish our mission, our dreams, by engaging and motivating volunteers on our trips. I understand that need to feel motivated because, like the other people who manage and staff ConservationVIP®, I am a volunteer. How do I stay motivated? I love mountains, yet many days the only mountain I see is the giant pile of travel planning, documentation, insurance, bill paying, nonprofit regulatory compliance, etc. that needs tending. Believe me, this is not what I envisioned when I imagined my retirement.
Hearing the stories and enthusiasm of our volunteers is very motivating. Volunteers on our trips are the kind of people who care enough about the world that they are willing to devote time and money to help conserve it. But despite the glamorous CEO title, I don’t get to go on many trips, so I can’t count on that on a daily basis. Plus, we can never take volunteer satisfaction for granted. No matter how hard we try, no trip is perfect. The occasional negative blast from someone who was not happy can be discouraging. On the hard days it can drown out all the positive comments we get from the overwhelming majority of our volunteers.
My main motivation has been, and has to be, the knowledge that what we do preserves the landscape and helps the parks. I know how much the parks need and appreciate help. I could go on and on about it, but my ConservationVIP® colleagues frequently remind me that I am too wordy, so I’ll save it for another time.
My brain rarely rests, probably an occupational hazard of volunteering as CEO of a nonprofit. Thinking of all we have accomplished and how much is left to do, I decided that we should start a blog. Do I think we need one more thing to do? Absolutely Not. Do I think the world needs another blog? No. I’m not totally out-of-touch with reality! So what’s with this wacky idea?
A blog will give us a better way to engage in conversation with volunteers. That could help us improve and it could help volunteers decide which trip is right for them. It will also allow us to shine a light on some of the amazing volunteers who go on our trips and help run our organization. Plus, a blog will give us a medium to better explain who we are, what we do, and why we do it. I think it would help to talk about how being a nonprofit makes us different from other travel companies.
Can we write something that is interesting enough for people to want to read it? Many nonprofits send out communiques, competing for attention. I understand how tough it is to be a nonprofit, to really care about your mission, and to know that the wrong word can lose a supporter. So, most newsletters are carefully edited to put the best foot forward, which results in a sameness that can make it hard to distinguish one from the other. To convey a true sense of our organization and what we do, we will need to acknowledge some of the warts. When we talk about our trips, we will tell you the best parts and the not-so-great parts. When we shine a spotlight on our volunteers, we will let them tell you what they loved and what they didn’t love. Since my mantra is “So much to do, so little time”, we won’t be publishing too frequently.
Finally, I’ve been told that humor is dangerous when writing for the public, because it is easily misunderstood. Still, I hope we can write with a sense of humor because if we can’t laugh at ourselves, well, we are in trouble. Besides that, if we take ourselves too seriously, who would want to read us?
What do you think? Should we try it?