April 3, 2013

Maybe You Need a Barn Raising

Credit: Elgin County Archives, Wallacetwon Women's Institute fonds

"We've just got such a backlog of things we need to catch up on if we really want to start focusing on the future."

That's a common cry I've heard so far this year when I've asked organizations' leaders what's keeping them from spending more time creating their futures.

After one such recent conversation, I jokingly replied that maybe the most important thing they could do in the near-term would be to sponsor a "Catch-up-athon."  About 15 seconds after our mutual laughter ended, I then realized, "hey, that actually might work."

Much in the spirit of the traditional barn raising in which members of a community would collectively gather and work to help build one neighbor's barn, a Catch-up-athon would leverage your community's resources to help eliminate your task backlog in a very concentrated time period.  If Habitat Humanity can build a house with volunteers in a weekend, what might you be able to accomplish in a focused week with yours?

And a Catch-up-athon matches many of the trends we know about engaging volunteers because it:
  • Includes short-term tasks or project-oriented work.
  • Produces a tangible result at the end of your effort: look what I helped make happen.
  • Could provide a wide range of involvement opportunities that don't require extensive history with the organization.
  • Allows for individuals to be micro- or virtual volunteers.
  • Lets people feel a sense of larger purpose and meaning by joining in community with others to make something important happen.
 Catch-up-athon is akin to a university annual fund campaign or a PBS pledge drive week aggregating small contributions to achieve the required total sum.

Obviously some fairly significant advance planning will be required of staff to coordinate such a campaign. Ideally you'd involve reliable and proven volunteers to serve as "captains" to help manage various bundles of tasks and projects throughout the week.  But the end results would be worth that investment preparation.

Does your organization have a long list of "we really need to get around to doing these things some day?  If so, perhaps a little barn raising in your community is just the answer.

How could you see making a Catch-up-athon effort a success with your organization or community?

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