It was a day like any other, or so I thought.
Work was going smoothly and I was looking forward to catching up with some friends after work. I had no idea who was going to walk through the door that afternoon, and I was sure in for a surprise!
I was finishing up the final touches on a program report; making sure all the charts and quotes matched up with the relevant impact sections. It was nice to be so close to finishing, and I was thinking I might be able to wrap up a bit early, when he walked in. Did I say “walked in”? It was more like one minute he wasn’t there, and the next he was. This tall, broad-shouldered man looked more like a Norse god than a regular man and he had incredible presence.
“Uh, hi, and welcome to the City Volunteer Center! What can I help you with?” I managed to say.
“I am new to the area and I would like to contribute to the community,” he replied.
“Great! I’m Liza, one of the volunteer coordinators here. Come on in and we can talk about what you’re interested in and what types of volunteer opportunities are available.” I was getting back into my usual groove and thinking less about how intimidating he seemed. The stranger took a seat across the desk from me, perfect posture and all.
“I am Thor, son of...” he trailed off. “My name is Thor.” He seemed to be deep in thought, if only for a moment, like he was trying to remember something.
“It’s so nice to meet you, uh, Thor, is it?” Although it wasn’t a common name, it fit him well.
He nodded, and I asked if he could tell me a little more about himself. “As I said, I am new here and looking to explore Earth -- I mean, the area -- and give back to the community. Life has been challenging at home since my brother discovered he was adopted. I decided to take time to travel and visit friends. They recommended your volunteer center. I am very good with tools and enjoy working with my hands and getting things done. I also enjoy stargazing. It reminds me of home.”
In the end, I asked, "Do you have anything in mind that you'd like to do? Anything that motivates you to volunteer?"
"I will do whatever needs doing," he said with a stoic smile.
A million ideas were running through my head. The local non-profit home building center was always in need of volunteers who could wield a hammer. The planetarium down the street was also looking for a new presenter who could point out the different planetary systems. Which one, I wondered, would be Thor’s cup of tea?
So, who is Thor? Thor is a member of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes,” also known as The Avengers. This team of so-called heroes debuted in the comics of the early 1960’s and have had various members throughout the years. The team has enjoyed a recent comeback in films featuring Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, Black Widow, and Hawkeye over the last few years and culminated in a recent movie, aptly titled “The Avengers.”
The great thing about the Avengers, and comics and movie characters in general, is that each person who experiences the characters can identify with something about them. It’s human nature to compare ourselves with others, be they real or fictional. The members of the Avengers have their own quirks; things that make them unique. Each has different pasts, skill sets, abilities, and interests. Is this starting to sound familiar?
As people who work with volunteers, we are always trying to suss out the best placements for incoming volunteers, or a new role for a current volunteer, based on all the above mentioned characteristics. It is our role to understand what inspires and motivates someone to get engaged with their community. There have been times when I struggle with this and, even when I ask someone what inspires or motivates them, they aren’t able to put their finger on it either. I work for a library system and so often I hear the response, “I just love books. I want to be around them.” While this may be true, one doesn’t need to volunteer in a library to be around books. If the volunteer doesn’t know why they want to volunteer, aside from being surrounded by books, do I? On the other hand, is it my job to plant the seeds of motivation and create inspiration where there was little before?
In the world of the Avengers, there is an individual by the name of Nick Fury. This gentleman was appointed by a volunteer board to serve as the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., whose mission is to handle worldwide threats, often of the superhuman variety. His role in the organization is to facilitate and recruit a group of extraordinary people to save the world. Nick Fury uses his years of military and espionage experience to understand what motivates people. Using these past experiences he blends together a group of very different people to achieve a common goal. At times, he must blur the line between truth and fiction to create a compelling reason for the Avengers to assemble and fight for humanity. It is with this knowledge that I imagine Nick Fury as an inspirational volunteer manager. After all, none of the team members are being paid to save the world. Each one has a vastly different back story, and each is motivated in different ways.
Like Nick Fury, it is often our job to coalesce a group of unique individuals to work together and collaborate on a common mission. Unlike Nick Fury, however, it is my hope that we can maintain honest and open communication with volunteers and not have to conceal the truth to achieve our goals.
My questions to you, oh thoughtful ones:
As always, feel free to chime in with your responses on Twitter with the #ttvolmgrs hashtag, or in the comments section below. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!
This blog brought to you by @USVolunteers who inspired me to think of The Avengers as volunteers by asking, “If #volunteers had superpowers, would they be DC or Marvel? #avengers,” @suevjones who asked me to write this #ttvolmgrs blog (#eyepatchrequired), and @thewally42 who made sure my Avengers references were accurate.