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Your Clear Next Step Blog

Willing & Able

Five Steps to Sharing the Load in Our Organizations

Recently, I’ve engaged in a couple of conversations with others about a trend we continue to see, especially in volunteer, non-profit, and church organizations. The trend is a little bit distressing and certainly puts a lot of burden on a handful of people. So, the purpose of this blog is to make sure we’re aware of this trend and invite others to help make a shift towards even better.

pareto-principle-rule-chartIt seems, that in several organizations I can point to, the Pareto Principle is in full effect. That is to say, 80% of the work is done by 20%, or fewer, of its members. I’m aware of church groups, non-profit associations, and professional development chapters in various disciplines, like Project Management and Business Analysis, where the faithful few continue to do a majority of the work over, and over, and over again. They continue to be the ones who show up early and stay late. They continue to be the ones who step-up and volunteer for leadership roles and large tasks. And, from what I can tell, it really is just a few people, leaving the rest of the membership unengaged or uninvolved, benefiting from the work of the few but not contributing to lifting the heavy load.

I’d like us to stop and think about this for a second. If we’ve chosen to be involved in an organization, whether it’s a professional development chapter, a local church, or a volunteer organization, shouldn’t we also be willing to step up and help get the work done?


I was in a conversation recently with my dad and we were exchanging thoughts about the old phrase “willing and able”. Why are so few people willing and able to participate or do the heavy lifting? I wonder if the reality is there are plenty of people who are able, but perhaps fewer who are willing.

Whether you are a willing and able volunteer who is beginning to weary of consistently handling the load, whether you are ready to offload some of the burden with others, or whether you’re new or unsure of how to get involved, how to contribute, I invite you to take a look at these five simple steps.

If you are ready to invite others to help, then here are five steps you can coach them through. If you yourself are ready to roll up your sleeves and pitch-in, then here are five steps for how you can engage.

1. What’s going on around me?

It appears, at different seasons of our lives, we become supremely focused on ourselves and what’s in front of us. Our field of vision shrinks, and it becomes human nature to tune into WII FM (What’s In It For Me) when we wake up each day. But in an organizational context, especially one of a volunteer nature, we need to put on our powers of observation and look around. What is going on around me? What things are happening?

  • Is there an event or project coming up that might need help?
  • Is there food that materializes in front of me on a monthly basis or more frequently?
  • Are there resources or materials that seem to “magically” appear whenever I show up at meetings?
  • Is there someone carrying a heavy load, physically and literally, trying to get through a door and that I can go hold open for them or help them carry?

Looking for physical manifestations of what’s going on around me allows me to begin to see where I might be able to help.

2. Is there a need?

hands-senior-woman-handles-walker-rehabilitation-healthcare-conceptThere’s the old story about the young boy scout who showed up 20 minutes late to the troop meeting. The troop leader said, “Johnny why are you so late to this meeting?” And Johnny responded sort of indignantly, “Well I was helping an old lady across the street like you’ve taught me!” To which the troop leader responded, “Why did it take so long?” And Johnny replies, “Because she didn’t want to go!”

If there is not a need, then offering help can sometimes create more of a mess than necessary. But likely there is a need, you just need to find it. And once you do, you can start to identify how you can help meet it.

One way to find a need in your organization is to think about what could be even better. Have you noticed there is less communication about upcoming events than you wish there were? That sounds like a need. It sounds like there needs to be more communication, posters created, social media prompts made, email blasts delivered, newsletters sent, and verbal announcements made, for example.

Another way to find a need is to simply ask. With so much to do, sometimes there are needs we don’t even know about, that aren’t being addressed, and the only way to find out about them is to ask the question, “How can I help?”


3. Am I able?

man-with-beard-green-shirt-thinking-idea-while-looking-upThis is where you stop and think, “What are my skills? Do I have a few minutes that I could spare? Could I arrive early? Could I stay late? Could I craft that message, connect with that person, or help with the heavy lifting?”

Unfortunately, my youngest daughter has spent most of her summer on crutches while she recovers from a knee injury. Her usual, strong desire to be helpful and useful is a little bit stymied right now by the fact that two of her hands are occupied with crutches and one of her legs is covered by a knee brace. So, there are some things, physically, she simply cannot do. However, she’s discovered there are plenty of other things to be done around the house that require fewer limbs, helping her feel like she is contributing to the family workload again.

If I am not able to do a certain task, then I’m going to move on to question four. If I am able, I can start to get excited about the things I can do to help. I’ve identified a need around me by paying attention and I have the ability to help meet that need.


4. How do I get able?

adult-female-coworkers-discussing-work-projectOne of the best ways to get able is to learn. If you’ve never volunteered in XYZ capacity before, likely you are able, you just might need to do some up-skilling or training first. If I’ve never sat at the registration booth or the check in table at one of our monthly meetings, that doesn’t mean that I can never help there. It means I need to ask someone who does sit at the table for some training and maybe for the opportunity to work in parallel with them at our next event to see how things run.

Another way to get able to is to make yourself able. Maybe I’d be willing to help drive people to and from church events, but I don’t know where they live. Instead of using this as an excuse, I can make myself able by asking for more information. Maybe I’d be willing to help in my child’s classroom, but my work schedule gets in the way a bit. Instead of letting this stop me from volunteering, I could re-arrange my working hours to accommodate both.

Once we’ve identified a need we’d be able to meet, we should do what we can to get able to meet it.


5. Am I willing?

eco-concept-with-group-volunteers-1The answer to this question might require a bit of soul searching. When asked to be willing and able, it can be hard to explain the limits to our willingness because it sounds selfish and self-centered. But, if we dive in to why we have limits to our willingness, or why it feels so selfish, we might find we are more willing than we originally thought.

Maybe volunteering our time in an excess capacity is not something we are willing to do right now because we’re protecting that time for other higher priorities, like our family.

But, if we step back and revisit step one, maybe, there are other needs we can easily meet. Maybe, there are pressing financial needs that we’re able to help support. Maybe, there are opportunities to be an active participant during meetings and events that we already planned on attending. Maybe there are other needs that are less extensive time commitments and better align with our talents and resources. Maybe, once I really dig in, I realize the needs of the organization I’ve decided to support are more important than my protected time.

If I’ve committed to a professional development group, church, or some other volunteer organization that supports a greater good, then perhaps I’m willing to set aside my own ego, my own attitude, or my own desires, at least occasionally, to put the needs of the group ahead of my own.

So, there you have it. Five questions you can ask to help grow the band of those who are willing and able to help carry the load in our organizations.

Sinikka headshot 2017

About the Author

Sinikka Waugh

Sinikka Waugh is a recognized leader in understanding people and in adapting tools, techniques, and processes to meet the demands of the situation at hand. Since 2006, Sinikka has provided compassionate leadership in transformation initiatives. When she isn’t in front of a class, she enjoys putting her background in English and French Literature to work, by writing blogs about the subjects she teaches every day.

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