This past Friday, October 1, 2010, I realized that I am supposed to be running a ten mile race in less than a month and that I am completely unprepared. My solution? Take the steps instead of the elevator every day for the next three weeks and if I can’t motivate myself to run in the evenings, I will at least have done that small bit of exercise each day. Now, if you have ever visited us here at 301 West Preston Street (or sent us mail), you will know that the Volunteer Maryland “Penthouse,” as we have affectionately nicknamed it, is on the 15th floor of the building, 305 steps up. If you park on the lowest level of the parking garage, as I do, add 57 more steps, making it 362 steps total. Last Friday, the first day of this self-inflicted torture called exercise, I climbed all 362 steps and arrived in the office hot, sweaty, in pain, and so out of breath that Laura Aceituno, Program Manager, thought I was having an asthma attack. Why did I do this again?? Oh yeah, I’m out of shape. More so, although this is painful and decidedly less convenient than taking the elevator, I know I will be better for it at the end of the day.
So why tell you about it here on the VM blog? You probably don’t care that I’m out of shape or that I’m crazy enough to climb 362 steps every day (and sometimes twice a day!). But I think this lesson, of taking the road less travelled, of doing the difficult thing instead of the easy thing, is a lesson we can take back to our nonprofits and to our volunteer programs. Volunteer Maryland Coordinators (VMCs) are challenged with the task of developing new volunteer programs or increasing the capacity of existing programs within nonprofits across the state of Maryland. Some of these programs have materials in place that were created five, ten, even twenty years ago, some have made attempts at starting a volunteer program in the past but not succeeded, some have ideas but have not put them into action. It would be easiest for the VMCs to use the existing materials and ideas, the past program plans and visions, and not create anything new or different. Easiest, yes, but not best. Who is to say that those old materials still speak to the audience the VMC and their nonprofit want to target? Who is to say that those program plans and visions still serve the community in the most effective way possible? Audiences change, communities change, ideas and materials should change too. It might be easiest to use the old stuff, but getting a little sweaty, putting yourself in a little pain, and taking the hard road to create new, different, and unique materials is probably the better way to go. You will reach new audiences and find volunteers and resources that are unique and different from those you used in the past. You will grow and change, most likely for the better, but even if you fail, you will have added one more thing to the list of ideas that your nonprofit has tried in its effort to serve the community, and there’s nothing wrong with that. So I urge you, take the road less travelled, be open to new ideas, try new things, and every once in a while (or every single day) take the steps. You will be better for it at the end of the day.