HISTORIC - Columnist Jeffrey Blum says volunteer wranglers can learn from popular movements of the past, such as how suffragettes got creative and used brass instruments and magazines to nurture their corps of activists. (Shutterstock)

News cycles spin with relentless negativity, bombarding us with stories of conflict, division and environmental woes. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the volume of problems the world faces. Sometimes, the most tempting response is to bury our heads in the sand, hoping the troubles will pass. However, this approach offers little solace and ultimately contributes to a sense of helplessness.

Despair is a luxury we can’t afford. Humanity has always faced challenges, and throughout history, progress has been driven by individuals who refused to be paralyzed by negativity. The key lies in striking a balance—acknowledging the difficulties of our time while simultaneously nurturing a spirit of optimism and action.

This is the paradox I navigate in my own life. Living in Los Gatos, I’m surrounded by beauty and privilege. Yet, the global issues loom large. My initial reaction might be to retreat inwards, overwhelmed by the scale of the problems. But then, I remember the power of local action.

Volunteering in my community has become my way of keeping my head up. It allows me to connect with like-minded individuals, contribute to positive change, and witness the ripple effect of small actions. Whether it’s helping the Rotary Club of Los Gatos in my role as co-chair with Lissa Kreisler, of our Community Service Projects and Grants Committee, being a commissioner on the Community Health and Senior Services Commission, participating in the Los Gatos Thrives Foundation’s efforts to create a community center or volunteering in other ways, these acts of service give me a sense of purpose and agency.

Don’t underestimate the power of fostering a sense of community

However, the challenge of attracting volunteers is a constant hurdle. How do we break through the noise and inspire people to join the cause? Here are some strategies I’ve found effective:

  • Highlight the “Why”: People are more likely to get involved if they understand the impact of their actions. Clearly communicate the “why” behind your volunteer efforts. Is it about protecting endangered species? Providing educational opportunities for disadvantaged children? Framing the cause in a way that resonates with people’s values is crucial.
  • Focus on Micro-Volunteering: People often shy away because they fear a large time commitment. Offer bite-sized opportunities that can be done in a couple hours. Weekend clean-up drives, one-time donation sorting events or virtual fundraising campaigns are great ways to lower the barrier to entry.
  • Embrace the Power of Social Media: Utilize social platforms to spread awareness about your volunteer initiatives. Share engaging photos and videos proving the impact of your work. Run campaigns with clear calls to action that encourage people to participate.

Contrast the early 1900s to the present day. Supporters of the women’s suffrage movement didn’t have internet-based tools. Instead, they organized events such as brass band-accompanied parades. They wore parasols with suffragette mottos, dressed in bright costumes, played hand organs and distributed suffragette magazines. Creativity counts.

  • Personalize the Experience: Go beyond generic volunteer opportunities. Create an experience that caters to diverse skill sets and interests. This could mean offering tasks that match specific hobbies or professional experiences. If you’re running a fundraising campaign, could someone with a marketing background be tasked with creating promotional materials?
  • Build Relationships: Don’t underestimate the power of fostering a sense of community amongst your team. Organize social events or volunteer appreciation gatherings. Create a space where volunteers can share experiences and build lasting bonds. This fosters a sense of camaraderie and keeps them motivated.
  • Celebrate Successes: Take the time to acknowledge and celebrate your achievements. Tell volunteer success stories on your social media platforms or in local newspapers. Recognizing progress inspires those involved to return and encourages others to join your movement.

By implementing these strategies, we can turn the tide of apathy and create a stronger culture of active citizenship in Los Gatos. Even the smallest acts of service, when multiplied, can create a wave of positive change. We can’t solve every global problem, but within our own communities we can make a difference.

Volunteering isn’t just about keeping my head up; it’s about extending a hand to others and collectively creating a brighter future. Let’s move beyond negativity and embrace the power of local action. Together, we can turn troubling times into a catalyst for positive change, one volunteer at a time.

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