Getting People to Help
[written by the AFSCME Union's Education Department.]
- How do I get people to do a job?
Ask them. Few people will volunteer their services.
This does not mean that they don't want to be active, however.
People wait to be asked. Asking builds activity.
- Who should ask them?
If possible, someone they know and trust; someone whose influence they
respond to; a friend, a neighbor, a worker in the same department, a
person with prestige in the union. But if you cannot arrange for someone else,
do it yourself. Remember that the act of asking is itself important.
After this has been done, be sure that the new recruit is welcomed by the
leader of the group she will work with. The most effective combination is therefore
being asked by someone she already knows and being welcomed by whomever
is heading up the activity.
- What do I tell them?
- Make clear what job you are asking them to do, and be sure it has a definite
beginning and end. People do not want to sign up for life, so do not get them
to over-commit themselves.
- Ask people to do things they can do well, especially in the beginning.
People are more willing to begin things they know they can do. Later, when they
are really a part of your group, they will be more willing to try new things.
- Tell each person how her job fits in with the rest. People want
to understand things that they are part of, and they work best when they know
that others are depending on them.
- Let each person know that her help is needed. If she feels that
you are just "looking for people" she will also feel easily replacable and
less responsible for doing a job.
- Discuss their own goals and how they fit into those of the union.
People have their own reason for volunteering, and you need to know then in order
to lead effectively. Also, you must help people keep their expectations
realistic; otherwise you will not be able to meet them.
- Ask what they would like to know, and give them plenty of time and help
in raising questions. Many people are reluctant to ask questions, but they
will work better after they have done so.
- Do these things in person; do not rely only on printed circulars,
letters and phone calls. There is no substitute for talking face-to-face. It
lets the person know that you consider the discussion important, and it gives
you a chance to get acquainted with her.
- You have a right to be enthusiastic about the importance of your work.
Do not apologize or belittle it. Your mood will get across to the people you talk
to, and they will respond to it.
- How do I build an active committee?
- Keep Records: you cannot keep it all in your head. Have a list of members,
with names and up-to-date addresses and phone numbers. Keep minutes or notes on
jobs to do and decisions made. Keep a list of each person's skills and "strong
- Keep your committee together. Call meetings regularly; do not
just keep in touch with each person separately. People need to see and feel
that they are part of something big. Not just hear about it from you. Call
each person before a meeeting to make sure she will be there, and knows you
care that she comes. Let members share in deciding what jobs to do, how
they can best be done, and who can do them best. They know some things that
you do not, and they will work harder for things they decide on themselves.
- How can I keep people motivated?
- Set high standards of activity. Members will take their cue from you.
And remember, you won't get more than you ask for.
- For each activity, get agreement on group goals. Achieving them
will give you a real feeling of accomplishment. Where there are no challenging
goals members feel that activity is unimportant.
- Get enough people to do the job. Overworked volunteers stop
volunteering, and besides, the extra lift of the group really begins when you
have at least 7 or 8 people involved.
- Be sure each member knows her job, and position in the group.
It is not enough for you to know ask her and listen to make sure she knows,
- Do things at meetings. Transact business; make decisions;
review past work; plan new things. People will be more committed to things
that have been agreed on in the group. They will feel on record with the others.
Besides, they won't keep coming to meetings unless they accomplish something.
- Encourage people to help each other out on jobs. "Every woman
for herself" is not good committee work.
- Pay attention to people who do not meet committee standards
and expectations. If you ignore their failure, other members will follow
- Recognize good work, and reward it. What you can do will depend on
the local situation, of course, but you can always commend good workers at
meetings, express your appreciation in person and write letters of thanks.
Return to Activist Training Materials
Last modified: 12 April 1996