THE BLOG

Can I Get a Volunteer? Three Ways to Enlist More Support

11/02/2010 09:48 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Do you ever notice how some people always seem to be able to get plenty of help and support for their projects, yet others struggle to get people engaged?

Whether it's trying to find enough warm bodies to man the Spring Fling Sno Cone booth or convincing your coworkers to work overtime finishing up the big accounting project, getting people engaged is a critical skill in business, and in our personal lives.

People who can get others excited and engaged about things are more successful than people who can't. Said another way, if you want to accomplish something worthwhile, you need to be good at getting other people to help you.

If you've ever had the frustrating experience of not being able to get enough budget, help or support for a project that was important to you, you know how challenging it can be.

Sometimes even a paycheck isn't enough to get people motivated.

Gallup research shows that employee engagement is at an all-time low. According to their latest data, only 29 percent of employees are "actively engaged," which is a fancy way of saying that when the boss is standing at the front of the room yammering on about the new initiative, 7 out of 10 employees couldn't care less.

You've no doubt observed the same phenomenon in your church or PTA. A well-meaning soul pleads the case for their cause, and no one in the room is willing to make eye contact.

I've spent the last 15 years teaching leaders how to improve employee and customer engagement. I've found that in many cases, the reason people struggle to get others engaged isn't so much what they're saying, but how they're saying it.

I'm always amazed by people who try to recruit support or volunteers by painting a negative picture, like the overworked committee chair who says, "Someone has to do this awful, boring, hard, thankless thing that will interfere with stuff you care about. Now, why can't you people get more excited about it and volunteer to help?"

Oh goody, sign me up right now.

If you want to get people engaged, you need to make the project sound interesting and worthwhile. You also need to be excited about it. You can't expect other people to be motivated if you're not. Here are three tips to help you get started.

1. Smile. If you approach someone with a tentative, worried look, they're going to be expecting bad news. Even if they like you, angst usually only creates more of it. When you're asking for support, smile. Ooze enthusiasm and act like whatever you're doing is the most thrilling thing in the world.

2. Personalize the request. Instead of saying, "I'm looking for someone to help," try saying, "I was thinking about you the other day. I'm working on X, and I thought you would be the perfect person to help with this part." Think about their unique skills and describe why they're such a good fit.

3. Describe the potential positive impact. Paint a picture of how valuable their contribution could be. You don't need a warm body to teach Sunday school; you need their experience, skill and patience to help mold the future leaders of the free world.

People are busy. But they also want to do work that matters and to feel appreciated. When you show them how special and important they are, they'll find time to help you out.

Lisa Earle McLeod is keynote speaker, author, columnist and business consultant who specializes in sales and leadership training. Her newest book, The Triangle of Truth, has been cited as the blueprint for "how smart people can get better at everything." Visit www.TriangleofTruth.com for a short video intro.