MN Quilters Action Planning 2011-2015

Volunteering - should it be part of our membership commitment?
In July 2010, several members gathered at the Thursday night meeting to take part in a round table discussion about the future of Minnesota Quilters.  As you may know, membership has dropped by nearly 40% over the past 5 to 10 years and the faltering economy has also made it difficult to offer the annual show and make the revenues we need to offer future programs.  As a result, the Minnesota Quilters are asking the membership to think about who we are, why we exist and what we need to do right now to assure our future.  This article is just one of several that will be offered in the September and October newsletters.  The full set ofarticles will also be published at the Minnesota Quilters website. Just look for "MQ Planning Discussions for 2011-2015." 
After reading the article, we ask each member to respond with your best recommendations on our future path.  Comments should be directed to Wynn Martin at actionplan@mnquilt.org.

The idea presented at the Volunteerism Round Table would be for every member to pay for membership plus provide a minimum number of volunteer hours as part of being a member in Minnesota Quilters. 

One participant said, Yes, volunteering should be part of membership and usually is a requirement in just about all community organizations.  Rotary, for example, requires volunteering in charitable activity.  One member said she is a master gardener and is required to give 200 hours of annual service during her first year and then 100 hours annually thereafter. Other non-profits just ask for volunteers and then prioritize needs based on the number of volunteers and hours available.  Minnesota Quilters is unique in that we are historically a volunteer-driven organization.  Unlike other quilt shows, we manage all aspects of the show with volunteer staff.  The quilts are hung, the show is set-up, the teachers are scheduled, all planning is managed and coordinated by volunteers.

One respondent suggested that if we have 800 members, would there really be even 800 hours of work to do in a year?  For the record, more than 150 volunteers recorded several thousand hours of volunteer time in 2009-2010.  And yes, we've enjoyed having two employees to manage the office and provide continuity for show planning.  Sadly, we recently made the decision to sharply curtail staff hours so that we can live within current budget constraints. So, yes, there is lots of work to do when it comes to preparing the annual show and planning for the monthly meetings.  We never have enough volunteers. Volunteer hours are tracked for every activity, every meeting, every contribution of any kind because it’s a required part of our record-keeping as a 501.3C non-profit agency.  When volunteers attend a meeting, they are continually asked to record what they did and how long it took.

In addition, membership in MQ has dropped almost 40% over the past 4-5 years. With fewer members, the remaining work still needs to be accomplished by even fewer volunteers.  We are caught in a perpetual crunch between younger members who are also managing full-time work and families, and the retirement-age members who may be traveling or unable to contribute long hours for other reasons.

There were lots of reasons given as to why a member can’t volunteer:  I’m too busy; I live too far away; I’m too shy; No one ever called  to ask; I have a physical disability; I just can’t spare the time; I travel all winter long.  We also heard that non-metro members can’t volunteer because the Textile Center is too far away.  For those who may hold any of those thoughts, please know that we have a list of activities we would like to offer both locally and in non-Twin Cities locations.  We just need a volunteer who’s willing to work for a few hours or act as liaison in your city or county.

Others said, “No, this is my social group.  I do this (go to the show or attend a class) for pure enjoyment, not to work while I’m there.”

Suggestions for finding new members or new volunteers
•    We received suggestion for finding volunteers, such as posting the opening to the website, creating a database of volunteer activities and maybe handing out forms at the meeting.  For the record, we also hear criticism that we spend too much time asking for volunteers at every meeting.
•    Oddly enough, several of the suggestions received are on MQ’s “wish list” – that would be the list of things we want to do…but just need someone to step forward and say, “I can do that.”  For example, it takes time and expertise to build a database or add a posting to the website. And it takes time to create forms to pass out or announce volunteer requests as the monthly meeting.
•    One participant suggested that we pass around a collection plate and ask for “spare change.” It’s often said that all ideas are worth considering but I can’t help but think that the spare change would have to be substantial if we are thinking that we could hire sufficient staff to take over the work of all our volunteers.

If you are willing to volunteer, please contact Nancy Hall at volunteer@mnquilt.org.  If you have another idea, or wish to offer another perspective on volunteering, please send your response to Wynn Martin at actionplan@mnquilt.org.