It is a very good sign when a volunteer uses the word “we.” It denotes ownership and identification. The volunteer is no longer slaving for some impersonal organization. It’s a personal matter, and he/she feels involved in the organization.
How to move from “you” to “we” can be a difficult transition. If volunteers do not feel like they are a part of things, you have a crucial uphill climb to make.
One area that you can focus on today is the staff. Encourage staff to stop and talk with the volunteers. Pending on the size of your organization, make sure that at least key members introduce themselves to the volunteers and make them feel welcome. Ask the staff to drop off coffee or tea.
You can also make volunteers feel included by asking for their input and then act on it. If you expect them to invest in the organization, you cannot limit it just to performing a certain task. Many of them have opinions and ideas that need to be heard. You obviously cannot act on all of them, but at least they will know that you are listening. They should know why you are or are not following through on their ideas. Many “us vs. them” problems can be subverted if you give volunteers an open channel for their ideas. Few will want to say too much, but when you listen, it will really make a volunteer’s day.
Another path to “we” is empowering volunteers to ownership. Whether it’s a mailing, event, or any other volunteer activity, give volunteers a chance to customize and modify the event to their style. A volunteer at a reception desk may not want to follow your carefully crafted script, which is fine. Let them ad lib if that makes them more effective in greeting guests. If volunteers want to modify the order of inserts in a mailing, let them go for it.
This doesn’t mean you become a push over. It simply means that we allow room for freedom and creativity. Conformity has a price sometimes. It is simply a matter of knowing when to give some room and when to follow your plans precisely.