N5FDL: Sure-Fire Ways to Kill Your ARES® Program

Reprinted from the ARRL ARES® E-letter, April 20, 2011:

Last month, I offered what I believe are ten ways to grow an ARES® or EMCOMM program. This month, I'll offer a list of ways to do just the opposite. Most are related to leadership.

Politics: If you've been around a while, you've experienced the evil of Amateur Radio politics, often made worse because we're a passionate bunch and nobody really has an important (job, money, family) stake in the debate. ARES® is different. We have a public safety mission and people count on us. We do not have time for politics.

A commitment to community service and mission can fill the vacuum politics would otherwise be drawn into. Before you "start something" or play someone else's games, ask yourself, "Is this really worth it?" Sometimes you'll say "yes," but "no" is often a wiser, long-term decision. The best way to avoid politics is honesty and obvious goodwill.

Failure to communicate and delegate: This is absolutely key. One of the best ways to keep volunteers - arguably the only way - is to give the ones who want something to do a task they can do and want to do. You need to match the task to the volunteer and be careful to match the task and deadline to the volunteer's reliability. Getting others involved is the key to your group's success. Train these people to become your leaders.

Obviously, you need people to know what your plans are, what you need, and what progress is being made. A weekly e-mail is a good way to accomplish this. Monthly is probably too infrequent. If you can't fill at least a short weekly newsletter, you probably are not doing enough to be an active group.

Not loving your volunteers: Hot news: As a leader, you can't accomplish very much working alone. Your job is creating excellent volunteer experiences and keeping your volunteers involved, fulfilled, and happy. If you don't really love your volunteers, not merely respect or like them, but love them, you will fail. Think of your volunteers as an extended family and get them to think of each other the same way. Be the example.

Forgetting to say "Thanks!": A wise manager once told me that there is really only one thing you can tell a volunteer - "Thanks" - because you can't force them to do anything. Remind your people constantly that their effort are (1) important, (2) make a difference and (3) are appreciated. You need to concentrate on all three.

Failure to apologize: As a leader, you're going to make mistakes. Decisions you make are sometimes going to make people unhappy. You must always weigh the gains made by doing something against the people it will upset and that potential loss. I generally find myself "doing something" while remaining sensitive to the people those actions might upset.

If you follow the adage, "it's easier to apologize than to get permission" then apologies really, really matter. And, you must be successful in the task for this strategy to work. Yet you still risk making permanent enemies.

In general: Apologize - sincerely - early, often, and sometimes even when you might not be wrong. But you must be sincere or this will totally backfire.

Misunderstanding served agencies: This is a topic for an ARRL Handbook-sized essay, but if you don't understand what your agencies need and want, how they function, and what they value, you will not have a good relationship with them. That could be your undoing. Work with multiple agencies to reduce the potential downside.

Not investing in growth: This is absolutely key. I don't care how you do it, but you need to constantly work to sign up and train new members. I am a big fan of ARES® groups and Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) working together. See my article in May 2011 QST for more on that. Do what works in your area, but you may be better off creating new hams than re-recruiting the burnout cases.

Last month, I recommended one-day HamCram licensing events as a growth tool. Not everyone agreed, so here is my response to a HamCram critic. How to do a HamCram? Click here.

Not investing in relationships: The primary job of ARES® leaders isn't radio, it's relationships -- with volunteers, agencies, one another, allied groups, etc. If you put your time and effort into building relationships among people, your communications capabilities will improve by multiples.

Personal burnout: Leaders need to look after one another as well as themselves. If you need help, support, or cheering up, ask for it, especially from the leaders you have created. You can always drop me a note, too.

I'd like to tell you I am an expert at all these things, but it would be a lie. Still, these are what I try to focus on: Excellent volunteer and program management. Members make the ARES® world go 'round. - David Coursey, N5FDL, Contributing Editor (visit his blog)