5 Resources to Build Resilience in Crisis

Only a matter months ago, many of us had different expectations for the months and years ahead. Thinking back to early March, the gravity of the COVID-19 crisis was just beginning to dawn on our families, friends, and communities. We prepared ourselves to be patient, careful, and committed to riding out the storm.

Months later now, many of us are exhausted by the storm. We’ve been “at it” for months and have hardly any more clarity about what lies ahead of us than we did at the start. Under these conditions, we’re learning how difficult it is, and — in equal measure — how critical it is to practice healthy, sustainable relationships with ourselves, our social groups (socially distanced), and our communities at large. At this point in time, we must look to adding one more tool to our crisis toolkit: resilience.

Let’s examine this first from a technical lens (definitions), root ourselves in the reality of this word (a social critique), then finally circle home to the application of this word in times of crisis (resources for building resilience in times of prolonged crisis).

Resilience, by definition, is “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change”. Resilience is the ability (in many cases, the privilege) to be mentally, emotionally, and physically elastic to outside stressors, such as difficult change or trauma.

We must acknowledge that resilience is more than a “muscle”, or a private reserve that we all have within us, ready to be activated and strengthened with practice. Resilience, for many, isn’t a “nice to have”, it’s a “must have” in order to live a functional life in systematically challenging conditions. Examples of this include communities facing ongoing challenges posed by poverty, racism, discrimination, marginalization, homelessness, and more. The requirement of resilience to live is a glaring flaw in our social systems, and one that cannot go unnoticed in a narrower discussion of resilience in pandemic-related crisis.

Here we are, about half a year into quarantining, social distancing, disinfecting, and virtual solutioning. Some of us are hurting, some of us are restless. Most of us are, in some shape or form, exhausted. None of us wish for the world to continue in this way, but without a clear end in sight, we must determine how we, ourselves, will continue.

So now, to deliver on the promise made in the title: resources to build resilience in times of crisis. Below are resources you may explore to find what resilience looks like for you and your family. It takes many shapes — from mindsets to practices. I hope you find something true to you, to give you the strength needed to continue charging forward.

“A Psychologist’s Science-Based Tips for Emotional Resilience During the Coronavirus Crisis” by Jelena Kecmanovic

This wellness article in The Washington Post delivers the tangible take-aways we need, backed by research. A tip that I particularly appreciated was “reflect, relate and reframe.” In fact, this practice plays in well with other key points in the resources to follow — specifically, it relates to the exercise of guiding our attention toward the positive rather than the negative, which is where our attention often rests by default.

Read the full article here.

Know Your Natural Strengths

Many employers and universities are familiar with the StrengthsFinder assessment. The results of the assessment indicate your top strengths or skills, categorized generally by the following verticals: executing, relationship building, influencing, and strategic thinking.

Know you strengths so that you may leverage them. In times of crisis, many of us wonder if we are good enough, or doing enough. Considering this, it’s important to quiet those thoughts with more affirming ones: I am capable, I am competent, I am good at…[insert your top strengths here].

Once you know your strengths, develop confidence in them. Then leverage your strengths to get yourself and your loved ones through these difficult times.

Take a free version of the StrengthsFinder test here.

TED Talk by Susan Henkels: What if There’s Nothing Wrong With You

Watch the TED Talk here or below:

“This presentation is a discovery toward what’s in the way of having the life you deserve and an easier and more fun way of getting there. You will find ways of releasing judgment and criticism of yourself, begin to consider forgiveness of yourself and others, start making wiser choices, and expand your passion for contribution. Asking the question: What if there’s nothing wrong with you?…can become an ongoing practice for life.”

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

Book description: “Pioneering psychologist Angela Duckworth shows anyone striving to succeed—be it parents, students, educators, athletes, or business people—that the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence she calls ‘grit.'”

Read more about Angela Duckworth and her book here.

Watch the TED Talk she delivered about the topic here.

Freakonomics Podcast: Ep. 422

Episode 422 – “Introducing ‘No Stupid Questions'”

Listen on Apple PodcastsStitcherGoogle PodcastsSpotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Read the transcript here.

Co-hosts Stephen Dubner and Angela Duckworth discuss the relationship between age and happiness from the lens of psychology and stages of life and development. A key take away here: attention matters. Where you focus your attention (on the positive or negative) influences the perspective of your well-being.

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Sparking Motivation in a Team That May Be Feeling Discouraged

Volunteers are the lifeblood of many organizations, who without the generous donation of time, would otherwise not be able to hold events or operate successfully. Keeping volunteers motivated can be challenging, even outside of a pandemic environment. Motivation differs from person to person, so applying different techniques may help you identify what works best for your group of volunteers.  We have put together a list of 8 tips that you can use to help motivate volunteers.

1.  Communication – goes both ways 

Motivating new volunteers or returning volunteers requires good communication. Great communication will help them feel like they are knowledgeable about your organization and how they are contributing. Repeatedly sharing information about the purpose of the support work the volunteers will be helping with is a great way to create motivation. Volunteers need a sense of direction, especially if they are a new volunteer.

Listening is an equally important part of communication. Make sure to provide opportunities for volunteers to speak up with thoughts and ideas and to provide them support. Being able to listen to volunteer concerns and support them is especially important right now while we are all making compromises and working through changes.

Socialization is also a big part of volunteering and is an important motivator. Social distancing is having a great impact on this area for all of us right now. Have a space (even virtually) where volunteers can meet, communicate, socialize and motivate each other. 

2. Respect – instruction and organization

Volunteers are giving up their free time to help, which should be recognized and respected. It goes without saying that respect builds trust, empathy and dedication. Communication also goes a long way to building respect. During this time, where many events are being cancelled or postponed, clearly and promptly communicating plans and details to your volunteers shows that you respect their time and feelings. 

When events do take place, making sure to set up stations where workers can provide their services easily, safely and without frustration is an important part of building respect. You can do this by making sure that they know where to go, they know their shift details and that they have the necessary tools, check-lists and supplies needed to complete their shift. Respect is also shown through pairing volunteers with jobs that use their skills well. Asking simple questions on the registration form can help to ensure that you pair the right person with the right job. 

3. Be available – show that you are motivated

Being accessible to your volunteers shows that you are motivated and passionate about your organization. Volunteers should have an easy time getting a hold of the right people and should feel comfortable reaching out. If they are not able to easily get questions answered, or concerns heard, they may lose interest and not show up or volunteer with your organization again.

One easy way to let volunteers know you are available is to check in with them from time to time. Right now, holding online video chats or happy hours is a fun way to keep in touch and provide a platform to keep everyone motivated.  

4. Recognition – acknowledge achievements

Volunteers do not usually volunteer their time to get recognition. That does not mean that recognition is not a huge part of creating motivation. Everyone likes to be acknowledged for contributions or a job well done.

In the workplace, positive feedback is the number one motivator.  This carries through for most areas of our lives. Some people do not like to be singled out and can be embarrassed by direct recognition in front of others. Praise can also be given with a team focus/team mindset. Individuals are often very responsive to team praise because they are aware of how they are affecting a whole team effort, and the part they have played in that success. 

Another way to provide recognition, is to personally thank volunteers. Thank you notes and emails are one way to do this. Personalizing the thank you message to each volunteer lets them know that you are specifically acknowledging them. This may seem like a daunting task, but think how great it feels when you receive a personalized thank you. Recognition can motivate volunteers to keep volunteering for your organization, to recruit others and to continue to produce great results. 

5. Rewards – extra perks!

While we know that volunteers are not volunteering their time to get a reward, rewards and perks can go a long way in attracting new volunteers and help to keep volunteers coming back. They can be a great motivator!

If you have a budget for it, sending long time volunteers or leaders to a conference or training can be a very motivating reward. Many conferences are at resorts or offer a vacation type get-away. Volunteers would get to attend interesting seminars, workshops, activities and have great networking opportunities. Attendees leave filled with motivation and ideas that will benefit your organization. Not everyone has the budget to send volunteers to conferences or to provide swag, but there are also some simple, low-cost or free things you could do. 

Some successful ideas we have heard:

  • Give volunteers certain hours or exclusive access to your event or vouchers for a VIP area. 
  • Certificates of achievement
  • Buttons, pins or plaques
  • Ribbons
  • Outstanding volunteer rewards for each job/area
  • Free food and beverage
  • T-shirts
  • Bandanas
  • Sweat bands
  • Hats
  • Custom wristbands
  • Reusable bags

6. Build team spirit – create a competition or challenge

Build a sense of motivation within your team by creating a space where they can get to know each other and feel more comfortable. The more team spirit created, the more comfortable the volunteers will feel. This will help them to motivate each other and look forward to future volunteer opportunities together. 

You could host a gathering allowing new and returning volunteers to get to know each other or organize a competition or challenge (these can also be done virtually). One example of a challenge could be to reward current volunteers who recruit the most new volunteers. You could have different prize levels, so that multiple volunteers have a chance to win. 

7. Training – motivate through knowledge

Hosting online initial and continual training opportunities can encourage development and motivation. Volunteers want to maximise the contribution they make but many receive limited training before or after they volunteer. Even a small amount of training can give volunteers a better understanding of their role, better direction within their role, help them to be more excited about their volunteering opportunity and motivate them to better themselves. We have a quick guide to training volunteers available, if you would like more detailed information.

8. Have fun – play is a great motivator

Volunteering can sometimes be stressful and cause a loss in motivation. People who feel like they are part of a group that they can have fun with will be motivated to return and spend more of their time with that group.

Important causes and goals that we are passionate about can sometimes become too serious and we forget the fun element. Before and between your events, try hosting some purely fun events. Of course, this is easier to do when we are not socially distancing, but there are some great virtual options. We have already mentioned online group chats or happy hours, but here are some additional ideas:

  • Online trivia night 
  • Online karaoke 
  • Online board or other types of games 
  • Host a watch party with live music or movies. 
  • Host a live “how to” with a guest who shows how to cook or craft something. 

Keeping connected is the most important step in keeping volunteers motivated. Be creative and have fun with it.

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Connecting with Volunteers Before, During, and After Events

So, you’re a volunteer coordinator.


There’s software to keep you organized and spreadsheets to print out and timeslots to fill. But how do you manage volunteers in a way that makes them feel like more than a number? After all, you couldn’t make things happen without them.


Build a relationship with volunteers


Learning what makes your volunteers tick is the first step towards leveraging their strengths and abilities. Once you know what they are most excited about or what made them want to volunteer with your organization in the first place, you might be able to really connect with them on a deeper level. Instead of puzzle pieces that need to fit in various roles and schedules, remember that volunteers are people. They have other jobs, family, passions, hobbies–all sorts of interesting things about them.

So start by getting to know them. Maybe it’s taking them out to coffee to hear their story or learn about how they got connected with your organization. Maybe it’s sending out a silly questionnaire including questions such as “What’s your spirit animal and why?” or “Where and how do you spend most of your free time?” You might learn about special talents that could be used or their unique quirks. Make sure to jot these notes down so you can keep them in mind for the future.

Building a relationship with volunteers is beneficial for both you and the volunteer. Not only do you get to know them better, but they get to know and trust you. Trust is an invaluable trait to have if and when some sort of issue comes up during an event.


Keep the communication clear and open


You’ve probably been on both the giving and receiving side of communication, and you know it’s vital to keep all communication clear and easy to understand. Of course you have countless things on your to-do list, but don’t let communication fall to the bottom of the list. Communication can come in all forms–emails, texts, phone calls, trainings, and even one-on-one meetings in person. Keeping volunteers in the know leads to more personal investment from them, better interactions with them, and a higher likelihood they will continue volunteering in the future. You are their primary point of contact with the organization, and they rely on you to learn what they need to know in order to do their job successfully. Make sure this line of communication is open on both sides by being available for questions or comments from them along the way.




Keep the momentum going–and follow-up! After an event there’s a lot to sort out, but make sure you reach out to volunteers soon afterwards. Thank them for their time, and ask for their thoughts about how it went and what can be improved next time. Host a debrief and thank you celebration night with ice cream for volunteers or send a personal thank you card in the mail. If you can’t manage that, send a thoughtful email with a survey to capture feedback for future events. Use the information you collected at the beginning and send a birthday card when the time comes or reach out with a friendly email when you find out they got a promotion at work, bought a new house, or rocked it at open mic night. Anything you can do to show volunteers how much you care about them goes a long way.


For tips on finding the best volunteer management software for your organization, check out Wild Apricot’s Top 10 Free Volunteer Management Software Tools.



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