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The 80/20 Rule In Community Saves People

The 80/20 Rule In Community Saves People September 1, 2021

I learned the phrase the 80/20 rule while in a meeting of Cub Scout leaders. We were discussing how we could connect to other community programs. “It’s interesting how we all are either involved in or know someone in these other programs,” I remarked.

The committee chair replied, “It’s the 80/20 rule.”

“What’s that?”

“80 per cent of the work is done by 20 per cent of the people. We know the rest of the 20 per cent.”

 80/20 Origin

The 80/20 rule is supposed to have a biological origin. But, like the concept of the “Alpha Male” in zoology, it turns out not to be true. The story goes that a botanist observed that about 20 per cent of the plants in his garden produced 80 per cent of the fruit. The observation is not accurate. Individual plants produce different amounts of fruit. But there is no rule that tells a farmer what to expect to harvest and from where to get it.

The rule is a self-reinforcing phenomenon. Some people volunteer where they can see their talents put to good use. Other people volunteer for everything. Lots of people never volunteer for anything but will do something for a short term if asked. A few avoid anything beyond work, eat, sleep, and be entertained. It is the nature of people. Or is it?

What Prompted This Reflection

I serve as a Charter Organization Representative for a Boy Scout troop that meets at our church. The job requires me to review and approve the applications of volunteers. I paused over one application when I recognized the name on it. And the person was the right age. I looked to the Cub Leader. “Does this person coach basketball?”

A few weeks later I was at the church when the volunteer walked past me. “Hello, Coach.” I said. I am 55 years old. This person volunteered to coach elementary school children in basketball when I was 9. I stayed with that team for a couple of years. He didn’t recognize me. I told him who I was, when he coached me, and for what sport. He thought a minute and then said, “Yes! Donnie.”

His wife used to bring their first child, a toddler at the time, to our games. Now he is a Scout Leader for his grandkids. It is easy to understand what motivates his volunteerism now. But what was it that caused him to spend two nights and week and Saturdays with the children of strangers?

80/20 Legacies

I was trained to volunteer during that same time. My grandparents were retired and delivered for “Meals on Wheels.” I was a 9 year old navigator being taught to read a street map. I rarely ever got out of the car. But I was not bored. My pro-segregationist grandfather delivered hot meals to old black people and old white people. I once asked, “Why do you do this?”

He turned to me and said, “So, hopefully, when I need it someone will do it for me.” He never needed it. But he was a volunteer for youth baseball. He helped deliver commodities. And he helped adults learn to read. Why? Because his own father trained volunteerism into him during the Great Depression. It helped him overcome the racist attitude in later years.

There is something about training children to volunteer that we miss in our churches. We teach, coach, and lead children. But we don’t help them understand the value they receive from the volunteers. The 80/20 rule is reinforced this way.

The 80/20 Church Leaders

Youth sports, Scouts, Adult literacy, and other programs are only for a season. Volunteer leaders take time to rest and renew. Church volunteers often don’t. Churches are always in a frenzy to do more and more. Congregations fail themselves by allowing the same 20 per cent to carry the burden. This Charge Conference season I have done something I never done before. I let people quit their tasks without asking they take on something else. I ask if they want to. If they don’t,  I let them know they are just as appreciated for who they are.

My old coach solved a mystery for me. He had an assistant that just stopped showing up. I told him I remembered the other guy. What happened? “He said, ‘We will win more games if we don’t play everyone.’ I said, ‘I am going to play every boy.'” The other coach did not want to coach a losing team and walked away. I was one of the worst players. We only won two games that year.  We learned the name of the game was “rebound.” He continues volunteering.

He used to make us run laps around the gym when we missed lay-ups during practice. I didn’t play basketball in High School. I was not good enough. But I was on the track team.


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