Ancient wisdom for doubting volunteer managers (or, how to tell what’s really going on)

I’m not gonna lie.

It’s incredibly satisfying for a blogger when a post generates lots of comments and conversation. And I got lots of comments on my Why leaving volunteer management may be the best thing for the profession post. It seems that volunteer managers everywhere have been waiting to weigh in on where their contributions fall within the nonprofit realm – and what it all means for the profession.

I was especially delighted to see this comment on LinkedIn from someone who has actually made the leap from volunteer manager to executive leader.  Check out what she has to say:

“This article popped up for me today just as I am leaving my role as a Volunteer Program Manager to take on the position of CEO of another NFP! I had some hesitation about whether I should leave the volunteer management sector until I realised that I will be able to shape a volunteer involving organisation through a lens that is still quite rare and that the expertise that I have as a vol manager is going to be a real asset my new position.”

How awesome is that? One of our own realized that her specialized volunteer manager skills added value not just as a manager, but as the leader of the entire organization. (And by the way, I hope to feature this leader in a future post, once she gets settled into her new position.)

While this new ED’s comments serve as inspiration to us all, I also heard from volunteer managers who were not quite there but willing to share their personal experience.

One very self-aware volunteer manager emailed me with this insight:

“I’ve been in the profession and at the same job for 16 years now.  One reason I haven’t moved on is the money.  I’d have to start at the bottom if I went anywhere else.  But then I look at some of my colleagues and think, ‘Wow!  She’s in Human Resources, still involved with volunteer management and traveling across the country with her organization,’ or ‘Amazing!  She’s the Executive Director now, elevating the organization and the profession.’  Why can’t I do that?  Because I’m scared.  Because I don’t feel that I have the qualifications.”

This writer put her finger on one of the biggest reasons anyone stays put when they wish to move on:

Fear.

When we’re scared of making a big move, it’s really, really easy to throw up lots of seemingly reasonable arguments for not taking action. Our explanations tend to look like this:

  • “I don’t have an advanced degree – they will never consider me.”
  • “She got that promotion because she’s charismatic. I’m too introverted to lead.”
  • “I’d have to work much harder in a lead role – and I feel burned out already.”

One of my favorite thought leaders, Tara Mohr, is all over these justifications. She points out that women especially tend to hide behind these rationales – which seem credible at first glance – because they are afraid that they are “not enough” just as they are, with their particular skills, abilities experiences, and vision.

Tara also points out that there are two kinds of fear that operate within us – one of them holds us back, while the other one signals that it’s time to move forward. In Bibilical Hebrew, these two kinds of fears were named and defined as:

  • Pachad, which is the reactive kind of fear that our second writer refers to in her comments. This is the fear behind the rationales that we tell ourselves when we want to step out of our comfort zones. This kind of fear tries to protect us from harm at whatever cost, by imagining the worst possible consequences for our actions.
  • Yirah, which is very different. It’s the kind of fear that we feel when we are ready to make a big move. We’re scared – but we’re also exhilarated. It’s like standing on the edge of the high dive, knowing that your jump is risky but comes with great rewards. If we embrace this kind of fear, then we are far more likely to feel rewarded, energized, and proud of our accomplishments.

My CASA program experienced a change in leadership while I worked there. The person who succeeded our retiring Executive Director had been the program manager. She loved the cause and had been a volunteer herself, but she had been out of the full time work force for many years and had only spent a few years at CASA. On paper, she may not have looked terribly qualified, but her own very unique set of skills and vision made her one of the program’s most successful and popular leaders.

What helped to drive this ED? My guess is that she recognized Pachad for what it was and chose to embrace Yirah. If you want to go for something bigger, ask yourself what’s really standing in your way.

Does burnout affect you in your current role? It’s possible to enjoy more work/life balance if you observe some basic practices.  My May 23 webinar, Manage Your energy: how to be productive without feeling fried, shows you how. Register now!

2 thoughts on “Ancient wisdom for doubting volunteer managers (or, how to tell what’s really going on)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *