We don’t all belong to departments of one. Here’s how a large team of volunteer managers makes it work.

An email appeared in my mailbox a few weeks back.  It’s the kind of message that I love to see.

The email came from Emily Thomas, who works for Volunteer Solutions, a program within the Fairfax County Virginia Area Agency on Aging.

Volunteer Solutions is a huge program that engages over 3,500 volunteers for a diverse range of volunteer roles – think everything from Zumba instructors to medical transportation. The program is a partnership of the Fairfax County Department of Family Services, Neighborhood and Community Services, and Health Department. They recruit, train, and manage, volunteers for Adult and Aging clients, Senior Centers, and Adult Day Health Cares.

I featured Volunteer Solutions a couple of years ago because the program succeeds at something that’s challenging for large volunteer programs: it is both structured and flexible.

Emily reached out because she’s so proud of the teamwork within Volunteer Solutions. She wanted me to observe it first-hand.

And that’s exactly what I did. I attended a Volunteer Solutions’ staff meeting to learn just…

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Do resolutions seem like a waste of time? Start your year this way and see what happens for your volunteer program

You may have noticed a just-for-fun-thing going around on Facebook. It’s an infographic that you create with your defining life quote, complete with your photo and signature.  Volunteer manager Amy Whary, created one that says,

“Stop being afraid of what could go wrong and think of what could go right.”

I thought of that quote this time last year, while planning an Intention-Setting Workshop for volunteer managers and development directors here in the DC-area.

The workshop was all about getting clear on what you want to see accomplished on the job – and then figuring out what needs to happen to make those intentions come to pass.

Intention-setting is about more than ensuring that the big deliverables get done (because we know they will). It’s about making room for the projects that are most important to you. It’s about ensuring that your big ideas – the ones you get excited about but fall to the bottom of the to-do list, actually come to pass.

Intention setting means making your…

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Sometimes we get stuck on our perceived limitations. Here’s how to climb out of that thinking.

It’s no surprise that last week’s post, which was all about the disparity between a volunteer manager’s value and her salary, generated a lot of comments.

The salary question seems to be something that’s always operating in the back of our minds, even when we don’t discuss it openly.

The volunteer managers who commented on the post made some really important points, including the need for an academic degree track for our profession, and the importance of making our accomplishments known to decision-makers on a regular and quite visible basis.

Please do take a look at the comments – and leave your own, if something you read sparks your thinking.

There is another dimension to the value/salary question, though, and that’s what receiving a lower salary does to our personal sense of value.

I’m not just talking about our value on the job – I’m talking about what we fundamentally think and feel about ourselves.

When we work in an environment that does not correspond with our value – because salaries are low, or working…

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Start the New Year by reflecting on your value in the workplace

Last month as we closed out 2017, I asked the members of my Volunteer Managers Leadership Circle to reflect on what they had accomplished over the year together, and to consider on how those accomplishments related to their overall professional value.

The accomplishments were as varied and impressive as the individual members.

Here are just two examples –

•  One member said that her goal starting out was to bring herself back from the edge of burnout and that she not only accomplished that, she discovered that she brought in more volunteers by setting healthy limits around her work and delegating more to her team.

•  Another member had thought she might change professions before the year was out, but since then she has earned her CVA, embarked on a major revamp of volunteer policies and procedures, and realized that she could transform her volunteer program from a department of one to a team that she had the chops to lead.

These leaders of volunteers are probably a lot like you. They are dedicated, incredibly skilled and work with integrity….

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When you nurture what’s best in your volunteers, you hold some powerful change agents in your hands

What and Why of VolunteeringHave you ever had a conversation so thought-provoking that you reflected on it for a good long while afterwards?  I felt that way last week, when I held the first meeting of my Leadership Circle.

The Circle is a group of experienced and dedicated volunteer engagement professionals who are invested in their work and have chosen to meet each month to share advice, support one another, and refine their leadership skills.

We kicked off our first meeting by talking about why we work with volunteers in the first place.

What is it exactly about this work that we find so compelling and rewarding?

I thought the conversation might focus on what volunteers do for our nonprofits because that’s what we’re hired to do – help expand our organizations to meet their missions.  And while that piece was acknowledged as essential, it’s not what these pros shared as their greatest satisfaction. This group receives their energy and inspiration from the transformation within the volunteer.

These were the comments I heard:

I love to teach volunteers about…

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Guest blogger Lisa Marie Porter, MA, CVA, empowered her volunteers to help her solve an unexpected problem. The results are pretty creative.

At the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, we take the practice of volunteer nametags one-step further than usual.

Even though our public engagement volunteers wear official credentials that designate them as ‘Volunteers,’ we still ask them to pin a special nametag to their uniform.

The idea behind it? To make personal connections with our visitors. The nametags share first names-only to make the volunteers more approachable, with the designation ‘Volunteer’ printed in the upper right-hand corner.

We thought our volunteers were perfectly happy with their nametags – until our museum went through a rebranding initiative. When we presented the volunteers with the new look of the nametags, we received some pretty vocal push-back.

The Problem

Our volunteers objected strongly to the use of the word ‘Volunteer’ on the nametag. They argued that the tags seem redundant and do not add anything to the volunteer’s or visitor’s experiences.

Even though the new nametags looked exactly the same as the old ones, introducing the revisions prompted the volunteers to tell us what they…

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Does your professional growth resemble this path to success?

Jason Frenzel, CVA, ended up in volunteer engagement by setting the woods on fire.

Don’t be alarmed. Jason’s not a firebug. He’s a committed environmentalist, who took part in a prescribed ecological burn program for the City of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

That was back in 1999, shortly after Jason graduated from college with a degree in Resource Management. Jason’s best friend was involved with the city’s natural restoration program, where groups of volunteers would assist with prescribed forest burns to protect and restore native habitat.

“I loved volunteering. I loved helping out with the burns and I fell in love with the people,” says Jason.

That volunteer experience, which Jason enjoyed while serving with Americorps, eventually led to a seasonal volunteer manager position with the City of Ann Arbor.

Over time, the seasonal position was made into a permanent Director of Volunteer Management and Outreach role. In that position, Jason was able to grow his department to include six more staff working under him. That’s an impressive accomplishment in the nonprofit/government world, where volunteer engagement is often under-resourced.

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The volunteer engagement community has a thing or two to say about hiring a top notch volunteer manager

Dear Nonprofit Decision-Maker,

If you are looking to hire someone to manage your volunteer program, please read this post.

Last July, I put out a crowdsourcing call to the volunteer management community. I asked them to please help me identify the skills and abilities that are most important when hiring a volunteer manager.

The thought was to create a webinar with all of the takeaways and offer it to leaders like you, to help you hire someone who will excel in the position.

The webinar is on hold, but the thoughtful responses from leaders of volunteers deserve to be shared.

And while I encourage you to check out the original post and review all of the comments, there are three observations that stand out to me as essential for success in this role. If you revise your hiring expectations based on what you read, you will not be disappointed.

1. Before you write the job description, get clear on the big picture

Volunteer management is much more than a matter of recruiting and scheduling volunteers. It’s a…

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We know our volunteers deserve the thanks of our staff, but how do we do it?

volunteer-thanks-video-twenty-hatsJenna Jones had a problem.

The date and time of her annual volunteer appreciation event had changed: what was once a weeknight dinner affair was now a Saturday morning breakfast.

While a weekend breakfast might work well for volunteer schedules, it meant that fewer staff might be present. And if fewer staff were present, how would they thank the volunteers for their contributions?

Fortunately, Jenna, who is a CVA and Volunteer Coordinator for the Smithsonian Associates, had a solution.  She had seen another nonprofit create a video of staff thanking the volunteers. Why not create a thank you video for her own program?

Serendipity helped to move things along. Right around the time she started thinking about a video, Jenna happened to interview a prospective volunteer with video-making experience who agreed to take on the project.  Ten months later, the thank you video aired at the October, 2016 breakfast to rave reviews. Volunteers applauded. (Staff applauded, too, when they saw the video afterwards).

jenna-jones-cva-thank-you-video CVA Jenna Jones saves…

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Why practice makes perfect when it comes to interview questions

I discovered something last week.

There’s a better way to explain something that I’ve been teaching and sharing for a long time.

It all started when I led a fun and thought-provoking training for 20 volunteer managers from the Smithsonian and other DC-based museums.

The topic was one of my favorites – behavior-based interviewing. It’s an incredibly effective method for screening high-commitment, highly specialized kinds of volunteers such as docents, tour guides, and educators – the kind of volunteers that museums engage all the time.

If you follow this blog, you know that I love to geek out on behavior-based interviewing and have written about it before. That’s because I experienced the benefits of the behavior-based approach first-hand back in my CASA program: within two years of adopting this interview method, our new volunteer drop out rate decreased from 25% to 2%, and our retention rate increase from 29% to 48%. Those are the kind of outcomes that any volunteer manager yearns for because they mean our jobs are getting easier – plus, the stats are absolutely brag-worthy.

The basic premise for behavior-based…

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