If you haven’t got all the volunteers you need, make sure that you diagnose the problem correctly.

Once, there was a professional – let’s say a personal trainer named Trish – who decided to start her own business. Trish got herself a studio, gave her business a clever name and a got herself a cute logo. Then, wanting to be mindful of the budget, she placed some notices in the free ads sections of the newspaper, started a Facebook page, and waited for the clients to start rolling in.

Trish got a few clients, but they never came rolling in. They were mostly people who knew her, plus a few who found out about her service by word of mouth or stumbling across her website.  These clients thought Trish did a great job.  She gave them lots of personalized attention. They got fit, they lost weight, they felt energized.

But Trish couldn’t figure out why she wasn’t busier.  She blamed it on the economy and on all of the competition for fitness clients.

Can you see the reason why Trish wasn’t fully booked? (hint: it’s in the first paragraph.)  Yes – she relied on…

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It’s harder than ever to recruit long term volunteers. Does that mean we need to lower our standards?  Guest blogger Laura Rundell wants more conversation around the question. Please weigh in!

At many of the meetings I go to, in the blogs I read, and when I talk with my colleagues, I find that many of us struggle with recruiting enough volunteers to meet our agencies’ needs. The trend seems to be that fewer people are making a long term commitment to volunteering. It is harder for agencies that rely on volunteers to find the folks who are able to make an ongoing commitment. Many agencies report that volunteers are looking for short term, casual ways of volunteering.

Tobi Johnson’s excellent survey of volunteer managers shows that most of us anticipate that the need for volunteers will increase, yet there doesn’t seem to be a corresponding increase in the number of people looking to make an extensive commitment.

If we don’t adapt to these changing trends, are we shooting ourselves in the foot? If we aren’t able to offer the sort of volunteer roles that people seem to be…

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If you seek the cooperation of others, start with your own trustworthiness

Last week, I had lunch with a colleague. We had one of those wide-ranging conversations that cover nonprofit life from just about every angle. Eventually, the discussion turned to a personal favorite subject, my Leadership Circle. The Circle is a group of very committed leaders of volunteers who meet every other month to polish their skills and solve their trickiest problems in the company of peers.

This group dives right in at their meetings – discussing current challenges, brainstorming solutions, commiserating, and all-around receiving the support that they need to work at their highest level.

My colleague had attended the CEO-level version of a leadership circle one time and came away with a very different impression. She found that it was really hard to open up in that circle to a group of people that she didn’t know – and she never returned.

This leader is absolutely right. It’s a setup for failure to put a group of strangers together and expect them to disclose their fears and doubts. Our discussion helped me realize that one reason the Leadership Circle succeeds is…

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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?…

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Your skills and vision ramp up every kind of outreach

It’s clear to me that volunteer managers think differently from their nonprofit peers – and that’s a really good thing.

We understand that an individual connected with an organization has the potential to provide all kinds of valuable resources. Our job is to build those relationships and strengthen the affiliation with our nonprofit – no matter if we are working with a volunteer, a client, a staff member, or a donor.

It is our natural talent for integrating that serves our organizations so well.

Michelle Thyen, the Director of Community and Volunteer Engagement for Brain Injury Services, discovered that her natural ability to leverage resources had a huge impact on her organization’s sustainability.

Brain Injury Services provides an array of programs and services that support individuals and families who have experienced brain injury, stroke, or concussion. Michelle was hired 16 years ago as the Volunteer Program Manager to expand volunteer opportunities. She did just that, creating programs that allowed brain injured clients to volunteer for other nonprofits – and she connected community volunteers with the clients.

But after a dozen years a…

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To build a loyal volunteer community, look beyond the short timers

Let me tell you something about those practical volunteer manager skills that you have acquired. Once those abilities are wired into your brain, you can walk away from them for a while and pick them back up whenever you need them.

It’s like riding a bicycle.

That’s what I have found these past couple of months, while assisting a local nonprofit by screening volunteers until their new volunteer manager comes on board.  It’s been fun to jump back into the interviewing process because it comes so naturally.  And all of that training in behavior-based interviewing has been necessary to assess the fit of prospective volunteers for a very specialized role.

What’s been frustrating is interviewing applicants who make it clear that their primary interest in volunteering is to acquire job skills – their desire to help the clients is often secondary.  This particular program gets most of its applications from college or graduate students hoping to gain direct experience in the field.

Now don’t get me wrong – most of these students will become responsible, reliable volunteers who fulfill their…

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What happens when we make hasty decisions?  I once had a five-year reminder.

Reactivity and Volunteer Managers - Twenty HatsOne time when I was fairly new to volunteer training, our Executive Director took a meeting with one of our volunteers. This person was an experienced corporate trainer and she had one objection to our training program: she thought we did not do a good job of showing the material in context. She suggested that we create a big jigsaw puzzle which would be assembled piece by piece at each training session to show how everything fit together.

It was an intriguing idea and my boss asked me to make the puzzle happen.  With the next training beginning in a matter of weeks, I jumped into action-mode, got on the phone with a graphic designer, worked up a puzzle, got it approved, and arranged to have it fabricated and mounted it to the wall of the training room.

The Problem?

In my haste to meet my boss’s request, I had failed to notice that the puzzle lacked a picture: when you put the pieces together, it did not make a recognizable whole out of…

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Don’t think you have what it takes to be the boss? Here is one great place to build your leadership skills.

Spoiler alert for those of you participating in the March 30 Get Your Projects Done webinar: we’re going to spend a lot of time talking about limiting beliefs.

That’s because most of the time, it’s our point of view and not our level of busyness – or any other circumstance –  that keep us from achieving the success, satisfaction, and rewards that we hope to experience in our work.

If you are not familiar with the concept, a limiting belief is a statement that you tell yourself is true, but upon reflection you realize is holding you back.

Take this example, which may rank as the all-time most common limiter out there. It’s a belief that stops us in our tracks because it affects the way we feel about ourselves and our abilities. But in light of last week’s post, which encouraged volunteer managers to think bigger, it’s the one we most need to overcome:

“I’m not cut out for leadership.”

Liz Salter used to subscribe to this belief.

Liz is the…

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Let’s not lament young colleagues who move up and out volunteer engagement. They’re the ones who will elevate the profession.

A few weeks back, Meridian Swift posted a blog about what she calls The Mokita. (and by the way, if you haven’t visited Meridian’s funny and wise site, VolunteerPlainTalk, start now!)

The Mokita post was all about the volunteer engagement profession’s Elephant in the Room: namely, that we volunteer managers see ourselves as undervalued and misunderstood.  And while the post is important on its own merits, the comments generated by the post are equally absorbing – especially the one by CVA Jerome Tenille.

Jerome wrote:

“We need more people with “backgrounds” in volunteer administration to take on these key [top leadership] roles, as decision makers. At the end of the day, it would be my goal that years from now, I AM that Executive Director, or CSR Program Manager, or CEO who can sit across from a Volunteer Coordinator, have an honest conversation and say “I understand your challenges, and I have your back,” and not because it sounds good, but because I’ve been in those shoes and…

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Decision-makers will come around to your point of view IF you take the time to educate them

Here’s a proposal:  how about we replace the designation of volunteer manager with one that more accurately represents what we do?  For me, the clear standout replacement is this:


Whenever I interview a leader of volunteers for a blog post, I am struck by how our success is tied to our ability to educate board members, executive directors, co-workers, the public, about our work.

And while we may resent having to provide that education (wouldn’t it be great if more of our stakeholders appreciated our role from the get-go?), it’s the only consistent path to reaching our goals.

Leah Thibodeaux shared an awesome example of education in action when she successfully advocated to hire a second volunteer coordinator for her food pantry, St. Joseph Food Program in Menasha, Wisconsin.

St. Joe’s serves over 1,000 families each week and provides nutrition assistance to other nonprofits as well. It accomplishes all this with a volunteer force of 350 and a part-time staff of nine.  Even the Executive Director works part-time.


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