All the wheels are turning in this volunteer program – thanks to a leader with a passion for his work

from-military-intel-to-vol-mgmt-twenty-hatsCompare intelligence work to volunteer management (not counting all those spy movie clichés). Intelligence sounds so left-brained, so centered on data and analysis while volunteer management is people-oriented and relationship-driven. And while our work may require confidentiality, it’s rarely top secret.

For one CVA, though, military intelligence turned out to be the best preparation possible for a second career in volunteer engagement.

Jerome Tennille, is the Manager of Volunteer Services for Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), an organization that provides comfort and care to military families who have lost a loved one serving in the Armed Forces. He came to TAPS straight from an eight-year career as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy.

Jerome Tennille, CVA, builds relationships AND systems in his volunteer program for TAPS.

“If you had mentioned volunteer management as a possible vocation six years ago, I would have said it was not within my scope,” Jerome reflected.  “I always had a limited understanding and false sense…

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If you question your career choice, try this formula

3-simple-sentences-twenty-hats-volunteer-managersBack when I managed volunteers, there were days – and I know you’ve had them, too – when juggling staff, volunteers, and an ever-growing pile of to dos absolutely fried my energy and brought me to the edge of burnout.  And all for a salary way lower than other jobs.

Those kinds of days make you question why you ever decided to do this job in the first place.

On days like that – instead of scanning the job listings or contemplating grad school, I wish I had created my own personal mission statement to put the day-to-day in context and see the bigger picture. I wish I had tried something like Adam Leipzig’s Life Purpose Formula.

Adam Leipzig is a thought leader who attended his 25th college reunion and noticed that just about everyone was successful – but not everyone was happy.  The happy alums were the ones who chose a profession that truly aligned with their values and their sense of purpose in life. The experience prompted him to create a three-sentence formula that summed up what he did best and how it made…

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Not sure how to change up your volunteer program? Talk to your volunteers.

volunteer-focus-groups-th-blueWhen Amy Whary got promoted at the Tel Hai retirement community in Honey Brook, PA, she decided to shake things up a bit.

Amy is the Director of Volunteer Services for Tel Hai. When she was promoted from the assistant position last year, she inherited a program that had operated in status quo mode for over 15 years. “We repeated the same practices over and over without questioning whether they were relevant anymore. I heard a lot of ‘that’s the way we do things’ to explain how we operate,” Amy observed.

“I found the program boring – and I suspected that the volunteers might feel that way, too. But they had never been asked.”

So, before making any changes, Amy initiated something that had never been done at Tel Hai:

She organized focus groups of volunteers and asked them what they wanted.

That was significant for Tel Hai, because the residents make up the majority of the volunteer force. The members of her focus group were volunteers and clients.  Gathering volunteer feedback gave Amy the intel she needed to build a strong…

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vol-mgmt-hashtag-winners-twenty-hatsRemember back in August when Liza Dyer and I launched The Quest for the Universal Hashtag?  We wanted to identify one singular hashtag that would stand out from the crowd of sometimes-random tags currently used to communicate about volunteer management.

We asked a group of influencers in our field to nominate tags (a total of 19 in all – we are a creative bunch) and set up a survey so that our community could vote for that one special tag.

The response was terrific: one month later, 337 volunteer managers had heeded the call and placed votes for their first, second, and third choice tags – the ones they felt best represented our profession.

The result?

Well, it turned out that our hypothesis was a bit off.  We figured that one hashtag would leap to the head of the pack, leaving other in the dust.

But that’s not what happened.

Instead, we ended up with three different hashtags that were so close in their scores that we could not designate just one winner.

And that’s fine, because each of these winning hashtags serves a slightly different purpose and can be used to convey a different meaning.

So without…

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How it feels to work in a nonprofit where volunteers are considered as valuable as money

Volunteers and Strategic Plan - Twenty Hats“It was pure luck.”

That’s how CVA Karen Horowitz describes her good fortune to work as Director for Volunteer & Internship Engagement at an organization that recognizes volunteers at the very highest level   ̶  in the strategic plan.

The organization is Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS), and I’ve written about them before. It’s rare for a nonprofit to include volunteer engagement as a strategic priority.

In fact, I tried to gauge the prevalence of this practice by floating the question in a LinkedIn strategic planning forum. Only five of the 74 respondents said they included volunteers in their strategic plan. Most people cited their board as evidence of high-level volunteer inclusion.

This lack of insight from Executive Directors, CEOs, and consultants makes me want to smack my head on the keyboard in frustration.

Clearly, there is work to be done.

Karen and Trina
Newly minted CVA Karen Horowitz (left) gets a hug from CCVA board member Trina Mayhan-Webb.

We know how essential…

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Yes. It’s all about you. Really.

VM Self-promotion Twenty HatsWhen your volunteer program has a big win – or when you achieve something impressive, which of the following do you do?

  1. Share the good news with a co-worker
  2. Go home and tell your significant other
  3. Tell your boss about it
  4. Smile quietly to yourself and go back to your work

Personally, I’m a fan of “all of the above” and most significantly, #3.

Why Promote Ourselves?

We need to promote ourselves when we do something brag-worthy. And not just because it feels good to share something we’re proud of – but because self-promotion is better for your volunteer program.

That’s the point I made last week in a practice session for a conference presentation on advancing your volunteer program. Twelve volunteer mangers gathered at Volunteer Alexandria to learn more about how to strategically advance their volunteer programs and share feedback about how to make the presentation as relevant as possible for the conference participants. (OK, this post is a Spoiler Alert for anyone attending the conference.  Read on anyway – your advance reflection will make the discussion more meaningful.)

The self-promotion question came up because so…

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Another take on certain a certain kind of job frustration

Vol Mgt Implementer to Leader - Twenty HatsDoes your boss frustrate you more than she used to? Seriously – perhaps when you started this job, you recognized that your boss had a different work style from you but you respected that, but now you find that your boss’s point of view or the decisions she makes seem increasingly incompetent to you. Perhaps you see a better way to resolve the issue and feel you are not being heard?

You might even be wondering if it’s time to leave your job because her decisions seem so wrongheaded.

That’s one interpretation. Here’s another: your leader is not the problem. You are frustrated because you are ready to step up and lead, too.

There is a difference between managers and leaders. Leaders are the vision people, while managers are the implementers who make the vision a reality.

But the difference has nothing to do with your job title or you position within your organization. Mid-level managers like volunteer or development directors need to manage AND lead, influencing their boss and co-workers while still doing the daily in-the-trenches administrative…

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Allen Wente wants his volunteers to have the same meaningful experience that he enjoyed. Here’s how he does that.

Fraternity Volunteers - Twenty HatsLast week, I threw out an impromptu question to the participants of a webinar that I held for AL!VE. I asked how many of the listeners had served as volunteers for their nonprofit before joining the staff.  My guess was that many of the volunteer managers started out as volunteers and I was right – the vast majority came to their work with plenty of pre-existing knowledge of the needs and the rewards of volunteering for their cause.  They get it – and their prior volunteer experience helps to strengthen their programs.

Allen Wente was not on the webinar – I met him through my talented colleague Tobi Johnson – but this volunteer manager falls into the “formerly a volunteer” category and then kicks it up a notch. Back in college, Allen not only served in his fraternity, Delta Tau Delta – he founded the chapter after finding himself unimpressed with the other Greek options at his school. Delta Tau Delta “strives to develop young men committed to lives…

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Your vote counts. Help us find a universal hashtag for our profession!

Universal Hashtag FramedA couple of months ago, CVA Liza Dyer cooked up an idea — and I happily went along with it: we would round up nominations for a universal hashtag – one singular hashtag that communicates what’s most essential about our profession to the rest of the world.

It all started when Liza and I were confused-at-the-same time about the vast array of hashtags currently used to tweet or promote our profession in the social media realm. Wasn’t there one tag in particular that set the standard?

That’s when Liza suggested that we ask thought leaders in our field to brainstorm and suggest possible hashtags, with the notion that the list of nominees would feature one hashtag that’s a cut above the rest.

So that’s what we did – we asked a group of influencers to nominate hashtag contenders.  We got a terrific response and came away with plenty of intriguing options  – 18 nominations in all.

Now it’s your turn.

We want you to vote and help us identify the Ultimate Universal Hashtag for the Profession of Volunteer Management.

But – it may not be…

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How would it feel to be part of a team that’s all pulling in the same direction? One volunteer manager shares her experience.

Playing on the Dream TeamIf you train volunteers, you have probably noticed that every group is a little bit different. Each one has its own personality and a special set of interests and challenges.

My last  volunteer managers retreat had that same quality. It was different from my first one, not better or worse – just different.

One of the things that made it different was that we spent a lot of time talking about the relationships between volunteer departments and development teams.  A few of the retreat participants reported directly to development directors and felt underappreciated. They voiced frustration about their supervisors’ limited view of what it takes to run a strong program– not fully understanding their needs or appreciating all of the resources that volunteers bring to the table.

There was one participant, though, who had an entirely different and completely positive experience with her development department. In fact, she is considered an integral and valued part of the resource-building team at her organization.

That person is Jessica Towers, whom you…

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