One CVA’s take on why volunteer engagement is so darned hard
Leaders of Volunteers – what if I told you that managing volunteers was one of the hardest jobs out there? Would you buy that?
I mean, you know it’s a challenging job. But would you categorize it as one of the very hardest?
CVA Jerome Tennille thinks so.
In fact, Jerome believes he’s worked harder trying to manage a volunteer program than he did on some assignments in the military – and he’s not exaggerating.
Jerome served as a Navy intelligence analyst for eight years before moving into the nonprofit sphere. If his name sounds familiar, that’s because he’s been featured before in Twenty Hats. Jerome is the Senior Manager, Impact Analysis & Assessment 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.
But for five and a half years prior to shifting roles, Jerome lead the TAPS volunteer effort, where he built a volunteer program so valued that the organization is now undergoing Service Enterprise certification.
Jerome made his claim about volunteer…
Aretha sings about it. We all talk about it. How much does self-respect affect your workplace decisions?
— Joni realizes that it would help volunteer recruitment to schedule some of the volunteer trainings on weekends. Making that decision requires her boss’s approval – but her boss is always so busy and Joni hates to interrupt her. Joni feels caught between respecting the needs of her volunteers and respecting the needs of her boss.
— Kristy has worked 10 hour days ever since her program’s budget got cut and she lost her volunteer coordinator. She’s exhausted and finds herself up at night trying to plan all the things that need to get done the following day. But Kristi hesitates to mention her situation to her supervisor – she doesn’t want to seem like she’s not pulling her weight in a tough situation.
— Pat has a volunteer who is rude to the clients on a regular basis – there have been numerous complaints. She knows she needs to talk with the volunteer but she keeps putting it off because difficult conversations are uncomfortable for her.
From these examples you may think that this post is about…
Guest Blogger Erin Spink has plenty of ideas for demonstrating volunteer impact
For many years, a gold standard that many board, funders and leaders of volunteers have touted like an Olympic Gold Medal is the number of hours volunteers contribute to the organization. It is included in Board Reports and Annual Reports, it is submitted to funders and stakeholders with pride. Behind the scenes, both volunteers and Volunteer Managers alike are driven nuts counting, submitting, collecting and inputting these numbers. And for what?
Too many Volunteer Engagement professionals tell me how strapped they are for time, how they wish they could spend less time on basic administrative tasks, like counting hours, especially when hours tell us nothing of the difference volunteers have made or the steps forward we’re taking towards delivering on our organizational missions because of their involvement.
Here’s a simple timesaver:
Whenever possible, stop counting volunteer hours – or at least explore how you might streamline the process.
If you’re absolutely required to submit volunteer hours, see if it’s possible to use a simple mathematical computation, such as having an average of hours served per role and then multiplying it by the number…
Or, how child development can teach us a thing or two about speaking up
I have never forgotten something that I learned back when I worked for a CASA program. At the time, there was a therapist who could come in and give inservices on child development. This therapist used to say that people need two important things for healthy emotional development.
- To have their thoughts and feelings validated, and ―
- To be admired
This principle has resonated for me ever since because it doesn’t just apply to infants and children. As adults, we still need to be seen and recognized – even when others disagree.
Think about the last time you were in conflict with someone. Did you feel validated and admired? No, of course not. And I bet it was the lack of validation or admiration that made you feel angry or resentful.
Now think about a time when you felt a connection to someone else, secure, and trustful that this person was in your corner. Chances are that you felt seen, affirmed, and supported.
When you’re a child, an able caregiver will be sensitive to the signals that you need emotional security…
Everyone wants in on this CVA’s intern program
How does your organization feel about interns? Are they an occasional asset, when there is a specific project to tackle? A necessity – but one that is reluctantly taken on by program staff?
Or, are interns so much a part of your nonprofit’s culture that departments don’t just accept interns – they ask for them and treat them as essential for running an effective program.
If your nonprofit resembles this last description, then you have a lot in common with Sue Hawthorne, CVA.
Sue is the Volunteer Manager of Sweetser a nonprofit that provides mental health, recovery, and education services to children and adults in 75 locations throughout Maine.
A key part of Sue’s role is to recruit and place interns throughout the organization. In fact, Sue just placed her 18th intern for this semester alone, with another soon to be matched to a program.
The Philosophy Around Interns
But interns aren’t just “accepted” at Sweetser – they are welcomed, trained, nurtured, and considered likely candidates for future employment.
The numbers explain why. “Statistics show that an intern who is hired by the same company is likely…
Not reaching a goal and beating yourself up for it? Focus on this instead.
We have a holiday tradition at my house. Every Thanksgiving, me, my husband, and my grown son gather round the table and play this board game (you probably know it) called Settlers of Catan.
Settlers of Catan is fun, and it’s complicated. There are all these resources that you have to acquire to win the game. And circumstances keep changing. You might be ready to score a point, but a role of the dice changes your prospects. You have to stay on your toes to have even a shot at winning.
And my son used to always win.
When that happened, I beat myself up for having no natural talent for board games, especially one as complicated as Settlers. I told myself I’m too chicken to take the big risks – I don’t stand my ground. Even so, it’s generally my idea to play this game – I still think it’s fun!
In all fairness, this is my son’s zone of genius. He can read the directions to a new game in, say, one minute, completely understand the rules, and conquer…
Professional development is an investment in your future. Here’s how to assess the ROI.
Do you know that old cliché from the movies, where a writer has so much trouble composing something that she is surrounded by crumpled up pieces of paper – ripped with great energy from the typewriter? (that was back when we used typewriters, of course)
I was that kind of writer with this post. For a while now, I’ve been wanting to share a helpful way for volunteer managers to make decisions about professional development trainings.
As volunteer managers in the nonprofit world, where we hear all the time that funds are scarce, we become masters of finding the free, low-cost, or pro bono options to build our skills. And that works out pretty well – much of the time.
But sometimes, our search for the low-to-no-cost alternatives does not serve us. Sometimes, we opt for those trainings even though they don’t fully meet our needs.
Or sometimes, if we totaled the dollar value of the time we spend searching for “affordable” options, we would have been better off choosing the more higher priced service.
It gets confusing. When it comes to…
What if our annual reviews backed up what really counts?
I love the aha! moments that arise whenever a group of super-smart volunteer managers gets together. One of these moments occurred just last month during a workshop I facilitated on building nonprofit capacity with volunteers.
As part of the workshop, we talked about how important it was to get strategic about measuring volunteer impact – and what better way to measure impact than to connect volunteer efforts to the mission of the organization.
The flash of brilliance occurred when we looked at a fictional example of a nonprofit strategic priority. This particular example took each volunteer role and established metrics for them that contribute to the larger goal.
Here’s the fictional example so that you understand what I mean. It’s for a homeless shelter. You will see that table looks like a section of a typical strategic plan – but there are two additional columns: one that names the volunteer role, and one that ties the outcomes of the role to the goals of the program area. In this way, the volunteer role is seen in context, and as an integral part of…
These volunteer managers do their jobs better by blurring the lines between organizations
One time several years ago, I had coffee with the leader of a local symphony that engages volunteers. And as often happens in the volunteer engagement world, the conversation soon veered around to our local volunteer managers association.
Our association is such a great group – and just about the only place around where volunteer managers can get together to swap notes, share ideas, and just plain enjoy being in the company of other pros who do pretty much the same kind of job.
But this symphony leader had a different take – she had attended one of our association meetings and did not feel like the group (no pun intended) resonated for her.
Most of the association’s members belonged to human services organizations or to county government. There was no one else who managed volunteers in the arts. And while there are commonalities in the way we all manage volunteers, the needs of arts volunteers were different enough that she would have benefitted from sharing with others in her same nonprofit niche.
I thought of this conversation recently when I spoke…
Running a strong docent program is like conducting an orchestra. With the right practices, everyone harmonizes.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may recall a post about Life Purpose Statements. The statements are a great exercise for reconnecting with what brought you to your job in the first place.
Sometimes, when the day-to-day starts to drag you down, all you need is a reminder that you chose your work for reasons much bigger reasons. You are playing a valuable part within a larger vision.
One of my favorite statements came from Geoffrey Cohrs, the Docent Coordinator for the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery.
I teach docents the skills they need to meaningfully engage the public in the issues of our time so the public may better understand their place in American society and what they can do to effect positive change.
Clearly, this leader of volunteers understands the power of his docents to not just educate the public, but to create a positive impact on our culture.
The challenge is to translate this kind of vision into an effective team.
The answer, according to…