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.

Geoffrey wrote:

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…

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Turning Away VolunteersWhat’s the absolute, no doubt about it, worst part of managing volunteers? For me, it’s turning away the ones that are just not a good fit – the ones that won’t work out in any of the roles that your program offers. After all, volunteers are donating their time and talents to support your cause. It’s hard to reject something given so freely.

I have had to reject hundreds of volunteers over the years. At first, the process was wrenching. I could feel my blood pressure rising every time I picked up the phone, knowing I was about to share news that was sure to disappoint. A conversation with an upset rejected volunteer had the potential to ruin my day.

I’ve got some guidelines

Over time and through trial and error, though, I came up with some guidelines for turning away volunteers that bolstered my confidence and allowed the applicant some space to process the bad news.

If turning away volunteers gives you heart palpitations, here are my basics for making the experience manageable.

  1. Don’t avoid: Putting off the phone call will probably heighten your anxiety and make it more difficult to…

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When it comes to buy-in, how do you handle a “no”?

The more I blog and train on how to achieve buy-in for our volunteer programs, the more I realize that leading a volunteer program is not much different than running a business.

In both cases, your first step is to manage the objections of the person you want to serve.

If you’ve taken my workshop (or attended the webinar version), you know that I cover six principles of buy-in help bring others around to agree on our goals. We talk about things like: understanding the other person’s point of view, identifying common goals, and leveraging our allies.

As motivating and effective as these principles are, many times participants get stuck around the reaction that they anticipate.

They can’t figure out a good response to “no.”

For volunteer managers, a “no” response might look like this –

  • “The program staff won’t engage more volunteers because it takes too much time to train and supervise them.”
  • “My boss doesn’t want to expand our summer breakfast program because it will strain the budget.”
  • “My volunteers don’t want to sign in and out with the new online system because…

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Sometimes it takes an admirer to find our inner superhero

It’s one thing to subscribe to a theory and quite another to see if happen for real.

That’s why I was so excited to take part in the 2017 National Summit on Volunteer Engagement Leadership, an amazing three days of workshops and discussions, with the goal of expanding the national presence of our profession.

For me, the most exciting examples of theory transformed into to practice were shared on Day Two of the Summit, when Rob Jackson convened a breakfast conversation about volunteer managers moving upwards into leadership positions. It’s a cause that Rob has championed for a long time and one that’s been echoed by many voices within the profession.

If you want to increase the influence, respect, and overall credibility of volunteerism and volunteer programs, you need buy-in from the top.  And the best way to attain that buy-in is by taking on those leadership roles yourself.

Here’s the Exciting Real Life Result

It’s already happening. Our breakfast was populated by thoughtful, committed volunteer engagement pros who were all, one way or another, considering…

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A leader of volunteers needs to excel in three areas. Would you agree?

Readers, I need your input.

I’m creating a new webinar – but it’s not for volunteer managers. It’s for our nonprofit leaders – the Executive Directors, CEOs, and other senior decision-makers who bring us into their organizations.

My goal is to help nonprofit leaders spot the talent most likely to build a high-impact, capacity-building volunteer program. It’s about what nonprofits need to look for the right person for job.

And that goal begs the question:

What ARE the competencies that make for a super-capable volunteer manager?

Certainly, prior volunteer management experience is great – and the CVA credential is ideal. But my guess is that many, many of us come to our roles without these assets. The ones who stick around (and are reading this post) are the ones who discovered that volunteer engagement was a great match for their skills and values.

I posed the essential skills question to my Facebook group a while back. They identified some very particular competencies for a volunteer manager to possess, such as:

  • Organizational skills
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Flexibility, and… (does this go without saying?)
  • A great…

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This leader of volunteers loves the lifetime learning. Here’s why.

It’s like an inside joke. If you manage volunteers, you get why I named my business Twenty Hats. We may be hired for one job, but along the way we pick up plenty of other roles: marketer, supervisor, HR specialist, project manager – it’s a long list. And twenty is just a guesstimate.

The thing is, we generally don’t start out with the skills we need to master these roles. Instead, we wind up with a choice: either muddle our way along and hope things work out, or get ourselves trained to excel in our work.

Clearly, my preference is for option #2. Why put up with trial and error when there are all kinds of resources to help us become true leaders in our field?

CVA Barb Sheffer would agree.

Barb ranks among the leaders of volunteers that I most respect and admire. She has worked in volunteer engagement for the past 20 years and runs a large volunteer program with sites across the country and internationally. She is incredibly busy and often on the road to visit those global volunteers.

But even with her…

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If you feel like you haven’t got the power to sustain a top notch volunteer program, read this post

When I was planning my first retreat for volunteer managers, there were several things that I absolutely knew I wanted to cover – things like the principles of buy in, work/life balance, and what it’s like to lead in a nonprofit scarcity environment. And being the planner that I am, I drew up a nice detailed timetable, mapped out how many minutes we had for each exercise, and then stared at my agenda in consternation: we had extra time that I really wanted to fill with something valuable and different. What might that be?

On a hunch I threw in a discussion based on an article I had found about the different kinds of power that we all possess. I had never facilitated this type of discussion before and wasn’t sure if it would fly or sink.

Our conversation around our power ended up being one of the liveliest parts of the day (and this was a retreat with a lot of lively discussion!).

I know from my own work and from working…

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There’s more to job satisfaction than following your passion. Read on and see if you agree.

News flash! Following your heart is not the reason that you have chosen to manage volunteers or work in a nonprofit.

At least, not according to author Mark Manson, and his argument holds more than a kernel of truth.

Mark Manson, who has a best-selling book and a popular blog, believes that the best predictor of success is our ability to enjoy the struggles that are part and parcel of the experience.

In The Most Important Question of Your Life, Mark writes, “what we get out of life is not determined by the good feelings we desire but by what bad feelings we’re willing and able to sustain to get us to those good feelings.”

This notion of enjoyable struggles is an interesting lens for reviewing the choices you have made in your life – especially the professional ones.

If you look back at some of the careers that you have explored, I bet you’ll find that you loved all kinds of pursuits– but the ones you stuck with were the ones with tough parts you enjoyed….

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You don’t need to hide from those piles of work on your desk. Try this practice instead.

How busy are you at work? Let’s make it a scale of 1 – 10.  Are you an 8, a 9 – maybe a 20?

Every single one of the volunteer managers who attend my retreats or leadership circles report being at least a 9 on the beyond-busy scale. It’s something we talk about a lot because it gets in our way so much. We can’t meet the goals most important to us.

Or forget the important goals – sometimes we can barely get through the routine stuff. It’s why I stress goal-setting and accountability so much in my groups. Commitment helps us stay on course when the everyday gets in the way.

But – what if it’s possible that we already have enough time to get our work done – and that our challenges have less to do with our to-do list than we imagine?

Productivity gurus stress managing our energy as much as our time, and for good reason. Time management has limited results because we have only so many hours in the day.

Energy, though, is renewable,…

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At this nonprofit, group volunteers don’t just act: they reflect – and create great social media content

Greg Rockwell solved a marketing problem and an education problem with four simple questions. Along the way he created a more meaningful volunteer experience.

Greg, the Community Relations Manager for THRIVE DC, a nonprofit that serves the homeless in Washington, DC, observed that the groups showing up to assist with meal preparation knew very little about homelessness – or about the organization. At the end of their shifts, the groups were leaving with the satisfaction in a job well done but without much added insight into the needs of the clients they served or how THRIVE DC helps to turn their lives around.

At the same time, the development staff needed content to share on social media platforms. And while volunteer stories are great to share, the underlying emotional connection is much more compelling.

The question was, how to gather this kind of information in a simple, easy-to-access kind of way?

One of THRIVE DC’s social media posts: Greg Rockwell (second from right,…

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