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…

Read More

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…

Read More

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…

Read More

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…

Read More

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…

Read More

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:

Educator.

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.

Leah…

Read More

We may have a ways to go in elevating our profession – but your hard work means the glass is half full

One of the concepts that I like to share with my volunteer manager clients is the notion of The Gap. It’s an idea that’s embraced by entrepreneurs – and as you know, I like to take share business practices that enhance our work in the nonprofit world.

The Gap is a phrase coined by an entrepreneurial coach, Dan Sullivan. Here’s what it means: when we have a goal, we tend to focus on what we haven’t yet achieved rather than the progress we have already made.

It’s important to check in on The Gap and recognize where we need to go. But an unrelenting focus on the unattained brings us down. It provides fuel for beating ourselves up and living in a state of discouragement.

Instead, we need to celebrate our progress – that’s the source of motivation and inspiration to continue moving forward.

I thought of The Gap the other day, when talking with an acquaintance who had just retired and entered the world…

Read More

There’s some risk involved when staff push back on engaging volunteers. Here’s how to take that particular target off of your head.

A couple of weeks ago, I received the most interesting response from a Twenty Hats reader.  It was about a post on how to deal with resistance from co-workers when you want to launch a new project.

The reader said:

“I see the recent [post] on how to deal with staff pushback on volunteer initiatives as a risk management issue.”

A risk management issue? That’s a thought-provoking idea. I had never considered pushback as having anything to do with safety or liability. To me managing staff resistance seemed more a question of stepping up interpersonal skill-building and treating our goals as an opportunity to grow as leaders.

But if anyone understands the connection between running a volunteer program and risk, it’s this reader. He is William Henry of Volunteers Insurance Service Association, Inc. The company has served nonprofits for over 40 years by providing insurance for volunteers. They also help nonprofits find other cost-saving products and services.

I got on the phone to talk with William and get his perspective…

Read More

What happens when a forum meets up with a messaging app?  You get a clever platform for fostering communication.

Do you ever wish communication with your volunteers was simpler? Or that your volunteers could talk to one another between shifts or events? I wouldn’t normally recommend that volunteers slack, but this is one situation where I might.

Slack is the name of an online communication tool that allows groups of people to send messages to one another. It can be used on a computer or on mobile with apps for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone. If you and your volunteers are comfortable using messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger or Google Hangouts, you’ll get the hang of Slack in no time.

That’s because, at its core, Slack is a messaging app. You decide who gets invited to your Slack team and then you can send and receive messages to those individuals or groups. Messages get posted to channels, which you can organize by topic. You can tag individuals so they see that you’ve mentioned them. You can also upload files such as Google or Word documents and images. The basic level of…

Read More

Check out the Volunteer Management Progress report for some answers — and a lot more questions

Here’s a saying that you’ve heard umpteen million times:

There’s no such thing as a dumb question.

And while that might be generally true – we want to inquire without feeling judged – I have a whole new respect for good questions and more questions after speaking with Tobi Johnson.

Tobi released a survey full of good questions last fall, when she launched the second annual Volunteer Management Progress Report. The report compiles the results of 53 questions that pertain to the state of volunteer management and were answered by volunteer managers. In total, over a thousand leaders of volunteers responded to the survey from the US and 18 countries.

The report is one of the most comprehensive sources of information around about our experience as leaders of volunteers in recent years.

When it comes to the survey, the findings shared by Tobi and her research team (Trina Williard  of Knowledge Advisory Group and Pam Kappelides of LaTrobe University) suggest that we need to answer a whole new set of questions.  We need to…

Read More