FYI, professional development makes volunteer managers happier (not to mention smarter)

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 hectic schedule, Barb makes time to sit on the board of her volunteer managers association (she was even President for two years), mentor younger volunteer managers, and continually improve her skills.

If I had to choose one role model for investing in and making the most of professional development, it would be Barb.

Even with a busy job and a plenty of business travel, CVA Barb Sheffer make time each week for professional development

Barb makes time every week to advance her professional development. Some weeks it’s a webinar, sometimes it’s a live training, sometimes it’s a conference. Sometimes it’s a deep dive into personal growth through a leadership circle.

Needless to say, Barb is a huge believer in the power of professional education.

“That’s not an accident,” Barb explains.

Early in her career, she attended a workshop led by former CCVA Director Katie Campbell. Katie encouraged the participants to continue learning for the benefit of their communities, their organizations – and themselves.

“What Katie said that resonated the most is this: if you don’t invest the time in your professional development, who will?”

The way Barb sees it, she has a responsibility to her organization to stay on top of trends in volunteer engagement.

“I’m the subject matter expert in my workplace, and our volunteer population keeps changing. If I don’t keep up, then my skills are obsolete. Plus, I’m the advocate for our volunteers. I need to understand their needs and concerns to serve them best. And that takes training and re-training.”

Like many of us, Barb started out by taking advantage of some of the great free resources that we have available in our community, such as the webinars offered by VolunteerMatch and Wild Apricot.

And while she still attends those trainings, she realized over time that she had even more to gain by pursing her CVA and participating in more intensive services, such as annual conferences and membership in AL!VE and VolunteerPro.

Those resources have a price tag attached – and Barb believes that the financial investment is part and parcel of being a professional.

“It’s a risk not to invest in yourself,” Barb believes. “Our expertise may improve our programs, but it also transfers with us when we move to another organization. We represent the profession, and that ultimately requires a financial outlay – whether it’s funded by a grant, your workplace, or yourself.”

Barb also made the decision to participate in my Volunteer Managers Leadership Circle, a group of peers who commit to achieving specific goals and meet every other month for accountability and affirmation.

“The accountability piece is huge. I’m the volunteer management content expert, and that means I’m often the only one who knows that a certain policy needs to be created, or that our manual requires updating. I need to keep myself on track and supported when there isn’t a workplace deadline.”

There is another bonus to Barb’s dedication to professional development. Besides improving her leadership skills, she has a new outlook on her work.

“I was on the verge of burnout not so long ago ― I had to make changes. Besides tracking my time and adjusting my work schedule, I started reading more about work/life balance. Beth Kanter and Aliza Sherman’s ‘The Happy Healthy Nonprofit’ had a huge influence on my approach to my work. Now I’m in a good place.”

“I enjoy volunteer engagement more than ever.”

Speaking of professional development: are you attending the National Summit on Volunteer Engagement Leadership? If you are, check out my presentations and please say hi!  Check out the session descriptions here.  – Elisa

4 thoughts on “FYI, professional development makes volunteer managers happier (not to mention smarter)

  1. Tobi Johnson

    @Elisa: Thanks for mentioning VolunteerPro. We love having Barb Sheffer as a member and are happy she finds our training and community a worthwhile investment. It’s always nice to hear that the work of capacity builders has an impact on people’s lives. It why we do what we do. 🙂

    1. Elisa Kosarin Post author

      Absolutely, Tobi! Leaders of volunteers need to know where to find great resources. VolunteerPro is a valuable one.

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