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 with other volunteer managers that we spend a lot of time and energy trying to figure out ways to bring our bosses or co-workers on board with our big ideas. Sometimes we approach these “internal strategy sessions” with a measure of despair, because we feel we do not have the leverage to make things happen.
We may lack “Legitimate Power,” meaning that our position may not rank at the top or carry as much authority, but we hold other forms of power that make it possible for us to turn our ideas into realities.
- One of my clients leveraged her connection power to initiate an agency-wide staff training on volunteer management. She is someone who is respected and trusted by the leadership – a position that made it much easier to bring them on board with this new project.
- Another client is the only person in her office to work with court-mandated volunteers. That’s expert power, and even though she’s the youngest person on staff, her office depends on her to fulfill a grant-mandated service.
- We also hold the power to elevate ourselves professionally. When we meet with our colleagues at conferences or through our local DOVIAS, we share tips and strategies to do our current jobs better or receive leads on more fulfilling positions. That’s referent power in action.
Ultimately we are all gatekeepers for a tremendous source of power – the power of volunteers to expand the capacity of organizations to fulfill their missions and transform the world. If you are the type who worries that your boss or coworkers don’t recognize or appreciate this amazing resource, remember that you have the power to cultivate their buy-in. It may take some guidance or self-reflection to figure out the next steps, but it’s entirely doable.
You can read more about power by viewing the article that inspired this conversation in the first place. The author, Sharlyn Lauby, comes from the HR world. One more example of how managing people is at the heart of effecting change.