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…

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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…

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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….

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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…

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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.


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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…

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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…

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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…

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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,…

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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…

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