Meditate on the content of these books, then act accomplish more in the new year

I’ve noticed something. In just about every workshop, training, and retreat that I hold, there are three books that inevitably enter into the conversation – and they are not books about volunteer management.  These particular titles address those nagging mindset challenges that get in our way when we want to create standout programs.

These three books are SO good that they merit a blog post all their own. Here are the titles and why every volunteer manager should read them.


The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg

Have you ever felt like your email is a bad influence, monopolizing your time and making it impossible to get anything done? If yes, rest assured that you are not alone –  most of my clients feel the same way. The dopamine hit that we get when we check email is so darned seductive that it sweeps us right into reactive mode before we can even start to plan our day.

The solution is to…

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Don’t have the resources to get the job done right? Try a different POV

thinking-about-volunteer-managers-twenty-hatsWhen I managed volunteers, one of the biggest eye-openers came from a poverty simulation that the county held for my program. You may know this simulation: the participants are assigned roles in various families, and they must try to get to jobs, pay for medications, send their children to school, etc. with no car, no savings – hardly any resources at all.

Everyone loved the role playing – especially the staff. One of our supervisors took the role of ”criminal” and caused all kinds of mayhem.  But mostly, we were humbled and horrified by how difficult it was to do the simplest things without access to resources.

As one volunteer put it, “living in poverty is a full time job.”

Here’s the thing about that experience.

Sobering as it was, the simulation felt kind of familiar – because it resembled nonprofit life. Oftentimes, (and big caveat here – this is a generalization), working in a nonprofit is like spending time in poverty.  The constant worry over funding and other…

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Can’t we do better than this one phrase?  Challenge yourself to a list of more compelling alternatives.

find-a-better-phrase-twenty-hats-jpegI have a pet peeve. Whenever I teach a persuasive writing class and ask students to write about the impact of their volunteer program, they all use the same expression.

“We make a difference”

Well yes, sure – we DO make a difference. That’s the bottom line for all volunteer work – and all nonprofits. That’s why we exist. To effect change, improve lives, and make a difference.

The problem is that there are over 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States alone. And if we are all making a difference, how do we stand out from all the rest?

Not only that, science has shown that our brains ignore over-used phrases. That puts making a difference right at the top of the useless list. It’s a waste of time just to type the words.

So how do we communicate what’s different and special about our particular organization without resorting to clichés?

You may always start with a persona. I’ve blogged about personas before…

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Irked by a co-worker? Personality may not be the problem

getting-in-the-way-of-volunteer-management-twenty-hatsZoe is the volunteer manager for a literacy program. Sometimes she gets calls from volunteers who have been inactive for months – sometimes years, and want to pick up where they left off.

Zoe gets concerned about the casual way these volunteers treat their commitment and their lack of current training – she would rather see reliable volunteers in their place.  But several of her co-workers are pressuring Zoe to start scheduling some of their favorites. Zoe feels coerced and thinks that her co-workers are interfering way too much.

Zoe is not real, but perhaps this scenario rings true for you. And if not this exact scenario, then perhaps some variation of it.

These situations bring a lot of angst and discord because they feel so personal –  as if your colleagues are creating problems just for you. Or, it may seem even more global like you’re just plain unlucky and ended up with co-workers who are biased, oppositional, and downright hard to deal with.

If only the Zoes of the…

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The title’s a tongue twister, but this volunteer administrator is clear on what keeps a team working together.

building-a-team-volunteer-managers-twenty-hatsIf someone took all of my blog posts and analyzed them for content, no doubt a good 80% have to do with two out of the three directions required for leadership  – influencing upwards and achieving buy-in laterally from co-workers.

Those skills are essential for our profession because we spend so much time educating others about the what, why, and how of engaging volunteers in a meaningful way.

But what about that third direction? – what about the downward management that’s essential to keeping an entire department running smoothly?

When you direct a large volunteer program and supervise others, your ability to lead your direct reports matters just as much as your ability to lead volunteers. (and maybe more.)

Teri McCormick Hinton knows this, and she’s proud of the close, collaborative culture that she’s created among her volunteer specialists.

Teri is the Regional Volunteer Services Officer for the National Capital Region of the American Red Cross. Her 20+ years in the Red Cross and her commitment to the organization…

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fifteen-minutes-twenty-hatsSomething’s afoot – and it’s a great thing that’s been a long time coming.

I’m talking about the groundswell of awareness that we volunteer engagement pros need to raise our standards. We need to advocate collectively for the value that leaderships brings to our nonprofits and our communities.

Taking our leadership seriously is something I blog about all the time, and I’m far from the only one. The 2017 National Summit on Volunteer Engagement Leadership seeks to advance the national visibility and impact of those within our profession. As the organizers state, “emergent leaders in the field have no clear path to become thought leaders to take this profession to new levels of performance and impact in the future.”

But we don’t need to wait until next July to advance this goal.  We can share our experiences now by participating in Tobi Johnson’s Volunteer Manager Progress Report Survey.

The progress report is one of the few surveys out there that asks practitioners in the field – people like you – about how you work and how your work is…

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All the wheels are turning in this volunteer program – thanks to a leader with a passion for his work

from-military-intel-to-vol-mgmt-twenty-hatsCompare intelligence work to volunteer management (not counting all those spy movie clichés). Intelligence sounds so left-brained, so centered on data and analysis while volunteer management is people-oriented and relationship-driven. And while our work may require confidentiality, it’s rarely top secret.

For one CVA, though, military intelligence turned out to be the best preparation possible for a second career in volunteer engagement.

Jerome Tennille, is the Manager of Volunteer Services for Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), an organization that provides comfort and care to military families who have lost a loved one serving in the Armed Forces. He came to TAPS straight from an eight-year career as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy.

Jerome Tennille, CVA, builds relationships AND systems in his volunteer program for TAPS.

“If you had mentioned volunteer management as a possible vocation six years…

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If you question your career choice, try this formula

3-simple-sentences-twenty-hats-volunteer-managersBack when I managed volunteers, there were days – and I know you’ve had them, too – when juggling staff, volunteers, and an ever-growing pile of to dos absolutely fried my energy and brought me to the edge of burnout.  And all for a salary way lower than other jobs.

Those kinds of days make you question why you ever decided to do this job in the first place.

On days like that – instead of scanning the job listings or contemplating grad school, I wish I had created my own personal mission statement to put the day-to-day in context and see the bigger picture. I wish I had tried something like Adam Leipzig’s Life Purpose Formula.

Adam Leipzig is a thought leader who attended his 25th college reunion and noticed that just about everyone was successful – but not everyone was happy.  The happy alums were the ones who chose a profession that truly aligned with their values and their sense of purpose in life. The experience prompted him to create…

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Not sure how to change up your volunteer program? Talk to your volunteers.

volunteer-focus-groups-th-blueWhen Amy Whary got promoted at the Tel Hai retirement community in Honey Brook, PA, she decided to shake things up a bit.

Amy is the Director of Volunteer Services for Tel Hai. When she was promoted from the assistant position last year, she inherited a program that had operated in status quo mode for over 15 years. “We repeated the same practices over and over without questioning whether they were relevant anymore. I heard a lot of ‘that’s the way we do things’ to explain how we operate,” Amy observed.

“I found the program boring – and I suspected that the volunteers might feel that way, too. But they had never been asked.”

So, before making any changes, Amy initiated something that had never been done at Tel Hai:

She organized focus groups of volunteers and asked them what they wanted.

That was significant for Tel Hai, because the residents make up the majority of the volunteer force. The members of her focus group were volunteers and clients.  Gathering volunteer feedback gave Amy…

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vol-mgmt-hashtag-winners-twenty-hatsRemember back in August when Liza Dyer and I launched The Quest for the Universal Hashtag?  We wanted to identify one singular hashtag that would stand out from the crowd of sometimes-random tags currently used to communicate about volunteer management.

We asked a group of influencers in our field to nominate tags (a total of 19 in all – we are a creative bunch) and set up a survey so that our community could vote for that one special tag.

The response was terrific: one month later, 337 volunteer managers had heeded the call and placed votes for their first, second, and third choice tags – the ones they felt best represented our profession.

The result?

Well, it turned out that our hypothesis was a bit off.  We figured that one hashtag would leap to the head of the pack, leaving other in the dust.

But that’s not what happened.

Instead, we ended up with three different hashtags that were so close in their scores that we could not designate just one winner.

And that’s fine, because each of these winning hashtags serves a slightly different purpose and can…

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