How to deal when staff pushes back on your volunteer project

Co-workers may resist your big ideas, but that doesn’t have to derail you

Here’s what’s great about volunteer managers:

We really, really care.

We take our responsibilities seriously. We want to make sure that our volunteers are tended to and engaged in ways that make it possible for our programs to achieve much more. We’re about helping others – and we’re not so interested in positioning ourselves front and center.

I’m especially mindful about what drives us after last week’s Intention-Setting Workshop. We spent our workshop time figuring out what kind of accountability and supports are needed to make our dream projects actually come to pass.

What impressed me most were the intentions themselves. These volunteer managers focused on projects that would do great things for their organizations – create more engagement, simplify systems, improve the volunteer experience. There was not one intention that anyone would call self-serving or a detour from a nonprofit’s mission.

But…

The flip side to those great intentions was the participants’ very valid concern about resistance to their plans from co-workers or decision-makers. And behind their concern was a fear that the resisters had the power to derail their projects.

Let’s think about that for a moment. If you have a sound, mission-expanding idea for a project, is it possible that others can stop you in your tracks?

The push-back may be real, but it’s not a deal-breaker. In fact, resistance is normal and inevitable. People have a built in bias for maintaining the status quo. Change can stir up all kinds of negativity.

If you experience push-back, the big challenge is to manage the nay-sayers without letting them affect your equilibrium. That’s not easy to do when you spend 8+ hours Monday-Friday with people who may get in our way.  But it is doable – if you keep some basic principles in mind:

  1. It’s not personal – honest

Resistance can feel very personal. It’s not a great experience to present a project and see co-workers roll their eyes, or offer a minimum of cooperation, or even complain to the boss about your plans.  Just remember that the opposition is largely fueled by fear and has very little to do with you.  That’s why you must take the time to….

  1. Unpack the resistance

Now that I’m a business owner, I spend a lot of time on marketing. And when you are a marketer, the first thing you learn is how to manage the objections of your clients. That same principle operates in the nonprofit world. When someone becomes resistant, your objective is to figure out what’s driving the behavior and show how you are solving that person’s problem.

If a co-worker thinks supervising volunteers takes too long, you describe how volunteers will save her time in the long run. If your boss is reluctant to purchase a volunteer management system, you explain how the investment will free up your time and help generate useful metrics grant reports.  You get the idea – and you’re probably doing a lot of objection-managing already, which is why you also need to…

  1. Get LOTS of support

Managing resistance is not much fun, and it can be really, really draining.  Figure out who you can turn to for validation when the grumbling kicks up a notch.  Don’t feel guilty about leaning on a mentor, a coach, or a wise colleague. Your goal is to keep your energy up so that you keep moving forward.

Finally, remember that realizing an intention is a process. It’s going to take time. More than likely you will need to manage those objections over to foster the trust you need. But if you find the right support and stay accountable to your goals, you will succeed and eventually win over most doubters. Imagine how great you will feel when that happens, and you intention becomes a reality.

 

Managing objections is one essential for bringing others on board with your great ideas. My Six Principles of Buy-In will take your influencing skills even further. Email me to receive a handout about the principles and a next steps worksheet – and I’ll add you to the Twenty Hats mailing list.

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