Here’s what happens when a Leader of Volunteers accepts all offers of support.
In August 2020, I joined many of my peers having to scramble to find a new job thanks to the pandemic. I wanted to stay in the same field, and I needed to be part of a mission I could support wholeheartedly. I became the volunteer manager at a non-profit, FACETS, that works with people struggling with homelessness and poverty.
The job had been vacant for about two months (and is a team of one!). Before COVID, there had been about 200 active volunteers including intermittent help for events as well as scheduled assignments like homework help and admin support. When I started, about five volunteers were still reporting for duty and rest had been home since March.
I took advantage of the lull to evaluate the program, especially whether existing assignments supported the organization’s evolving needs. While getting to know my new coworkers, I asked them to share the challenges they were struggling with, to let me build programs to help with those pinch points.
I was lucky enough in my last job to work with great leaders at a well-resourced program, and even more fortunate to have strong support from my new boss—so even though I didn’t have a background in human services, I had lots of ideas I had wanted to try out at FACETS. I’ve been able to harness the power of “Yes” to energize the program.
The power of “Yes” stems from believing that you don’t have to have all the answers in order to be successful. It’s figuring out how to accept all the offers of help and support, even if that means your short-term workload could double or triple to keep up. It means being able trust others to use their best judgement without your intercession or guidance. All of these actions are potentially risky… but being open to the possibilities can bring an abundance of rewards to your organization.
An example of this happened last June. I was approached by four different groups that wanted to offer service over the same week. Two groups wanted to do one-day projects, and the other two were offering five days of service in total. To complicate matters, the work days overlapped. Mid-week I would have groups at three sites and would be leaving volunteers unsupervised for part of the time.
Saying “Yes” to four teams didn’t mean I didn’t have to worry! I thought through what could go wrong from the usual, (“What if nobody shows up for the work day?”) to the highly improbable (“What if zombies arise from their graves and try to join in?”). I also reached out to my boss and other volunteers to get their perspectives and make sure I didn’t miss any obvious issues to be factored into planning. I didn’t get much sleep that week, but the organization benefited a great deal!
In the end, not turning away the offers of help resulted in 770 service hours completed, with three of the groups coming back for more projects in the fall!
Using the power of “Yes” challenges me to eliminate barriers to engaging help, and opens me up to harness volunteers’ unique skills and interests. At a recent orientation a volunteer was looking for ways to help but shared that their social anxiety made it challenging to be in an assignment where they had to engage with other people.
FACETS staff had shared their frustration about having work interruptions when they needed to get supplies from the shared food pantry. Could the volunteer with social anxiety be a solution for the pinch point of getting items moved between worksites? Yes!
Now FACETS has a “Pony Express” shuttle service! The volunteer is comfortable with the amount of required interaction with staff, the team has the convenience of having resources brought to them at their worksites and my organization is better able to support clients’ needs.
I encourage you to say “Yes” to the offers you receive to support your missions! What you and your organization may gain is definitely worth the risk!
Suzanne Hough, CVA, is the volunteer manager for FACETS, a nonprofit in Fairfax City that supports people struggling with homelessness and poverty. She has more than ten years experience managing volunteers and previously was a Senior Volunteer Program Supervisor for Friends of the National Zoo, where the last part of her daily commute was past cheetahs and Red River hogs. Her favorite part about working with volunteers is getting to see how they can change the world.
Very nice article, Suzanne – and an amazing way to use volunteers. Good for you, thank you for sharing your experience and insight!
Thinking outside of the box is a cliche, but you certainly did for an ideal placement for that gal with social anxiety and the staff needing help. I am so happy for you that FACETS is a good workplace! Think of all the people you are helping to have better lives! <3
Oh – and Happy Birthday!
Suzanne, so glad you addressed this topic. So many volunteer managers have been downsized or reallocated, and are facing the challenges of a new job in a new field. thank you.