There are opportunities for volunteer managers within this crisis. But you need to do this first to take advantage of them. 

Volunteer Managers, you are busy these days. The sudden shifts created by the pandemic have you altering just about everything.

– First, there the tailoring to remote for every phase of the volunteer management cycle: onboarding, training, scheduling, etc.

– Then, there’s the anticipation that some volunteers may not return, leading to more recruitment.

-Or, you’re looking for new and innovative ways to keep your volunteers engaged while they wait to return.

And then there is the “EQ” piece of your job, where you find yourselves supporting longtime volunteers who are grieving the loss of their roles and their social circles. While it may not be in your job description, my guess is that you are spending a fair amount of time just listening to your volunteers. It’s how you can demonstrate compassion.

Our volunteers have lost a great deal – but how about you? With so much occurring, it’s easy to keep our heads down and get lost in the implementation of all these changes.  Feeling productive offsets the disruption. We can point to things we have actually accomplished.

But we can only operate on stand-by for so long. At some point, perhaps they day your computer crashes, or the next time a volunteer complains, you might find yourself flying off the handle in a way that’s unexpected and out of proportion to the matter at hand.

If that occurs perhaps it’s time to explore what you have lost these past few months.

I raised this question in my volunteer managers Leadership Circle, where we talked about coping with Covid-19 related changes. We discussed the classic stages of the change cycle: the grief and loss – the fear, anger, bargaining, etc. Then, I asked the group to list what they feel they’ve lost. Their responses may look familiar to you:

  • Loss of freedom to not feel afraid to interact with the public
  • Loss of content for trainings or orientations that is now irrelevant
  • Loss of momentum with the planning you were doing
  • Lost sense of security because it’s all new

I suspect this missing piece for many of us. Volunteer managers are practical and action-oriented. We respond to crises by getting things done. It feels like a waste of time to stop and consider what we’ve lost. Better to focus on solutions than consider something painful.

We can’t get to the solutions, though, until we recognize that we’re smack in the middle of the change cycle. We need to honor each phase and that means acknowledging the losses. We don’t have to dwell on them, just clear out some headspace.

Otherwise, what you’ve lost will nag at you, affecting the decisions you make and interfering with the flip side of this cycle, the opportunities that surface with rapid transformation. Where do you put your energy, into adapting your existing, volunteer roles that are familiar, or into creating new positions that make sense moving forward?

There many opportunities now for managing volunteers better and smarter. The posts on my Twenty Hats Facebook page tell me so. Every Thursday, I pose a question for around a volunteer management topic. Lately those weekly queries have had pandemic-related themes: What changes are you making? What’s going to be different for you? What’ your #1 priority right now?

Your responses all point to positive change. Here are three examples:

  • You have a broader base for recruitment. Your community-based program offers roles that appeal to volunteers nationwide, and the applications are rolling in
  • You can fine-tune your onboarding system. One colleague wrote, “I’m trialing a ‘virtual info night and meet the team’…our zoom meeting is registered and we plan to tell them about the program, let them ask their questions, and only afterwards will they get the link to the application via email. I’m hoping this will help people weed themselves out.”
  • You can diversify your volunteer corps. Given the events of recent weeks, this is the most important opportunity of all. This is the moment to assess the roles that you offer and break the mold – your chance to engage more volunteers of all races, ages, and ethnicities.

You may find yourself going through several cycles of reflecting on losses and opportunities. There’s still so much uncertainty about what’s to come. By making this a practice, though, you’ll find yourself feeling more energized, maybe even excited by the possibilities that are now available to you.

Need to bring others on board with the opportunities you see? My Principles of Buy-In will keep you focused on success.  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.