If you’re lost in the weeds managing volunteers, this self-reflection will energize you

Every now and then, I stumble across an idea so compelling that it has to be shared.

This experience happened recently, when I led a training on managing volunteers for a large national nonprofit.

The training took place on the last day of an organization-wide annual meeting and we were running late. The final speaker needed to make some closing remarks. With no time to spare, he took the stage before I could clear out my training supplies and head out the door. I couldn’t march up to the dais to gather up my things, so I stayed and listened to his closing speech.

I’m so glad that I stuck around.

This speaker wrapped up the meeting by asking the staff five questions:

  • What is my purpose?
  • What is the purpose of my organization?
  • What is my purpose within my organization?
  • What would I like my purpose to be within my organization?
  • What would I like my purpose to be?

We’ve tackled the purpose question before on Twenty Hats. Several years ago, I shared a formula for helping readers uncover their work purpose.  It led to some very inspiring statements – you can check them out here.

This reflection on purpose tells us something different from the formula I shared.  The five questions suggest that purpose is not a fixed concept – it’s not a North Star that keeps us focused on our goal.

Instead, it seems our purpose is ever-evolving. It’s influenced by the organizations we work for —  and the organizations we work for are influenced by us.

If we are clear on what we want our purpose to be, then we are better positioned to effect change: to advocate for our volunteers, advance our programs, and shape our own jobs into something that’s more meaningful and satisfying.

Yet we rarely take the time to reflect on what keeps us going in our work. We’re too busy, or tired, or distracted to carve out the time to dream about what our bigger purpose might be.

This seems to be a universal problem. The Harvard Business Review published an article called “Why You Should Make Time For Self-Reflection (Even If You Hate Doing It).” The article finds that leaders who reflect on their work are more productive, less burned out, and happier than their non-reflecting peers.  To enjoy our work, we must connect our daily to-dos with the bigger picture

Meridian Swift wrote a post where she encouraged volunteer managers to take on the creative projects that excited them, even if it meant more work for them. Why? Because we are fueled by the creativity we bring to our jobs. Our “stretch” projects reveal what’s important to us. They shine a light on the purpose we really want – not the official purpose in our job description.

Back to this annual meeting: after posing the questions, the speaker asked the staff to share their answers. The responses were affirming, expressing deep ties to beliefs around service and faith.

But after working through the questions, one woman discovered a purpose that turned a few heads. Her ultimate goal was to start her own nonprofit, using her particular vision of service to help others.

Volunteer managers, I’m hoping you might discover your own variation on a higher purpose. As I’ve said many times, you possess the skills to lead at a much higher level. Ask yourself these five questions and see where the answers take you.