While we’re waiting for the pandemic to end, you may see parallels to your own program goals

One of the wisest pieces of advice I ever received came from a supervisor of volunteers at my former workplace, a CASA program.  CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates Programs, support volunteers who advocate in juvenile court for the best interests of abused or neglected children.

The volunteers worked hard as advocates to achieve the goal of a better life for the children on their cases. All too often, though, setbacks seemed to upend the time and effort that volunteers put into their service. When that occurred, the volunteers would call the office, upset about the turn of events and fearing the worst for the children. This supervisor’s response was always the same. She would say to a volunteer, “Wait. Just let things play out. Eventually, the outcome will work in the child’s favor.”

Nine times out of ten, this supervisor was right. Over time, family members would demonstrate their ability or inability to care for their children, and the right home for the child was made clear.

We might name “waiting for things to play out” as the theme of 2020. Aren’t we all waiting right now — for this pandemic to turn the corner, for a vaccine, and for a return to a more normal life? Eventually, we will reach this goal, but it won’t occur on a rapid timetable. It’s taking a really long time.

This same process occurs in our work, when we set a goal that feels important and urgent. We want to see results soon. Waiting might feel like a setback.

I think about one of my clients, a volunteer administrator who knew her department needed a volunteer engagement strategic plan. We first discussed a plan over three years ago. It took almost that long to get the go-ahead to proceed. My client spent that time advocating for the planning, garnering support and working her way through her organization’s systems to get funding approval. The intervening years may have felt discouraging, as the outcome was unknown and the challenges that she wished to resolve persisted.

Realistically, though, three years is about right for realizing a big goal the requires buy-in and a budget investment. I’ve experienced long waits myself. At my CASA program, I wanted to see the supervisors receive formal training in volunteer supervision.  They did receive the training – but it took two years of advocating and a budget opportunity to make it happen.

Waiting to achieve our goals may be the toughest part of realizing them. It’s so tough, in fact, that I list “Commit to Your Vision” as my sixth Principle of Buy-In. For all of the interpersonal skills that are required for leadership, setting realistic expectations is just as important. When we underestimate how long it takes to reach our aims, we set ourselves up for our own harsh judgments. We mistake complexity for failure.

The year’s end is always a time of reflection, when we assess what’s come to pass and envision what we’d like to achieve in the future. If you have begun that process, remember that your largest goals are worth pursuing and may take more than 12 months to realize. We might treat 2020 (and perhaps most of 2021) as practice in taking the long view to success.

Want to read all six Principles of Buy-In and achieve more support for your volunteer program? 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.