Mrs. Most Perfect Woman of ItsaMadeUppa County Pageant


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Purity Pirate

“Well heck,” Ivan said, “the surprises in volunteer management just keep surprising me.” He adjusted his purple framed glasses. “I just had this one volunteer, Julie, who took orientation a couple of months ago. It was a great class, full of people ready to help. They had different interests and skills, and varied ages, but they all got along; we laughed and cried together. It was great and I had high hopes for all of them. Now ours, being that we work with disadvantaged children, is a very intense training. And Julie stood out. She was passionate, and entertaining, really a big personality. She is married to a prominent doctor, and you know how it is. I figured that not only would I have her as a volunteer, but also I would have her telling her influential doctor husband about our program and maybe I’d get some quality speaking engagements out of it as well. So I was pretty pumped about her joining our group.”
Ivan paused. “I paired her with one of my most accomplished volunteers, Sal, who took Julie out on visits. Then, about two weeks later, I get a call from Sal who tells me that all his calls and texts to Julie are going unanswered. So I try and nothing. I asked Sal if anything upset her, but he can’t think of a thing, as a matter of fact, he found her enthusiastic. So, now I’m worried. I send emails, even a written letter and still nothing. Short of becoming a stalker, I just leave her a message that we are very much interested in her continuing with us and I leave it at that.”
Ivan picks up a newspaper clipping on his desk. “Then, last week, one of our volunteers, Della, was at the county fair and sees the pageant for the married women of our county and she tells me that one of our volunteers won. So, I said, who was it and she says, Julie, the new volunteer.” Ivan holds up the newspaper picture. “Here she is and in Julie’s interview she gushes about volunteering with us. Then the article goes on to list other organizations that she is involved with.” At this point Ivan laughs. “I wonder if she did the same thing to them too. But I guess I should take this as a compliment, I’m just not sure.”

Yep, there it is. Should we feel used, or do we take the robbing of our reputation as a compliment, shrug our shoulders, furiously work our worry beads and go on?

Well, there are going to be volunteers who use us to their own gain. Resume padding job seekers, corner cutting students, court avoiding offenders, ebay selling thrifters and even parent hood winking teens all can find a nice warm blanket of self benefit by tacking us on to their veneer. These thankfully few and far between folks are truly different from the volunteers who come to us for other more varied and sometimes multiple reasons.

These Reputation Robbers are singly focused on our good name as a means to their end, and want the name recognition without doing any work. I remember the first time I was plundered by a Purity Pirate. I was so mad that I pumped my fist into the air and yelled, “how dare you!”(at the blank wall of course. The pirate was long gone, having snatched up all the loot he needed, then he paddled away in his rowboat. I think I can still hear him laughing.)

Well, these experiences teach us to expect volunteers to exhibit altruistic motivations but to prepare for occasional leeches on our work. I’ve been burned more than once. It hurts to think that you can be duped, but it happens. So, here are a few things to do if we think that a potential volunteer just wants to write a book, using our clients as subjects, entitled, “I Personally Saved This Hapless Non-Profit From Disaster.”

Do Not Sign Off: Don’t sign off on work done if the work is not done. Ever. And don’t succumb to those sad little baby alligator eyes that see right through your easy kind nature.

Do Not Be Pressured: A senior manager has a neighbor who has this niece, Lita that needs to complete 30 hours of community service. That’s an entire month of your time! Yes, I can do math, well basic anyway. But 30 hours becomes:

Meeting with Lita after she is two hours late and trying not to reach across the table and choke her when she asks whether she’ll be paid.

Calling her repeatedly when she does not show up as scheduled and getting her brother on the phone who makes Lita look like the responsible one.

Trying to explain to her again and again in a nice way (oh heck, just trying not to scream at her to get out) that signing in and leaving does not constitute hours volunteered.

Continually assuring all the other volunteers who happen to work alongside her that you have not, in fact gone completely insane.

Re-doing the event packets Lita totally messed up. It’s the night before the event and you have to miss your best friend’s birthday celebration.

Wooing back the volunteer who quit because he happened to be there the day Lita laughed at the name of an elderly client in front of the client’s son. So, in order to convince the volunteer to return, you host a ‘bagel while begging’ two hour coffee brunch. And then you spend the rest of the day on severe caffeine jitters, pacing the halls, barking at volunteers to “stop looking at me!”

Walking down to the reception area every couple of hours when Lita is actually on property because the receptionist needs you to come up and tell the little pack of Lita’s friends that they cannot hang out here.

And having these surreal phone interruptions with Lita’s parent who chastises you for not making Lita “like it there.”

So, yeah, I stand by it-that’s a month of your professional life that you can’t get back.

Put Policies in Place: Having policies will not stop all reputation robbers and thankfully most folks who need something from us are not purity pirates and honestly want to do something meaningful with their time spent. But, well thought out policies can be used effectively, especially if you discover one of these pirates has sneaked into your midst.

As for Lita? How about policy #2, paragraph #1, sentences #3 and #4: ‘A volunteer shall be counseled if said volunteer does not exhibit the necessary attitude and respect for the mission and program. After due counseling, said volunteer may be dismissed at any given time so as to protect our clients  from undue stress.’



Director of First Impressions Volunteer


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Director of First Impressions Volunteer: Wow. What a concise, succinct way to advertise for a front desk or receptionist volunteer. The ad then goes on to talk about how important it is for clients to experience a first impression that is compassionate and helpful. Gosh, I want to be that volunteer.

So, what verbiage appeals to prospective volunteers? Is it silly, eye-catching titles or serious, touching the heart ads that bring volunteers in? And does the same ad appeal to millennials and baby boomers, working adults and students, community service needing and weekend warrior potential volunteers alike? And anyway, are there foolproof ads that once you’ve created them, you can then just magically sit back and answer the ringing phone?”

Clearly, marketing has a tremendous impact on companies that sell goods and services. If we think of ourselves as selling goods (enhanced life experiences) and services (ways to help the community), then we can think of our potential volunteers as consumers who can pick and choose where they will spend their valuable time. So, how do we market to them?

Here are just three creative ways to frame a volunteer ad:
1. Describe the benefit to the organization.
2. Describe the benefit to the client served.
3. Describe the benefit for the volunteer.

So, let’s take a simple job title such as “volunteer receptionist” and re-imagine it in the above three ways:

“Director of First Impressions:” The word ‘director’ exudes importance, and ‘first impressions’ neatly describes how this organization genuinely cares for their clients and is striving for excellence with every paid and/or volunteer position.

“Imagine How Hard It Is To Need Our Help:” This immediately frames the position in the eyes of the client and elicits an empathetic feeling for those who are being served.

“Where Else Can You Feel Like You Have Thrown Out a Lifeline:” This ad goes right to the heart of volunteerism-making a difference.

And what law says we can’t use all three ads for one position at the same time? Who knows which approach will attract the kind of person you are looking for because ads exist to quickly capture attention. All three ring true; they are just different ways of framing meaningful volunteer roles in punchy descriptions. If you can combine all three ways without becoming too verbose, then by all means, give it a go.
But can we even go further and be even more creative?  Why can’t we inject some playfulness? How about an ad that asks, “What Intergallactic Volunteer Character Are You?” (Or another current and popular theme). Create a description for a few popular characters, such as:
The Scavenger Captain: You’re roguish and free wheeling, this job is flexible. We won’t tie you down!
The Robot Sidekick: You’re diplomatic and precise, this job needs your attention to detail.
The Galaxy Princess: You’re strong and smart and destined to lead our rebellion against hunger.

Want to advertise for a thrift store volunteer? How about “Are You the First One at Garage Sales? Come, Help Sort Through Our Treasures Where It’s A Garage Sale Everyday.”

Do you need something very specific? Celebrate it! Web help might become, “If You Know What This Is, Call Us: 01101000 01100101 01101100 01110000.”

There are catchy volunteer ads out there that say, “show off your basketball skills,” “do you love cats and acting,” “do you walk by homeless people not knowing what to do,” “be the role model she’ll remember always,” “50% of school age children in our town go to bed hungry.” A few great ads tell a personal story: “Meet Ed. He will sit alone in his room today unless a volunteer comes to visit. Will you be that volunteer?” “Sarah received a scholarship in part because she volunteered. If you can you use a scholarship, call us!”

Do you have multiple locations? Tack the location onto the ad so that potential volunteers know they can stay close to home or work or school. You can say, “Be the Role Model She’ll Always Remember in Springfield” or “Calling All You Bristolians Who Dress Up Their Dogs.”

And if your program has won an award or has been feted in any way, use that to your advantage: “Join our award-winning volunteer program!”

Refresh your ads frequently. Keep statistics on the more successful ads so that you can start to track what is working and for whom it is working.

You can also put together a focus group of volunteers to come up with creative ads that they believe will appeal to their peers. Marketing students are also an excellent resource for help in crafting creative and appealing ads.

Well, then, how can we jazz up that soul-sucking Data Entry Volunteer ad? (and you know what always surprised me, there are people who want to do this kind of volunteering because it’s sort of like washing dishes by hand, it gives them a chance to just quiet the mind).

“Monotonous, Repetitious Data Entry Volunteer Job For That Amazing Person Who Knows This Work is Critical.  Help Our Clients While Decompressing in a Calm Environment. We’ll Play Some New Age Music.”


Caring Volunteer Wanted: Well, Duh!


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Every day, potential volunteers peruse volunteer want ads. What do they find? Are they intrigued? Do they dial us up immediately, hoping to not miss the wonderful opportunity we offer? Or do they thumb through ad after ad that says basically the same tired thing?

According to research, the science of naming brands is so much more than just descriptive words. Research and real thought goes into names that resonate with consumers. Clever word coinage, rhymes that fall off your tongue and words that sound like the actual word (think fizz) all play into the careful selection of names. Maybe it’s time we borrowed some of that science and applied it to volunteer recruitment ads.

So what if we rename some common volunteer wanted ad titles, using techniques from this science, such as rhyming words, onomatopoeia, alliteration, and coining words. Here are just a few straight forward volunteer job titles reimagined.

Office volunteer:  Shredding Goddess; Tasktastic Volunteer; Phone Joan; Receptionista; File Jockey; Scanning Scientist; Gossip Ignoring Go-Getter.

Volunteer Driver: Go-fer Chauffeur; Transporter Supporter;  Joyager; Food Trucker; The Dean of Clean Driving Records.

Marketing/Fundraising Volunteer: Money-Honey; Goods Grabber; Shake-Down Shirley; Bucks Buckaroo.

Events Volunteer: Darling of Developement; A Party Hardy; Our Gala Girl; Work Till You Drop Wonk; Jamboreally Need You.

Volunteer Recruiter: Captain of Coercion; Rope ‘Em In Randy; Soul-Snagger; Goodie Two Shoes Gatherer; Codger-Finder; Tenderfoot Tender.

Thumbing through volunteer recruitment ads pretending to be a prospective volunteer looking for potential opportunities can give us a sense of what is and is not appealing. What ad stands out and is at least worth exploring further?

While ad titles such as Program Volunteer, Marketing Assistant, Resource Specialist and the soul-sucking Dracula of all ad titles, Data Entry Volunteer may accurately describe the positions, they lack the enthusiasm and meaning that volunteers wish to experience by spending their precious time with us.

Other outdated, but somewhat descriptive ad titles such as “Caring Volunteer;” “Hold a Hand;” “Make a Difference; “Become a Mentor;” “Friendly Visitor;” can feel like they were written with a chisel on stone and a potential volunteer may just pass them up because they are so “yesterday.” Recruitment ads written once and left up on social media sites gather more dust than my speech written in case I am employee of the year.

Or how about these dusty goodies: “Buddy;” Bring Your Smile; “Inspire Youth.” Picture paging through volunteer ad after volunteer ad that basically heralds the same vague thing no matter what or where the volunteering position.

Writing volunteer ads is passive recruitment and sadly quite often overlooked. Passive recruitment means that the ads we post keep working for us while we are out talking to civic groups or sitting at community fairs or having lunch. That is why spending time and energy on writing these ads and regularly refreshing them is one of the smartest things we can do.

Picture a student, late at night, smart phone in hand, swiping through ads that will enforce their desire to be a change maker. Or picture a retired senior, recently widowed, searching in the still morning for something that will add meaning to a bruised soul. Or a working parent, sneaking a peek at ads while helping with homework, looking to spend some me time helping others. What will speak to each one of them?

Volunteer recruitment ads should be working every bit as hard as you do.


Next time:  A volunteer ad that says it all and 3 ways to re-imagine volunteer ads.




Bringing Home the Volunteer Kitten or Puppy


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I remember the day my husband gleefully arrived home from work with three homeless and abandoned kittens. He just beamed when the kids scooped them up and cuddled each mewing fluff ball of pending responsibility. Yes, that moment of blissful love and connection comes with a hefty requirement attached for they will grow to be cats and require a life-long commitment.

Fortunately, volunteer managers don’t bring volunteers home. (Well, sorry, but I will throw a fellow volunteer coordinator under the bus and mention that she began to take a recently widowed volunteer into her home to have dinner with her and her family and it spiraled out of control from there.)
But, other than physically, do we symbolically bring our volunteers home when we start friending them on social media? And what are the implications for being connected to our volunteers beyond the workplace?
Not too long ago, volunteer coordinator Tami was so stressed that she burst into tears. “I had this huge event that I worked months on getting the best volunteers for and on the day of the event, when I arrived and asked where our lead volunteer Agnes was, the other volunteers told me that Agnes had to go out-of-town last-minute with her husband. I just about died! I asked the volunteers why Agnes didn’t call me to let me know and they said that Agnes had posted it on social media and probably assumed I knew. What a horrible day that was trying to fill in for Agnes while doing all my other tasks. It was a day I never want to repeat.”
Or how about Lena, who spent so much time involved in her volunteers lives beyond their volunteering that her evenings were spent liking posts and commenting on cute photos of Granddogs’ shenanigans.
Or Jessup, who befriended so many volunteers on social media that he started following anyone who followed him in case he might snub one of his volunteers and ended up with a hacked account .
Or Marley who learned one of his volunteers was cheating on his partner while innocently going through posts.

Hmmm, it’s a great big involved world out there, so what do we do, ban all volunteers from interacting with us after hours? No, of course not, that’s not only unreasonable, it’s just not us. We care about our volunteers and realize that what happens in their lives impacts their volunteering. We don’t wish to be the cold authoritarian manager and so we come to respect volunteers as they relate to us: Associates, neighbors, peers, fellow do-gooders, and yes, friends. Then the question becomes, can we keep these relationships separate and confined to working hours?
Connecting with volunteers on personal social media is like bringing home that first soft and warm innocent-eyed waif. But imagine bringing home 20 or 50 or 100 little caterwauling waifs. There are laws against this sort of thing for a reason. Here are a few things to consider when connecting on social media with volunteers:

How is official information communicated? Do your volunteers rightfully think that you know they will not be able to make their volunteer committment because they posted their illness or vacation on social media? Having a policy in place on how official volunteer absences are communicated will eliminate the chaos of word of mouth or “I just figured you knew” scenarios.

Will every volunteer be treated in the same manner on social media? What about those volunteers who don’t subscribe to social media or rarely post their children’s first soccer game or their latest duck in puff pastry with pomegranate red wine reduction recipe? Will they feel left out? What about the volunteer who posts every detail of their lives? How will you pick and choose which posts to like?

How much valuable time and precious energy do you spend on keeping up with volunteers’ personal lives? Let’s face it, we are human and only have so much energy to expend on our jobs, our families, our friends, our interests, our education, our health and our well-being. When we start spending more and more time on keeping up with volunteer pursuits outside of volunteering, what aspect of our lives are we cheating?

Is it possible that your social media connection can become a place to publicly whine or complain? If you are always “available” via social media, why wouldn’t a volunteer message you or worse, post a complaint? Then will other volunteers chime in until you have some real or imagined dirty laundry aired for everyone, including potential volunteers, board members, other staff and administration to see?

What we do know can hurt us: Too much information can color the way we view our volunteers. What are their political or religious beliefs? How do they treat their family and friends? What are their attitudes towards other people and topical issues? Would this knowledge make us think more or less of them and how do we handle that?

How much of our personal lives do we want our volunteers to know? Social media is a two-way street. Do we want our volunteers to know about the escapades we share with our close friends?

How do we view our role as a volunteer manager? Are we friendly supervisors, good buddies, caring peers, empathetic coaches or a bit of all? In reality, we are in charge and we manage the volunteers’ experiences. The more professional our approach, the better the experience for all volunteers.

Next time you want to bring that adorable little cuddly volunteer home with you, just keep in mind there are serious commitments and pitfalls associated with that warm and caring intention. Always striving to keep professional relationships with volunteers not only benefits them, it benefits us as well.

Unless you really want a household full of cats.


Patchwork Quilt or Fluffy Comforter?


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“That is the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen,” Raelinn huffed as she stared at the cacophony of colors and fabrics hanging before her eyes. “I mean, who would ever think that was art?”

Her best friend, Edna, slowed her pace and was at first taken aback. This quilt, entry #37, was indeed a mess. Irregular shapes, jumbled colors and materials ran every which way over the body of the cover, rendering it a shreeking noise in a choir of lilting quilt voices. But as she peered closer, she noticed a cat with an umbrella on a powder blue patch that had come from a baby blanket. She scanned the oddness and found another sort of large circular patch that must have been an old stained t-shirt from a wine tasting trip. It proclaimed, “Wine Not?” There was a somber black piece of cloth next to a tattered lace collar with the tiniest of stitching. She leaned in and saw the remains “Mothe” embroidered on the faded lace. Looking over the rest of the quilt, she took in the snippet of army uniform, the worn apron, the wedding dress, the graduation robe, the bloodied football jersey, the funeral attire.

As Raelinn pulled at her arm to go, Edna felt the the ugly quilt tug back and she smiled, thinking of all her volunteers. She gave a quick nod and the smallest of curtsies to the intimately messy display of the quiltmaker’s life and followed her friend.

When we field a request for volunteers, does the requesting person think they will get a volunteer who is a soft, new smelling fluffy comforter? Do they imagine the perfection of a perfectly laid out and sewn quilt?

We, who work with volunteers, know that each and every volunteer is really a wildly irregular patchwork quilt. These folks who volunteer their time are the cumulation of their life experiences to date and most are looking to add another patch to their diverse collection. Some volunteers want us to sew up gaping holes in their quilts, while others want us to erase the stains that mar their perception of beauty. A few have blank spots they want us to fill with something inspiring. Once in a while. someone would like to rip apart everything on their quilt and start over, hoping that we have the skilled hands to help them sew something redeeming.

But after all, we are a cumulation of who we are and who we have been. No volunteer is a fresh from the package down comforter that we can shake free and fluff to meet expectations. Edna, who looked into the details of the ugly quilt and found meaning in each and every patch possesses the ability to recognize the complexities of volunteers’ motivations and needs. She understands that volunteers are not manufactured fluffy comforters but are individually sewn quilts of textures and fabrics.

That is why volunteer managers are so good at placing the right best correct most deliberately chosen volunteer in every position and situation. It is our job to see the many patches and know how they will affect a volunteer’s performance and experience. The more compounded and complicated the job, the more relevant those patches become.

One of the greatest challenges facing volunteer managers today is enlightening our fellow staff on the nuances of volunteer recruitment and retention. Pulling a fluffly comforter off a shelf of hundreds of fluffy comforters is never what we do.

A patchwork human being takes a lifetime of experiences to create. Reading the meaning behind those patches requires a tremendous amount of perception and skill.

And when a quilt wraps a bed in harmonious warmth, it is then that the volunteer manager can stand aside and admire the perfect pairing.



Oh BTW, Get 42 Permanent Volunteers By Next Month-Part 2 Looking Back


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Oh BTW, Get 42 Permanent Volunteers By Next Month-Part 2 Looking Back

We have to be prepared for it. One day you’re working hard placing volunteers when bam, you’re now in charge of a new program. Your focused energy now has to be refocused. Your carefully managed time has to be completely reworked. Your priorities which you have so meticulously set have to be reset. It happened to me and I survived and here is a quick perspective regarding the project that was handed to me a long time ago.
First off, the Good:
Ok, I learned that I was fairly capable after I waded through all the self-defeating voices and just got on with it. I’ve found over the years that equating my work with my worth just held me back. Once I realized that no one concocted this project in order to make me fail, I could logically begin to actually put a plan in place. Tip: Personalizing thoughts can sabotage efforts, so focus on the task at hand in a logical, non-emotional way.

Now, the Bad: So I have to admit, I fantasized about all the accolades I would receive when I accomplished this gargantuan feat. But, I wasn’t exactly crowned prom queen. Results were ongoing, fluid and expected, therefore in organizational speak, I did not go above and beyond, even though I felt that I did. Tip: Be careful as to your expectations, but don’t go all “aw shucks” and downplay the results. Frame them in terms of volunteer accomplishments and benefits to organization and clients. Then ask for a raise.

And then, here are just a few Useables:
Cross-training volunteers is the same as having extra volunteers. When assessing a volunteer request, I learned to look to all volunteers and not just those on a particular list. I’d ask kitchen volunteers to go into homes of patients in their neighborhood (stop by on the way home? Please?) (Mind you, all volunteers got the full patient training). Nursing home volunteers who I knew did not attend a worship service would be asked to come in once in a while on a Sunday or Saturday. Everyone was cross trained so that they could fill in when necessary.
Volunteer staying power sometimes is really about finding each other. I learned to make sure that the members of groups working together as a team were compatible with each other instead of simply filling time slots. It took more effort and sometimes a time slot would remain open longer, but after losing volunteers due to mismatched teams, I realized the effort was crucial. Members of cohesive groups encourage each other, fill in for each other, and create that camaraderie that keeps them coming back.
When you have a big ongoing project, you at least have something to offer volunteers who are interested in volunteering with you instead of putting them on hold. In volunteer training, I used to tell the story of two new volunteers, Della and Debbie who told me that absolutely under no circumstance would they ever work in a kitchen. Well, you guessed it, they tried it temporarily, loved it and not only gave 12 years to the kitchen project, they did fundraising, trained new volunteers and filled in for other jobs.
Don’t pigeonhole a job: So, sure, kitchen work didn’t sound like meaningful stuff for many volunteers who wanted to work with patients, but we were able to expand the kitchen role by having volunteers take trays into rooms, and chat with families about menu choices which led to some real meaningful conversations. Some volunteers started in the kitchen and moved “up” to working exclusively with patients.
You have to honestly believe that every job matters and not just try to “sell it”. Why did it matter that volunteers were cooking for patients? Well, heck, the meal the volunteers prepared may have been the patient’s last real meal and shouldn’t it have been made with care? Besides, the patient’s family would see the pretty garnishes on the plate, see the homey touches in the food, and see the hand written signatures on the place mat. But do those tiny actions by volunteers really matter? Oh, wow, did I learn that it’s the smallest things that matter the most. Once I began to experience the project in terms of how it impacted real people, my recruitment pitch changed drastically for the better.

Somehow, in some way, make it your own. When you initiate a project, you already have ownership and buy-in. When you are handed a project, you need to find a way to make it your own so that your enthusiasm and commitment is akin to a project you created. Since I was handed no real guidelines to follow, I quickly made it my own by giving my project a title and mission statement, thereby taking it from the cold ‘Volunteer Dietary Project’ to ‘Homelike Meals Made by Caring Volunteers.’ It was a simple but very powerful transition from an antiseptic concept to a vibrant and purposeful one that I could get behind.

Big results come from big work. The effort may take a great deal of time and energy, may go forward then backward, may sometimes look impossible, but with the skills already honed from managing volunteers, a project can succeed. We, volunteer managers are stronger and much more capable than we might think.


Oh BTW, Get 42 Permanent Vols By Next Month-Part 1


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Oh BTW, Get 42 Permanent Vols By Next Month-Part 1

Is this the new volunteer manager job security? A dear colleague and friend to this blog, Eileen from Volunteering Counts in Dudley borough (volunteering has astutely pointed out in one of her comments that volunteer managers everywhere should be prepared to undertake new volunteer roles when budget cuts force them to supply volunteers for underfunded programs.

Ok, sure, but how prepared? Well, I had been on the job at a hospice for less than a year when my supervisor decided to rotate the volunteer coordinators into each other’s regions and so I found myself taking my cute inspirational signs off my newly decorated office wall and settling into a care center location. Here I would be in charge of home team volunteers,  nursing home volunteers and care center volunteers for a 14 bed facility. I felt energized, perfectly jazzed until one afternoon, I was summoned to a meeting with the care center supervisor who informed me that dietary would now be volunteer run.

“Excuse me,” I choked out.

“Yes, volunteers will be preparing patients’ meals and you will be in charge of meal plans with the help of a dietician, and you will also be responsible for food procurement, safety, health inspections and training of the volunteers in food management.”

I think I wet my pants a little at that point. (Maybe that’s why I kept a pair of clean skivvies in a locked drawer all those years)

I honestly can’t remember every emotion I experienced at that moment. I think I couldn’t feel my fingers. I mean, Saturday evening, Friday evening, Sunday morning, all the traditional time slots that were hard enough to fill on occasion-now I had to fill those permanently? Why hadn’t I listened to my mother and found a real profession?

Here’s the thing. Volunteer managers everywhere must be ready to have these types of requests dropped into their laps at any time. For most volunteer managers, a great deal of volunteer involvement is determined at meetings in which the VMs are not in attendance. Ideas for expansion, cutting costs or projects are often hammered out in board meetings and sent careening down the slope of middle managers until the edicts land in the laps of stunned volunteer coordinators. And sometimes, these ideas are conceived as a last gasp effort to save a program-“I know, we’ll get the volunteers to do it.”

I went home and cursed my supervisor. Why me? Honestly, I was terrified, completely afraid that I would never be able to accomplish this task. I calculated that I needed to put at least 42 permanent volunteers in place for all three meals a day, seven days a week. And the God awful hard truth was that it became a long slog.

When handed a huge project, especially with deadlines, every last millisecond of a volunteer manager’s time, energy and creative focus shifts away from other crucial duties and to the project exclusively. In order to maintain the ongoing programs, a VM has to find some balance and deputize seasoned volunteers into leadership roles.

When you can’t do everything, you can’t do everything. Identifying key volunteers in preparation for the possibility a big project will materialize is proactive volunteer management and will save your sanity. Ease volunteers into taking leadership roles in existing programs and by ease I mean work alongside them until they are comfortable and you are comfortable in how they handle their roles. But, in my experience, don’t “turn over” a program to someone else if you are in charge. The VM must still be the ultimate person in control and checking in continuously (asking questions, offering support, intercepting challenges) establishes your leadership continuum.

So, did my project succeed? Yes, it did. It’s still going 20 years later in multiple care centers.

Was it bone crushing hard?  Oh, goodness, yes, even the smallest of things. I still get throbbing headaches when I smell spilled Ensure and when I see food handlers without gloves.

Did it take time? I think I missed my son’s graduation from middle school, but he won’t say.

Would I do it again? If I was younger, yes.

Was I blissfully optimistic or sadly pessimistic about the possibilities? It depended upon the day I was having. Or whether or not I took my medication.

Did I learn anything of value? Oh, goodness, so much about so many things.

Can you share these things? Of course, I will, I promise-the good, the bad and the useable-next time:

Coming in part two,  A perspective: Takeaways from a huge arse-busting project.

(At least at this point, you know I survived intact!) (Well, maybe physically anyway.)


I Give 100%, No 125%, No, Wait More Like 200%!


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“I’m close to quitting, just walking out,” Ruby, a wispy volunteer manager says tersely. “And so are some of the other staff at my organization. I don’t know, I just feel like I have to sacrifice everything for my job. Now, whether or not I feel that because of a certain culture in my organization or if it is just self-imposed, I don’t know. But what I do know is that I feel inadequate when I choose a family outing over a fundraising event on a Saturday or when I feel that I deserve more compensation. And what’s worse is I feel so incredibly guilty having these feelings. I mean, does managing volunteers mean I forsake any and all personal life and needs?”

Well, duh, Ruby. Or wait, does it? Once you’ve “become” a volunteer manager, does everything personal just fade away into this nirvana of blissful martyrdom?

Coincidently, a recent article on overworked non-profit workers published in Atlantic Magazine addresses this very idea and one of the interview quotes from this article is:

“The unspoken expectation is that you do whatever it takes to get whatever it is done for the people who you’re serving,” she says. “And anything less than that, you’re not quite doing enough.” Timm, Jonathan.  “The Plight of the Overworked Nonprofit Employee.”  The Atlantic Aug 24, 2016

Do we, in the non-profit world sometimes wear our “commitment” like a badge of devotion on our chests? Do we secretly lap up the comments like cans of energy drinks when telling people what we do for a living? “Oh, you’re so selfless,” “I could never do that work,” “thank goodness for people like you.”

Do we subtly feel this martyr attitude and does that translate into a self-sacrifice that is simmering under our weary feet waiting to burst into burn out? Do we feel guilty when we look at our colleagues who we imagine are selflessly working more and therefore care more? Does a nagging voice whisper, “If this is your calling, then how dare you complain (or ache or fall ill or blink)?”

So,  are we afraid to voice the following concerns to our superiors for fear of being selfish?

Asking for more resources (how dare we-precious money and resources need to go to the mission)

Mindfulness about overwork (if I don’t keep going, someone, somewhere won’t benefit)

Planning vacations, family time (family will just have to understand, THIS is more important than their needs)

Needing help with stress over working with tragedy (How can I possibly complain, heck, I have it pretty good compared to the clients I see)

Asking for a raise (Could I be any more selfish?)

When the hard stuff, like not enough understanding of what volunteer managers do, or too many requests from too many departments and no way to prioritize, or challenges with staff, or no perceived support starts to whittle away at your commitment, then burnout begins.

When we are embarrassed or afraid of asking for the help we need, we aren’t just doing a disservice to ourselves, we are actually hurting our volunteers and the very people we are here to help because we will not be any good to them if we are resentful or burned out.

So, if you have to, tell yourself that asking for the help you need is really about providing the best volunteer management for your clients and volunteers. Frame your requests to your superiors in that way: “In order to provide the best for our clients and volunteers, I will need….”

Because your “calling” is not to be a martyr, it’s to be a leader.



Thank You, Thank You For That Silly Answer, Any Answer!


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Recently I went on a tour of a historical site with some friends and family. From start to finish, I made sure to ask questions of the tour leader and I frequently poked my group members in their sides so they would answer the questions he threw out. Why was that so important to me? Well, I was actually thinking of volunteer manager Jonas.

“And then the silence was so awkward,” Jonas said one day, recalling the time he took a large, prospective group of volunteers on a tour of his organization’s headquarters. “I really, really pitched the benefits of volunteering with us. I showed them all the great opportunities to volunteer, I stopped staff in the hallway to say hi, I mean, I was passionate and threw out lots of anecdotal stories to get them thinking. But, then, when we stopped back at the lobby, I asked them what they thought and crickets! No one said anything, they just nodded and looked like they were ready to get their things and leave. I felt like a big balloon had popped.”

Ahhhhhhhhhh, the silent group. We’ve all had them. Now, it’s not that they’re evil, or mean, or out to make us look bad, these are just groups that have a quiet dynamic. It makes it harder to connect with them, and in my humble experiences, I have found the groups that engage in honest give and take will bond with each other, with you and with the mission. But it takes skill to facilitate a group and real effort to create an atmosphere conducive to meaningful conversation.

So, what can we do to encourage participation by the groups we train, or speak in front of, or tour with? Here are just a few methods I’ve toyed with over the years:

Begin by establishing your expectations: Tell your group that you are not a lecturer, you are the group facilitator and that you are extremely interested in their comments and questions.

Don’t wait until the end to ask questions: Ask several immediately and establish the give and take.

Make it about them: Do research on their group if you can and speak to that or…
Be an ignoramus: Ask questions about the group itself and let them school you on their interests, reason to be, etc. But keep in mind, it only works if you show genuine interest in them.

Never start with hard questions: No one wants to be the first to be wrong. And then, when someone answers the simple questions, you can say, “see, you know more about us than you think!”

Try a simple yes or no polling question and go around the room, capturing everyone: (thereby making everyone verbalize an answer but without having to be put on the spot) Then you can mentally calculate the stats and ask another question about the results. “Are you surprised at the results?” You can compare your group’s results to other groups or national stats to pique curiosity.

Look for people who speak to each other and ask a question for the two of them to answer.

Offer “This is one of the questions other groups have asked” and throw out your own question: Follow up with “what do you think?”

Use humor and be self-effacing: Let them know you are approachable and not authoritarian.

Break them into smaller groups: Have them discuss a topic then present to the others if you have time.

I remember one training group I had. No matter what I did, they would not talk. It was just the wrong roll of the group dynamic roulette wheel. These were the hardest hours (over the course of six sessions) of my training life-my voice went hoarse, I started to babble and finally when I was just about to dismiss them ridiculously early, one of the group members raised their hand. “Thank you, thank you,” I silently breathed, not caring if the question was silly or redundant or even, “do you know that you have a piece of spinach in your teeth?”

From that day forward, I made a promise to myself to never let a facilitator suffer through the silent treatment. Engaging with groups is an art form. You paint a picture and hope they can find something worth admiring or critiquing or just plain talking about. Sometimes you paint in silence, but that doesn’t mean the connection is not there.

It just may take your best skills to bring that connection out.





Greetings From the Volunteer Manager Olympic Games!


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Olympic rings

Just when I was fantazising about meaningful recognition for volunteer managers, I saw the grainy ad for a volunteer manager competition in Rio and I was so excited! Finally, there would be a world-wide stage celebrating volunteer leaders’ skill sets  Immediately, I turned in all my frequent flyer miles and along with selling some of my furniture, I managed to book a flight aboard a cargo plane headed for Brazil!

I arrived in Rio, anticipation shining brighter than my neon party outfit. I asked my cab driver to take me to Copacabana, the site listed on the black and white three-fold brochure clutched in my hand. As it turned out, it wasn’t at the world-famous Copacabana Beach, but the Copacabana Bar and Grill just a few rural kilometers out-of-town. Unfazed, I paid the driver and entered the local watering hole. “Out back,” the bar keep grumbled and I pushed open the screen door to the parking lot where several people sat on folding chairs. They were either family members of the teams or it was part of a drinking game, I’m not sure which but anyway, the games were about to begin!

The teams of volunteer managers stood nervously in the shade of a large billboard, awaiting their events. Under a cloud of dust from cars arriving at the bar, the announcer who doubled as the bouncer gave us the rundown on the rules and introduced the judges-two lost ladies that happened to stop and ask for directions to the soccer stadium.

The first event was the volunteer intervention floor exercise. Each team had to go through a series of difficult manuevers to council a volunteer who had broken the rules. “Volunteers” were chosen from a group of bar patrons who were promised free drinks after the event.

Team Great Britain was awarded extra points for keeping the scandalous behavior out of the news, while team USA was given a point deduction for letting the “volunteer” believe that she did nothing wrong as evidenced because she kept saying that her probation officer could vouch for her . Team Japan won by a fraction of a point when they completed the difficult two and a half intervention twist by getting the “volunteer” to promise to never do it again and to also work on a Saturday night.

The next event was the volunteer recruitment 200 meter medley. The teams were given six “volunteers” to recruit and each team member had to use a different technique to entice the bar patrons/volunteers to join their organization. Team Brazil, who had the bar crowd filtering in and out of the bathroom on their side, were loudly cheered when one team Brazil volunteer manager delivered an animated recruitment pitch. She was actually gesturing wildly with her hands which looked like she was dancing to the music.

Team Canada surged ahead when one of their VM’s showed a heartfelt video of volunteer testimonials, but they lost the feed when the beer truck ran over their plug. Team Australia eventually won when the “volunteers” thought they heard a Team Australia VM say “we’ll give you a big time trip to Hollywood.” In actuality he was trying to shout over the band’s rendition of “the Girl from Ipanema” that volunteering is “living a life of good.”

The third event was the volunteer task 5 minute dash. Each team was asked to provide “volunteers” based on requests from the marketing department, the fundraising department, the client services department, the office support department and the community relations department. The teams had to decide in five minutes which request was the most important and therefore to be filled first. Team Argentina filled the client request immediately while team Hong Kong took a chance and chose fundraising but team New Zealand won when they figured out that the request from office support was the most important, because the head of office support was the CEO’s sister.

When it came time for the medal ceremony, it seemed that all the teams were tied so no medals were awarded, mainly because there was no certificate copier in the bar  So the teams decided to have lunch and a peer group meeting, which made more sense than anything done that day.

All in all it was an enlightening experience to swap volunteer management tips and stories with leaders from all over the world all the while we were being mistaken for parking lot attendants.

Looking forward to 2020 in Tokyo when a new event will be added: The volunteer volleyball tournament where VMs from different organizations bounce volunteers back and forth with each other in a sharing gesture meant to enhance the volunteers’ experiences. It’s a holistic concept, but then so is the ever evolving cultivation of volunteers, so I guess we’ll have to see who medals on that one.

Glad to be home now, still getting glitter, or maybe broken glass from one of the bar fights out of my hair. I guess even though we, volunteer managers don’t always get proper respect or rarely invited to the big games,  I’m just proud to be part of this great profession.

The Olympics are a celebration of hard work and dedication. One day, hopefully, volunteer managers will step onto bigger stages and be given the recognition they earn every day. At least, it will be fun to show off our skills.

Gold medals to all of you!