Hey Corporate Volunteers, Where Are You From Again?

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“Uh Meridian, you really blew it! You missed a whole point about corporate volunteers,” a friend of mine said on the phone a couple of days ago. “You talked about thanking groups and connecting them to the work, which is great, but you completely forgot a big one and guess what? It just happened to me.”

Ouch. What did I forget? Tell me what happened.

“Well, it was our corporate retreat and twenty of us just completed a one day team building volunteer event at a local organization.”

That’s great. How did it go and what did I miss?

“Well, it was ok for the most part, but honestly we’ve done other projects and had better experiences.”

What went wrong?

“Well, nothing went really wrong, but let me explain. We all drove to an organization that gives cribs to families in need. Our firm had purchased about forty unassembled cribs and we drove to this warehouse to put together the cribs we bought.”

And how did that go?

“Well, we were met by the woman in charge. She kind of acted like we were interrupting her day. She gave us some quick directions and left. She would come and go. But there was something that bothered me a lot. She kept getting the name of our firm wrong. And she kept referring to us as bankers. None of us are bankers. Our company is an accounting firm. Granted, we work in the financial industry, but we are not bankers. It just felt like she didn’t even take the time to learn who we are or what we do. I mean, we reached out to her organization, why didn’t she ask a few questions? I felt, I don’t know… used. Am I being too sensitive and picky?”

No, my friend you are not being too picky. Because if a group walks away from a project feeling like they were just ancillary labor, then the next time they look for a project, they will most likely look elsewhere. Pure and simple. We can argue all we want that a group is too needy, or picky, or they just don’t understand. The feeling they walk away with will determine whether or not they come back.

It all boils down to: Do we want them to come back? Do we want them to spread a good word? Do we want them to become partners or champions or supporters? If not, then we should not waste their time or ours. That’s why limiting episodic volunteer groups to a manageable number versus taking everyone is the better way to go.

And since I did miss that big one when listing things we can do to connect our group volunteers to our projects and missions, let’s list it now.

  • Learn something about the group. At least we can call them by their correct name. We can know a little about their work. (an application process asking pointed questions should help)
  • Be genuinely curious about the people who are helping. Ask questions throughout the duration of the project. Let them tell you who they are, what they value etc. This also helps you to tailor your stories and feedback to fit within their culture.
  • Send a follow up survey and gather feedback on the project. Ask questions to help you hone future group projects.
  • Thank them for their input. So much research has been done on the increased by-in of groups who participate in planning and improving work conditions. Why not apply this to episodic volunteers and encourage them to help you plan new projects by asking for feedback?

Connecting episodic volunteers to our missions ensures they walk away as new supporters.

But, after all, we can take our own advice when engaging episodic volunteers. They’re people, not tools.

-Meridian

Hey Corporate Volunteers: How Great is Weeding?

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A recent article from Business News Daily cites a study finding that “89 percent of employees think organizations that sponsor volunteer activities offer a better overall working environment. In addition, 70 percent believe volunteer activities are more likely to boost staff morale than company-sponsored happy hours, with more than three-quarters saying volunteering is essential to employee well-being.”

But here’s the kicker from the article: “Three-quarters of the millennials surveyed said they would volunteer more if they had a better understanding of the impact they were making, compared to 61 percent of those of all ages.”

Huh. So, it isn’t obvious that volunteering for a homeless shelter actually helps homeless people is it? Or wait. Maybe it isn’t obvious that weeding the garden at the homeless shelter actually helps the homeless.

Oh, yeah, now I get it. Maybe for corporate volunteers, the cleanup or painting or weeding the garden doesn’t scream “OMG, this made all the difference in the world to our clients! You have changed lives like no one else ever has in the history of volunteering! Ka-bam!”

We, volunteer managers, can be caught in a nether world of finding projects while assuring these episodic volunteers that we really need them. And once you manufacture a project just to accommodate a group, is that truly meaningful work?

So what can we do since corporate and episodic group volunteering will most certainly grow in the future?

Well, we need to do some serious planning, be methodical about our episodic volunteers and complete the legwork before we take on groups. We can:

  • Create a plan before accepting groups. Decide how many group members can be accommodated at a time, the age range you are comfortable working with, the time frame that works for you, what supplies the group needs to bring, the number of groups per month or year you can accept, etc.
  • Create an application process for group volunteering: Gather information on the group, ask pointed questions on the application that will help you understand their motivation, interests, skills etc. Then decide if and when they will fit into the projects you have or can create.
  • Create an impression that you value quality over quantity and busy work: We don’t have to take everyone. As each group you engage comes away with a positive experience, word will spread that your organization is the one to contact for quality volunteering.
  • Develop a narrative to go along with each project. Prepare impact stories to accompany each project. Highlight the contribution and results of the project.
  • Utilize client testimonials to recruit and thank corporate volunteers. Tie these into the activity. It may take some creative interviewing to elicit these testimonials, but it will be worth it.
  • Follow up with a letter outlining the impact of the completed work. Reiterate the improvements for clients, staff and other volunteers.
  • Send a thank you letter from your CEO to the corporate CEO or group leader. It can be a general thank you created ahead of time and tweaked for each group. But, have the CEO sign it each time and encourage them to write a personal note.
  • Take pictures-make memes, add text boxes, thought clouds etc. Send them to the group, post them on all social media outlets.

No matter what, the connection between the project and the impact on clients is critical. Take weeding the garden at the homeless shelter. We can say to our corporate volunteer group, “Imagine the first night you are homeless. Imagine what that feels like, having nowhere to go, no stability, no safety and you arrive at our shelter and all you see are the weeds in an unkempt garden. It says to you that we don’t care. It reminds you of the tangles that threaten your existence. How would you feel? Remember, every little thing can be the one big thing that makes someone feel safe.” Then read testimonials from clients who felt safe.

A lot has been said over the years about making corporate volunteering fun. While fun is important, it is secondary to meaningful work. Corporate and episodic volunteers deserve to know that even by pulling weeds in the garden, they have created a beautiful safe space for those facing a difficult time in their lives.

We know the impact of each job, no matter how inconsequential it may seem at first. If we are thoughtful about episodic volunteering and prepare well for group volunteers, we can create a win-win for everyone.

-Meridian

 

 

 

Let’s Leave Volunteer Management in Better Shape Than We Found It

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Action words to strengthen the future of volunteer management

For three days, leaders of volunteers came together at The 2017 National Summit on Volunteer Engagement Leadership to collectively share and brainstorm the future. This summit actually extends far beyond “national” as we were joined by leaders from other countries such as Rob Jackson from the UK.

This energy of collective purpose is akin to swigging a chilled bottle of sports drink after a long grueling run through the blistering desert. Sometimes we can feel isolated. Often we may feel that progress is slow. Many times we feel as though we make no perceptible difference in the scheme of things.

But, each one of us makes an impression on our surroundings. Each one of us creates ripples that travel in circles radiating outwards. Each of us eventually leaves our profession behind. How will we leave it?

Recently I said this in a post: “What we say and how we treat our volunteers, no matter how brief our encounter, has a lasting effect on them and ultimately on us.”

But wait. I think those of us who engage volunteers can take this one step further.

Just as we impact each volunteer we encounter, we also leave a lasting effect on our profession.

What might that effect be? Do we owe it to each other and future leaders of volunteers to leave the profession in better shape than we found it? Do we owe it to our volunteers?

Even if the title “manager of volunteers” is temporary, or a stepping stone, or a detour in a career, there is an entire network of individuals working diligently to elevate this profession. So what can each of us do?

  • Don’t remain isolated. Join a peer group in town, find leaders online to connect with, web groups to join etc.
  • Advocate professionally. Use your voice to advocate for resources and the tools you require.
  • Share your impressions and experiences. Blog, comment on posts, add your expertise to articles on non-profits. If you read a post on non-profits that blatantly ignores volunteer engagement, point that out in the comment section.
  • Use your influence. When you do leave, remember your time as a leader of volunteers and use your influence to advocate for this profession.

 

Your professional essence is left behind as you move on, retire, or seek other opportunities. How you treat this “job” goes far beyond your own perceptions and needs at the time. And while it might seem so, we are not working in silos.

If each one of us leaves volunteer management in better shape than we found it, imagine the future of volunteer engagement.

-Meridian

 

The National Summit on Volunteer Engagement Leadership

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Hi everyone. Today I am privileged and excited to be at the National Summit on Volunteer Engagement Leadership in St. Paul Minnesota. I want to share as much as possible with you so later today I’ll post information on all the great takeaways.

Thanks so much,

-Meridian

What a pleasure to see so many leaders of volunteers gathered together to share knowledge and wisdom with one another. It’s inspiring to feel the desire to elevate not only the volunteers but also the profession.

It’s like a family reunion where you sense the invisible tendrils of a rooted connection emanating out in a net of shared experiences.

We are not alone. We are actually many.

We have comrades, compatriots and members of our sector out there. Our link can be strong. Together we have voice.

More from the Summit to come.

Meridian

Sunday Update: There was so much to take in, so many excellent presentations, so much enthusiasm that it is hard to sift through it all. But here are some take-aways:

  • The profession greatly needs to be elevated. Respect for volunteer managers and the understanding of the complex work we do is tantamount in everyone’s mind. How we do that will take great effort.
  • The future will include some sort of hub or central location to disseminate information, create educational opportunities, or have a central voice.
  • Change is rapid and must be addressed. The changing landscape of volunteer engagement includes new generations of volunteers, volunteer expectations, defining the volunteer manager role, reporting and other aspects.
  • Voices need to be heard. Working independently to create change is not as effective as the community of volunteer leaders.
  • Are we a profession or a specialized skill set? Or both?
  • Are volunteer managers destined to lead non-profits?

Look for the blogging community to address many of these topics in the coming months.

-Meridian

 

The Volunteer Whisperer

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The Volunteer Whisperer

Ahhhh Nicknames! Those memorable, defining little monikers that people give others. Do you have one at work? If you don’t, what would you imagine yours to be?

Here’s a creepy thought. Are there mean kids in your organization? Behind their creaky passive-aggressive doors, are they hunched over their cauldrons of electronic devices, cackling cruel names as they toss the hair strands plucked from sweet volunteers into the pot? Do they call you something unnatural behind your back?  Think:

Sir Plays All Day as in “Sir Plays All Day just got his shipment of Astrobright colored copy paper. Must be nice.”

Tea Party Tess as in “Wouldn’t it be great to plan tea parties for a living like that Tea Party Tess? I mean, do volunteers even need a tea party? Volunteering in my department is reward enough.”

Fluffy McFlufferson as in “Oh, look balloons in the lobby that say thank you volunteers. Fluffy McFlufferson is at it again.”

Invisible Inez as in “This volunteer isn’t working fast enough. Who’s in charge of them anyway?”

The Geriatric Guider as in “Think I’ll come back here and volunteer when I retire. Ha, then maybe I could be the Geriatric Guider. It would be so much easier than my job.”

The Cat Shepherd as in “That event is Sunday and I have to deal with all those volunteers. Make sure the Cat Shepherd has to be there too.”

Trivial Ted as in “I’m too busy. Who can we get to move that desk? I know, Trivial Ted!”

But wait. Nicknames can give us power, almost like donning a suit of armor-think of these famous nicknames and how it must have felt to put on these names when confronting the world:

The Great One-Wayne Gretzky-arguably the greatest hockey player ever.

The Queen of Soul-Aretha Franklin-anytime you’re dubbed queen, you’ve done something remarkable.

Ol’ Blue Eyes-Frank Sinatra-the definition of cool.

Fab Four-the Beatles-simple, yet fabulous.

The Land Down Under-Australia-who wouldn’t want to visit a land with a name like that?

So, before you are handed one, choose your own nickname, one that acts as a buffer against misconceptions. Then gather your volunteers and cleverly ask them to begin to refer to you as your chosen nickname.

By cleverly, I mean, announce in the next volunteer meeting, that from now on, you will not be answering any questions on where the flipping copier is located, listening to any stories about prodigy grandchildren or clicking on any emails about dogs opening refrigerator doors from anyone who does not refer to you as:

The Goddess of Goodness

The Adorable Accomplisher

Ned Stark Raving Awesome

He Who Must Not Be Blamed

Git Er Done Gabe

Han So-lo Down Amazing

Katniss Cleverdeen

Lord of the Volunteer Things

You Can Call Me Queen B: Why? Because I Will Be Your Ruler (eh, maybe that’s too long)

Ok, perhaps we’ll never be called “The Greatest” like Mohammed Ali. Maybe they’ll just continue to call us by our given names.

Maybe. But, when the lights are low and the family is all gently snoring and I’m tucked in under my Minions comforter, that’s when I’ll turn on my little book light and refer to myself as “Fifty Shades of Great.”

-Meridian

Hope to see you at the National Summit On Volunteer Engagement Leadership in St. Paul next week!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Are That Person

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“It’s one of those universal truths,” Desmond sighed. “I can tell my children how brilliant and wonderful they are, but it never really sinks in until one of their teachers or coaches say it.”

It’s kinda true. When a relative says you’re great, well, they’re a relative, right? They have to say it, sorta like they have to show up at your graduation and yawn through the speeches while you endure all the cheek pinching.

But when a non-related member of society says you’re great, like a teacher or coach or crabby neighbor, then those praises really mean something. That one person who looks you in the eye at a particular moment and tells you that you have worth can change an entire lifetime of self doubt. That person might be the violin teacher, or physical therapist or volunteer or……. volunteer manager.

Every day, volunteer managers are changing the perspective of people who volunteer. Every day, we look at the value of the human being in front of us and encourage the qualities and talents we observe. It’s our jobs, but it’s so much more because oftentimes you have no idea that you have changed someone’s perspective. Oh, you might have an inkling now and then. You may be honestly praising someone when you see a spark, and as your words of encouragement travel deep into that volunteer’s soul, you see the clouds of self-doubt part for an instant. Yeah, it’s that moment that you cherish.

What we say and how we treat our volunteers, no matter how brief our encounter, has a lasting effect on them and ultimately on us. (We get to fill up our knapsack of positive energy by the cultivation of others)

Every day, a volunteer manager tells or shows:

  • A struggling student that they are smart and capable.
  • A shy introvert that we hear them and their opinions are valid.
  • A stressed out parent that they’ve done a good job because their child is a pleasure to work with.
  • A person feeling worthless that clients adore them.
  • A hesitant comic that their joy is infectious.
  • A disheartened creative type that their ideas are inspired.
  • A mother who wonders whether she’s more than a bottle washer that she is brilliant.
  • A broken-heart that love is all around.
  • A grieving soul that they are surrounded by gentleness.
  • A beaten down worker that their contributions are valuable.
  • A lonely person that they are not alone.
  • A rejected artist that their creations are appreciated.
  • A dispirited job seeker that their skills are needed.
  • A lost person that they don’t have to walk alone.

Volunteer managers are individuals who can and will literally change another person’s perspective. How amazing is that?

So, just remember, especially when you look at your hectic day and wonder what it all means and what you have accomplished…

…  you are that person.

-Meridian

 

 

 

 

Captains of Our Destiny: Strategic Key Volunteer Account Management

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Captains of Our Destiny Strategic Key Volunteer Account Management

So, here’s the question: If we identify key volunteer accounts, how will this help us in the management of all volunteers and correct the misconception that we herd cats?

By reclassifying our work in terms of strategically managing volunteer accounts and key volunteer accounts, we will:

  • explain in recognized professional terms the vast work involved in cultivating and engaging volunteers
  • begin to prioritize our time in order to do the “key duties” such as recruiting, creating volunteer programs, relationship marketing, retention implementation, in-depth training and staff education
  • illustrate that focusing on key duties produces sustainable volunteer participation
  • more successfully require that all staff learn to manage volunteers, especially one time and episodic volunteers, therefore freeing us up to do the key duties
  • show potential volunteers that becoming key volunteers carries tremendous perks
  • free up the time necessary to educate ourselves, create programs and contribute in a more productive way
  • be able to demonstrate that not all volunteers produce the same results and that key volunteer account management creates key volunteers who will not only do the bulk of the work, but will also contribute in multiple other ways such as increased donations, resource allocating, community awareness, marketing, planning, trend setting, awards won, social media championing, recruiting, and program development
  • show that key volunteers will lighten staff workloads and free staff to work smarter
  • strategize the future instead of “handling” the present

 

As we move from herding cats to a more modern and professional structure, what are some differences between outdated volunteer management and the new strategic volunteer account and key volunteer account management?

 

Outdated Volunteer Management Strategic Volunteer Account Management Strategic Key Volunteer Account Management
Vols fill jobs defined by org Steps to assure vol role is successful Partner with key vols to assure mutual org growth
Retention by yearly luncheon, hours reported Vol contributions highlighted with real stats Key vols contribute to implementing programs of worth
Vols view volunteering as “I get more than I give” and that’s enough Vols are integrated as essential members of team Key vols are integrated as shaping future of org
All vols are just here to do org bidding Vol roles are created to meet changing needs of volunteers Key vols help shape the roles they wish to play
Vols should be grateful to be volunteering Orgs should show gratitude to vols for volunteering Orgs value key vol input, skills and ideas in a win-win situation
Fear that vols may “take over” or do something to harm org

 

Allow vols to accompany staff on important assignments Trusting key vols to utilize their proven skills and desire to further org mission

In order to be classified as a “key volunteer,” we most likely will be choosing those volunteers who are already known and trusted by fellow staff. This trust in a proven volunteer is the example you already possess to showcase the benefit for key volunteer designation.

In many ways, there is an iron grip of thought relating to volunteers and volunteer management. Words and terms mean something and by referring to our work in professional, respected terms, we will begin to show the in-depth work and skill necessary to create a sustainable volunteer program. We will also begin to illustrate that freeing us from herding cats to concentrate on key duties will produce a stronger, better volunteer program. (everyone in the organization is responsible for engaging and managing volunteers-the volunteer manager does not have time to run around putting out fires)

Let’s not be left behind in modernizing our profession. We are the Captains of our destinies.

-Meridian

 

 

Captains of Our Destiny: The Key Volunteer Account Manager

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Captains of Our Destiny The Key Volunteer Account Manager

As Captains of our destinies, we looked at some of the terms that define our work as Volunteer Account Managers. Now, let’s look at the responsibilities of the account manager and redefine them to fit our profession:

Volunteer account manager responsibilities:

  • Serve as the point of contact for all volunteer account management matters.
  • Build and maintain strong, long-lasting volunteer relationships.
  • Develop opportunities and programs for volunteer engagement.
  • Mediate volunteer challenges.
  • Communicate the mission and policies of the organization to all volunteers and prospective volunteers.
  • Recruit new volunteers, volunteer groups and develop relationships with all volunteers through education, feedback, and progressive opportunities.
  • Forecast and track account metrics through volunteer feedback, community involvement, bench marking, research and continual participation in conferences and symposiums relevant to subject.
  • Prepare reports on volunteer contributions and trends.
  • Advocate for system changes when necessary.

Interpersonal skill set of the Volunteer Account Manager: (partial list)

  • Solution oriented
  • Communicates clearly
  • Innovative
  • Professionalism
  • Mediation skills
  • Detail oriented
  • Relationship marketer
  • Ability to research, monitor and predict trends

We can still go one step further and look at how organizations and businesses divide up the management of accounts. Does one person manage all accounts? Are some accounts afforded more attention than others?

In account management, the key account has emerged and with it, the key account manager. So if we are volunteer account managers,  what would be a key volunteer account?

Redefining a key account in terms of a volunteer key account yields: A key volunteer account is the volunteer or volunteer group who volunteers substantially in a sustainable manner and/or contributes greatly to organizational success. 

This begs the question: Do we have key volunteer accounts?

Do we spread ourselves too thin when we spend our time in a non-strategic soup? Do we run around, putting out fires, jumping from one scenario to the next trying to make sure each and every second of volunteer time is perfect? Are we really just herding cats?

Can we maximize our time by identifying and explaining the steps necessary to cultivate key volunteer accounts?

What are a few categories that might catapult a volunteer or volunteer group into key volunteer status?

  • dedicated on-going scheduled work that is vital to operations.
  • years of service and hours given.
  • the successful recruiting of additional volunteers and/or a community engagement champion.
  • leadership skills and/or the assumption of a leadership role.
  • dependability and the willingness to step up when needed.
  • highly trained or skilled in the mission and the ability to handle challenges.

We all have these volunteers. They are what we wish every volunteer could be. If we apply the Pareto principle (80% of the output comes from 20% of the input), then approximately 20% of our volunteers are producing 80% of the vital work. Is this true? And what about new volunteer potential? Should we not spend our time in the soup, cultivating everyone in case we might lose that potentially great volunteer? Should we just herd cats in hopes that a few of those cats turn out to be key volunteer cats or should we begin to think in terms of key accounts and key strategies?

Next time: How can strategic key volunteer account management help us manage all volunteers?

-Meridian

 

 

 

 

Captains of Our Destiny: Captain Obvious Part 2

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Captains of Our Destiny

Ha, ha, working with volunteers is like herding cats. …non-profit staff member.

It is time we become captains of our own destiny. It is true that our work is not glaringly evident to all, so we can’t be Captain Obvious.

So, now what? We can captain our future and redefine our work in terms that befit its importance while illuminating our professional skill set. It’s on us to redefine volunteer services, to flip it from one of cutesy, fluffy extra touches to a dynamic and professional service.

How? Well, first off, we have to change the loose descriptions of volunteer engagement and instead use the professional terms they deserve. To do this, let’s look at two highly regarded and compensated jobs and re-imagine our profession in those terms and descriptions.

Instead of volunteer managers, what if we were called Volunteer Account Managers? In reality, volunteers open accounts with us, in the same way as donors or clients. (an account is something of value or worth-in this case a volunteer’s time, expertise, resources, knowledge, sweat equity, donations, word of mouth marketing, etc)

As such, we would use these terms:

Volunteer Account Management: the management of volunteer accounts, including the relationship with volunteers and the pursuit of volunteer satisfaction.

Volunteer expectations: the value a volunteer seeks from our organizations, such as training opportunities, positive feedback, admittance to the team, creative outlets etc.

Volunteer centric: the emphasis an organization places on volunteer involvement, including timely appreciation, seats at planning meetings, designated volunteer managers who are supported, educational opportunities, partnership opportunities.

Volunteer journey: the steps a volunteer goes through to become a viable and satisfied member of the organization.

Volunteer journey mapping: the process by which a volunteer manager maps the journey a volunteer takes from first contact to integration through onboarding-and more importantly, the ability to reconfigure the steps when necessary.

Volunteer profile: the ongoing process by which a volunteer manager educates staff about volunteers, including their needs, their changing dynamics, their skill levels, their rate of participation and their future involvement.

Volunteer satisfaction levels: measuring and reporting the satisfaction levels of volunteers through one on one interviews, surveys, questionnaires, etc. And more importantly, the ability to change areas in which volunteers lack satisfaction.

Volunteer benchmarking: the continual process of improving the relationship with volunteers. There are many methods of benchmarking, such as:

  • do volunteers choose our organization over others and why or why not?
  • do volunteers make time for us over other activities and why or why not?
  • do volunteers recommend our organization to their circle of influence and why or why not?
  • do volunteers increase visibility, donations and resources and how? (we all know instinctively that this is true, but benchmarking will prove it)

Volunteer benchmarking will then be a tool to change the processes that need change, in the same way fundraising evolves.

In order to Captain our own destiny, we must begin to flip volunteer services from the outdated idea that volunteers are summoned to fill a job and volunteer coordinators “herd those funny cats around, lol, isn’t that cute.”

Instead:  Volunteers hold an account with us and we are responsible for cultivating that account by continually improving our relationship with the volunteers. And this is where the highly skilled volunteer account manager comes in.

Next week: KAVM-the key account volunteer manager-what does this mean for us?

-Meridian

Not So Fast, Captain Obvious

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Not So Fast Captain Obvious

Suki is an events coordinator and part-time volunteer manager.

She says, “I work hard, oftentimes 50 to 60 hours a week. I treat the volunteers as essential team members and make sure they are respected. I have a better than average return rate as my volunteers come back time and time again to help with events.

My supervisor, Ellen just conducted my yearly review. One of my areas to work on was follow-up. I was shocked. I follow-up with each and every volunteer. I follow-up with vendors, locations, donors and staff. I asked her where that “needs improvement” came from and when pressed, she said it was because one of our managers overheard a group of volunteers mention that they weren’t sure which assignments they had at an event last year.  I told Ellen that the banquet manager had changed a few things last-minute and that I was sorting it out at the time of the comment. I mean, seriously, I would think all of my other hard work should stand for itself.”

Sadly, Suki, no it does not. And here’s the lesson. What we think should be obvious to everyone never really is.  We work hard to engage and cultivate volunteers. Isn’t that evident? Ehhh, maybe not. Let’s compare a couple of scenarios and see if they are obvious to everyone.

  • An excellent volunteer is not sure if he wants to continue. He comes in to see you and you get coffee or tea for both of you. (a sign that he is worthy of your undivided attention). You sit at a table and listen to all his concerns. You take the time to explore what is going on in his life. You laugh, you listen, you probe, you assure him and with some tweaking of schedules or duties, you retain him. Obvious, right? But what does this actually look like?

To you: One hour spent upfront retaining an essential volunteer = hundreds of hours of quality work from that volunteer.

To observer: The volunteer manager has time to sit around and have coffee for an hour with a volunteer that really doesn’t need managing because they are already a great volunteer. Why can’t I get a volunteer when I need one?

  • One of your volunteers invites you to her daughter’s college soccer game. You go because you are going to meet the coach who is interested in having the entire team participate in volunteer activities.

To you: This is a chance to recruit a group of volunteers. It’s an opportunity to set up a program that could last year after year. It also could be an in to an entire college system with access to other teams, clubs, classes etc. It’s a huge opportunity.

To observer: The volunteer manager hangs out with her volunteers. She’s been seen going to birthday celebrations, picnics and now team sports. She runs the volunteer department like a sorority. We need volunteers who come to work, not to socialize.

So, what do we do if our hard work is not self-explanatory? We must advocate for ourselves and our profession. We must become better at explaining the cultivation of volunteers. Whether we use algorithms or stories or a daily work flow, we need to be able to translate our work into concrete facts.

How do we do that? Well, we can try:

Create signs for your office door or cubicle that read “Volunteer Interview in Progress” or “Volunteer Engagement in Progress” or “Volunteer Feedback in Progress.” Put them on your door when sitting with any volunteer for a session.

Develop a chart to track the hours needed to engage volunteers for maximum output. Does it take four or twelve or twenty hours spent one on one with a volunteer to produce two hundred volunteer hours a year? (approximately 4 hours per week) How many volunteers do you manage? Add all those engagement hours to show how much one on one time it takes to retain valuable volunteers.

Begin to label your work. Instead of using terms such as “spent time with” or “sat down with” label the time spent with volunteers as retention, development, engagement, targeted recruiting, gathering feedback, role definitions, corrective action etc. Creating an understanding of the nuances of our work as essential building blocks is crucial. Our time spent with volunteers is necessary to volunteer development and it’s time we referred to this work in professional terms.

While we are obviously super nice to our volunteers, we are nice with a purpose. Our profession must redefine our work to elevate it in terms of professional development. Calling the “spending of time” with a volunteer “targeted recruitment” does not change our methods, only the misconception of our work.

And why should we frame everything we do in professionalism? So it does become obvious.

-Meridian