Non Profit Executive Directors: What to Gift Your Volunteer Manager This Year


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What to Gift Your Volunteer Manager This Year

“What can I get my non-profit staff, especially that mysterious volunteer manager, who seems to run around a lot?”  You, my dear ED or CEO have come to the right place.

Let me help you gift your hard working volunteer manager this year with something he or she will actually treasure.

Forget that inflatable unicorn horn you wear on your head. Forget that sweater that depicts Santa in a magician’s hat. Forget that self help book on “How to Field Criticism and Still Feel Validated.”

Forget two extra weeks vacation, uh meh. No. Give a gift that really resonates with your VM. And, the best part is, it doesn’t cost you a thing, only a sheet of paper, a printer and a pair of scissors.  And, as a bonus, in typical cooperative volunteer manager style, I’ll even throw in the template!

Here are my three top picks for a Volunteer Manager Holiday gift:

Get Out of Event Free Card:

Get out of event free coupon

Budget Increase Steal of Choice card:

Budget Increase Steal of Choice

Immunity from Assignment Card:

immunity from assignment coupon

Well Executive Directors, there you have it, the top three gift coupons for your volunteer manager. A few moments, a pair of scissors and you are done shopping!

And, oh, volunteer managers? Feel free to slip these under the door of your executive director.

Unless you really want that coffee mug that says, “World’s Greatest Office Worker.”


The Volunteer Ripple Effect


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I’m convinced. We, Leaders of Volunteers (#LOVols) hold in our hands more power to affect positive change than we can even imagine.

We have the opportunity to impact the world beyond filling tasks and adding to our volunteer base. The intuitive feelings within each of us are spot on: There’s so much more going on than our excel spreadsheets show.

I remember long ago struggling to find volunteers who could be with clients while loved ones attended church or synagogue or temple or mosque. I would look for volunteers of that same faith and hoped that they would be willing to give up their own attendance to help someone in need. It was the way it had always been done and it was frankly, exhausting.

Then one day, a volunteer stepped forward. Hannah offered to sit with Christian clients on a Sunday morning. (I’d love to take credit for thinking this solution up, but, no, it came from this wonderful, selfless volunteer.) Bam! The light went on.

I feared that mixing faiths (or cultures, or beliefs) would be a challenge in itself, but you know what? (Of course you know what comes next) It ended up uniting people in mutual respect and a desire to understand one another. The mere act of reaching across a cultural or spiritual divide created its own sense of wonder.

And here’s the thing. For the volunteers, it was never about, “oh, I’m so enlightened that I want to transcend these differences.” No, it was, “you know what? I’m free on a Sunday morning and you need someone, so what could be a better fit?”

The deep meaningful by-products of volunteering are seldom the initial goals. They just naturally evolve because the volunteer ripple brings out the best in everyone: Clients, families, volunteers, volunteer managers, staff, neighbors, community, everyone.

Think about that. Volunteer programs impact society in rippling positive ways beyond the delivering of meals, or escorting a tour group or passing out information. Our programs share love. Our programs open the doors for unity, connection and understanding to naturally take hold, and not just during holidays.

We often witness a profound change in people. We glimpse moments of powerful interconnection through the simplest of assignments. We stand, watching that small pebble create ripples of inspiring stories.

As you are running around this holiday season, scrambling to fill tasks, stop for a moment and think about the societal change you are helping to bring about. Because you value the innate worth of each human being and believe in their ability to transcend, you are spreading that change like a ripple in a vast sea.

Volunteerism is a rippling movement.

And leaders of volunteers are tossing the pebble into the water.


Press “2” For That Volunteer Question


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Press 2 For That Volunteer Question

“Yeah, so, this is Ginny from donor relations,” the voice on the phone sighs. “My next door neighbor’s fourteen year old daughter, April has a volunteer assignment for school. Why they are coming to me, I don’t know but just because I work at a non-profit, they think I’m free to help with all their little projects. When is the next volunteer training, or better yet, you call them. I don’t have time for this nonsense.”

“Hey, I’ve been calling you for an hour. Where are you? Anyway, this is Jazz from administration.”  The voice message plays, Jazz sounding out of breath.  “I need volunteer stats ASAP for a grant for our project that, oh, never mind, I just need some stats and fast to complete this application.  How many hours did volunteers give last quarter? This is the last component on the grant and it’s due today so I need this right away. Call me immediately.”

“Yo, this is Dean in records. The new volunteer, Charles, the one you sent us last month hasn’t been logging any hours, at least I don’t think so. I thought these volunteers knew what they were doing. Anyway, where does he fill out his paperwork again? And should he just make up hours for the time he worked?”

Do you get tired of answering the same questions over and over? While we are conditioned to give that personal touch, our time is pretty precious and continually answering simple questions can eat into our efforts spent cultivating volunteers, forging new recruitment avenues and solving challenges.

Taking a proactive approach can help. Think about all the standard questions repeatedly asked by staff and volunteers. Can these be put into a cheat sheet? Where can these cheat sheets be stored for maximum viewing?

We have to remember that folks don’t necessarily remember something told to them one time. Volunteers will forget specifics taught to them in orientation. Staff is too busy with their own pressing duties to remember the date of the next volunteer training. So, storing these cheat sheets in multiple areas will cut down dramatically on repetitive phone calls.

For volunteers, some visible places to store cheat sheets:

  • on a designated area of your website
  • as reminders in your newsletter
  • posted in your office
  • included in your welcome packet
  • given to volunteer mentors to share with newbies

For staff:

  • on an internal website
  • sent out as a quarterly email blast
  • given to department heads to post
  • at departmental meetings (ask to attend other department’s meetings to answer volunteer related questions, explain policies, intercept issues etc. )
  • on surveys sent to staff
  • posted in your office in case you are not at your desk
  • training dates posted prominently in your office (whiteboard, poster etc)
  • training dates printed on flyers, cards etc and given to staff (great recruitment tool also)

Besides cutting down on repetitive questions, posting core volunteer information creates an informed team of staff and volunteers who will disseminate correct information to potential volunteers. And, if volunteers have to constantly try to pin you down for simple questions, or if they always receive incorrect information from uniformed staff, they will quit out of frustration.

Elevating our vocation includes creating a comprehensive base of information visible to staff and volunteers. The more we polish the fundamentals of our volunteer programs, the more we can build upwards.

So, go ahead and press “2” for that volunteer question. But press “1” to leave the name and contact information of a prospective volunteer.”

Let’s make our systems work for us.



Thank You To The Volunteer Who Lied


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Thank You To The Volunteer Who Lied

Does this sound like you? Thank you to of all the wonderful volunteers who have enriched my soul and believed in my abilities. Ahhh, being thankful, it’s what we volunteer managers do so well.

But maybe we can also thank the volunteers who taught us lessons and built our characters. You know the ones. Their memories are seared into your psyche because you dropped your phone when you learned a trusted volunteer called a client “dumbo.”  You slunk back to your office when the CEO told you a volunteer tried to sell something to a client’s son. You stayed silent in meetings after a volunteer wrote that wildly incorrect letter to the editor.

They say that the hard lessons are the ones that stick. Yup, they are the lessons that keep you up at night, and make your hair go grey. (not the pretty kind either)

But, think about all the clients saved from unscrupulous volunteers because you learned a hard lesson. Think about all the necessary precautions you take because you were put through the wringer. Think about the watchful eye you developed because you were caught unaware.

In spite of intention, these volunteers give us the gift of experience.

I remember many years ago, Jacob, who lied to my face. I believed him, not because he was so charming and convincing, but because I wanted to believe him. I believed in the romantic notion that all people could see the light of volunteering and could set aside their personal agendas for the greater good. I dreamed of that world in which unicorns and faeries flitted about, sprinkling the magic dust of goodness upon all.

Jacob showed me that I had to be realistic if I truly wanted to do right by our clients. He showed me that healthy watchfulness did not diminish my job, but rather elevated it to a higher level of purposefulness.

You’ve been through this. We struggle to showcase all the carefully measured thought and actions required to match volunteers to clients and programs.  Unicorns and faeries are lovely, but we live in the real world. In the real world, placing volunteers with vulnerable clients takes discerning judgement, careful pairing and keen watchfulness. 

Luckily I was watchful enough to remove Jacob before any harm was done. So, I thank him and others for giving me a discerning nature, for strengthening my resolve to do right and for teaching me that compassion takes the courage to be a sentry.

Jacob most likely never intended to teach me anything.

But he never intended to embrace the mission either.


Volunteer Manager Job Update:  Should I Laugh or Cry?

A couple of months ago, I posted some volunteer manager wanted ads  and most of us pretty much agreed that they were lacking in inspiration. Well, thank you to Laura from Maine for sharing this volunteer coordinator ad with us.  I have not changed one word, but only added (my comments).

Wanted: Kitchen/Volunteer Coordinator:

The Kitchen Coordinator/Volunteer Coordinator is a very hands-on position that requires strong leadership skills, responsibility, and enthusiasm.

Job responsibilities include:

  • Designing healthy menus (uh, registered dietitians actually do this so shouldn’t the job read Kitchen/Dietitian/Volunteer Coordinator?) 
  • Training and supervising a large volunteer crew of cooks and custodians (wait, now the job is Kitchen/Dietitian/Custodian/Volunteer Coordinator)
  • Working with stores and volunteers to manage daily delivery of food donations (whoa, now it’s Kitchen/Dietitian/Custodian/Delivery Manager/Volunteer Coordinator)
  • Recording menus, inventory, and volunteer timesheets (meh)
  • Helping clients find housing and apply for jobs (So, ta da, we have a Kitchen/Dietitian/Custodian/Delivery Manager/Housing Expert/Job Placement/Volunteer Coordinator)

(I’m going to cry now over a piece of pumpkin pie).

Happy Thanksgiving, I hope it is wonderful.



What’s So Darned ‘Daring’ About Being Different?


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Whats so darned daring about being different

How does the statement, “Dare to be Different” make you feel? Does it make you want to dye your hair pink and wear Star Wars Jedi gear to work? Do you immediately want to throw away all your volunteer stats and mundane ways of recruiting volunteers?

Consider these two quotes about being different:

“I want to be different. If everyone is wearing black, I want to be wearing red.” …Maria Sharapova

“Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.” …Cecil Beaton

In the first quote, Maria Sharapova talks about the inner pleasure at being different for just being different. In the second quote, Cecil Beaton puts a purpose, an integrity, and an ethic to being different.

How do you view being different? Does it conjure up images of selfishness? Does it impose the stress of wild creativity for no good reason other than to stand out?

Volunteer managers don’t have to dare to be different, because we already are. What unique skills and abilities have you acquired due to managing volunteers? What principles have you discovered while leading volunteer programs? What undeniable truths did you learn from engaging with volunteers?

The tenets embedded deep in our souls are the things that make us different and it is not daring to hold fast to who we are. It’s simply the right thing to do.

How are we, volunteer managers so darned different?

  • We are highly aware. We consider all that is around us.
  • We have honed communication into an art form. We are communication hubs and can break information down to clear, impacting messages.
  • We are Visionistas. We develop talents, skills and passions, molding volunteer engagement to benefit both the receiver and the recipient.

But, along with these stand out qualities, there may be a few things differentiating us that we can work on. For instance,

  • We are selfless which may lead to us shrinking into the background and hiding our skill set.
  • We have a coaching mindset which may lead to our contributions being overlooked and therefore, organizations miss out on implementing our methods in other areas that would benefit from our expertise.
  • ‘We are humble, which may lead to being viewed as lacking in confidence. A perceived lack of confidence falsely implies that you have no confidence in your work. 

Being “different” means we have a unique space in our organizations, one that carries responsibilities and opportunities, not just for our volunteer programs, but for ourselves.

The challenges we face are opportunities to showcase the fine tuned skills and talents that make us different. Keeping those talents and skills hidden in the background does a disservice to our volunteers and our programs. It is time for volunteer managers to step out onto the non-profit stage and show everyone our amazing contributions and the ways we achieve those contributions. That’s not daring. That’s what’s needed.

We are different because what we do matters.

How we do it matters.

We matter.

So, do we, volunteer managers dare to be different? No, because we already own it.

Now we have to dare to show it.


Is Volunteer Management a Science?


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Is Volunteer Management a Science

In 1959, novelist and scientist, C. P. Snow gave a lecture entitled  The Two Cultures. Essentially Snow argued that the humanities and science were split into opposing cultures, each one not understanding the other.

Most of us would probably categorize volunteer management as a humanity.  In the post  The Volunteer Investor I likened volunteers to humanity investors.  But while humanity is at the heart of volunteering, isn’t the management of volunteers a science? And, by treating it as a science, does that automatically remove the humanity?

Well, what if we look at other science based professions that serve humanity?

  • Does the researcher seeking a cure for cancer not dream about the potential millions of people saved?
  • Does the engineer developing a new prosthetic not imagine the first time an amputee puts on that device and walks?
  • Does a safety engineer never think about the children she may keep safe?

Re-framing volunteer management as a science will not remove the humanity. Instead, it will elevate the skills volunteer managers possess. 

So, then how can we re-frame volunteer management to reflect the science of it? Do we stop talking about the heartfelt work volunteers do? Do we become invested in cold stats? Or, can we do both? Can we still convey the humanity while highlighting the precise steps taken to achieve outcomes?

When we, leaders of volunteers separate the volunteers’ incredible outcomes from the systematic steps needed to achieve those outcomes, then we can begin to identify and speak to the science of volunteer management.

How? Well, we can, as volunteer management professionals begin to:

  • Temper human stories with solution stories and the steps necessary to achieve results
  • Speak in management language when discussing volunteer engagement and challenges
  • Remove emotion when dealing with difficult situations and instead, utilize scientific methods such as observation, gathering of data, testing and logical thinking to solve problems
  • Re-evaluate programs based on priorities, time involved and solutions achieved
  • Re-think in terms of humanely leading volunteers, but managing projects
  • Tout the science of volunteer engagement in terms of strategies, social metrics and road-maps
  • Categorize the skills used to engage volunteers, such as motivating, knowledgeable delegating (not just delegation because anybody can delegate), problem solving, results orienting, relationship building, strategical planning, innovating and big picture thinking
  • Chronicle the methodical steps necessary to engage volunteers
  • Create data that leads to goals, such as maps, diagrams etc
  • Experiment and innovate

The perception that we coordinate volunteers who require nothing more than a phone call negates the methods required to fully engage these investors in our missions.

Do we do ourselves a disservice when we blur the lines between the hearts of our volunteers and the hard work we do? Do we sometimes become so emotionally invested in our volunteers’ humanity that we lose our management voices?

The results of volunteer involvement is humanity’s crowning achievement but the skills, knowledge and sheer hard work is the science of getting to those results.

If we project our profession as a science with a humanity outcome, we can then elevate the precise, nuanced methodology required to achieve our humanitarian goals.

Lab coat anyone?






Volunween. What Goes Bump In The Night?


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Volunween What Goes Bump In the Night

Laurie sat at her desk, her finger running down the list of volunteers. Her watch read 7:30pm and she wasn’t any closer to filling that last-minute volunteer assignment than she had been six hours earlier when the office was humming. She sighed, thinking about the night before. She’d gone to the midnight showing of Halloween with her friends and giggling, they ate popcorn and jumped when Michael Myers’ got back up again and again.

Yawning, she laid her head on the desk for just a moment. Suddenly, the lights went out. Her computer screen flickered off. It was pitch black. The stillness was unnerving. Laurie looked around, trying to adjust to the dark. As she blinked, the hair on the back of her neck rose. In the corner she could see a shape forming, its wispy outline undulating. Terrified, she watched it drift towards her, a watery face forming in the mist.

Heart thudding, she pushed back away from the ghostly specter, her chair scraping the floor.  Its dead eyes fixated on her. “Why Laurie,” it whispered and the icy voice brushed her hair. “Why did all these volunteers leave?”

One by one, transparent faces materialized, hovering in the dark, surrounding her. She recognized Juan, who never had the time to come to orientation. She saw Millie who couldn’t find a job that suited her. In the corner was Yuki, who quit volunteering to care for her sick mother. The faces bobbed and the specter hissed, “What could you have done to keep them? Now they’re gone.” Slowly, the faces dissolved.

The lights popped back on and the computer rebooted with a whir. Rubbing her eyes, she couldn’t tell if she had been dreaming. She shivered, a cold tingling running down her back. Was there still a mist hovering near the door?

The phone rang and Laurie jumped. It was a volunteer returning her call, telling her that he could do tomorrow’s assignment.

Laurie stuffed the volunteer list back into the top drawer and grabbed her purse. “I’m not afraid anymore!” She said aloud as she got up and headed home.

What is our volunteer manager equivalent of the things that go bump in the night?

  • The Vampire Volunteer who sucks the life out of us?
  • The Frankenstein Assignment where none of the pieces fit?
  • The Freddy Krueger Department who keeps shredding volunteers?
  • The Wolfman Staff who turn on us when volunteers won’t clean closets?
  • The Mummy Marketer who keeps all information under wraps?
  • The Episodic Gremlins, who run all over doing more damage than work?
  • The Corporate Dementor Group who must have contact with clients so they can suck their souls for a feel good experience?
  • The Ghosting Volunteers who just disappear?

Some volunteer management areas can be scary. But when that cold spector breathes its icy voice of doubt into our ears, just remember: The reluctant hero in the monster movie always prevails.





I Speak Volunteer. You?


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I Speak Volunteer You


Are volunteer managers world travelers? Do we venture into exotic lands where the inhabitants speak a foreign language and do not understand the words we speak?

If you’ve ever stood up in a staff meeting to give a presentation on volunteering and the attendees glazed over while checking their devices, you know what I mean. They don’t understand the odd, volunteer language coming out of our mouths.

For example, what are common volunteer management phrases and typical staff responses:

“Our selfless volunteers who are caring and compassionate.”  HUH? So what? I’m caring and compassionate too, but that doesn’t get the mountains of work done.

“Our volunteers gave 6,000 hours last month making our clients lives better.” WHAT? Who gave $6,000 and why wasn’t I informed? I’m in charge of donations here! The nerve!

“Volunteers give from their heart.” Yeah, that’s nice but I give from my heart too and I give my blood, sweat and tears besides. Who has time for this fluff?

Broad statements and dry statistics are the twins of tune-out. So, do stats and heart-warming stories have any place at all? Yes, of course they do, but what is the impact of these stats and stories, other than the feel-goodery of volunteerspeak?

As you step onto the stage for your moment to talk about volunteer services, think about your elevator pitch. Does my audience speak volunteer? How do I get their attention? And, most importantly, can I speak to them in their own language so that they understand?

Let’s break this down:

In volunteerspeak, we focus on our volunteer’s selflessness as in,  “One of our volunteers, Dave, gave up tickets to a sold out play to spend two extra hours with an upset client. Now that’s above and beyond. ” Nice, but well, this has no bearing on me.

Instead, if we retell this story in a language our target audience speaks, and we focus on impact it becomes, “volunteer Dave stayed two extra hours, allowing our social worker, Alexis, to fully focus on her caregiver assessment while he engaged the upset client. This cut Alexis’ time in that home by half which gave her two more hours to get her work done.” What? Extra time? I’m listening.

Forcing our audiences to understand ‘volunteerspeak‘ is a burden on them. Instead, if we want our voices heard, we need to learn to speak their language.

What questions can help us find the common tongue?

  • What, at this moment is the most pressing challenge facing our organization? Time? Marketing? Money? Lack of market share? Competition? Complaints? Auditing? How can we craft our stories and stats into the ways volunteers help in addressing these specific challenges? For example, instead of talking in general terms of how volunteers support the mission, gather concrete examples of volunteers who donate money, in-kind goods and influence their neighbors to give. 
  • What departments are stretched, overworked and leaned on? In what measurable concrete terms do volunteers alleviate the load on these departments? For example, instead of pointing to volunteer hours given, flip it and speak to the amount of hours saved by staff.
  • What are some of the current organizational goals? Expansion? Partnerships? Social Media presence? National recognition? How are new volunteer programs leading the way in achieving these goals? For example, instead of pointing to a new program that will bring in more volunteers, show how the innovative program will more quickly lead to a specific goal.
  • What methods speak to my organization? Gathering stats? Big picture thinking? Connecting dots? Awards? How can I rework my presentations using these methods to show volunteer impact? For example, instead of equating volunteer hours to dollars saved, speak to examples of volunteers as extensions of departments and the work produced. Impact stats vs. hour stats.

We can continue to praise volunteer goodness until we are hoarse. But if we don’t speak in the terms and language understood by our organizations, CEO’s, department heads and staff, it will fall on deaf ears.

We can’t expect others to translate volunteerspeak. We must adapt the common tongue in order to show true, measurable volunteer impact.

You know, because of volunteer involvement, we frequently travel to all corners of our organizations.  It really helps to speak the language.





So You Want to Be a Volunteer Manager?


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So You Want To Be a Volunteer Manager

You are in the midst of job hunting. You figure that if you’re going to go to work, you probably want a job where you make a difference. You imagine that you want to work for a non-profit because really nice people work there and in between patting each other on the back they play with puppies, while sipping salted caramel lattes, right?

You notice a job for a volunteer manager and you think, “there’s a way to get in and hey, how hard can that be, I mean I trained my three cats to come when I tap the cat food can with a spoon, right?”

You apply and have an interview scheduled. And you want to know what questions will be asked and how to answer them. Well, my friend, you’ve come to the right place. I want to help you get that job.

Below you will find some sample interview questions (Q). After each question is a detailed explanation of what that question is really about, followed by the answer (A) you should give.  I personally guarantee if you follow this guide, you’ll ace that interview.

So, here we go with are some pretty typical questions:

Q: Do you believe in our mission?

This will be the easiest question asked. Don’t bother memorizing stats like, “you were founded by dedicated volunteers in 1973,” or “last year you on-boarded 32 new volunteers.” Don’t even bother with “I see you had 2,000 volunteer hours, this past month, a record for you.” Nah. Nobody really reads or understands those stats anyway.  There are pictures of those statistics in the “Real Non-Profit Dictionary” next to the entry “Busy Work.”

A: I believe in unicorns, fairy dust and most importantly, blindly following directions. Mainly, I’ll believe anything you tell me to believe.

Q: How do you feel about directing people who are older than you?

Fair question, but more than likely, the interviewer has no idea how old the volunteers are, or even how many there are or what they really do. This perception is actually from something the interviewer heard from another non-profit administrator who knows a CEO who knows a fundraiser who went to a conference ten years ago where she met a volunteer manager who happened to bring her grandmother with her.

A: I work well with everyone, especially people who love to do menial tasks and are really good at blindly following directions. Kinda like me.

Q: Are you good at multi-tasking?

Ahhh, the multi-tasking question. Actually the interviewer probably knows very little about the tasks you will need to do. (hint: more than you can imagine, but you can worry about that later) The interviewer just assumes that you pretty much will chat, answer phones, think up excuses as to why volunteers don’t want to clean out the junk closet, make cute posters with scented markers (that you’ll have to buy yourself) and have little impromptu parties with happy volunteers who have nothing else in their lives but the desire to give back. And just so you know, “give back” translates to “don’t ask questions.”

A: I once cut out all the silver cardboard stars, gosh, hundreds of them for my high school prom and attached each one individually to the overhead streamers while consoling Jaime Green who was crying about her breakup with Hugo Carreras. I didn’t drop one star, not one. And besides, (you wink here) I make a mean cup of Earl Grey.

Q: How do you feel about working occasional weekends and holidays?

Ok, listen carefully. This is code for every time we forget to ask for volunteer involvement and then remember at the last-minute, we expect you to either a) stay extra late and get volunteers or b) do the job yourself.

A: When I was in college, I was always the designated driver. And I never was bitter about it. I actually considered it an honor. I once even held the most popular girl in my college, Bitsy Blake’s, hair while she threw up in the Cozy Lantern’s parking lot. (give a satisfied sigh)

Q: Can you plan and work with a budget?

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Sorry. Just so you know, there will be no budget.

A: I steal internet access from my neighbor.

Q: What is your concept of team?

Ok, this is one of those mumbo jumbo psychology type questions they have to ask. They got it from one of their philosophy of  management courses where they had to read such books as “The Theory of Employee Motivation in Two Words” and “Workroom Break-time, a Descent Into Anarchy.” So, the only way to answer one of these questions is to out-abstract the abstract.

A: (with both hands, draw a large invisible heart in the air. Both hands should move in perfect unison, ending at the bottom point. With a flourish, pull your hands to your chest) In a reverent voice, say, “there is no i in team, but there is a u in volunteer.”

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Be careful here. This question is meant to flesh out the overly ambitious candidate. Once you become the volunteer manager, it will be hard for them to see you as anything else, aka, anything more.  It’s kind of like thinking of your Mom dating. You know what I mean. EWWWWWW.

A: I see myself as a productive member who supports the mission. And, if I may be so bold, someone who is a bit of a risk taker, like maybe serving Chamomile instead of Earl Grey or using glitter pens instead of scented markers.

Well, there you have it. Be confident that if you reply to these questions with the foolproof answers above, you will definitely be offered the job.

Welcome to Volunteer Management.



Need Inspiration? “Progressive Organizations Don’t Want Bosses, They Want Team Leaders and That’s What You Are As a Volunteer Manager.”


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Sally Garrett

Sally-Ann Garrett

Do volunteer managers possess the skills required to succeed in the corporate world?

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Sally Garrett, a recent leader of volunteers who has taken a managerial position in the world of retail. Sally was the manager of a St. Vincent de Paul depot, an Australian branded “Vinnies” retail thrift store, the highest grossing and net profit store in Western Australia while under her leadership.

VPT (volunteerplaintalk): Can you briefly describe your current job?

S (Sally): My Current job is as a Retail Manager of a lifestyle super store with 26 paid staff.

VPT: How long have you been in this position?

S: I have been here 1 month.

VPT: Before this position, what was your job as a volunteer manager?

S: I ran a large not for profit processing and pick up depot and retail outlet.

VPT: How long were you in that position?

S: Two and a half years.

VPT: What skills do you feel you developed as a volunteer manager and how did they translate to the position you now have?

S: The biggest skills I developed are empathy, patience, organizing people, time management and being able to teach others that they are more than they believe they are.

VPT: What skills helped you the most in moving into your new position?

S: I guess because I had been rostering and managing large volumes of people all doing small roles, the biggest skill that has helped me in my new role is patience. You can’t rush volunteers and you develop a skill of being able to step back and look at the bigger picture all the time, so it became a habit to stop, look and listen. This has helped so much in my present job, because as I have a lot to learn, I am not at all overwhelmed. I am much more rounded in my approach to my team and I listen a lot more and act less, but it’s action with conviction. This means when I do act, it is for the long-term and not the short-term.

I have already found that many people can sort out problems for themselves and become self autonomous rather than needy. I can quickly detect when people are good at what they do or need better training because I’m watching them and listening. I’m not trying to learn their job so much anymore, but placing acknowledgment in what they can do. This has made my new team feel more confident and then their skills began to shine.

The second skill is having learned to not take credit for what others do, but rather celebrate their gifts and achievements. I don’t feel the need to own others’ successes. I have developed the ability to lead, not manage.

The third, most important skill is that I don’t take anything personal. I am impartial to people because I know it is about them not me, and every action someone takes says things about them, not me. So, if someone is frustrated they may call me names or tell me I am not doing my job but this translates into the fact that they are telling me they need more training and are feeling overwhelmed or vulnerable. This took a long time to learn. I always thought I was doing things wrong in this situation until a volunteer pointed out to me that the other 120 people loved what I did and felt supported, so once this skill kicked in it just meant going back to basics and taking time for a cuppa and a chat and getting to the real problem which was 100% of the time the person left feeling vulnerable for some other reason.

VPT: When you accepted this new position, did you find that your volunteer management experience helped you get the job? Any actual feedback from your new supervisor on your volunteer management experience?

S: When interviewing for the position I applied for, I was calm and confident as I knew I had become a leader and not a manager so the interview process was easy and effortless. I had nothing to prove; they either wanted my skill set or they didn’t. If I wasn’t a good fit, I didn’t want to be there.

I was asked to take on a much larger role than I applied for in the interview; the position was in another shop as they felt I would be of value in that role with a larger team and a busier store. As it turns out I came across as soft and compassionate but with a deep knowledge of people. This is what progressive organizations want. They don’t want bosses anymore, they want team leaders and that’s what you are as a volunteer manager.

VPT: Are there skills that volunteer managers lack, or do not realize are important if they are seeking jobs other than in the world of volunteerism?

S: Acknowledge your value!

I believe a volunteer manager is much more qualified at team leadership than anyone gives them credit for, including themselves. It is a huge task being a volunteer manager and when in the role it doesn’t feel it is that important, but you touch the very core of people when they are a volunteer. Because they aren’t there for money, you find out more of what makes people tick so translating that to paid staff roles, you are able to make your staff really feel cared for when they come to work.

You have developed an ability to shut the work-space out and make eye contact and listen to them and answer their questions. whether it be personal or work related. You have developed the ability to validate people, and that’s what our world needs more of. You are also able to adapt quickly because volunteer management deals with absences regularly.  You know how to get work done with few, if any help. Acknowledging the confidence that you know it will get done when the team is there, gives you a calmness and that drives people to help more and work harder. People love that you are in control and that you  appreciate their efforts rather than stressing and then making them feel less when they are giving more. All volunteer managers develop this skill.

VPT: How can volunteer managers prepare themselves to enter the world of corporate management?

S: Be the very best version of yourself, it’s really that simple; being authentic and not promising things you can’t deliver, the rest falls into place. When you develop the calmness of self-confidence, you can learn anything; the skill of managing people is the highest of all skills you need in life and work and you have that in the bag once you are a successful volunteer manager.

VPT: Is there any advice you would like to give your fellow volunteer managers?

S: Give them (volunteers) 15 minutes undivided attention and induct, induct, induct!

Make sure when your volunteers start, you have given them your time whether it is 15 minutes at the start or the whole induction if you can, that time is what the volunteer remembers, because volunteers revere you; they know how hard your job is and they see you as their guiding light. If you only knew how powerful you are you wouldn’t worry about a thing. But that’s where volunteer managers are the most successful. We don’t settle for second best because it always has to be the best. Aiming for the stars on every task is what we do. Landing on the moon is not good enough for us, but it’s great to everyone else. 

Know you are saving lives!  There is a high number of volunteers that are volunteering due to mental illness preventing them from holding down a paying job. Know that you are potentially providing the healthy, stable and compassionate environment that these people need to gain new skills and give their life purpose. It surprised me to be told on three occasions that it was because of me, personally that three people got up and tried again another day rather than ending their lives. It both shocked me and made me seek help myself to understand my role more fully. The knowledge of each person over my time in Volunteer Management truly made me see how I changed lives and how powerful and responsible my role was and how important it was to be transparent in all I did. I had to understand that it wasn’t my responsibility to take this knowledge on board personally and that it was only a part of the role. But the knowledge was confronting and it changed my dealings with people. Compassion isn’t being weak, it is the exact opposite.

Relax more and stress less, develop the ability to tell people they can do it on their own. Softly, gently encouraging and convincing people they are wonderful and able, is the greatest skill ever. It is the most productive management tool in the workplace.

What incredibly inspiring words for leaders of volunteers. Thank you Sally for sharing your wisdom and experience with us. All the best to you in your new position. They are very fortunate to have you on board.

So, the next time all of you volunteer managers feel under appreciated, remember these words from Sally: I was asked to take on a much larger role than I applied for in the interview; the position was in another shop as they felt I would be of value in that role with a larger team and a busier store.

Volunteer management matters.