Volunteer Managers Are Better Than These 3 Phrases

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sticky note with apology

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Words are pictures formed in the mind. The art of communication is drawing those word pictures so the other person sees things our way.

If we, volunteer managers want to change the perceptions of us, our work and our volunteers, we need to eliminate words and phrases that negatively picture us. We need to adopt communication that rewires the way people perceive us and our work.

Consider this conversation:

  • Senior manager: “Where are you on getting those volunteers for tomorrow’s event?”
  • Volunteer manager: “Well, I couldn’t get all five volunteers, but I did manage to get three.”

or this conversation:

  • Staff member: “Were you able to place a volunteer with our client?”
  • Volunteer manager: “I tried everyone but right now, no one is available. I’ll try again next week.”

or this one:

  • Volunteer: “Were you able to get the answers to my questions?”
  • Volunteer manager: “There’s a couple of people I still have to talk to and they are hard to pin down. I’m doing the best I can.”

I used these phrases all the time. They just naturally came out. So, what’s wrong with them?

Phrases like I can’t, I tried, and I’m doing the best I can, are apologies.

What are the natural reactions to these apologies?

  • I can’t or couldn’t: “You let us down.”
  • I tried: “You should have tried harder.”
  • I’m doing the best I can: “You should do better.”

How many times have staff said things like, “Why don’t you just go down to the senior center and recruit those people?” Or “well, if you just put an ad in the paper, I’m sure folks would come.” Each time we say, “I couldn’t” or “I tried but,” we draw a picture that says: “I’m sorry, I failed.”

This does not mean shifting blame to anyone else, especially volunteers. It means don’t apologize, but rather answer in a positive and explanatory way. Let’s look at the first conversation again.

  • Senior manager: “Where are you on getting those volunteers for tomorrow’s event?”
  • Volunteer manager: “I have three of our best event volunteers lined up and ready to go.  Two of them rearranged their schedules after I made clear the importance of the event. All other qualified volunteers explained they have prior commitments they cannot break. I have new orientation this month and we will have even more volunteers for future events.

A bit wordy? Yes, I’ll give you that. But communicating with non-apologetic positive explanations eliminates the notion that the volunteer manager can’t get the job done.

Structure your non-apologetic communication to include three things:

Always use “I” with the positives:

  • “I have three of our best event volunteers lined up.”
  • “…after I made clear the importance of the event.”
  • “I have new orientation this month.”

Explain the work being done:

  • “All other qualified volunteers explained they have prior commitments.” (It’s obvious you contacted all the volunteers)
  • “…after I made clear the importance of the event” (shows the amount of work you did with each volunteer)

Reasons:

  • “All other qualified volunteers explained they have prior commitments they cannot break.”
  • “…we will have even more volunteers for future events.” (not enough volunteers to choose from at this point in time)

Rewiring people’s perceptions of us and our work is never easy, but with a shift away from apologetic responses (emphasis on the personal) to professional communication (emphasis on the workpositives, explanations, reasons) we can uplift ourselves and therefore, our programs.

So, rethink the ways you communicate information and save your apologies for the times you actually do something wrong.

-Meridian