Jan and Anna are two volunteer coordinators I know who work for the same organization. They each have one half of all duties and volunteer assignments. Their volunteers are evenly divided and their territory is fairly equal. They both have unique volunteers with unique needs, but in all, they regularly face the same challenges.
Jan is serious, spiritual, creative and a perfectionist. Anna is funny, sometimes irreverent, personable and spirited. Each one brings a different style to managing volunteers. Jan’s volunteers find deep meaning in their volunteering, while Anna’s are able to laugh off mistakes. Jan’s volunteers are given clear directions, while Anna’s are given permission to “wing it” whenever they need to.
On the surface, each style has its own merits and own shortcomings. But let’s look at how each style curves off course.
Five years later, Jan is incredibly unhappy. She has become rigid and full of resentment. She complains that some of her volunteers don’t get that their attendance is important and that staff members are not appreciative of volunteers. In her words, “rules are not being followed”. Her creativity has shut down and she has immersed herself in scheduling and obsesses over the “correct” way.
Anna is relatively happy. She has more volunteers who have gotten into trouble, but she makes do. She often has holes in her schedule, and sometimes brings volunteers on board before they are screened or trained. Serious volunteers have been turned off by her flippancy. She has volunteers who have emerged as leaders, but they often don’t give correct directions. She has much more chaos to contend with.
We each have a management style. Sometimes, when we are unhappy and resentful, we must look at our own style to see if there is something we need to change. If we are not fluid in our styles, we run the risk of becoming rigid or immersed in chaos. Volunteer managers instinctively know that each volunteer requires a different style.
I once had the following conversation with a really strongly opinionated gentleman:
He: You manage volunteers, wow, how hard can that be?
Me: It’s challenging, don’t forget, these volunteers are not paid employees, yet they do some incredible work.
He: So what, you just tell them what to do.
Me: Perhaps, but would that work with you?
He: Sure, why not?”
Me: Would your wife do what I tell her to do, just by my asking?
He: Her? No way!
Me: How would I then convince her to do what I ask?
He: Ha! That would take some major work!
Me: Ahhh, therein lies the challenge, would you not agree? Each volunteer requires something different from me.
Whether lighthearted, serious, creative, leave-alone, encouraging, mentoring, praising, educating, empowering, we take a different tack with each volunteer. We are as mutable as 24K gold. If not, we run the risk of becoming resentful like Jan or mired in chaos like Anna. The sad part of this tale is that Jan is a wonderful, creative manager who allowed her perfectionist side to take over her style. Anna kept her job in perspective, but she is losing some incredibly intuitive volunteers by being too jokey. Anna is in a much better frame of mind, but Jan had some really great programs, at least in the beginning.
So, how do we survive? We laugh at that which is laughable and get serious about that which is serious. We look over our volunteers and see them each as unique, needing unique direction from us. Jan will quit; you can see it coming. Anna won’t, because, unlike Jan, she personally is not letting things get to her. However, her more serious volunteers have to find their own way.
Too bad Jan and Anna could not have cloned a part of each other and become two Jannas. What great, enduring volunteer managers they would have made!
What a great story! I was laughing in recognition as I read it. As a volunteer, I have certainly experienced the rule-bound, schedule-obsessed coordinator – it was a good reminder to me that at times in my life, as a university department chair, I sometimes became like that too, when life seemed out of my control and I felt so overworked I wanted to scream.
As you note, we all have our management styles – I have worked for managers with that loosey-goosey style where anything goes (and nothing gets done!) And I have sometimes appreciated the detail-focussed, organized manager who makes sure nothing slips between the cracks. If only we could learn from one another, be open to one another and share what we’ve learned – rather than retreating into our “safe” (but largely unsuccessful) familiar style.