Yesterday I went to a nursing home that specializes in memory impaired residents and met with the activities director/part time volunteer manager (PTVM). PTVM’s have the additional burden of the time constraints their other “more important” jobs put upon them. For them, volunteer management becomes secondary, less important and although they realize the gravity of managing volunteers, they do not have the resources or the support to effectively do that part of their job. They are stuck doing the best they can.
Jolie, the PTVM was a bundle of energy and I kept looking around for a straw to maybe suck out some of that enthusiasm and run home with it. All around were cute games and activities and she breathlessly told me about the “one man band” and the “reading genie” and the “pet pig Porkita” that were scheduled for the week. As I helped her round up and board some of the residents in the facility van, she told me about her vacation last week. “It’s really horrible when I go away, especially for a whole week.” she confided, “the staff just doesn’t bother to follow up with the volunteers, even though I leave them detailed instructions.” Jolie went on, “I had this new volunteer scheduled to come in and start, but no one here was willing to show her what to do, so she left. She’s not returned my calls.”
As Jolie helped Ms. Eva, a real sweetie with a big smile up into the van, she added, “and my best volunteer, Sonya the songstress, whom everyone loves, showed up and there were only 3 residents brought into the great room.” Jolie sighed, “when I’m not here to head it up, no one bothers. It’s disheartening.”
I just listened as Ralph with the cowboy hat took my arm and let me help him up. I wanted to say that it would get better, but who would I be kidding? Not Jolie, who has been doing this for years. She knows full well that being a PTVM requires full time attention with minimal time. And she knows that staff will leave everything involving volunteers to her. When Jolie is not there, the volunteers are on their own.
How many times does senior management wonder why volunteers need management at all? How often do they sigh and wonder what we all do each day? After all, volunteers need no management, they are really like the copier or the laptop, no? Turn them on and they produce, right?
Folks like Jolie will never be able to have the stable of volunteers they need. Jolie, who is a great volunteer manager will never be able to give her volunteer program the attention she’d love to give because she doesn’t have the time, nor the backing. She will continue to struggle and her residents will be denied all the wonderful programs and ideas she has rattling around in her already stuffed brain.
What does Jolie really need? First and foremost, she needs leadership that makes volunteer management everyone’s job. (See Susan Ellis’ profoundly right on target book, “From the Top Down” https://www.energizeinc.com/store/1-102-E-3 ) She needs to know that the time she spends with each volunteer is not socializing or shirking her real responsibilities; it is necessary time retaining that volunteer. She needs to feel supported in her visions. And she needs administrative help. (Don’t we all?)
As Jolie waved to me from her perch in that huge van, her smile radiated resolve. PTVMs are resourceful, hard working and committed. Until volunteer management is viewed as a complex profession, no one will really know what Jolie goes through to attract and keep her volunteers. No one, but us.