changing organization, managing volunteers, organizations, part time volunteer manager, volunteer, volunteer coordinator, volunteering, volunteers
When Eve was approached by a college looking to extend a grant to a volunteer group, she was ecstatic. Working for an organization that conducts health screenings in impoverished places, she already knew that her medical volunteers needed updated equipment. Excitedly, she described the grant during her next departmental volunteer manager meeting. Everyone read the guidelines and offered verbiage for procuring the funds. Eve submitted the grant and the college announced her organization as their grant recipient.
Buoyed, she came into work the next Monday to find an invitation for a mandatory meeting with her boss and the fund-raising arm of the organization. Puzzled, she grabbed a notepad and hurried to the meeting. There, she was harshly reprimanded for “going out on her own” and “not going through the proper channels” to procure the grant. She was told in no uncertain terms that finding funds was not part of her job description and the next time she did anything like that, she would be written up. She doesn’t remember anything said about creativity, initiative or thinking outside the box.
Eve was devastated. She thought that by telling her boss, she had by proxy, informed everyone she needed to. Her boss thought that Eve had already informed the proper folks in the fund-raising department.
Eve felt betrayed. She couldn’t fathom how something so wonderful could be viewed as something negative, so she sought out her good friend and mentor, Rosalyn, who used to work in her department but retired a year ago. Rosalyn listened and nodded. “I’m really sorry that happened to you,” she said, “but I’m not surprised. It happened to me a long time ago and I learned a valuable lesson from it. When you’re dealing with non-profit types, you not only have to follow all the rules, you have to understand that these are people who deal in feelings everyday. And so it is natural that their own feelings come into play.”
Eve was skeptical. “You’re saying that I hurt their feelings?”
“In a sense. You hurt their feelings, usurped their power, stepped into their area, you name it, that’s how they perceived it.”
“But I did something to help. They weren’t going to write for that grant.”
“Doesn’t matter. You’ve got to realize, they are under a lot of pressure. Your organization can’t function without donations.”
“But,” Eve interjected, “we can’t run without volunteers.”
“True, but if fund-raisers started recruiting volunteers, how would you feel? Would you feel like they are helping you?”
“No,” Eve admitted. “I’d be worried about my job.”
“So, can you see how they felt?”
“I guess so,” Eve said. “But then, that means if I find something outside of my job description that would actually help my organization, I just have to pass it up?”
“No, not necessarily. You just have to adopt the Mother, May I principle.”
“I think I know where this is going.”
“Yes, you do, and that’s how I survived my tenure with all the other departments. Let me tell you a typical path I took to get a project going.”
“Please, because you started so many projects there.”
“Well, let’s say I was approached by a student group wanting to volunteer to do some media publicity for us. This would be my plan of action. First, I would meet with the students and thoroughly get all their intentions on paper. I would make sure that the verbiage I used with them always included maybe, perhaps, we’ll see, if it can be done, I make no promises, etc. Then I would go to my boss and explain the idea and ask permission to go higher up. I would follow that conversation with an email outlining what we discussed. I then would make an appointment with the proper decision maker, invite my boss to the meeting and present an outline of the project. I would include all the benefits to all the departments as well. Now here’s the tricky part. In that meeting, I would use the verbiage, if you think, we could use your buy in, we need your help to succeed, and I would offer to let them consider it and get back with me. I would tell them that they would be informed every step of the way and could pull the plug at any time.”
“Mother, May I.”
“Yes, it worked most of the time. It’s really just common courtesy blended with concrete and clear information. That’s the key.”
“But it’s so time-consuming, so, so, demeaning. I mean, don’t they trust me?”
“That has nothing to do with it. They need to know what is going on at all times. Secretly, I think they were glad that I was doing all the legwork for these projects. The more I kept them informed, the more autonomy I had. It was a win-win for everyone.”
“But didn’t you hate babying all those people?”
“Aha! No, because you have to look at it as approaching them in the way that works for them. You still get what you set out to get. Don’t you already do that with volunteers?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“I know it’s time-consuming and it takes an attitude of humility. If you run up to them and shout, ‘hey, I’ve got the best idea ever and you should thank me for bringing it up,’ you’re not going to gather many supporters. And going it alone, even when you have something wonderful to offer can create friction. I once created an event on my own time that benefited the organization. No one was thrilled, in fact they were peeved. I was viewed as trying to bring down their event castle so to speak, so no help or acknowledgement came my way. Be humble and mindful of their areas of power. It’s like you are knocking on the door of their castle instead of getting out the catapult to bust in. That way, they open the door and invite you in. There’s no benefit to making enemies of the people you work with, right?”
“Uh huh. Mother, May I. Knock, and ask.”
“Oh, and one other thing. Bring flowers.”
Sue Hine said:
Oh dear. What a supreme example of the volunteer programme’s lack of status. Bureaucracy rules OK, and Fundraisers are the Kings of the organisation’s Castle, and don’t you forget it. Patch protection, silo thinking – whatever, there are better ways to treat work colleagues. Whatever happened to autonomy and trust, not to mention respect? And why should the manager of volunteers be the cap-in-hand supplicant as though s(h)e has no right to good ideas, let alone express them. Meridian, you have made me angry on behalf of Eve and all others that must suffer in this way.
Hi Sue! It looks like a lot of these professionals are very territorial and eager to impress their superiors by having control. I think most of us have developed ways to work around them, just like the child who begins to sneak around his parents. Crazy, but we all adapt to get the work done.
Ugh… this just happened to me today. Apparently, I need (a) to get someone outside my department to proofread my e-blasts to volunteers and (b) have the marketing department to sign off on it too. Never mind that I am not in the marketing department nor do I report to them (I report directly to the CEO due to a staffing change) and have always have complete autonomy over volunteer communications. Nonprofits are tricky because generally they’re small, which means everyone is extremely possessive & defensive of their positions.
Hi! You are so spot on. Marketing controls ALL messaging, fund raising controls ALL funds, and management controls, well, ALL. Not only does this slow productivity to a crawl, it stifles creativity and growth is stagnant. Sadly, no one trusts anyone else to succeed. So, we, volunteer managers, because we have volunteers in all aspects of an organization, are continuously met with roadblocks. I feel for you, it’s frustrating, insulting and time wasting. Honestly, I ignore them most of the time, do what I do and then make it seem like they are still in charge. Because, in spite of it, we still are judged on productivity.
When you don’t operate out of fear, they start to respect you in some weird way. Or maybe, I’m just scary, LOL!