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godzillaSo, 2015 is upon us and it is time to make some volunteer management New Year’s Resolutions. I can imagine what you’re thinking, because you too, have read how we all set ourselves up to fail each time we do this annual reinventing of ourselves in rituals much like throwing salt over your shoulder or knocking on wood.
Anyway, I’m thinking back to all the New Year’s resolutions I’ve made both personally and professionally and there isn’t one darn one that I’ve kept so maybe I should just laugh it off and resolve not to bother. However, there has to be some merit in all this, right? The new year always comes with a feeling of closure tinged with optimism and unless we live in a perfect world, we want life to improve for us and for our families, friends and the world in general.
I’m thinking back to the kind of resolutions I have made or witnessed friends make that pertain to volunteer management. There are the usual ones and then there might be some you’ve made that are unique to you.

1. Recruit more volunteers: In order to fulfill a resolution, we often go to ridiculous lengths to make it happen. By going into recruitment overdrive, you may end up with volunteers who quit after two weeks or you may get too many volunteers to manage well. Sitting at your neighbor’s son’s lemonade stand with brochures or handing out business cards at a funeral might be a tad too ambitious and end up netting more ill will than prospective volunteers.

2. Thank volunteers more: This one is a no-brainer until you take it to the extreme and thank volunteers constantly, which in turn renders any genuine gratitude meaningless. You might get clever with this one and try to do something outside the box like get a celebrity endorsement but that has only a short-term effect. When I first started working with volunteers, I asked various municipalities to proclaim volunteer day, which was lovely and meant a lot of time spent going to city council meetings and accepting the proclamations, but it really had no lasting effect. How do I know this? The twelfth time I pointed to the proclamations on the wall, volunteer Jorge said, “yes, I’ve seen it, it’s nice, can we move on?” And that was in February.

3. Engage staff in recognizing volunteers: Normally, you find begging to be unseemly but hey, you’ve made this resolution so you first try reasoning. You have this awesome speech and plan that you just know will sway every staff member to see volunteers in the most positive light. You can envision the wonderful teamwork that follows because you are the one to shatter the “us and them” mentality that permeates your organization. So, at every meeting you attend, you whip out parts of your speech and on the seventh heartfelt opine you see some yawns at the table and poof, your resolve begins to dissolve. Then you wonder if begging is perhaps a misunderstood concept.

4. Get more organized: Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha ha. Ok, this just makes me laugh.

5. Make better use of the available tools: You have to love tracking software, it sounds so exotic, like a survivalist following a macaque to water until one day you have to track volunteer Paul, who left training midway through the session, is on vacation for several weeks and turned off his phone. Add to that mix volunteer Giselle who promises to bring in her initial paperwork, then after a couple of weeks, drops it off, but it is incomplete, meanwhile she has her background check finished and is in the process of moving, but signs in while you are out at a recruitment fair (see resolution #1) and leaves you a voicemail stating that you forgot to be there for her initial assignment. Then add in volunteer Peter, a senior manager’s son who needs community service hours and is volunteering in his mother’s office while not following any volunteer protocol ever set down in the history of volunteering.

6. Not let volunteer Mira push my buttons: This one’s mine from ten years ago and for some reason, Mira just rankled the heck out of me. The first Monday of January of 2005, Mira came in for her scheduled shift. I smiled brightly while repeating a mantra in my head, “she deserves the same treatment as other volunteers, she deserves the same treatment as other volunteers.” Mira looked at me and I swear said, “well, I see you haven’t gotten the cleaning people to put better toilet paper in the bathrooms.” BOOM! BUTTON PUSHED!!!!! RESOLUTION VAPORIZED!!!!

7. Dress for success: Yeah, I know, dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Ok, so wearing a big cowboy hat to work might not really get me on a horse in Montana, but hey, I tried wearing suits all the time, but the sweat from outdoor fairs in summer and from pitching in on the physical work volunteers do stopped that pretty quickly. Besides, I saw senior managers wearing all kinds of inappropriate and casual attire to work. One day, no lie, a senior manager came to work on casual Friday dressed in a t-shirt, grey rumpled baggy knit shorts and white knee socks-the kind with the green stripe at the top. Two weeks later casual Fridays were declared “unfit for this organization.”

So, my big fat New Year’s resolution is to put on warm socks: Bear with me on this, ok? One day, while getting dressed for work, and the temperature was below freezing, and I had a cold, I just wanted my feet to stay warm, so I put on my warmest, although bright red, socks, under my black dress pants. Immediately I felt good, enveloped in a warmth that spread throughout my core. At work, folks commented on my socks and I was kept warm all day, even though my cold tried to make me shiver.

The good work that our volunteers do daily is like a pair of warm red socks. The enrichment they provide is the bright red color that attracts attention and begs taking notice so that is when we can effectively comment on the worth of our volunteers. “Look at them, see how they stand out, how valuable they are, how wonderful they make us feel, how much they enhance the lives of our clients.” We can make sure we wear our bright red socks to every meeting and make sure that the red color catches staff’s attention by flashing our ankles and heck, sometimes putting our feet up on the table.
And sometimes even more importantly, the cuddliness of our volunteers’ good works can keep us volunteer managers warmed to the core while fending off the cold of feeling alone and misunderstood.

You know, it’s fairly cold out again today. I think I’m going to put on my red socks.
Happy New Year to all and keep warm!