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2014-09-29 11.46.26

All things evolve, says science and who am I to disagree although I frankly wish scientists would figure out how the brain can answer emails during REM sleep. (Don’t bother me now with your question, I’m flying! Hey! Is that a pig?) Anyway, it’s interesting to note how much volunteerism has evolved over the years and keeping up with trends is now a large part of a volunteer manager’s job. I often think back to how I viewed things twenty years ago and compare that to how I view things today. For better or worse, you can’t help but marvel at how your thoughts evolve with the times. In particular, I’m referring to the concept of good old risk management.

Risk management is one of those things that we must pay attention to, like it or not. It’s kinda like the caloric information on a caramel smoothie or your mother’s voice in your head when you’re about to follow that stray dog down a dark alley. (“But ma, he might need a home!”)

I’ve learned to view everything through the lens of risk management, no matter how corporate and sell-out it seems.  I was never too happy being hauled up into the CEO’s office because a volunteer stole a client’s credit cards and went to Vegas. Nope, would rather not have to explain that one.

So, I looked back at my years as a volunteer manager and here’s how risk management evolved in my thought processes.

20 years ago: “Wow, you want to volunteer, that is so amazing, thank you, thank you, thank you! I can’t tell you how thrilled I am you chose us. My gosh, look at you, you are so wonderful! What? You want to bring your gun with you when you volunteer? Ummm, I don’t see the harm in that, the point is, you want to volunteer, I am so happy!! And have I said thank you?!”

15 years ago: “Hello and thank you for volunteering, we certainly can use a person with your skills. You are going to do so well here, I am convinced of it. What’s that? You wanted to tell me about your recent incarceration for grand theft? That is so honest of you, thank you for sharing that with me. Well, yes, we do a teensie background check, but we really want you to volunteer, so I will make sure that we get you started.”

10 years ago: “Welcome to our volunteering orientation. According to our volunteers, it is a privilege and honor to work with our clients and I trust you will feel the same. Now let’s learn a little about you. Uh huh, uh huh, what was that? Oh, you have made some mistakes in the past, I see, well, let’s move forward and I must tell you that we do background checks, but we will see what happens and deal with it when we have to. But now, let’s talk about how excited we are to have you volunteer.”

5 years ago: “Hello and welcome, I am so glad you are taking this first step towards volunteering with our great organization. Why don’t we take this opportunity to go over our rules and regulations. Because our volunteers are crucial members of the team, we do require them to pass background checks, fingerprinting and abide by the guidelines that allow all of us, myself included, to work with our clients in a professional manner. We are so glad you are here and want you to be at your best because that’s what our clients deserve and what will make your experience memorable.”

1 year ago: “Hello and let me preface this by saying that we only take squeaky clean volunteers here. You will be put through a rigorous screening, including drug testing, psychological profiling and searches every time you come on property. You will obey the rules at all times. Any infraction will require immediate termination. Do you understand? Now give me some hair strands for the drug test. You heard me, pull ’em out!”

All right, that last one was a bit exaggerated. And even though I still cringe when my first thoughts are, “what is the risk involved here,” I have learned to live with my corporate shill side. I still am thankful for each and every volunteer, and still feel warm and fuzzy towards the magic of volunteering.

I’ve just learned that when you expect excellence from volunteers, they step up and provide it. And any risk in striving for excellence is well worth it.

Hmmm, evolution doesn’t have to hurt so much.