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“‎” when men and women are able to respect and accept their differences then love has a chance to blossom ”
― John Gray, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.

Jay, the volunteer manager for a disaster relief organization walked into the monthly staff meeting and took the last seat near the back of the crowded meeting room. The two managers in front of him were snarking about the “annoying always perky operations manager” who stepped forward to give a report on the number of clients served during a recent flood. Jay began to grumble to himself. “Where are the volunteers in this meeting,” he said under his breath. “They are a huge part of these statistics and would love to feel a real bonafide part of this organization. They do everything for us, so why can’t they ever be included in staff meetings?”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve felt like Jay. Why aren’t volunteers included in staff meetings, celebrations and outings. (and no, having them decorate the Christmas Tree in the staff lounge doesn’t count) Why are we the only ones who think of involving volunteers as equals? Then, when my head was about to blow from my fantasies about never providing another volunteer for you ingrates again, I had a quiet staff member tell me that she felt her job was threatened by a dynamic volunteer. What?????

Do staff have needs different from volunteer needs and how can we, volunteer managers be the grounded terra firma middle men who are able to intuitively understand both sides? And will thinking about the vastly different needs give us better insight into helping staff and volunteers to integrate? Let’s look at some of these separate needs:

1. Volunteers need to feel included and valued. Staff need to feel that volunteers will not take their jobs.
2. Volunteers want to do meaningful work. Staff want help so they too, can do meaningful work instead of laboring over boring paperwork and attending endless meetings.
3. Volunteers need flexibility. Staff needs a paycheck.
4. Volunteers want to utilize their skills. Staff wants to feel that their skill-set is not upstaged.
5. Volunteers want to help. Staff is afraid to let go.
6. Volunteers want to engage with staff. Staff has deadlines and wants time to work.
7. Volunteers need teamwork. Staff needs alone time.
8. Volunteers may be in awe of staff. Staff may be jealous of volunteers.

We spend a great deal of time trying to educate staff on the treatment of volunteers. Perhaps we can look at staff’s needs as well and take those needs into consideration when introducing volunteers into the mix. Can we reassure staff that we get that they too, have wants and needs when working with volunteers so that they in turn, welcome volunteers?

I think yes, if we look at it through their eyes. Staff can be intimidated by a highly educated or talented volunteer. Overworked staff just slogging through the day may feel inadequate next to an enthusiastic volunteer who is fresh and able to leave whenever they choose. Staff may have a deadline and not be able to chat with volunteer after volunteer. Staff may have worked hard on a project and may be reluctant to just turn it over to someone who only comes in once a week. So, taking this into consideration, we might:

Talk to staff before introducing a new volunteer. The old Venus me would have sold a new volunteer by saying, “I’m bringing in Sally, a former CEO and a published expert on human resource management. She brings a wealth of knowledge and experience and will be awesome at working with our clients. She’s a very busy young retiree with lots of energy and talents. I know you will love her!”

But what Mars staff heard me say was, “Move over, idiot. I’m bringing in Sally, a way better worker than you. She’s smarter and will probably point out every thing you are doing wrong and that’s a lot from what I hear through the grapevine. You’ll have to spend all your time answering questions and listening to her glory day stories and you’ll fall behind in your work. As a matter of fact, they’ll probably hire her which is ironically kinda funny, don’t you think?”

Eeeck! Maybe I, as Earth should say, “I have this wonderful new volunteer Sally. She is a retired professional who wants to get to know our organization from a starting point and I thought of you and all your skills and knowledge. I am hoping that she will be a good fit for your tasks but I will be checking in with you frequently, especially during her first few times volunteering to make sure that you are getting the kind of help you need. I want you to alert me to any issue you might have with this new volunteer because I know your time is valuable and I want to make sure this is a help, not a hindrance. I know from experience that you will treat her with the respect that will make her a long term volunteer. Thank you for giving her this opportunity.”

Let’s face it, we volunteer managers are good ol’ Earth, in the middle of staff and volunteers. And since we want to ensure that volunteers are integrated into organizational culture, we may have to mediate that integration in a balanced way by taking into consideration the needs of not just our Venus volunteers but also our Martian staff.

It can be a tough, mud-filled, seemingly bleak task for us-being the planet in the middle. But, take a moment and look at Earth from space. It is a bright blue haven of all things possible, creative and vibrant. I’ll take being Earth any day.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!