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Olympic rings

Just when I was fantazising about meaningful recognition for volunteer managers, I saw the grainy ad for a volunteer manager competition in Rio and I was so excited! Finally, there would be a world-wide stage celebrating volunteer leaders’ skill sets  Immediately, I turned in all my frequent flyer miles and along with selling some of my furniture, I managed to book a flight aboard a cargo plane headed for Brazil!

I arrived in Rio, anticipation shining brighter than my neon party outfit. I asked my cab driver to take me to Copacabana, the site listed on the black and white three-fold brochure clutched in my hand. As it turned out, it wasn’t at the world-famous Copacabana Beach, but the Copacabana Bar and Grill just a few rural kilometers out-of-town. Unfazed, I paid the driver and entered the local watering hole. “Out back,” the bar keep grumbled and I pushed open the screen door to the parking lot where several people sat on folding chairs. They were either family members of the teams or it was part of a drinking game, I’m not sure which but anyway, the games were about to begin!

The teams of volunteer managers stood nervously in the shade of a large billboard, awaiting their events. Under a cloud of dust from cars arriving at the bar, the announcer who doubled as the bouncer gave us the rundown on the rules and introduced the judges-two lost ladies that happened to stop and ask for directions to the soccer stadium.

The first event was the volunteer intervention floor exercise. Each team had to go through a series of difficult manuevers to council a volunteer who had broken the rules. “Volunteers” were chosen from a group of bar patrons who were promised free drinks after the event.

Team Great Britain was awarded extra points for keeping the scandalous behavior out of the news, while team USA was given a point deduction for letting the “volunteer” believe that she did nothing wrong as evidenced because she kept saying that her probation officer could vouch for her . Team Japan won by a fraction of a point when they completed the difficult two and a half intervention twist by getting the “volunteer” to promise to never do it again and to also work on a Saturday night.

The next event was the volunteer recruitment 200 meter medley. The teams were given six “volunteers” to recruit and each team member had to use a different technique to entice the bar patrons/volunteers to join their organization. Team Brazil, who had the bar crowd filtering in and out of the bathroom on their side, were loudly cheered when one team Brazil volunteer manager delivered an animated recruitment pitch. She was actually gesturing wildly with her hands which looked like she was dancing to the music.

Team Canada surged ahead when one of their VM’s showed a heartfelt video of volunteer testimonials, but they lost the feed when the beer truck ran over their plug. Team Australia eventually won when the “volunteers” thought they heard a Team Australia VM say “we’ll give you a big time trip to Hollywood.” In actuality he was trying to shout over the band’s rendition of “the Girl from Ipanema” that volunteering is “living a life of good.”

The third event was the volunteer task 5 minute dash. Each team was asked to provide “volunteers” based on requests from the marketing department, the fundraising department, the client services department, the office support department and the community relations department. The teams had to decide in five minutes which request was the most important and therefore to be filled first. Team Argentina filled the client request immediately while team Hong Kong took a chance and chose fundraising but team New Zealand won when they figured out that the request from office support was the most important, because the head of office support was the CEO’s sister.

When it came time for the medal ceremony, it seemed that all the teams were tied so no medals were awarded, mainly because there was no certificate copier in the bar  So the teams decided to have lunch and a peer group meeting, which made more sense than anything done that day.

All in all it was an enlightening experience to swap volunteer management tips and stories with leaders from all over the world all the while we were being mistaken for parking lot attendants.

Looking forward to 2020 in Tokyo when a new event will be added: The volunteer volleyball tournament where VMs from different organizations bounce volunteers back and forth with each other in a sharing gesture meant to enhance the volunteers’ experiences. It’s a holistic concept, but then so is the ever evolving cultivation of volunteers, so I guess we’ll have to see who medals on that one.

Glad to be home now, still getting glitter, or maybe broken glass from one of the bar fights out of my hair. I guess even though we, volunteer managers don’t always get proper respect or rarely invited to the big games,  I’m just proud to be part of this great profession.

The Olympics are a celebration of hard work and dedication. One day, hopefully, volunteer managers will step onto bigger stages and be given the recognition they earn every day. At least, it will be fun to show off our skills.

Gold medals to all of you!