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Oh BTW, Get 42 Permanent Vols By Next Month-Part 1

Is this the new volunteer manager job security? A dear colleague and friend to this blog, Eileen from Volunteering Counts in Dudley borough (volunteering counts.org.uk) has astutely pointed out in one of her comments that volunteer managers everywhere should be prepared to undertake new volunteer roles when budget cuts force them to supply volunteers for underfunded programs.

Ok, sure, but how prepared? Well, I had been on the job at a hospice for less than a year when my supervisor decided to rotate the volunteer coordinators into each other’s regions and so I found myself taking my cute inspirational signs off my newly decorated office wall and settling into a care center location. Here I would be in charge of home team volunteers,  nursing home volunteers and care center volunteers for a 14 bed facility. I felt energized, perfectly jazzed until one afternoon, I was summoned to a meeting with the care center supervisor who informed me that dietary would now be volunteer run.

“Excuse me,” I choked out.

“Yes, volunteers will be preparing patients’ meals and you will be in charge of meal plans with the help of a dietician, and you will also be responsible for food procurement, safety, health inspections and training of the volunteers in food management.”

I think I wet my pants a little at that point. (Maybe that’s why I kept a pair of clean skivvies in a locked drawer all those years)

I honestly can’t remember every emotion I experienced at that moment. I think I couldn’t feel my fingers. I mean, Saturday evening, Friday evening, Sunday morning, all the traditional time slots that were hard enough to fill on occasion-now I had to fill those permanently? Why hadn’t I listened to my mother and found a real profession?

Here’s the thing. Volunteer managers everywhere must be ready to have these types of requests dropped into their laps at any time. For most volunteer managers, a great deal of volunteer involvement is determined at meetings in which the VMs are not in attendance. Ideas for expansion, cutting costs or projects are often hammered out in board meetings and sent careening down the slope of middle managers until the edicts land in the laps of stunned volunteer coordinators. And sometimes, these ideas are conceived as a last gasp effort to save a program-“I know, we’ll get the volunteers to do it.”

I went home and cursed my supervisor. Why me? Honestly, I was terrified, completely afraid that I would never be able to accomplish this task. I calculated that I needed to put at least 42 permanent volunteers in place for all three meals a day, seven days a week. And the God awful hard truth was that it became a long slog.

When handed a huge project, especially with deadlines, every last millisecond of a volunteer manager’s time, energy and creative focus shifts away from other crucial duties and to the project exclusively. In order to maintain the ongoing programs, a VM has to find some balance and deputize seasoned volunteers into leadership roles.

When you can’t do everything, you can’t do everything. Identifying key volunteers in preparation for the possibility a big project will materialize is proactive volunteer management and will save your sanity. Ease volunteers into taking leadership roles in existing programs and by ease I mean work alongside them until they are comfortable and you are comfortable in how they handle their roles. But, in my experience, don’t “turn over” a program to someone else if you are in charge. The VM must still be the ultimate person in control and checking in continuously (asking questions, offering support, intercepting challenges) establishes your leadership continuum.

So, did my project succeed? Yes, it did. It’s still going 20 years later in multiple care centers.

Was it bone crushing hard?  Oh, goodness, yes, even the smallest of things. I still get throbbing headaches when I smell spilled Ensure and when I see food handlers without gloves.

Did it take time? I think I missed my son’s graduation from middle school, but he won’t say.

Would I do it again? If I was younger, yes.

Was I blissfully optimistic or sadly pessimistic about the possibilities? It depended upon the day I was having. Or whether or not I took my medication.

Did I learn anything of value? Oh, goodness, so much about so many things.

Can you share these things? Of course, I will, I promise-the good, the bad and the useable-next time:

Coming in part two,  A perspective: Takeaways from a huge arse-busting project.

(At least at this point, you know I survived intact!) (Well, maybe physically anyway.)