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“I’ve been managing volunteers for oh, say about ten years now,” Evan said. “Just recently, my organization sent me to a national conference on volunteering. “I was thrilled, you know, so happy that they invested that money in me and in the volunteer program. I signed up for every session I could and some of the presentations were about ideas that I already implemented, but there was this one presentation that just blew me away. It was from this young presenter who showed some pretty innovative ways to advertise on social media. When I returned, I have to admit, I was pretty embarrassed that I hadn’t thought of these social media ideas on my own. Is that normal, or am I being overly sensitive?”

Evan, this is perfectly normal, trust me. If you’ve ever had a fellow staff member attend a conference and come back with an idea that they felt you should already have implemented, then you know what Evan is talking about. Volunteer managers, who daily strive for a superior volunteer program can naturally feel inadequate when shown an innovative and successful program implemented by another volunteer manager. “Why hadn’t I thought of that,” rings in our heads. “I must be slipping,” says that interior voice that constantly critiques.

“Judge a person by their questions, rather than their answers” …Voltaire, (1694-1778)

Let’s break that down. Presentations at conferences are about innovation and success and the presenter is giving us the best of their programs. And that’s exactly what we want from them. But like that old adage that tells us to imagine an audience in their underwear in order to calm our speaker-nerves, we can realistically imagine that a presenter with a successful program may not have some of our innovative programs. Therefore, they are not better than us. They just have something different from us.

We have to remove our sensitive emotions when researching volunteer engagement and instead, approach it with a logical open mind. Taking pride in the fact that you are continually searching for better ideas makes you smart and innovative yourself, not “behind” or “backward.”

Successful volunteer management involves researching and attending conferences and seminars. Make researching part of your job description and lobby for the money to attend conferences and webinars and peer group meetings.

None of us has all the answers. Our volunteer manager community, committed to sharing best practices,  lifts all of us, our programs, our profession, our volunteers and ultimately that sharing benefits our clients.

Instead of feeling inadequate for not having all the answers, feel empowered because you are continually searching and implementing innovations to improve your volunteer program.