managing volunteers, new volunteer manager, non-profit, part time volunteer manager, volunteer, volunteer coordinator, volunteer management, volunteer manager, volunteers
Mokita is a New Guinea word that speaks of a “truth we all know but agree not to talk about,” which can more easily be translated into “the elephant in the room.”
Do we, volunteer managers have a Mokita stomping around our offices? Do we put our fingers in our ears when it trumpets? Yeah, I kinda think we do. So what is it? What big elephant are we ignoring when it knocks reports off the shelf and whacks us with its trunk as we work?
We, volunteer managers are at war within ourselves.
Yep, I believe we are. See, on one hand, we are givers, nice, humble, stand in the background types who push our painstakingly cultivated volunteers to reach for the sky. We fade into the shadows while putting everyone ahead of ourselves-the volunteers, the clients, staff, administration, the board, the donors, everyone. Very noble, right?
On the other hand, though, we secretly would like to do a little taking. Somehow we magically hope our organizations will recognize the work we are doing, will appreciate all the sacrifice, and will actually see us in the shadows and give us the respect we have earned. We want a seat at the adult table. We want more than just individual volunteers honored once a year. Truth be told, we want our programs and yes, ourselves recognized as well . Selfish, right?
And when no one sees us in the corner, we get frustrated. We feel beaten down, unappreciated, misunderstood. We can become bitter and angry. We can quit and go work at the Tire and Lube Store down the street or we can stick around and watch the elephant grow bigger on the peanuts of continuing letdown.
It is our Mokita-our deep appreciation for being humble and giving versus our frustration at not being recognized for our humility and giving nature. And it is our inner turmoil in refusing to ‘sell our souls’ to become selfish in wanting to fix this. It is the elephant that constantly bumps our desks and breaks our spirits. Those silent pretty elephant eyes look accusingly at us and ask, “will you cease to be that nurturing person if you demand some respect?”
So what do we do? Are we doomed because nice guys really do finish last? Or, are we, as a profession, awakening from under the blanket of background existence woven from fibers of frustration? Can we somehow balance our give and take and still maintain our cultivating spirits?
What do you think? Well, here’s a question for you to ponder: Do you think volunteer managers should rise to Executive Director positions? If you hesitated, even for just a teeny bit, the Mokita is strong with you.
Next time, some thoughts on Mokita: Do we have to live in the shadow of the elephant?
Meridian, great post! For me, the answer to the Mokita question is to not wait around for decision-makers to recognize us or ask for our input – that’s not leadership. We need to educate our decision makers about our great ideas and our impact. That takes practice in learning how to communicate and influence. It’s not a “them” problem – the Mokita is really an invitation for us to step forward and grow as professionals.
Thank Elisa, I agree wholeheartedly. It’s time to recognize that we, volunteer managers, struggle with the concept of leadership equating with becoming selfish. Can our giving nature co-exist with the desire to elevate ourselves and our profession? Heck yeah!
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Jerome Tennille, CVA said:
This is a thought provoking article. My answer to your question is yes, absolutely, folks with a background in volunteer administration should strive to become executive directors at organizations that engage volunteers, while ditching the volunteer coordinator title. The title and lack of upward mobility hinders our field from progress in many ways. Just hear me out.
A few things here…
Diversity in profession: The first being that we look at how we can diversify our profession. Based on the Volunteer Management Progress Report, it’s evident that we lack diversity, with 88% of survey participants identifying as female and 89% of those being white/Caucasian. We also know there’s a “leadership gap” globally. In western civilization, while women make up nearly half of the workforce, we know that only a fraction of those working hold senior leadership positions. Is this something that’s impacting our profession? Is gender inequality a barrier to professionals in our field (predominantly female) reaching positions of authority like executive director?
Overqualification in profession: Over 75% of respondents in the same survey identified their titles as Coordinator (43%), Manager (26%), Specialist, Administrator, Supervisor, Assistant or Associate. And we also know that nearly the same percentage of those who took the survey have 5 or more years in the profession. Almost an equal number of them with a 4-year degree or higher education. So why are people stagnant in their careers? Do they lack the drive to progress beyond a coordinator or manager role? Personally, I’ve met quite a few volunteer administrators who love their job as the “volunteer coordinator” and won’t give it up. They love their roles engaging and interacting directly with volunteers. But they also have over a decade of experience in the field. These same folks advocate for volunteerism, but does their job title hurt their legitimacy and progress in getting people to listen? They have more experience in volunteer administration than myself, but yet they refuse (or can’t get) a position that takes them away from hands-on engagement. Are these people overqualified for the “coordinator” and “manager” roles? Or do these folks just lack the motivation (or big picture) to move up?
Would moving beyond the coordinator or manager role take you away from having direct interaction with volunteers? Probably. But let me ask this. By taking a position like Operations Officer, Director of Operations, Director of Development, “Community Engagement” or a Project Manager position be more advantageous to championing volunteerism? Maybe, but it depends on where you work. While the Operations Officer or Director of Operations may not work directly with volunteers, they span an entire cross-section of delivering on services and products, understanding and changing the budget, possibly even who’s hired, and what programs and departments are doing. Wouldn’t it be advantageous to have someone in that position who “gets it” when it comes to volunteer management? Think about a world where you have a Development Director or Human Resources representative who understands and champions volunteer management, because they’ve done it. A board member who thoroughly understands volunteer management because they’ve been there and have done that. To me, these are great situations. These are the people advocating for higher salaries, seeking funding from donors, pushing professional development, budgeting considerations, searching for talent and making strategic decisions for the organization. These are the same people that ought to be advocating for volunteers. But through my experience, I’ve found that people see through the lens they’ve experienced in life. So many of the positions I just described don’t have people who’ve dedicated themselves to volunteer management. Does this mean a volunteer coordinator may have to take a different position that’s not directly coordinating with volunteers? Yes, but the payoff is huge. Think back to an organization you worked for, and ask yourself, what could I have done for the volunteer program AS the CEO? Or as the President?
We need more people with “backgrounds” in volunteer administration to take on these key roles, as decision makers. At the end of the day, it would be my goal that years from now, I AM that Executive Director, or CSR Program Manager, or CEO who can sit across from a Volunteer Coordinator, have an honest conversation and say “I understand your challenges, and I have your back,” and not because it sounds good, but because I’ve been in those shoes and have dedicated myself to the profession.
I think dedicating yourself to the profession doesn’t have to be shackled to titles like “volunteer coordinator” or “volunteer manager.” I serve on the board of directors for an organization where our CEO is a CVA. And I remember sitting down with him, and him saying, “look Jerome, I know you’ve been the coordinator, and the manager, having that direct engagement with volunteers, so I’m going to pick your brain quite a bit because you’ve done the day-to-day work.” It’s refreshing. And it’s because he didn’t limit himself to advocating for the profession as a coordinator. He continually progressed and now is in a true position to create change with authority with volunteers being the backbone of his strategy.
People in this profession have to be bold, unabashed, and sometimes play a “bad cop” role.
I know there will be folks who are diametrically opposed to my thoughts on this. While this isn’t directed at anybody in particular, it’s just my two cents for what it’s worth.
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Hi Jerome and thank you for your thoughts, really appreciate your sharing them with us. While reading your comments, I said, “Bingo!” to these words: “Think about a world where you have a Development Director or Human Resources representative who understands and champions volunteer management, because they’ve done it. A board member who thoroughly understands volunteer management because they’ve been there and have done that.” Exactly! Why shouldn’t VMs strive to lead larger segments of organizations? Shouldn’t our honed abilities to get the best from people and creating teams cause organizational staff and programs to flourish? Don’t volunteer managers, by virtue of their coaching skills and big picture mindset have the chops to lead?
You, my friend, hit the volunteer manager nail on the head!
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I agree wholeheartedly but think it would need a culture change in many organisations, where volunteers are not valued and people don’t understand the challenges and demands of managing volunteers, so think it’s just a matter of chatting to people!
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Hi Eileen and thank you for adding to this conversation. Absolutely agree that there needs to be a culture change. Can we, volunteer managers unite to implement this culture shift?
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I think we need to do something. If volunteers aren’t valued, the value of those who manage them won’t be seen either !
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“Somehow we magically hope our organizations will recognize the work we are doing, will appreciate all the sacrifice, and will actually see us in the shadows and give us the respect we have earned.” And, to me, that’s the problem. I present to a lot of different nonprofit managers and, sorry, but managers of volunteers are often my least favorite. They cringe at the idea of asserting themselves. They hope someone will recognize their contributions to the organization instead of promoting what they are doing themselves. They wait to be asked for data for the annual report instead of walking into the marketing director’s office and saying, “Here is what I think we need to have in the annual report about volunteer accomplishments.” They want a seat at the adult table, but they don’t ask for it – they don’t demand it. They whine about treatment – but don’t confront anyone about it. They want the executive director to ask their opinion and they hope it will be asked for – instead of sending the email or walking into the office unasked and saying, “Here’s something I think you should consider.” The marketing director, the fundraising manager, the program manager, the finance manager, the HR manager – they don’t wait to be asked, they walk right in, they assert their expertise. Volunteer managers – at least most I’ve encountered – stand outside and wish someone would invite them in. Quite frankly, I’m over it. I don’t work that way. I’m not just a volunteer management expert, I’m a community engagement expert, and I demand the treatment and respect I want. If more managers of volunteers did this, it would be such a different, more wonderful world.
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Thank you Jayne for sharing your opinion on this post. As volunteer managers confront their reluctance to stand up for themselves and their programs, we will see a vastly different volunteer landscape. It’s an internal battle and hopefully by encouraging them to embrace their voice, we will see some real change.
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Thanks to Elisa at Twenty Hats for expounding on this topic! Love her professionalism and her blogs and webinars are spectacular. Please visit her at http://twentyhats.com/ for expert coaching and volunteer management wisdom.