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Captains of Our Destiny

Ha, ha, working with volunteers is like herding cats. …non-profit staff member.

It is time we become captains of our own destiny. It is true that our work is not glaringly evident to all, so we can’t be Captain Obvious.

So, now what? We can captain our future and redefine our work in terms that befit its importance while illuminating our professional skill set. It’s on us to redefine volunteer services, to flip it from one of cutesy, fluffy extra touches to a dynamic and professional service.

How? Well, first off, we have to change the loose descriptions of volunteer engagement and instead use the professional terms they deserve. To do this, let’s look at two highly regarded and compensated jobs and re-imagine our profession in those terms and descriptions.

Instead of volunteer managers, what if we were called Volunteer Account Managers? In reality, volunteers open accounts with us, in the same way as donors or clients. (an account is something of value or worth-in this case a volunteer’s time, expertise, resources, knowledge, sweat equity, donations, word of mouth marketing, etc)

As such, we would use these terms:

Volunteer Account Management: the management of volunteer accounts, including the relationship with volunteers and the pursuit of volunteer satisfaction.

Volunteer expectations: the value a volunteer seeks from our organizations, such as training opportunities, positive feedback, admittance to the team, creative outlets etc.

Volunteer centric: the emphasis an organization places on volunteer involvement, including timely appreciation, seats at planning meetings, designated volunteer managers who are supported, educational opportunities, partnership opportunities.

Volunteer journey: the steps a volunteer goes through to become a viable and satisfied member of the organization.

Volunteer journey mapping: the process by which a volunteer manager maps the journey a volunteer takes from first contact to integration through onboarding-and more importantly, the ability to reconfigure the steps when necessary.

Volunteer profile: the ongoing process by which a volunteer manager educates staff about volunteers, including their needs, their changing dynamics, their skill levels, their rate of participation and their future involvement.

Volunteer satisfaction levels: measuring and reporting the satisfaction levels of volunteers through one on one interviews, surveys, questionnaires, etc. And more importantly, the ability to change areas in which volunteers lack satisfaction.

Volunteer benchmarking: the continual process of improving the relationship with volunteers. There are many methods of benchmarking, such as:

  • do volunteers choose our organization over others and why or why not?
  • do volunteers make time for us over other activities and why or why not?
  • do volunteers recommend our organization to their circle of influence and why or why not?
  • do volunteers increase visibility, donations and resources and how? (we all know instinctively that this is true, but benchmarking will prove it)

Volunteer benchmarking will then be a tool to change the processes that need change, in the same way fundraising evolves.

In order to Captain our own destiny, we must begin to flip volunteer services from the outdated idea that volunteers are summoned to fill a job and volunteer coordinators “herd those funny cats around, lol, isn’t that cute.”

Instead:  Volunteers hold an account with us and we are responsible for cultivating that account by continually improving our relationship with the volunteers. And this is where the highly skilled volunteer account manager comes in.

Next week: KAVM-the key account volunteer manager-what does this mean for us?