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You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along’ …Eleanor Roosevelt

Ok, maybe we, volunteer managers don’t live through horror. (unless you consider that time when that group who asked for volunteer orientation had no AV equipment except an ancient TV so there was no way to show the super duper PowerPoint and then for four grueling hours you had to wing it…) But seriously, do you ever want to go back in time? Are there things you wish you had done differently? Me too.

If I could turn back the volunteer manager clock I would:

  • Call that volunteer who had to quit because she got sick instead of telling myself that I would get around to calling her.
  • Be more patient with that volunteer who had so many questions and even burst in on my annual job review.
  • Not drive that volunteer home that one night. (cause it got real creepy……….. real fast).
  • Stop that volunteer from talking to the press at that event (or at least tell the reporter our organization had no official position on the mayor’s race)
  • Not tell that story in front of the CEO about running over a donor’s mailbox when I picked up a donation. (I ran it over with a truck-but I did pick up the letters from the street)
  • Not get so frustrated with staff who were also overworked.
  • Keep that volunteer from bringing in their special yummy, homemade tuna casserole, the one that made everyone sick. (I think it was tuna, but then again, it kinda had this weird smell)
  • Explain volunteer management in better, more impactful ways.
  • Listen to my inner voice and not let that teen volunteer bring her boyfriend in with her because….(well, I just turned my back for a minute, I swear!)
  • Carve out more time for me to prioritize and progress.
  • Not tell everyone in a meeting that I was going back to my home planet. (You had to be there and frankly, any planet except this one seemed better at the time)
  • Not take a new volunteer to that house where they were engaging in a side business (hey, who knew?)
  • Not accept that mysterious heavily taped up box at the thrift store…. (I don’t think the stains ever really came out of the carpet)

Sure, we’d all love to go back and make everything perfect, because I believe that we, volunteer managers tend to be perfectionists. (gasp, no, ya think?) We inwardly seek to create:

  • the perfect volunteer experience for every volunteer.
  • the perfect client experience so every client is satisfied.
  • the perfect appreciation so every volunteer feels engaged.
  • the perfect understanding so our work is valued.
  • and for the above to be perfect, then we have to be perfect.

But if we were perfect, we wouldn’t learn, or grow or move forward. A cherished friend (yep, one of the volunteers-yeah, yeah, my perfect boundaries are not so perfect) told me that I should be thankful for the experiences that taught me something instead of bemoaning them. How else would I get better?

Volunteer management means every day, we have millions (ok, maybe hundreds) of interactions and experiences. Each and every one teaches us something we can use for the next. That is why our “jobs” are in reality, a continuous journey.

We all wish we could change some things, from having more patience with volunteers to standing up for ourselves in meetings. Past experiences can haunt us. Dwelling on them can prevent us from moving forward. There’s no shame in admitting, “hey, what I did there was far from perfect, but you know what? I’m learning and dang it, I’m getting better.”

Courageous leaders are not perfect. We’re not perfect. I think Mrs. Roosevelt nailed it all those years ago:

With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts…Eleanor Roosevelt

Anyone in volunteer management will tell you: I’m not the same person I was a year ago. No, I’m better. I’m smarter and stronger. And with each passing day full of experiences, I’m learning.”

So, when you wish you could go back and “fix” things, do this instead. Say to your past self, “thanks for teaching me. I’m a better volunteer manager today because of you.”