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You would never think to put the Mona Lisa in an orange plastic frame, would you? Of course not, because frames should enhance a work of art, not detract from it. The right frame borders the image, complimenting the subject and showcasing the work. The right frame makes sense.

Volunteer added value is a complex and beautiful picture. The stories we share about our volunteers connecting with clients, serving our missions and advocating for our organizations are inspired, and meant to be viewed with appreciation. The value our volunteers bring needs the right frame.

However, without the proper frame, throwing out super positive phrases about our volunteers can be like this board. “Volunteers are selfless,”or “Volunteers give so much,” can be so broad and gooey that the meaning is lost. If every message about volunteers is so wonderful, so inspiring, so amazing, so terrific, the message becomes diluted and nothing is wonderful or inspiring anymore. It’s just noise without form. If we make volunteers seem like magic faeries that just rise from the garden and buzz on over to do good work, we diminish the effort they bring and the work we do to develop and ready them.

We have to be honest about volunteer management and its complexities. We need to share the challenges along with the feel-good stories. Volunteer synergy (those pure mission moments when a volunteer connects with a client or helps a staff member or solves a problem) does not occur by happenstance. Those moments are the result of a volunteer manager’s diligence, practice and experience. Synergy occurs because the volunteer manager vetted the volunteer, oriented the volunteer, matched the volunteer’s skills and needs to an assignment, and courageously stepped in to guide the volunteer on a successful path.

Photo by Nadine Wuchenauer on Pexels.com

We, volunteer managers are the frame. We are the right frame, the best frame, the correct frame. Our attentiveness, our tenacity, our persistence, our determination, our sincerity and our resolve shape the volunteer experience. We surround our volunteers with the knowledge, tools and encouragement volunteers need to create a complex work of art. We “become” the frame each volunteer needs. For some volunteers, we are the ornate, gold frame and for others we are a simple black band receding into the background.

Without our guidance, volunteers are simply pictures taped to organizational walls. These haphazard pictures curl up; they fall off and they yellow. But, when we frame volunteer engagement and impact, we create an art gallery that has a flow, that makes sense, that is ordered and sustainable.

International volunteer managers day was yesterday (November 5). The theme for this year was Change the Tune. We talk about change all the time and I think we need to ask ourselves, “what exactly do we want to change?” How we engage volunteers? How we encourage, develop, inspire and mentor volunteers? How we drop everything to make sure volunteers are successful? How we put volunteering ahead of our own personal needs? We’ve got all that down.

I think what we need to do is to frame our critical role in volunteer engagement and impact. We need to stop allowing organizational leadership to think that engaging volunteers takes little effort. We need to stop allowing organizations to view volunteers as tools and not as complex human beings that require thoughtful management. We need to stop allowing organizational leadership to assume that volunteers don’t need support from every staff member. We need to stop allowing organizational leadership to plan volunteer involvement without our expert input. We need to stop allowing organizations to operate in an outdated normal and instead embrace the here and now by investing in the volunteer manager frame that surrounds volunteer programs.

We are a profession. We deserve recognition befitting our expertise, our hard work and our skills. No one will just magically give it to us. We must stop glossing over the work we put into developing volunteers (by vetting, onboarding, training, supporting, stepping in when necessary, sustaining and encouraging) who successfully support and further organizational missions.

In Rob Jackson’s latest post, he lays out real solutions that will move our profession forward. You can read Rob’s post here.

So, this International Volunteer Manager Day, the change I want to see is one in which we elevate our critical role and become the “frame” around vibrant, contributing volunteer teams.

We’re leaders of volunteers. We got this.

Happy International Volunteer Manager Day to all of you frames out there.