Photo courtesy of Gratisography

There’s a quote out there I hear all the time, attributed to different sources that basically says, “if you love what you do, it’s not work.”

Sigh. I’ve always detested that saying/quote.

Clearly, whoever said this, never followed a leader of volunteers around for a day.

What we do, what YOU do, is hard, hard work. It’s not easy. It’s not fun a lot of the time, like when a haughty senior manager sniffs at the notion that volunteers are capable of running a program. It’s not predictable, or easily explained or rote. It’s a constant “all hands on deck” mental and often physical challenge. It’s WORK.

And heck, it never stops, because when you’re not “there,” you are thinking about it, planning, worrying about a volunteer, or creating new engagement strategies in your head. It occupies the spaces in our brains, nagging at us to “work harder.” Especially now, since we’re in a pivotal time of change, so more work is required to navigate the shifting landscape.

And when well-meaning staff or friends giggle about how we get to plan parties and chat all day, we stoically smile and politely try to explain all the various skills it takes to engage volunteers, determine impact, create a sustainable volunteer team, mitigate conflict and everything else while they look off into the distance, their eyes glazing over. And frustrated again, we go on.

Steve Jobs once said, “You’ve got to find what you love.”

For us, Love is backwards

Most of us didn’t seek out volunteer management because we loved it, but stumbled into volunteer management and fell in love with the work. Like a slow-burning romance, we discovered how much it filled us with joy, how much we thought about our new passion, late at night; how much we enjoyed the challenges and envisioned ourselves, holding hands with volunteer engagement as we aged.

For us, Leadership is seldom a title

“Leadership is not a title,” according to Vijay Eswaran. You can read his inspiring post here .

Leading volunteers will probably not become the most coveted job in the world in my lifetime. I’m ok with that. But much progress is being made and that’s where true leadership comes in, because Volunteer Engagement is probably not going to “go viral” anytime soon. True leadership is the day-to-day hard work you do. It’s the passion you feel, the challenges you accept, the example you set, and the belief you have in yourself and your peers that what you love is essential in making our world a better place.

Leadership is going beyond, by educating yourself, attending conferences, helping your peers, sharing best practices, crafting reports that show volunteer value, demonstrating volunteer value and impact whenever and wherever you are. It’s furthering our profession by caring about it, with all its warts and stinky body odor.

So, do I agree with the saying, “It’s not work if you love it?” Nope, nope, never. Maybe try this: “It’s a lot of work, because you love it.”