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Photo courtesy of Gratisography

Lip service. Gotta admit, I’ve been guilty of patting myself on the back by parroting all the great things I believed in to further volunteerism and volunteer management. But, was some of it lip service? Did I just spout stuff without backing it up with actions? For instance:

I believe in the glorious future of volunteering:

Well, give me a medal. But what about kids volunteering? Did I actively engage young people, give them leadership opportunities? Or did these words actually come out of my mouth: “I’m not a babysitter.” (the words came out of me, but, in my defense because I was babysitting a senior manager’s kid one summer, oh, and the boyfriend who tried to sneak in through the back door.) But then, I started to involve kids, and students, and it opened up a whole new world of innovation and creativity. Going to schools and engaging students. Setting up parent/child volunteer opportunities. Introducing young people to the mission and stepping back while they came up with ideas.

I want all volunteering to be recognized/honored/respected:

Sure, I do. But then, what did I do when hearing about volunteer successes at other organizations? Did I graciously praise them, promote them, or did I feel jealous? (did I actually huff, “well it’s easy volunteering there with all those cute animals, instead of with sick people.-Um, yeah, I did.) But once I realized other volunteer program successes helped all programs in our community, I could let go of the me vs. them mentality and do some partnering.

I believe in engaging volunteers to the fullest:

Well, did I send them to another organization when their skillset wasn’t being fully embraced, or did I hang onto them like that expensive outfit I can’t fit into anymore? Sadly, the amount of volunteer potential wasted by keeping skilled and willing volunteers tethered to our mission when they could have done so much good by going elsewhere is astronomical. (Oh, selfish, thy name is me.) Once numbers stopped being a goal, then quality beat out quantity every time. And by partnering/supporting other volunteer organizations in my community, a whole new world of possibilities opened up.

I want staff to accept volunteers:

Nice fighting words, right? Well, did I invite staff to be part of volunteer strategy upfront, or did I just grumble that staff didn’t get it? (I suppose if you consider the names I called staff in private, like “they’re just pig-headed” you could say I missed the opportunity to involve them, thus missing out on a collaborative atmosphere…sigh) If staff is part of the upfront planning, even if we don’t accept everything they propose, we still establish a cooperative environment.

All volunteers are valuable:

Oh, this one’s good. Well, did I have favorite volunteers, AKA, the ones I called on first because I needed to get a position filled? I knew Trevor would always say yes, so what did I do? I called Trevor. (Hey Trev, my buddy, my pal) Sure I filled the request. But in doing so by constantly calling on “reliable” volunteers, I fostered the idea that the number of volunteers I proclaimed we had was actually false, that it was far less because the same volunteers kept showing up. (We have 738 volunteers. On paper.) By taking the easy route, I gave little attention to newer, or more selective volunteers. And you know that’s not the way to engage anyone.

Volunteers have the right to say no:

Well, sure, I was really vocal about that one. Proud of it, too, but what did I model to them when I ignored my own boundaries? Did I take some sort of warped pleasure that I was overworked, willing to take calls at all hours, never really off, never on vacation? How could I tell them their well-being was important when mine obviously was not? (But see, I cared more than everyone else, and my commitment, er my availability at all hours, proved it.)

I don’t take volunteers for granted:

Well, go back to calling on that “reliable” volunteer over and over, because they always said yes. Not taking volunteers for granted means an extra effort to give all volunteers a chance to participate. It means taking care to not pigeon-hole volunteers into roles because it’s what’s needed when maybe a volunteer wants something new. It means giving needed breaks, not letting staff overwork their favorite volunteers, not sharing organizational politics or personal frustrations with volunteers who come with an unburdened heart. It means being professional, not hanging out with some volunteers while ignoring others. I’ve mistakenly done all of that. It was easy to do when I was swamped, struggling and in need of that awesome volunteer who patted me on the head and told me everything was ok.

I want my volunteers to be treated with respect.

Well, what about that opportunity to push back in the staff meeting, the one where I just sat there and said nothing?(They just don’t get it so I’ll sit here and brood. Yeah, I’m sending the stink-eye their way, that’ll show em!) I was tired of repeating myself, frustrated at the time I was losing by being there, ok, feeling dejected, wondering if my fellow staff were just too stubborn to change. Then I realized advocacy was not tied to my emotional state, but something strategic and planned. The notion that it was not about me and my precious feelings was very freeing and let me concentrate on a plan to show volunteer value.

I believe in accountability

Ok, sure, but then what about all the times I did not want to confront a volunteer on behavior and instead, just hoped things would work out? Well, those times never worked themselves out and frankly, got a lot worse. I learned the hard way to meet challenges head-on, to mitigate disasters before they occurred, to mediate before things got out of hand. And you know what,? Handling difficult situations got better/more efficient/more satisfying with practice.

I want the world to know how great my volunteers are:

But then, whenever a news source came around to do a story on the volunteers, did I just go along with the whole “Volunteer Betty is still going strong at 99?” I did, cause I was just so grateful to have any published recognition. Here’s the thing. Those stories never brought in throngs of volunteers. It is volunteer impact, not personality sketches that motivate others to volunteer, or donate or inquire about services. I wrote a blog post on this subject back in ancient times (well, 2018 anyway) entitled Volunteer News Stories: Does This Good Press Really Help?

Ok, so maybe my New Year’s resolution is to recognize and correct my mistakes. (Again). Maybe I need to think about the stuff that comes out of my mouth and whether it’s just lip service or whether I believe it enough to put it into action.

So, please learn from my shortcomings so you don’t have to think you’re guilty of volunteerism lip service.

-Meridian