Luncheon and Food for Thought…


, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Luncheon and Food for Thought 001

Get your dancing shoes on! This year, volunteer appreciation week in the US is April 23-29. It’s coming up in May for Australia, and June for the UK and New Zealand.

If you have a luncheon planned, you’ve long ago selected the venue and contacted the speakers. You’ve ordered the cute online mini calculators for giveaways. (of course your calculators were shipped late because the vendor mixed up your order with one from the company, “Meals on Wheelies” who is actually a pizza delivery joint in Appleton Wisconsin) You will give up your Friday night tickets for the punk concert, “Zombie Brains Munchfest” and instead, you will sit alone, wrapping the calculators in cute purple tissue paper (which serves nicely to dab your tears) because your friends and family say they are tired of being unpaid labor.

Volunteer appreciation events vacuum up our time and emotional energy like giant tornadoes trailing balloons. Expectations are high. Is the food great? Are the speeches sincere? Will I be able to make each volunteer feel special? But what about the volunteers who are out-of-town or are ill or just can’t come? What about the day after the event? The week? The year? Do the speeches and chocolate fountains last?

I’m not against events. Not at all. I am though, for grabbing any opportunity to improve volunteer engagement. What if we made volunteer week a kickoff, rather than a stand alone event?

Why not use volunteer week as a brightly colored launch to enlist staff support for acknowledging volunteers all year-long? It makes sense to jump on the festive events as a springboard for a volunteer recognition calendar. With our orchestration, ongoing volunteer appreciation can become a learned behavior within organizations.

While the “we heart volunteers” posters are up, the splashy balloons float in the hallways, and the staff is sampling that star shaped cherry cheesecake, it’s time to pounce! As these vibrant visuals draw attention to your volunteers, it’s the perfect time to visit each department and share your recognition calendar for the year.
A sample calendar can look something like this:

The Volunteer Department Yearly Calendar of Volunteer Recognition!
Every first of the month I will pass around birthday cards for the volunteers who are celebrating birthdays. I would appreciate your signature. The cards will then be mailed to the volunteers. These simple but effective cards remind each volunteer that the entire organization appreciates them on their special day. Individual recognition goes a long way towards volunteer retention.

Every third Wednesday of each month I will visit one department to write down testimonials from staff on the incredible impact volunteers have on supporting our mission. These testimonials will be published in our volunteer newsletter which is shared with all volunteers. In addition, the testimonials will serve to recruit prospective volunteers as well. Here is the list of scheduled departments for the next twelve months. Please be thinking about our volunteers and their contributions. Your testimonials serve to reinforce the volunteer support your department deems beneficial. (Bonus: keep all the testimonials for other purposes such as recruitment ads, speeches to groups etc.)

Every quarter I will be videotaping several staff members expressing a simple ‘thank you’ to our volunteers and I will be showing the videos at the beginning of our volunteer meetings. These videos will serve to remind the volunteers that they are important members of our team. (Bonus-you can show all of the videos at next year’s luncheon)

I will remind everyone in an email blast the first of each month. Thank you for participating in our plan to retain our valuable volunteers and to encourage new volunteers. Staff appreciation is a motivating factor in cultivating a supportive team.

Your written plan can include:
A-what and when (the schedule)
B-how (the particulars)
C-why (the benefit to volunteers and organization)                                                                       D-in addition, your reminder schedule

Volunteer recognition is meaningful and fun on event day. We serve up praise along with chicken salad and we may even give awards for volunteer of the year. But awards look backwards. Let’s also look forwards. Let’s develop a plan to set the tone of appreciation for the coming year. Heck, maybe announce that at next year’s luncheon, there will be an additional award for the staff members who excel at engaging and recognizing volunteers.

Now wouldn’t that be something to truly celebrate?

New Words Added to the Volunteer Management Dictionary


, , , , , , , , , , ,

Added to the Volunteer Management Dictionary

It’s that time of year when the Committee to Define Volunteer Management gets together at a back table in Pete’s Bar, Grill and Bait Shop. Together, these brave members scratch their heads over several pints and attempt to come up with a succinct explanation of volunteer management. This year, they gave up once again after rejecting the phrase “herding cats,” but they decided to add the following words to the dictionary of volunteer management.

Volvorce: When a volunteer divorces the organization as in “No, I just can’t go get new volunteer Dinesh, because since no one called him back about getting started after I introduced him to finance, he volvorced us.”

Meetcolepsy: When too many meetings cause you to simply fall into a stupor at the thought of another talk-fest as in “No, I couldn’t make that fourteenth meeting about using the volunteers to stand by the back door in case someone gets confused because I contracted meetcolepsy. Want to see my doctor’s slip?”

Latespectation: A last-minute request for volunteers that is expected to be filled as if you were given weeks to prepare, as in “Oh, so you need 5 volunteers tomorrow morning for an assignment that you said was extremely important? Your latespectation is showing.”

Creditjacking: When another staff member takes credit for a successful endeavor that you or your volunteers accomplished as in “Yes, I’m glad you praised that project during the senior managers’ meeting, but let’s not creditjack the volunteers’ work, ok?”

Duhtistics: Stats that are so incredibly obvious, like volunteers are super nice as in “I won’t bore the board with duhtistics that you’ve heard before. No, instead I want to point out some new and exciting projects we are undertaking.”

AVOL: A volunteer who inexplicably does not return calls, emails or letters as in “I’m glad you noticed volunteer Myrna has been missing lately. I’m trying everything in my power to get in touch with her. Right now she’s AVOL.”

Volunteer Lite: A request for a volunteer to do a menial, mindless task as in, “You’re asking me for one of our highly trained volunteers to clean out the storage closet so you can use it for your supplies? You don’t want a full-bodied volunteer, you want a volunteer lite.”

Miracalls: Calls made to volunteers for an especially challenging or late request as in, “Woah, that’s a really challenging request (or time frame). I’ll be holed up in my office for the rest of the day, making miracalls.”

Informashunned: (pronounced in-for-may-shunned) Not given the essential information needed to properly place a volunteer as in “I have recruited four of our best volunteers for that assignment, but my pleas for crucial information have been ignored. Right now, our volunteers are informashunned.”

Nopinion: Volunteers wanted, but not their opinions as in, “I’m glad you were able to use volunteer Mark’s expertise, but he felt rebuffed when he offered additional knowledge. I guess you really want an expert but nopinion volunteer.” 

Vombie: That volunteer everyone is afraid of and no one wants to council or fire, as in, “I know Janey is a handful and she’s been here for what, twenty years now. I guess she’s been allowed to attain Vombie status and now that I’m here, I will deal with it in a professional manner.”

Callwaiter: The notion that volunteers sit by the phone just waiting to hear from us as in, “It is Friday afternoon and most of our volunteers have already made plans for tomorrow. I’ll make some miracalls, but our vibrant and diverse volunteers aren’t callwaiters.”

Marathonitor: The running around, checking, double-checking and rechecking to ensure that volunteers have all the information and tools they need to succeed as in “Our fifteen volunteers are ready for Saturday’s important annual event, but in order for them to excel, I will be marathonitoring their involvement, so I won’t be attending any meetings tomorrow or making miracalls to fill latespectation requests.”

Well, there you have it. As one of the senior members of the Committee to Define Volunteer Management said after several glasses of Pinot Grigio, “Dang, defining volunteer management is really impifficult.”


Volunteering is All About Helping, Isn’t It?


, , , , , , , , , , ,

Volunteering is About Helping, Isn't It

Let’s hope for the best

“No good deed goes unpunished.”   … Oscar Wilde

“I couldn’t stop, not after I’d been with her for so long.” Volunteer Jill spoke of her decision to keep seeing the client assigned by her volunteer manager, even though the client was no longer on the program. “Aren’t we supposed to be helpful? I mean, I have a strong connection with her and her family. I can’t just pull the plug.”

“I didn’t see the harm,” said Miranda, Jill’s volunteer coordinator. “I felt it would be cruel to keep Jill from continuing this great connection. But then, my CEO summoned me the day this former client called in to complain. It seems that Jill gave the client some advice and the client thought she was back on our program.”

What do we do with volunteers who want to stay with clients after the client no longer is receiving our services? If we’ve made a meaningful match between volunteer and client, then we understand how hard it is for the volunteer to pull back. Severing the relationship seems cruel. Besides, don’t volunteers have free will?

Although this situation appears muddy, it really is crystal clear: The relationship forged with the client belongs solely to the organization. Staff, contractors, and volunteers all participate in the organization’s relationship with a client. None of us would have created a connection with this client on our own, therefore we do not have a personal relationship. When the organization severs that relationship, we are done.

It is one of those tricky realms where clear boundaries, policies and documentation is crucial. If you no longer provide support for the volunteer’s efforts because the client is not in your care, the volunteer is then free to establish their own boundaries and set their own limitations.

Here’s the question: Should a mishap occur, will the family have a clear understanding that the volunteer is not representing your organization?  That lack of understanding can become a liability nightmare.

What steps do we need to take when a volunteer feels they must continue to help a former client or family member?

  • Include organizational ties vs. personal ties during orientation, induction and training. Make sure each and every volunteer is aware that they are part of a team, and not individually forming relationships with your clients.
  • Have a clear policy already on paper. The strictest policy would be to fire the volunteer. Or, you may place the volunteer on a temporary leave. Or you might place the volunteer on suspension. Or, you could trust the volunteer to act in a professional manner and monitor their behavior. The point is, have a policy to follow.
  • Communicate with everyone involved. Communicate your policies and boundaries with your volunteer.
  • Speak to the former client. Explain that your volunteer is continuing to be involved as a private citizen, but this means your organization does not support or back the volunteer’s actions.
  • Explain to staff. Be up front, tell appropriate managers and staff and show them the steps you have taken to ensure no harm will befall the organization, client or volunteer.
  •  Document every step of this process. Draft a letter to the client outlining the conversation you had with them and keep a copy in the volunteer’s file. Have the volunteer sign a statement absolving you of all responsibility concerning their actions.

Connecting volunteers with clients is one of the most satisfying outcomes of our profession. Witnessing a bond formed between volunteer and client is immensely gratifying. Having to cut those ties can be frustrating and painful.

But we have to remember that not all aspects of our jobs will be easy. At times, we must do the hard things, the necessary things in order to maintain a professional program.

Leadership means developing the strength to confront and manage the harder parts of engaging volunteers. And elevating volunteer management means becoming a strong leader.


Induction vs. Orientation: The one year volunteer committment


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Induction vs. Orientation

Two volunteer managers, Jessup and Chloe were both excited when the brought in new volunteers.

Jessup, who manages volunteers for a start-up, said, “I was asked to find volunteers to help with our kick off campaign. I brought in a trio of talented volunteers and one of our marketers patiently showed them what needed to be done. The volunteers did exceptionally well, but they didn’t stay with us very long. I had to recruit again and again.”

Chloe, meanwhile, who manages volunteers at a different start-up said, “I recruited a few volunteers to help with our kick-off. I was a bit worried because the volunteers were from varied backgrounds and had really different talents. But, you know, although it took them a bit to get going, all the staff here helped out. Those volunteers are still with us today.”

Volunteer retention is a nuanced and complicated concept. Some parts of it can be controlled and some cannot. But one thing we can control is induction and orientation. Why does a seemingly perfect volunteer become disinterested? Why does another volunteer fit in like a glove? How do volunteers gel with the mission?

Let’s look at induction and orientation: Can we get away with offering one and not the other?

Induction is the formal process in which to introduce a volunteer to their job. (the mechanics)

Orientation is the integration of the volunteer into the organization. (the gel)

Jessup’s organization lost volunteers because they did not orient them. Chloe’s on the other hand, used both induction and orientation.

As volunteer managers, we need to use both induction and orientation to retain great volunteers. And, our entire organizations must be involved. Here is an example:


  1. Volunteer manager shows volunteer where break room is, supplies are kept, what the policies are, etc.
  2. Staff member who best knows the job shows volunteer how to do the work, where bathroom nearest station is located, etc.


  1. Volunteer manager welcomes, presents organizational goals, history etc.
  2. CEO welcomes volunteers to organization, emphasizes contributions from volunteers.
  3. A seasoned volunteer is paired with newbie to mentor and encourage.
  4. Staff introduces themselves to volunteer, thanks, offers assistance, assures volunteer they are appreciated and part of team.

Both induction and orientation are vital to engaging volunteers. If we make them feel a part of the team, but do not give them the knowledge and equipment to do their jobs, they will leave. If we give them all the training in the world, but do not integrate them into our mission, they will also leave.

And here’s the thing. Most of us toy with the idea of having a volunteer sign a one year commitment. But maybe that’s just backwards. What we might do instead is ask our entire organization to sign a commitment for each and every volunteer. This commitment would look something like this:

I, the undersigned, ___________________________ commits to do my part in  orienting, inducting and engaging each and every new volunteer for as long as that volunteer is ethically representing our organization and mission.

Ask the CEO to require each staff member to sign this commitment. And maybe if you are feeling a bit ambitious, you can point out that volunteer engagement should be part of each employee’s yearly evaluation.

Woah, be still my heart.



The Inner Volunteer


, , , , , , , , , , ,

The Inner Volunteer

Do the words, skilled volunteers make you shudder?

One day Marcel reported his recruitment efforts to the executive action committee. “I had just reported on the addition of several new corporate groups when the executive director stopped me and asked why I couldn’t just get public school teachers to come in on Saturdays and read to the children at our shelters.”

The CEO asked, “wouldn’t it be a lot easier because teachers already have the skill set?”

Marcel continued, “In my head I wanted to ask her if, after a hectic week directing a charity organization, why didn’t she go on her day off and volunteer to run a startup charity organization. I mean, yes, I’m recruiting teachers because of their skill sets, but so many other types of volunteers passionately want to read to our clients’ children. To me, passion is what makes for a great volunteer.”

Skilled volunteers are often equated with perfect volunteers. Often, the term skilled volunteer becomes synonymous with the notion that volunteers are easy to recruit. Why not just get a lawyer, or a carpenter or an IT technician? But we know it isn’t so simple. Does a person with a certain desirable credential want to use that credential in volunteering? Sometimes, but of course, not always.

We’ve all had volunteers who wanted to forgo their professional skill set. We’ve seen them unlock their inner volunteer and utilize a side that would never appear on paper, but one that excites them and ultimately serves us so well. For example:

The FBI agent that becomes a hand holder for older male clients, This agent’s inner skill set came from having to listen carefully when interviewing suspects. Now he uses that skill in a new and gentle way.

The IT professional that creates an art therapy program. While her left digital brain is writing code, her right analog brain thirsts for the inner creativity she passionately exercises while volunteering. Ironically this volunteering outlet makes her better at her IT job.

The Stay at Home Mom who takes charge of a new program and excels at giving direction and getting results. At home, her inner manager directs her family’s activities, finances, and schedules with a precision borne out of love and necessity. She brings these honed skills to the program and treats her fellow volunteers as beloved family. They flourish under her direction.

And on the flip side, what about the skilled volunteer who taps into their inner director or educator and looks for more ways to help? What if they offer their expert advice and opinion on the workings of our organizations? Are our organizations prepared to accept this advice? For instance:

  • The teacher who wants to replace the reading program at the shelter because it is outdated and insensitive.
  • The carpenter who advises that the repairs on a project are unsafe and non-compliant with code.
  • The attorney who suggests that policies and procedures are antiquated, potentially a risk management nightmare and need a complete overhaul.
  • The marketing expert who points out that the latest campaign is fraught with errors and tired themes.

This begs these questions:

  • How does an organization define a skilled volunteer?
  • Are organizations willing to accept the advice that comes with experienced and accomplished people?  
  • Do organizations view skilled volunteers as peers, useful tools or something else?

This is why clarification is so important. When an organization asks for skilled volunteers, we need to ask these questions:

  • Do we value skill over passion and commitment?
  • Who is responsible for a skilled volunteers’ mistakes? Are these volunteers’ licenses or credentials at risk?
  • What are the legal ramifications of utilizing volunteers in a professional capacity?
  • Who is going to field expert questions from skilled volunteers? The CEO?

As organizations ask volunteer managers to recruit skilled volunteers for expert help, clarification is essential. Clarification goes far beyond a simple job description. It goes to the very core of the inner volunteer. Passion vs. skill. Sideline expertise vs. full skill set participation. Legal consideration vs. a laissez-faire attitude. Hands on vs. hands off risk management.

With skill there is ramification. Are we prepared legally to engage volunteers with licenses and certifications?

With skill comes expert advice. How much skilled advice are we willing to accept?

Or, are we just throwing out a poorly defined concept?


For a great article on skilled volunteering, please see Rob Jackson’s post on this subject.




We Should Start Our Own Cirque du Vol Show To Raise Money!


, , , , , , , , , ,

We Should Start Our Own Cirque du Vol Show To Raise Money!

After Harry closed the door, Rasheem just sat for a moment, allowing himself to refocus. “Harry is one of those volunteers,” he said, “whose brain is constantly on the move. He is forever suggesting ways to improve and ways to reinvent. Often his ideas have nothing to do with the volunteer department. No, often he wants me to bring his ideas to marketing, fund-raising, finance, administration, and just about every other department we have. He’s not critical, but rather a great volunteer and he just wants us to be the best. But, this is exhausting.”

Some volunteers are their own whirling mini brain trust.  They see a challenge or an area that needs improvement and their minds go into overdrive. Funny thing is, most of the time, they’re right and you can see their point.

But when they come to you with their ideas, all you feel is the burden that comes with one of these choices facing you:

  1. Present the new idea to the appropriate person/dept and become a stressed middle man/woman.
  2. Tell the volunteer that while the idea is valid, this is not a good time.
  3. Refer the volunteer to the department in question and hope that they do not brush him/her off.
  4. Fib and say you’ll look into it and string the volunteer along for as long as you can.
  5. Quit-which is cowardly, but feels like the easiest thing to do.

Each choice presents such a VM burden that just hearing the words, “I have an idea,” sends you into a catatonic state. You begin to create little hiding places in your office so that you can slip under your desk, hands over ears, mumbling “If I don’t acknowledge it, it doesn’t exist.”

The question then becomes: Are volunteers just there to do what is asked or do volunteers bring vast amounts of creativity, knowledge, energy and experience to our organizational table? We, VM’s know the answer. So, what do we do? Besides quit.

One way to handle a volunteer improvement idea (vii)is to start a volunteer think tank. Gather your most creative volunteers and ask them to sort through each vii. Let them decide which ones are worth pursuing.

And here’s the thing about vii’s. They take an enormous amount of work to implement. No wonder marketing doesn’t want to hear how a cirque show will bring in loads of publicity. They’re busy with 50 other organizational ideas that they need to implement.

And while vii’s are lovely concepts, it is the results that matter. A think tank can pilot a program on a small-scale and present the results. Ask them to work on one project at a time to keep from overwhelming the system.

Your volunteer think tank wants a cirque?  Pare that big vii down to a manageable beginning.  Maybe they can hire a juggling clown for a marketing event so the kids in attendance will be entertained. See how that goes. Tell the think tank to: Start small. Get results. Gather stats. Take pictures. Tell the story. Compile feedback. Then do it all again.

We all have great ideas. But, ideas without the willingness to do the hard work are worthless. Instead of hiding under your desk, throwing your volunteers to chance, and  passing ideas on to other swamped departments, create a volunteer think tank and put those creative ideas to this test: Are we, the volunteers who believe in this great idea, willing to pilot a smaller project to prove that it is viable? And are we willing to put in the hard work in order to show results?

If the answer is yes, then who knows? The volunteers may start with a juggling clown. Then they’ll add acrobats. Then a full-blown cirque du volunteer may result. And you may just keep your sanity.





The Dangerous Numbers Game


, , , , , , , , , ,


“So, exactly how many volunteers do we have?” The director of planned giving stopped Penny in the hallway. Penny hesitated for a moment and the director sighed. “It’s a simple question,” she said, clearly growing impatient.

Oh, but is it that simple? What should Penny say? “We have 300 volunteers.” And then the standard question from the director is, “why can’t I get just one when I need one?”

Most all organizations that utilize volunteers typically report on their numbers. But, what do the numbers mean? Recently, a CivilSociety article by David Ainsworth questioned the validity of reported volunteer numbers. He has a valid point. Do we all report numbers the same way? Or, because we have no reporting template, is there a perception that we don’t really know how many volunteers we have or that we fudge the numbers?

It can be a source of pride to claim that “we have over 1200 volunteers. “However, when a staff member requests 60 volunteers for the event next week, well, it’s not so easy. But if we think about this in terms of only numbers, then to that requesting staff member, 60 volunteers is not unreasonable. Why? Because the requested 60 is only .05% of the weighty 1200 volunteers on the books.

The pressure to report significant numbers of volunteers often stems from the notion that this important recruitment figure indicates the success of a volunteer manager’s program. But, these figures become a double-edged sword when a percentage of these volunteers are active, but temporarily unavailable. And we all know there are myriads of reasons as to why volunteers are unavailable at any given moment.

Take this request for a volunteer: Event manager Ethan requests a volunteer for a community fair. Volunteer manager Penny has 300 volunteers on the books. Why is it difficult to obtain just one volunteer for next week?

Well, because:

35 volunteers are on vacation (265)

12 volunteers are virtual and live out-of-state (253)

30 are having health issues (223)

43 volunteers work during that time (180)

17 volunteers are physically unable to help at events (163)

22 volunteers are in limbo-not returning recent messages (141)

18 volunteers are part of episodic teams only (123)

12 new volunteers-have not been mentored yet (111)

This means Penny is essentially looking for 1 volunteer out of 111, not 1 out of 300. However, Penny will look for that 1 volunteer from the 300 because she is a great manager and knows that volunteer circumstances and willingness change daily. She will email blast, use a phone tree and her social media accounts to reach all 300 of her volunteers in hopes that someone has returned from vacation, or has gotten well. Her chances, though, diminish to 1 out of 111 because 189 volunteers are in essence temporarily unavailable for this particular assignment due to the above circumstances.

How do we report then? Reporting numbers of volunteers without caveats or categories can create huge headaches or the wrong impression. A blanket number (300) is impressive but misleading. A reduced number (111) is less remarkable but more accurate. When reporting numbers of volunteers, it is advantageous to report in categories. These categories can indicate how many volunteers are currently active or temporarily inactive, how many work with clients, how many work in marketing, or how many are virtual, etc.

Penny must make it clear that she reaches out to every volunteer for requests. She must say that she is fully aware that the volunteer in the client category may just like to do an event once in a while and vice versa. And most importantly, she must make clear that her job as a volunteer manager is not about one vague number, but about how she cultivates, engages and matches each breathing human being within that vague number.

Numbers can mislead. If it looks like Penny’s recruited 50 new volunteers this year, then yay, she is doing her job. But if 61 volunteers moved or died or got sick or quit, she is now at -11 and by numbers alone, she appears to be going backwards.

One proactive idea is for Penny to create a centralized location where departments can see the ranks of her volunteer force. Perhaps she has a shared drive, or a bulletin board or newsletter that she can utilize to inform staff on the changing numbers of volunteers. Utilizing the categories that support her narrative will go a long way to educate everyone on real-time availability of the volunteers. And regularly surveying volunteers on their availability not only helps report accurately, but encourages volunteers to branch out and add other areas in which they will help.

Heck, maybe even she can include this category:

Number of on-boarded volunteers with specialized skills who have been introduced to departments, but are still awaiting an assignment from said departments. Now that would be an eye-opener, wouldn’t it?

Maybe another category could be:

Volunteers who quit because they were not being properly utilized.

Or how about this one:

Volunteers who quit because they were not treated well.

Perhaps a few of these categories peppered in might begin to light a fire under senior management to demand proper volunteer engagement from all staff, and not just the volunteer department.

When volunteer managers hesitate at being asked “how many volunteers do you have,” it’s not because they don’t know, it’s because it’s a fluid and ever changing figure. Each volunteer assignment is unique and the numbers of available volunteers are unique to that assignment.

Reporting in categories can be one method to help paint a clearer picture of how many volunteers are available.

Today. This hour. This moment.


Taming the Mokita


, , , , , , , , ,


Ahhh Mokita. It’s time we talked about the elephant in the volunteer manager room. We want to stand up for ourselves, but we don’t want to be ruthless. We want to be selfless but we don’t want to be stepped on. We look at our traits in terms of opposites. So we pick one side over the other, never thinking that we can be a whole and more productive person by uniting these two sides.

How can volunteer managers tame the emotional war within us? Must we be placid to be kind? Do we have to become hardened, selfish and mean spirited to achieve respect and recognition for our work?

NO, NO and once more, NO.

In order to cease battling and reconcile the two sides within, we first must dispel our burdensome misconceptions. Let’s look at the traits that make up our Mokita: We’ll consult a dictionary as the authority.

Misconceptions on the giving side:

Humble = weak; (no, it means ‘not proud or arrogant’)

Altruistic = easy; (not even close; it means ‘unselfishly concerned for or devoted to the welfare of others’)

Magnanimous = powerless; (not in this lifetime; it means ‘free from petty resentfulness or vindictiveness’)

Kindhearted = spineless; ( no, way off; it means ‘showing kindness’)

Helpful = doormat; (no, besides one is an adjective, the other a noun, but anyway, it means ‘being of service’)

And misconceptions on the taking side:

Strong = mean; (no, and I LOVE this. It means ‘especially able, competent, or powerful in a specific field or respect’)

Respected = selfish; (no, and this is just priceless. It means ‘having esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person’)

Appreciated = greedy; (nah, and this couldn’t be better. It means ‘being valued or regarded highly’)

Conscientious = uncooperative; (nope, never did. It means and this is so spot on, ‘governed by conscience; controlled by or done according to one’s inner sense of what is right; principled’)

Bold = conceited; (no, didn’t think so. It means, and oh yes, this is perfect; ‘not hesitating or fearful in the face of actual or possible danger or rebuff; courageous and daring’)

For too long, volunteer managers have operated under the misconception that we are the the pushovers, and the pack mules of our organizations. But in order to change these misconceptions, we must first change them within. If we do not believe that we can be strong and bold without losing our altruistic and humble nature, then we won’t convince anyone else either.

Maybe, to ease the emotional adjustment to becoming courageous and daring, we can look at it like this: We’re not changing to only better ourselves. We’re changing to help lift all the other volunteer managers and volunteer programs out there. We are striving for respect and appreciation to light the path for all those future volunteer leaders.

Now that’s more in keeping with our altruistic nature, isn’t it?




Our Mokita Is In The Room


, , , , , , , ,


Mokita is a New Guinea word that speaks of a “truth we all know but agree not to talk about,” which can more easily be translated into “the elephant in the room.”

Do we, volunteer managers have a Mokita stomping around our offices?  Do we put our fingers in our ears when it trumpets? Yeah, I kinda think we do. So what is it? What big elephant are we ignoring when it knocks reports off the shelf and whacks us with its trunk as we work?

We, volunteer managers are at war within ourselves.

Yep, I believe we are. See, on one hand, we are givers, nice, humble, stand in the background types who push our painstakingly cultivated volunteers to reach for the sky. We fade into the shadows while putting everyone ahead of ourselves-the volunteers, the clients, staff, administration, the board, the donors, everyone. Very noble, right?

On the other hand, though, we secretly would like to do a little taking. Somehow we magically hope our organizations will recognize the work we are doing, will appreciate all the sacrifice, and will actually see us in the shadows and give us the respect we have earned. We want a seat at the adult table. We want more than just individual volunteers honored once a year. Truth be told, we want our programs and yes, ourselves recognized as well . Selfish, right?

And when no one sees us in the corner, we get frustrated. We feel beaten down, unappreciated, misunderstood. We can become bitter and angry. We can quit and go work at the Tire and Lube Store down the street or we can stick around and watch the elephant grow bigger on the peanuts of continuing letdown.

It is our Mokita-our deep appreciation for being humble and giving versus our frustration at not being recognized for our humility and giving nature. And it is our inner turmoil in refusing to ‘sell our souls’ to become selfish in wanting to fix this. It is the elephant that constantly bumps our desks and breaks our spirits. Those silent pretty elephant eyes look accusingly at us and ask, “will you cease to be that nurturing person if you demand some respect?”

So what do we do? Are we doomed because nice guys really do finish last? Or, are we, as a profession, awakening from under the blanket of background existence woven from fibers of frustration? Can we somehow balance our give and take and still maintain our cultivating spirits?

What do you think? Well, here’s a question for you to ponder: Do you think volunteer managers should rise to Executive Director positions? If you hesitated, even for just a teeny bit, the Mokita is strong with you.

Next time, some thoughts on Mokita: Do we have to live in the shadow of the elephant?


The Honestly Honest Truth


, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Brad sighed. “I haven’t had a response from our volunteer, Ashwan in several months. He hasn’t answered emails or phone calls, or come to our monthly meetings. He was a good one. I just don’t know what happened. Did we do anything wrong?”

This frustration ranks up there along with wondering why I was never employee of the year. Why do good volunteers fade away? Why don’t they tell us the truth about why they leave? Why aren’t they honest with us? We’re really nice people and we listen, right?

Well, maybe because we need to be more than honest with volunteers right from the start. We need to be honestly honest.  Oh sure, we say to them, “hey, this volunteering might not be for everyone,” but doesn’t that just smack a bit of sanctimonious superiority? Doesn’t that just have an undercurrent of “oh, our volunteering is only for the good volunteers, and that’s probably not you?” If someone said that to me, I’d be looking for the nearest door and planning my exit move too.

Maybe the breathy tales of our great volunteers can be a bit, well, off-putting for new volunteers. Who wants to have to live up to a Gandhi or a Mother Teresa?

Maybe, instead of peppering our new volunteer training with story after story of long-term volunteer successes, we could also talk about volunteers who leave and how that’s ok.

Maybe we could say things like:

“Take our volunteer Shirley for example. She only stayed with us for three months, but we are so grateful for those three months. We still keep in touch with her. No matter how much or long you are with us, when you’re done, you’re done. Only you know when that is. And that’s ok. All volunteers leave and each volunteer that leaves has made a huge difference and trust me, we are grateful for each one.”

“Volunteer Craig left after he tried a few different positions and found that they weren’t what he was looking for. Let’s be honestly honest here. We MAY FAIL YOU. Yes, that’s right, we may not intend to, but we may seem to take you for granted, or fail to use your skills. We’re human too and we want to fix things, for you and for other volunteers, so please, tell us when something is not right, because we are not perfect. Craig discussed this with us and we fixed some things because he shared his experience.”

“Believe it or not, we don’t expect you to stay forever! And believe it or not, losing interest or moving on is something we experience all the time. That happened with our student volunteer, Sheri. She finished her degree and moved on. She got what she wanted from her experience here and took those skills with her when she left. That’s great! You are growing and changing and so are we. Nothing remains the same and if you find yourself feeling restless and wanting to move on, let us know. We want to have the opportunity to talk about it with you. Please don’t rob us of the chance to say thank you.”

“If you find volunteering elsewhere a better fit for you, let us know so we can send a great recommendation along with you. All volunteering is good work and we are not in competition with other organizations. Our volunteer Marvin found that another organization was a better fit for him. We were so pleased that he took his volunteering to the next level. He comes back and helps us with special events and we love to hear about how he’s doing.”

Every volunteer leaves a lasting impression on us. And while we strive to make volunteers comfortable with us, they may not be comfortable enough to share the reasons they leave. They may just think that our conception of a good volunteer revolves around how long they stay. Then, when they fade away, we lie awake and night and wonder why.

So why not be honestly honest from the beginning and try to make it easier on them. And ultimately, easier on us too.