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


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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


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“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


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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


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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


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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.


A Corporate Volunteering Interview Part 2


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Part 2 of the interview with Sadie on corporate volunteering-the day of the event.


VPT: So, on the day of the event, you and several other employees met up at the location. How did it go?

S: Well, we had an issue with parking. There were street parking spots, but a sign said ‘two hour parking only.’ We parked anyway. It was a four-hour shift so we figured we would have to come out and move the cars. Later, when we asked, they told us that the city had waived that rule and we could stay in our spots.

VPT: After you parked, you went in and what happened?

S: The building was a warehouse type of building and we had no idea how to get in.

VPT: What did you do?

S: We went around back, found a back door and went in through there.

VPT: And then what?

S: We found the makeshift kitchen where there was coffee and donuts and we announced ourselves to the people in there. They asked if this was our first year and we said yes, so they got another person to come and train us.

VPT: Were they volunteers or staff? How did you know they were part of the event?

S: I honestly don’t know if they were paid or not. But they wore stick on name badges.

VPT: Did they greet you?

S: They seemed stressed. It felt like they didn’t know what to do with us. They consulted the printed out sign up sheet and saw that we were listed so they said they would try to find a spot for us.

VPT: What did the training consist of?

S: About two minutes worth of what we were supposed to do.

VPT: And that was….

S: We were to walk around with the clients. They would have a shopping cart and we would go from station to station where they would pick out toys according to how many children they had and their ages. Then we would escort them to the stations where they would get boxes of donated food. I will say, the person who showed us what to do was very nice.

VPT: How were the stations?

S: The stations were very well set up, and organized. You could tell they had done this many times before.

VPT: Were you given any information on how to act around the clients, anything about sensitivity or confidentiality?

S: (laughs). At one point we were told to try to get stories of hardship from the clients so that we could direct them to a station that had extra toys. They had more toys than they needed, so I guess that’s a good thing.

VPT: Did someone check in with you during your shift to see if everything was ok.

S: Not with me, I don’t know about the others.

VPT: And you were there for four hours.

S: Longer. One of our group, Justin, who was helping at a food station, was told he could not leave until his replacement showed up. After thirty minutes of waiting, we just left. Some of us rode together and had to go.

VPT: Did anyone acknowledge you when you left?

S: No. Justin told his station manager and we left.

VPT: How was it working with the clients?

S: That was great. The people were very grateful and appreciated our being there to help.

VPT: Were you comfortable with the clients, given you had minimal training?

S: Surprisingly, yes. It felt very natural.

VPT: Did your firm get any acknowledgement, thank you, write-up, mention on website, anything?

S: No, nothing that I am aware of. In hindsight, we should have worn company t-shirts or brought something for them to use. They didn’t ask, though.

VPT: Did you have some sort of follow-up meeting with your fellow employees after the event?

S: No, we probably should have done that. But I did check in with them individually.

VPT: What feedback did you get from the other employees?

S: They thought it was worthwhile. They felt like they made a connection with the people being helped.

VPT: Will you be back next year?

S: Yes.

VPT: What will bring you back?

S: As much as I didn’t appreciate how it was run, it is about the people I was helping and it makes me feel good to help them. I wasn’t able to volunteer until I was a point in my life where I felt I was able to help others. Now that I can do that I feel like I’m also able to take on obstacles such as the people running the show. Maybe they started off like me, caring about the people more, and they never transitioned over to caring for the volunteers that help the people in need. I’m not sure, but I do feel like it comes with the territory.

VPT: Anything else?

S: Second reason I’ll go back is because it might not be the best environment to make me feel appreciated, but I’m comfortable now. I do have a busy life and I chose this organization for a reason. To find another one like it is time-consuming and what if it was just the same or worse? I feel comfortable at this organization now and next year I will be able to walk in, do what I came to accomplish and leave.

VPT: Thank you Sadie for sharing your experience with us.

Huh. Well, that was definitely eye-opening. So, I guess the takeaway is we should be relieved when volunteers put up with us because it’s just too darned time-consuming to find another place to spend their time and talents. And luckily for us, that new place might be worse.

And hey, here’s a thought. Maybe we should thank the people we serve for being needy. Maybe we could just give them a reward for keeping our volunteers coming back. We could call it the “Sob Story of Retention” award.

Or maybe we could just do better.


A Corporate Volunteering Interview


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I was really lucky to catch up with and interview Sadie, a busy mother and professional who took charge of a corporate volunteering event this past December for her financial firm. Here is the interview:

VPT(volunteerplaintalk): Thank you for speaking with me today. I understand that you took the reins on a corporate volunteer project over the holidays?

S: Yes, my firm allows us 4 hours of paid time to volunteer and I wanted to do something myself around the holidays because it felt like the time to give back. And because our 4 hours does not accrue for the following year, so I either had to use the time or lose it.

VPT: How were you chosen to head up the corporate volunteering event?

S: Quite by accident. I was just looking to fill my 4 volunteering hours.

VPT: So you had planned on only volunteering yourself?

S: Initially, yes, along with one of my friends.

VPT: Did you find the organization you chose on your own or did they reach out to you?

S: I found it on my own. It is a local toy drive put on by a local city organization and my mom had done something similar in Florida and I thought it would be a festive, holiday experience and I know that there is actual work that needs doing during the holidays to pull off these events.

VPT: How did you end up doing a corporate volunteer event?

S: Well, I approached my HR department to see if this organization would count towards my 4 hours and they told me that a number of employees hadn’t yet taken advantage of the volunteering hours for the year. They asked me if I would take charge of making it a corporate volunteering event and I agreed.

VPT: How did you feel about taking charge?

S: I really didn’t mind, because at our firm, we run projects, and so we are often in charge of other team members. But I will say, that there is more pressure when you are trying to create a worthwhile experience for a group. You don’t want to waste your fellow volunteers’ time.

VPT: So, how did you set up this volunteering event with the organization?

S: Well, I went to their website and saw that groups could volunteer. There were several categories, including sorting toys and food, setting up and also volunteering to help the people shop on the giveaway days of the event. I wanted our group to volunteer on the day they actually gave away toys and food to needy people, because I thought that it would be very meaningful for us.

VPT: And how did you sign up?

S: There was a place on the website to sign up for a particular date, so I did that with the names of the members of my group. I signed up two groups on two successive days. I also called the number listed on the website and left a message, because I wanted to make sure that my sign-up was recorded and I did have a few questions.

VPT: And what did you ask when they returned your call?

S: I never did get a return call.

VPT: What? No one called you back?

S: No, no one did.

VPT: Did you try again? Did you get a confirming email?

S: I called again and left a message. I did not get an email either.

VPT: Were you worried at that point?

S: Yes, very. I was now responsible for my co-workers’ volunteer hours, and time was running out on the year.

VPT: What did you do?

S: Well, I was very busy, what with all the family things to do and at work we had some projects with deadlines, so I waited for some sort of acknowledgement.

VPT: Did it come?

S: Luckily, yes. When I was about to look for another volunteer opportunity, I received an email asking me to sign up again through a website called signup genius. I clicked on the link and re-signed the  two groups for two separate days.

VPT: Did you get a response then?

S: Yes, an automated one from signup genius saying thank you and confirming.

VPT: But no personal response?

S: No, none. I did get a reminder from signup genius, so that was helpful.

VPT: Was that enough?

S: It would have been reassuring and helpful to get a personal phone call or email, but I just trusted that we were good to go.

VPT: And did you inform your group that you were good to go?

S: Yes, I forwarded the confirmation email to them with their names listed.

VPT: Did you meet with your group before the event?

S: No, we did not meet. It seemed pretty straightforward.

VPT: Did you have an idea of who and where to report to on your volunteer day and what role you would have?

S: I was in the day one group, so I could inform the group on day 2 of anything they needed to know. But, no, I had no idea who we were supposed to report to or where. I did have the address, though.

VPT: And so, in good faith you just…

S: (laughs) We just showed up.

VPT: And how did it go?

S: Well, parking was a real issue and we couldn’t figure out how to get into the building..

Sorry to cut it off here, but the interview is longer than one post. Next time-what happened on the day of volunteering: The conclusion of Sadie’s interview.

Thanks and have a great week!


Your Volunteer Manager Horoscope for 2017 Part 2


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…and the rest of the volunteer manager horoscopes for 2017 are…

July 23 to August 22

This is a very social year, and a lunar eclipse in Leo awakens your self-awareness, giving you the confidence to advertise your many program successes, which means you will wake up one morning, after having dreamed about vicious little Gavin in third grade who always copied off your papers and then threatened to rub your face in his tuna sandwhich if you told, and you will borrow a megaphone from your football crazed cousin who smells like ham and lives in your aunt’s basement. You will don your wizard’s hat left over from your Gandalf Halloween costume and you will arrive early at work, and stand near the front door, fist raised, blasting loudly all the things you’ve accomplished as staff and volunteers arrive. You continue to amplify stats such as “our volunteer team increased by 15% this year, are you listening?!” and “volunteers now have a hotline to call thanks to me,” until you feel a tap on your shoulder and you turn quickly, hitting the CEO in the side of the head with your megaphone which sports a sticker that reads ‘Balls are for Playing,’ knocking his new designer glasses to the pavement, breaking them in half.

On the flip and positive side, you do think about real ways to trumpet volunteer successes so you enlist businesses up and down the main thoroughfare in your town to post pro-volunteer messages on their marquee signs. These messages announce volunteer stats and words of support and thanks during volunteer appreciation week, which increases awareness and not only brings in more volunteers, but also creates new corporate donor partnerships with your organization. Your CEO forgives you while sporting new glasses and asks you to increase your campaign of awareness, enlisting other departments to help.  (You social guru, you!)

August 23 to September 22

Uh, oh, Saturn is still squaring your sign giving you lessons to learn, and encouraging you to take it slow and steady. This means you will suddenly declare your office space a “No Emergency Zone” and you will send out a memo to all staff that you have hand printed on recycled gift paper with scented markers from a co-op in India. The memo reads in part: “Placement of volunteers is no mindless task, like making coffee or calling donors. NO! It is a thoughtful, nuanced and carefully crafted exercise that takes experience, level-headed planning and the most bodacious, artful begging in the world! There are at least 20 steps to making the correct volunteer assignment, and if you need me to read those steps to you, send me a note and I will read them to you when I am good and ready. From here on out, volunteer requests must be submitted no less than three weeks in advance, to ensure excellence in all volunteering assignments.” You will nail a box to your door marked. “Properly Planned Volunteer Requests. No Last Minute Filing Need Be In Here! This means you, too, administration.”  When you smugly open the box the first time, you discover chewed gum, used tissues and a note that says, well, I can’t print it for all the profane language. Your immediate supervisor will force you to remove the box after you submit a volunteer name to marketing one week after their event is over.

On a more positive side, this is a year of putting down roots, so one afternoon while accompanying a friend who is apartment searching, you come up with an idea for a volunteer education program you call  “Rooted in Learning.” This idea resonates because you have experienced the growth or your volunteers due to their hunger for knowledge about your program. You enlist virtual volunteers to help create a monthly educational newsletter filled with articles, tips and research not only pertinent to the volunteers’ jobs, but also to the volunteers’ personal well-being and development. It is such a hit that it becomes a weekly newsletter with contributions from a growing team of virtual volunteers, who then ask for more work and they begin to aid other organizational departments as well. This new program wins a local award for innovation and creativity. (You innovative master, you!)

September 23 to October 22

Oh, Libra, Jupiter retrogrades in the spring, bringing rapid change which means that you will suddenly decide after visiting that new Turkish coffee shop  to complete all your pending projects in a weekend you dub, “Rapid Fire Volunteering.” You decide to camp out at your office, bringing in a sleeping bag, toothbrush and soap, and a picture of your ex-partner because the sight of him makes you wildly aggressive. You schedule volunteers in one hour shifts to help you arrange all your notes and binders on the floor and tables in your office and you work non-stop while listening to vintage Prodigy albums. At 4am, a security guard finds you sleeping among strewn potato chip bags, “Firestarter” playing in a loop, and, thinking you are a vagrant, he calls the police.  He pokes you with his night stick and almost tasers you when you jump up swinging because in the dark, the policeman slightly resembles your ex-partner.  The policeman helps you to your feet and then confirms your employment by phone with a very angry and sleepy senior manager. Your organization circulates a memo, initiating a “no sleeping in your office policy,” and they include a picture of a sleeping you, dried saliva running down your cheek.

But ironically, this energy serves you well and one day, you are in a departmental meeting involving volunteer services, marketing and PR. While listening to the marketing manager talk about their wish list,  you hatch an idea to create a volunteer marketing assistant group. You enlist your most vocal volunteers and with a marketing training course, these volunteers accompany speakers to speaking engagements, providing support, volunteer success stories and that personal touch. The volunteers also contact local groups to book more speaking engagements, increasing your organization’s community awareness, support and donations. (You brilliant thinker, you!)

October 23 to November 21

Good ol’ Jupiter hangs out in your 12th house allowing you to reboot, creating a desire to really recharge. This means that although you pore through brochures about retreats to Nepal, the grim reality is that you can’t afford such a lavish trip, so you decide to go on a pilgrimage right there in your own town. You dress in Buddhist robes and sandals and carry a gnarled walking stick that you name “Metaphysical Mike” and begin your odyssey, quoting the Dali Lama as you walk through the main shopping area to raise awareness of volunteering. One morning, while pausing in front of Donna’s Diner to adjust the placard around your neck that reads “non-violence is volunteering,” you are approached by a man dressed in fur. He claims to be Sasquatch and although he just wants to hug you, you defensively bonk him on the head with Metaphysical Mike. He backs away, knocking over the diner’s cute cafe tables and Donna herself comes out to yell, but you hike up your robes and run. You finally breathlessly stop outside your office building, where a group of retired seamstresses are politely waiting for a tour of your organization. One of the group’s members is a volunteer who happily announces, “Oh, here’s our volunteer manager. She’ll take us on a tour!” Trapped, you lead the group through the building, your dirty and tattered robes falling off as you raise Metaphysical Mike and point out a startled group of administrators having lunch.

On a saner and positive flip side, you do create a retreat for your volunteers, enlisting the services of your town’s business owners. You feature alternative therapies, such as yoga, massage, healing touch, reiki, and aromatherapy in a day of “Recharge and Refresh.” It is a resounding success and your CEO asks you to head up a committee to create annual staff and volunteer retreats. You agree and find that you are now recruiting more alternative therapy volunteers who go on to create innovative and meaningful programs for your clients. (You freakin’ guru, you!)

November 22 to December 21

Since your ruling planet is in your teamwork zone, you are pumped to make teamwork a priority and after spending an evening at a local sports pub because your friend wanted to meet the cute new bartender, your mind is swirling from all the television sets broadcasting various sports channels. While watching extreme sports, you decide to create your own team atmosphere by hand printing shirts for your volunteers that say, “Team Bestest Ever.” You wear a cap proclaiming yourself “Head Coach of Team Awesome” and one afternoon, you pass out pom poms to all employees in a staff meeting, claiming that they are the cheerleaders for team volunteer. You then pull three random staff members to the front of the room and attempt to lead them in a cheer, asking them to respond to your cheers by shouting “volunteer:” “Who’s the team that’s underappreciated? Volunteer! Who’s the team we fail to notice? Volunteer! Who’s the team that everybody should be thanking but don’t cause we don’t really know what they do and how complicated it is to keep them engaged? Volunteer!” When you realize no one is participating, but rather looking at you in total shock, you sulk back to your seat and sit down. You then are made to take down all the posters you have put up all over your organization, especially the ones that read, “Team Volunteer is Smarter Than Team Finance” and “Team Volunteer Challenges Team Grant Writers To a Cage Fight!”

Thankfully, when the talk of your ” epic breakdown” fades away, a more positive team idea formulates. You create teams of volunteers made up of a mix of seasoned veterans, new volunteers, prospective volunteers, varying age groups, gender, culture etc. to promote a spirit of volunteer teamwork. The ensuing by-product is these team members support one another, disseminate crucial information, fill in for one another when necessary and work at retaining the members of their group. It is a teamwork win-win and your organization asks you to help recreate the concept for staff which infuses a positive and recharged organizational spirit. (You winning coach, you!)

December 22 to January 19

Saturn rounds out a tour through your 12th house, meaning you will reveal many hidden things and so, one night while reaching for another tissue while watching “How to Train Your Dragon” again, you conjure up a volunteer department based on honesty and revelation. The next day while speaking to a volunteer who asks why she wasn’t told there were no chairs for her to sit upon at the table she manned during the last community fair, you try out your new communication style and answer, “Well, because Doris, the manager of PR, didn’t tell me that we needed to furnish our own chairs.” And in a fit of honest lunacy, you add, “let’s go up and give her a piece of our minds!” Horrified, the volunteer reluctantly follows you up to administration where you rap on Doris’ door, smiling sweetly at your petrified volunteer. When a puzzled Doris invites you in, you point to your volunteer and say, “our volunteer has something to say to you. Go on, be honest.” At this point, the volunteer bursts into tears and runs from the office, bumping into another volunteer who just collated 100 copies of the new procedures manual. Both volunteers drop to the ground, sobbing while gathering the scattered pages and you end up spending your day re-collating the manual and apologizing profusely. Doris, meanwhile bans you from her office for the next three months.

When fellow staff stop avoiding you, you feel the time is right for your volunteer department to spread some much-needed positive joy within your overworked and stressed organization. You obtain permission for your volunteers to read “words of joy and inspiration” at staff meetings. The volunteers recount some of their personal journeys and experiences while volunteering and these 3 minute episodes are a huge hit with grateful staff. Based on the new-found camaraderie, your volunteers decide to create a “spa day” for overwhelmed staff, an event that features massage, and art therapy and stress relieving journal writing. Spa day becomes an eagerly awaited yearly staple and fosters a new appreciation for volunteers.(You wicked good leader, you!)

Well, there it is! After she rolled up the charts, Ms. Crystal Ball-Starrzowie wiped the sweat from her brow, either because she had worked really hard, or maybe because the broken furnace in her basement kept running on super high, I’m not sure which. But she did grab my face, locked her eyes on mine and said, “Now this is vitally important. Listen very carefully.” She tightened the grip on my cheeks and added, “your credit card was denied. You owe me $78.”

Cheers and here’s to 2017!


Your Volunteer Manager Horoscope for 2017


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I was so excited (after paying an online $78 service fee) to book a one hour session with the famous astrologer, Crystal Ball-Starrzowie in her uptown “basement of timeless possibilities.” I could not wait to learn all that is in store for volunteer managers for 2017 and so I took a bus into town, finally stumbling over two garbage cans and upon “Starrzowie’s Astrological Emporium” tucked in between a laundromat and convenience store. Crystal Ball-Starrzowie met me at the door and immediately shushed me, putting her purple cat fingernail over my lips, then she led me down past the ping-pong table to her “mystic room.” The patchouli incense burned my eyes, but I knew I had to do this for you, so I sucked it up, literally, and in between mopping the tears from my painful eyes, I wrote down her breathy predictions for volunteer managers for the coming year.

Here they are:

January 20 to February 18

Jupiter, that giant gaseous seeker planet moves into your global ninth house, indicating you will take an epic pilgrimage this year, which means you will most likely rent a family sized van and carpool a group of volunteers to a self-help seminar, where, after 15 minutes you will lose them in the crowd just as the presenter shouts, “Grab hands of the person next to you!” You will end up frantically enlisting security to help you find your missing volunteers, who have all wandered next door to the competing seminar, “Take No Prisoners, Grab What You Want Out of Life.” As you approach, the volunteers wave their seminar lists of ‘stand up rights’ and forcefully demand that they now be provided with organic snacks while volunteering and that they will pick the route on the drive home which involves stopping at the local Pottery Barn for a clearance sale.

On a more positive note, a couple of lunar eclipses enhance your self-authorizing nature and spur a long-awaited change which means you will finally raise your hand in a staff meeting and say, “while it may seem like it is easy to ‘just get volunteers to do that’,  I’d love to help as best as I can. Meanwhile, may I present at next quarter’s meeting on the nuances of managing volunteers so as to give everyone a perspective on volunteer engagement?”  And then you will follow through with an awesome presentation on the changing world of volunteerism. (You freakin’ rock star!)


February 19 to March 20

Saturn, the sage planet has been messing around in your success-driven 10th house and you will make some lifestyle changes, meaning that after much thought, you will decide to switch to an unlisted phone number, then you will reconsider and make that number public when you miss all the volunteers calling you at all hours, then in a fit of what most of us deem insanity, you will invite volunteers to your house for a home-made vegan dinner (which consists of canned corn and frozen zucchini because both are out of season at the farmer’s market) and a round table discussion on ‘zany ways to make volunteering more appealing’. Several volunteers choke on the clumpy corn and you meet some really nice paramedics who calm you with a shot of tranquilizers.

On a positive note, while you are considering planning a volunteer recruitment square dance, spiritual Neptune drifts through your sign, sparking real creativity. Instead, you design an open retreat for all volunteers from your community, focusing on the spiritual aspect of helping others and from this humble gathering, you not only gain new help, you forge a group relationship with other volunteer managers in your area. This group will provide much welcomed support for one another. (You creative genius!)

March 21 to April 19

Five, count them, five crazy planets influence you this March which indicates epic, grassroots advocacy, meaning you will have an epiphany one night and will picket your own organization, cajoling three volunteers to join you in carrying signs that call for the ethical treatment of volunteers. When the local TV news station shows up, having been tipped off by a staff member who is still mad you didn’t get a volunteer to run an errand for her three years ago, you run in a zigzag pattern, just like you saw on CSI into a nearby parking lot where you and two volunteers hide behind parked cars. (the third volunteer hides behind a tree making bird sounds because she just had knee surgery and can’t run.)  Luckily, your executive director is not overly angry, but sits you down and challenges you to put all that leadership energy to better use.

On a more positive note, since this is the year powerful partnerships emerge for Aries, you will seek out and partner with a local corporation to combine team building with meaningful corporate volunteering, which garners a positive write-up in the local newspaper and makes your executive director very happy she didn’t fire you. (You amazing activist you!)

April 20 to May 20

Jupiter, Mr. Humongous Adventure will shake up your sixth house of routine and responsibilities, meaning you will create a giant mandala on the floor around your desk where you will place buckets representing tasks to be done, such as read email, assign volunteers, plan events, etc. Each morning you will throw handfuls of shredded documents into the air and whichever bucket gets the most scraps of paper is the task you will complete. Other staff will steer clear of your area until they can no longer bear the sound of your mantra chanting “volunteers are people too, volunteers are one with the mission,” and administration will make you remove the fire hazard burning candles.

On the other, positive hand, because your persistent nature abounds this year, you will finally convince your executive director to free up some funds to send you and several volunteers to educational training opportunities which leads to new successful and innovative projects, a few of which are piloted by those same, capable and motivated volunteers who attended the educational sessions with you. (You raging bull, you!)

May 21 to June 20

Crazy Jupiter is in retrograde from February through June giving you a chance to experiment with your already amazing style. You dye your hair purple, go completely boho and wear white t-shirts on which you have volunteers draw pictures and write their favorite quotes, uplifting messages and thoughts. You wear these “canvases of inspiration” to all meetings and events until your town’s mayor who officiates a major fund-raiser points out that on the back of your shirt is scribbled, “kick me in an inspirational place.” You then visit your local thrift store for new to you clothes, because you had given all yours away.

However, in a positive vein, the planet of surprises, Uranus influences your friendships which means, creative Gemini, that you will forge a friendship with a video maker who helps you to create a series of volunteer training videos that are informative and engaging and aids you in attracting more well-rounded volunteers. (You star, you!)

June 21 to July 22

Mars, that red planet named after the god of war, can create aggression and impulsive behavior and he makes an appearance in your house this year. Tired of being playfully called the ‘caretaker’ because you always pick up the slack to ensure that volunteers have what they need at events and assignments, you’ve finally had enough of doing other people’s jobs and you go on strike. You refuse to make another volunteer assignment until your volunteer manifesto is read over the intercom. Fearing for your mental health, HR schedules an appointment with a psychologist who happens to be the brother-in-law of a senior manager. He thoroughly agrees with you, having tried to volunteer at your organization years before you got there. Having been treated as ‘just a volunteer,’ he understands your frustration and releases you immediately, commenting that you are saner than his own family.

In the positive meantime, pesky Saturn, the sage comes into your sixth house of structure and you wisely focus on putting volunteer procedures and job descriptions into place. Your intelligent policies and procedures attract the attention of the Quality assurance folks and they enlist you to head up a task force to rewrite organization policies. (You smarty pants, you!)

Ok, enough, I have to decipher the rest of my hasty scribbling, because at this point I was wiping my eyes with my paper which smeared a lot of the notes, but I will post the rest of Ms. Ball-Starrzowie’s earth shattering predictions next week.

Happy Positive Year!


Back to Work


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The holidays, like the saved for since childhood vacation or the once in a lifetime visit to a restaurant with that one meal that beats all meals ever consumed in history, must at some point come to an end. Then the letdown, or the blues or the blahs set in. The little piece of owl wrapping paper hurriedly left on the corner of your desk stares at you, evoking memories of gift exchanges and the excited sharing of upcoming plans and the anticipation of fun.

Now, work looks stark in contrast. Those colorful post it notes have a utilitarian feel and the decorations that need to come down are just one more job along with the shoveling of emails and the cleaning out of the gutter of voice mails. Blaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

Or maybe you’ve had to work over the holidays, overseeing volunteer involvement in events or client interactions or special projects. Then your holidays feel stolen somehow, because at the time, it was festive to know you were helping others, but now it just seems all too short.

So, I’ll make this quick and not add to your stress. You have better things to do with your time like sneak into a bathroom stall and weep a bit. And, since I am no therapist and usually don’t know what the hell I’m talking about anyway, here is my advice for this week’s return to work:

1. Don’t feel guilty about feeling blah: No, nope, nada, nyet, iie, non, kao, nej. Your feelings are real and justified.

2. Plan for your next getaway: Yep, put something on your calendar to look forward to, especially if you need it right now. Next week, you probably won’t need it so much, but right now, it is the light at the end of this back to work tunnel.

3. Take it super slow: Only do what is absolutely critical to not lose your job. Other than that, allow the me comfort to continue all day, mainly to avoid telling the marketing director to ##!@ off because you weren’t ready to be asked for six volunteers to get those New Year’s flyers distributed asap.

4. Make your work about your choice: “I choose to do..” rather than “I have to do..” will help shift that out of control feeling.

5. Reflect on joy: What made you happy during the holidays? Studies show that the act of remembering joy can reawaken the joy. Go ahead and let that happiness wash over you again.

We can’t inspire others if we are not healthy and whole. Please don’t ever think that your well being is not crucially important to this work. It is. Take good care of yourselves, because you are more important to furthering your mission than you will ever admit.

Happy and Joy Filled New Year!