Sometimes, You Fight the Good Fight and Sometimes, You Go


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Sometimes, You Fight the Good Fight and Sometimes, You Go

I had a different post all ready to go, and it just didn’t feel right today, not after the lunch I had yesterday with a very good friend and volunteer manager. Ironically, I had just read the brilliant post by Elisa Kosarin on her blog, Twenty Hats about a note to self: When your volunteer mindset needs a boost.

Elisa talks about the disparity between a volunteer manager’s salary and the value we assign to ourselves. Are we valued? Can we overcome the perception that we are not worth much?

But back to my friend. She’s done. She’s looking for another job, outside our field.

And she is one of the most naturally talented volunteer managers I have ever met. She knows people. She understands motivations. She is passionate about her mission. She embraces projects. She works hard.

She told me she just wants to be in a place where her talents are cultivated. She just wants to stop having to explain over and over her worth and the worth of her program, just to be shot down when she needs resources. She just wants to feel supported by her supervisors. She said she felt like a prop, one in which her caring face hid all the cavalier attitudes behind her. She just wants to be paid a fair wage.

It hurt to the core to hear how miserable she is and even though a part of me wanted to say, “But the work! The work is why we do this,” I couldn’t. It would have rung hollow, after all she has been experiencing.

So I agreed with her. Leave. Find a job where they appreciate your talents. If that is at another non-profit, then great, but if not, go where your soul is happy. We talked about how she could help a for profit company invest in community service. With her list of skills, enthusiasm and creativity, she will shine somewhere if just given the chance.

Thankfully, not all organizations that engage volunteers are as difficult. Most are serious about cultivating volunteers. Sadly, though, some just give lip service to volunteer programs.

Now, I wish for my friend a position in a company that recognizes her talents and I weep for the volunteers at the non-profit that caused her to feel this way.

She deserves better. Their volunteers deserve better.

Our profession deserves better.

And what’s really sad is that even though we are making great strides in elevating our profession, it’s too little, too late for my friend.

Sometimes, you just have to go where you will shine.


The Best of 2017, Volunteer Manager Style


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The Best of 2017 Volunteer Manager Style

Goodbye 2017! Hello New Year. But wait, was 2017 just another blah year for volunteer managers?

The biggest take-away from 2017 I believe, is that volunteer managers across the globe are finding and connecting with one another to share, learn and most importantly, become strong advocates for the profession.

Some pretty amazing events took place in the volunteer manager sector last year. Here are just a few highlights to give us some real hope for the future:

November 5th was International Volunteer Manager day: The theme for 2017 was “Be The Voice” and volunteer managers world-wide took the pledge to be the voice for volunteer management. Symbolic gestures of solidarity can be the impetus for real change.

Lisa Dyer, CVA, in conjunction with International Volunteer Manager day and the theme, “Be the Voice,” hosted a Blog Carnival which featured 12 volunteer manager blogs all advocating for volunteer management. We are learning that we share common challenges and goals, which points to more collaboration in the future.

In July, the Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration MAVA hosted the National Summit on Volunteer Engagement Leadership in St. Paul Minnesota. Over 500 professionals gathered to learn, connect and brainstorm the future of volunteer engagement leadership. The need to strengthen connections was one of the many take-aways.

VolunteerMatch continues to provide free resources for volunteer managers on the blog Engaging Volunteers while providing matching opportunities for prospective volunteers and organizations seeking help. Currently, there are 1.3 million monthly visitors.

Alive, the Association of Leaders in Volunteer Engagement and VolunteerMatch, two dynamic volunteer leadership organizations, are partnering to further volunteer engagement resources. We are looking forward to the future of this pairing.

Points of Light Conference on Volunteering and Service was held in Seattle in June, and the volunteer engagement track highlighted five trends.  These trends include ‘volunteer management can make or break an organization’ and ‘everyone has a role in volunteer management.’ It is great to hear these trends discussed on a large platform.

At the Volunteering New Zealand’s annual conference in Auckland, Rob Jackson’s keynote speech centered on stop being so bloody nice. Rob argues for the advancement of our profession by adopting professional attitudes and practices.

Over and over, we have learned that millennials are attracted to companies with strong cultures of giving which means volunteerism among millennials is a high priority. This up and coming generation gives us hope for the future of volunteerism.

A Twitter hashtag campaign gave us #volmgmt and #LOVols to tweet about all things related to creating great volunteer programs.

Everywhere, our neighbors, friends and fellow volunteers rushed to help those in need.

After Hurricane Harvey, volunteers rushed to help in historic proportions.

Goodwill exists: An army of volunteers rush to help.

After Hurricane Irma devastated Puerto Rico, volunteers are still on the ground.

People step up and volunteer: They fill the need.

The above events are just a sampling of the enormous strides being made in volunteer engagement and leadership.

I’m excited for 2018. I hope you are too.





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Do our volunteers connect us to those unexpected moments, the ones that last?

Greg had volunteered to help Roy, the brother of one of our hospice patients. Roy’s brother had died and as the only living relative, it was Roy’s job to empty out his brother’s house. It was a hot summer afternoon and I left work early to stop by. “Can you use some help?” I asked.  Greg wiped the sweat from his face and said, “yes.”

Some of the household items went to our thrift store, the bigger ones were given to neighbors and the rest were placed at the curb for trash pickup. As I was carrying a box to the street, I noticed Roy placing a plastic blow mold snowman in the pile. It must have been the way I studied the old Christmas decoration, because Roy looked at me and said, “would you like to have it?’

I touched the snowman’s hat, the jaunty band of yellow circling the snow-covered brim. “I would if you don’t mind.”

“My brother Michael loved Christmas,” Roy said wistfully and looked around at the remnants of his brother’s life scattered in so many directions.

I lifted the snowman, taking in his smile. “If it is all right with you,” I said, “I’m going to name him Michael.”

Roy nodded. The cars zipped by us, the garbage bags flapping in their wake.

“And every year, I will bring him out, light him and I will say, Merry Christmas, Michael. Is that ok?”

Roy put his hand on my shoulder. “I’d like that.” He touched the old plastic face, his fingers tracing a farewell of sorts. I carried the snowman to my car.


Every holiday season, for more than 10 years now, I’ve brought out the snowman with the jaunty hat and lit him up.

Merry Christmas Michael.


Have a very happy New Year.

Non Profit Executive Directors: What to Gift Your Volunteer Manager This Year


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What to Gift Your Volunteer Manager This Year

“What can I get my non-profit staff, especially that mysterious volunteer manager, who seems to run around a lot?”  You, my dear ED or CEO have come to the right place.

Let me help you gift your hard working volunteer manager this year with something he or she will actually treasure.

Forget that inflatable unicorn horn you wear on your head. Forget that sweater that depicts Santa in a magician’s hat. Forget that self help book on “How to Field Criticism and Still Feel Validated.”

Forget two extra weeks vacation, uh meh. No. Give a gift that really resonates with your VM. And, the best part is, it doesn’t cost you a thing, only a sheet of paper, a printer and a pair of scissors.  And, as a bonus, in typical cooperative volunteer manager style, I’ll even throw in the template!

Here are my three top picks for a Volunteer Manager Holiday gift:

Get Out of Event Free Card:

Get out of event free coupon

Budget Increase Steal of Choice card:

Budget Increase Steal of Choice

Immunity from Assignment Card:

immunity from assignment coupon

Well Executive Directors, there you have it, the top three gift coupons for your volunteer manager. A few moments, a pair of scissors and you are done shopping!

And, oh, volunteer managers? Feel free to slip these under the door of your executive director.

Unless you really want that coffee mug that says, “World’s Greatest Office Worker.”


The Volunteer Ripple Effect


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I’m convinced. We, Leaders of Volunteers (#LOVols) hold in our hands more power to affect positive change than we can even imagine.

We have the opportunity to impact the world beyond filling tasks and adding to our volunteer base. The intuitive feelings within each of us are spot on: There’s so much more going on than our excel spreadsheets show.

I remember long ago struggling to find volunteers who could be with clients while loved ones attended church or synagogue or temple or mosque. I would look for volunteers of that same faith and hoped that they would be willing to give up their own attendance to help someone in need. It was the way it had always been done and it was frankly, exhausting.

Then one day, a volunteer stepped forward. Hannah offered to sit with Christian clients on a Sunday morning. (I’d love to take credit for thinking this solution up, but, no, it came from this wonderful, selfless volunteer.) Bam! The light went on.

I feared that mixing faiths (or cultures, or beliefs) would be a challenge in itself, but you know what? (Of course you know what comes next) It ended up uniting people in mutual respect and a desire to understand one another. The mere act of reaching across a cultural or spiritual divide created its own sense of wonder.

And here’s the thing. For the volunteers, it was never about, “oh, I’m so enlightened that I want to transcend these differences.” No, it was, “you know what? I’m free on a Sunday morning and you need someone, so what could be a better fit?”

The deep meaningful by-products of volunteering are seldom the initial goals. They just naturally evolve because the volunteer ripple brings out the best in everyone: Clients, families, volunteers, volunteer managers, staff, neighbors, community, everyone.

Think about that. Volunteer programs impact society in rippling positive ways beyond the delivering of meals, or escorting a tour group or passing out information. Our programs share love. Our programs open the doors for unity, connection and understanding to naturally take hold, and not just during holidays.

We often witness a profound change in people. We glimpse moments of powerful interconnection through the simplest of assignments. We stand, watching that small pebble create ripples of inspiring stories.

As you are running around this holiday season, scrambling to fill tasks, stop for a moment and think about the societal change you are helping to bring about. Because you value the innate worth of each human being and believe in their ability to transcend, you are spreading that change like a ripple in a vast sea.

Volunteerism is a rippling movement.

And leaders of volunteers are tossing the pebble into the water.


Press “2” For That Volunteer Question


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Press 2 For That Volunteer Question

“Yeah, so, this is Ginny from donor relations,” the voice on the phone sighs. “My next door neighbor’s fourteen year old daughter, April has a volunteer assignment for school. Why they are coming to me, I don’t know but just because I work at a non-profit, they think I’m free to help with all their little projects. When is the next volunteer training, or better yet, you call them. I don’t have time for this nonsense.”

“Hey, I’ve been calling you for an hour. Where are you? Anyway, this is Jazz from administration.”  The voice message plays, Jazz sounding out of breath.  “I need volunteer stats ASAP for a grant for our project that, oh, never mind, I just need some stats and fast to complete this application.  How many hours did volunteers give last quarter? This is the last component on the grant and it’s due today so I need this right away. Call me immediately.”

“Yo, this is Dean in records. The new volunteer, Charles, the one you sent us last month hasn’t been logging any hours, at least I don’t think so. I thought these volunteers knew what they were doing. Anyway, where does he fill out his paperwork again? And should he just make up hours for the time he worked?”

Do you get tired of answering the same questions over and over? While we are conditioned to give that personal touch, our time is pretty precious and continually answering simple questions can eat into our efforts spent cultivating volunteers, forging new recruitment avenues and solving challenges.

Taking a proactive approach can help. Think about all the standard questions repeatedly asked by staff and volunteers. Can these be put into a cheat sheet? Where can these cheat sheets be stored for maximum viewing?

We have to remember that folks don’t necessarily remember something told to them one time. Volunteers will forget specifics taught to them in orientation. Staff is too busy with their own pressing duties to remember the date of the next volunteer training. So, storing these cheat sheets in multiple areas will cut down dramatically on repetitive phone calls.

For volunteers, some visible places to store cheat sheets:

  • on a designated area of your website
  • as reminders in your newsletter
  • posted in your office
  • included in your welcome packet
  • given to volunteer mentors to share with newbies

For staff:

  • on an internal website
  • sent out as a quarterly email blast
  • given to department heads to post
  • at departmental meetings (ask to attend other department’s meetings to answer volunteer related questions, explain policies, intercept issues etc. )
  • on surveys sent to staff
  • posted in your office in case you are not at your desk
  • training dates posted prominently in your office (whiteboard, poster etc)
  • training dates printed on flyers, cards etc and given to staff (great recruitment tool also)

Besides cutting down on repetitive questions, posting core volunteer information creates an informed team of staff and volunteers who will disseminate correct information to potential volunteers. And, if volunteers have to constantly try to pin you down for simple questions, or if they always receive incorrect information from uniformed staff, they will quit out of frustration.

Elevating our vocation includes creating a comprehensive base of information visible to staff and volunteers. The more we polish the fundamentals of our volunteer programs, the more we can build upwards.

So, go ahead and press “2” for that volunteer question. But press “1” to leave the name and contact information of a prospective volunteer.”

Let’s make our systems work for us.



Thank You To The Volunteer Who Lied


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Thank You To The Volunteer Who Lied

Does this sound like you? Thank you to of all the wonderful volunteers who have enriched my soul and believed in my abilities. Ahhh, being thankful, it’s what we volunteer managers do so well.

But maybe we can also thank the volunteers who taught us lessons and built our characters. You know the ones. Their memories are seared into your psyche because you dropped your phone when you learned a trusted volunteer called a client “dumbo.”  You slunk back to your office when the CEO told you a volunteer tried to sell something to a client’s son. You stayed silent in meetings after a volunteer wrote that wildly incorrect letter to the editor.

They say that the hard lessons are the ones that stick. Yup, they are the lessons that keep you up at night, and make your hair go grey. (not the pretty kind either)

But, think about all the clients saved from unscrupulous volunteers because you learned a hard lesson. Think about all the necessary precautions you take because you were put through the wringer. Think about the watchful eye you developed because you were caught unaware.

In spite of intention, these volunteers give us the gift of experience.

I remember many years ago, Jacob, who lied to my face. I believed him, not because he was so charming and convincing, but because I wanted to believe him. I believed in the romantic notion that all people could see the light of volunteering and could set aside their personal agendas for the greater good. I dreamed of that world in which unicorns and faeries flitted about, sprinkling the magic dust of goodness upon all.

Jacob showed me that I had to be realistic if I truly wanted to do right by our clients. He showed me that healthy watchfulness did not diminish my job, but rather elevated it to a higher level of purposefulness.

You’ve been through this. We struggle to showcase all the carefully measured thought and actions required to match volunteers to clients and programs.  Unicorns and faeries are lovely, but we live in the real world. In the real world, placing volunteers with vulnerable clients takes discerning judgement, careful pairing and keen watchfulness. 

Luckily I was watchful enough to remove Jacob before any harm was done. So, I thank him and others for giving me a discerning nature, for strengthening my resolve to do right and for teaching me that compassion takes the courage to be a sentry.

Jacob most likely never intended to teach me anything.

But he never intended to embrace the mission either.


Volunteer Manager Job Update:  Should I Laugh or Cry?

A couple of months ago, I posted some volunteer manager wanted ads  and most of us pretty much agreed that they were lacking in inspiration. Well, thank you to Laura from Maine for sharing this volunteer coordinator ad with us.  I have not changed one word, but only added (my comments).

Wanted: Kitchen/Volunteer Coordinator:

The Kitchen Coordinator/Volunteer Coordinator is a very hands-on position that requires strong leadership skills, responsibility, and enthusiasm.

Job responsibilities include:

  • Designing healthy menus (uh, registered dietitians actually do this so shouldn’t the job read Kitchen/Dietitian/Volunteer Coordinator?) 
  • Training and supervising a large volunteer crew of cooks and custodians (wait, now the job is Kitchen/Dietitian/Custodian/Volunteer Coordinator)
  • Working with stores and volunteers to manage daily delivery of food donations (whoa, now it’s Kitchen/Dietitian/Custodian/Delivery Manager/Volunteer Coordinator)
  • Recording menus, inventory, and volunteer timesheets (meh)
  • Helping clients find housing and apply for jobs (So, ta da, we have a Kitchen/Dietitian/Custodian/Delivery Manager/Housing Expert/Job Placement/Volunteer Coordinator)

(I’m going to cry now over a piece of pumpkin pie).

Happy Thanksgiving, I hope it is wonderful.



What’s So Darned ‘Daring’ About Being Different?


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Whats so darned daring about being different

How does the statement, “Dare to be Different” make you feel? Does it make you want to dye your hair pink and wear Star Wars Jedi gear to work? Do you immediately want to throw away all your volunteer stats and mundane ways of recruiting volunteers?

Consider these two quotes about being different:

“I want to be different. If everyone is wearing black, I want to be wearing red.” …Maria Sharapova

“Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.” …Cecil Beaton

In the first quote, Maria Sharapova talks about the inner pleasure at being different for just being different. In the second quote, Cecil Beaton puts a purpose, an integrity, and an ethic to being different.

How do you view being different? Does it conjure up images of selfishness? Does it impose the stress of wild creativity for no good reason other than to stand out?

Volunteer managers don’t have to dare to be different, because we already are. What unique skills and abilities have you acquired due to managing volunteers? What principles have you discovered while leading volunteer programs? What undeniable truths did you learn from engaging with volunteers?

The tenets embedded deep in our souls are the things that make us different and it is not daring to hold fast to who we are. It’s simply the right thing to do.

How are we, volunteer managers so darned different?

  • We are highly aware. We consider all that is around us.
  • We have honed communication into an art form. We are communication hubs and can break information down to clear, impacting messages.
  • We are Visionistas. We develop talents, skills and passions, molding volunteer engagement to benefit both the receiver and the recipient.

But, along with these stand out qualities, there may be a few things differentiating us that we can work on. For instance,

  • We are selfless which may lead to us shrinking into the background and hiding our skill set.
  • We have a coaching mindset which may lead to our contributions being overlooked and therefore, organizations miss out on implementing our methods in other areas that would benefit from our expertise.
  • ‘We are humble, which may lead to being viewed as lacking in confidence. A perceived lack of confidence falsely implies that you have no confidence in your work. 

Being “different” means we have a unique space in our organizations, one that carries responsibilities and opportunities, not just for our volunteer programs, but for ourselves.

The challenges we face are opportunities to showcase the fine tuned skills and talents that make us different. Keeping those talents and skills hidden in the background does a disservice to our volunteers and our programs. It is time for volunteer managers to step out onto the non-profit stage and show everyone our amazing contributions and the ways we achieve those contributions. That’s not daring. That’s what’s needed.

We are different because what we do matters.

How we do it matters.

We matter.

So, do we, volunteer managers dare to be different? No, because we already own it.

Now we have to dare to show it.


Is Volunteer Management a Science?


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Is Volunteer Management a Science

In 1959, novelist and scientist, C. P. Snow gave a lecture entitled  The Two Cultures. Essentially Snow argued that the humanities and science were split into opposing cultures, each one not understanding the other.

Most of us would probably categorize volunteer management as a humanity.  In the post  The Volunteer Investor I likened volunteers to humanity investors.  But while humanity is at the heart of volunteering, isn’t the management of volunteers a science? And, by treating it as a science, does that automatically remove the humanity?

Well, what if we look at other science based professions that serve humanity?

  • Does the researcher seeking a cure for cancer not dream about the potential millions of people saved?
  • Does the engineer developing a new prosthetic not imagine the first time an amputee puts on that device and walks?
  • Does a safety engineer never think about the children she may keep safe?

Re-framing volunteer management as a science will not remove the humanity. Instead, it will elevate the skills volunteer managers possess. 

So, then how can we re-frame volunteer management to reflect the science of it? Do we stop talking about the heartfelt work volunteers do? Do we become invested in cold stats? Or, can we do both? Can we still convey the humanity while highlighting the precise steps taken to achieve outcomes?

When we, leaders of volunteers separate the volunteers’ incredible outcomes from the systematic steps needed to achieve those outcomes, then we can begin to identify and speak to the science of volunteer management.

How? Well, we can, as volunteer management professionals begin to:

  • Temper human stories with solution stories and the steps necessary to achieve results
  • Speak in management language when discussing volunteer engagement and challenges
  • Remove emotion when dealing with difficult situations and instead, utilize scientific methods such as observation, gathering of data, testing and logical thinking to solve problems
  • Re-evaluate programs based on priorities, time involved and solutions achieved
  • Re-think in terms of humanely leading volunteers, but managing projects
  • Tout the science of volunteer engagement in terms of strategies, social metrics and road-maps
  • Categorize the skills used to engage volunteers, such as motivating, knowledgeable delegating (not just delegation because anybody can delegate), problem solving, results orienting, relationship building, strategical planning, innovating and big picture thinking
  • Chronicle the methodical steps necessary to engage volunteers
  • Create data that leads to goals, such as maps, diagrams etc
  • Experiment and innovate

The perception that we coordinate volunteers who require nothing more than a phone call negates the methods required to fully engage these investors in our missions.

Do we do ourselves a disservice when we blur the lines between the hearts of our volunteers and the hard work we do? Do we sometimes become so emotionally invested in our volunteers’ humanity that we lose our management voices?

The results of volunteer involvement is humanity’s crowning achievement but the skills, knowledge and sheer hard work is the science of getting to those results.

If we project our profession as a science with a humanity outcome, we can then elevate the precise, nuanced methodology required to achieve our humanitarian goals.

Lab coat anyone?