When I started managing volunteers in 19 (ahem) 94 I had no idea what I was doing, and no idea that I would end up making volunteer management a large part of my career. I don’t think I even knew it was a career, and I definitely didn’t start out to be a volunteer manager – I fall into the “accidental” volunteer manager category.
I am so glad, though, that I found it, and that I stuck with it. In 2009 I went through the process to receive my CVA (Certification in Volunteer Administration) and it was one of the most rewarding and validating things I’ve done.
Volunteer management is not always pretty, it’s definitely not always easy, but it’s always makes me feel like I’m doing something important and making a difference.
Here are some of the things that I appreciate about being a volunteer manager:
Volunteers will challenge you to be a better manager.
I often tell people that I feel really lucky to have learned to manage teams and people by working with volunteers. My first attempt at managing volunteers was ugly. I was young, right out of college, and I thought I knew it all.
The team of volunteers I was working with really did know it all – many of them had been volunteering with the organization for over a decade – and they essentially told me to sit down and be quiet and stay out of their way. I realized that I needed to get with the program, to realize that I didn’t know everything, and to learn how to be a good volunteer manager from them.
I continue to learn from my volunteers. If I have a position I can’t fill, if I starting get push back over a new program or policy I ask “How was this position different from what you thought it would be like?” or “What would you need to know about this new policy to be able to support it?”
When it’s right – it is SO right.
When you find that perfect volunteer, and you give that person the opportunity to do something that he or she has always wanted to do – to change something or make something better – it makes your day. Sometimes it makes your whole week. I love the feeling I get when I can see it all come together, and I just know it’s going to work out.
I’ve learned to trust my instincts.
Just like when it’s right, it’s right, when you think it might not be right, it’s usually wrong. I’ve had a few volunteers surprise me, but most of the time when I suspected that a volunteer was the wrong fit, or the little voice in my head told me to say no – I should have listened.
Earlier in my career I often said yes, brought on volunteers that I didn’t think were a good fit because I didn’t want to, or know how to, say no. It never ended well, and sometimes it ended spectacularly badly. Now I trust myself, and I’ve given myself permission to say no to a volunteer. I share some of this earned knowledge in our webinar “Managing Difficult Volunteer Transitions.” Join us on Dec 8th.
Every day is different.
Yes, some days are different in a more difficult way, but I want to be challenged and I want to have the ability to solve those problem creatively. Volunteer management lets me do that. As volunteer managers we’re probably not going to have all the resources we need to run our programs, we’re going to have to be the loudest ones to sing the praises of our volunteers and ourselves, but I can do that.
I believe that giving someone the opportunity to make a difference or change something is worth the work. If I couldn’t meet new people, or make those amazing connections, solve those problems or teach a volunteer that yes, she can do something she’s always wanted to, I think I’d be less happy.
If you’re currently dealing with the difficult part of volunteer management, reach out! You might be the only volunteer management professional in your organization, but you are not alone. Join a local DOVIA (Directors of Volunteers in Agencies) or find support online.
Hopefully you’ll get some recognition from others for the work that you do, but if you don’t, give yourself a pat on the back – what we do is amazing and awesome, and given the choice, I’d choose this career path all over again.
To all of you accidental and intentional volunteer managers out there I say, “Happy International Volunteer Manager’s Day!” Learn more about the day and how you can get involved here.
So now take a minute and reflect – what do you appreciate about being a volunteer manager? It’s too easy to get bogged down in the little stuff, the daily struggles, and forget that what we do has a positive impact on our organizations. And more than that, we give our volunteers the opportunity to fulfill their dreams and make a difference in the community. It really doesn’t get any better than that.
Photo from CJ Acres Animal Rescue Farm.