How to Embrace Your Volunteer Management Super Powers

Guest post by Elisa Kosarin, Twenty Hats

This post was originally published on Twenty Hats.

If you feel like you haven’t got enough power to make your vision a reality, read this post.

When I was planning my October 7 retreat for volunteer managers, Leading From Where You Are, there were several things that I absolutely knew I wanted to cover – things like the principles of buy in, work/life balance, and what it’s like to lead in a nonprofit scarcity environment. And being the planner that I am, I drew up a nice detailed timetable, mapped out how many minutes we had for each exercise, and then stared at my agenda in consternation: we had extra time that I really wanted to fill with something valuable and different. What might that be?

On a hunch I threw in a discussion based on an article I had found about the different kinds of power that we all possess. I had never facilitated this type of discussion before and wasn’t sure if it would fly or sink.

Our conversation around our power ended up being one of the liveliest parts of the day (and this was a retreat with a lot of lively discussion!)

I know from my own work and from working with other volunteer managers that we spend a lot of time and energy trying to figure out ways to bring our bosses or co-workers on board with our big ideas. Sometimes we approach these “internal strategy sessions” with a measure of despair, because we feel we do not have the leverage to make things happen.

Not true.

We may lack “Legitimate Power,” meaning that our position may not rank at the top or carry as much authority, but we hold other forms of power that make it possible for us to turn our ideas into realities.

  • One of my clients leveraged her connection power to initiate an agency-wide staff training on volunteer management. She is someone who is respected and trusted by the leadership – a position that made it much easier to bring them on board with this new project.
  • Another client is the only person in her office to work with court-mandated volunteers. That’s expert power, and even though she’s the youngest person on staff, her office depends on her to fulfill a grant-mandated service.
  • We also hold the power to elevate ourselves professionally. When we meet with our colleagues at conferences or through our local DOVIAS, we share tips and strategies to do our current jobs better or receive leads on more fulfilling positions. That’s information power and referent power in action.

Ultimately we are all gatekeepers for a tremendous source of power – the power of volunteers to expand the capacity of organizations to fulfill their missions and transform the world. If you are the type who worries that your boss or coworkers don’t recognize or appreciate this amazing resource, remember that you have the power to cultivate their buy-in. It may take some guidance or self-reflection to figure out the next steps, but it’s entirely doable.

You can read more about power by viewing the article that inspired this conversation in the first place. The author, Sharlyn Lauby, comes from the HR world. One more example of how managing people is at the heart of effecting change.

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Volunteer managers hold plenty of power to turn their ideas into realities,

Raising Our Voices to Advocate Against Poverty [Webinar]

Guest post by Meredith Dodson

Join us for this special nonprofit insights webinar about nonprofit advocacy.

For the past seventeen years, I’ve talked to people every day about the importance of engaging in advocacy, in addition to the great service work happening in communities across the country. Why? Because of people like LaNae.

I met LaNae in Washington D.C. in the summer of 2013, when she was attending the RESULTS International Conference. As a single mother making $8.25 an hour, LaNae depended on SNAP benefits (formerly Food Stamps) to put food on the table each month. While in D.C., she participated in workshops, panel discussions, and skill building, culminating in an advocacy day on Capitol Hill with other RESULTS volunteers. The goal? To convince her Congressional Representatives not to make devastating cuts to a program that had been such a lifeline for her and her seven-year-old son, Konnor.

Not long after returning home to Albuquerque, LaNae watched C-SPAN in awe as her own story was recounted on the floor of the House of Representatives. Standing before a photo of Konnor, Albuquerque Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham called on her congressional colleagues to protect SNAP.

“Before joining RESULTS,” I didn’t even know what the Congressional Record was. Now I’m in it,” LaNae said.

It took courage for LaNae to share her story and to ask her member of Congress to take action. But she did it, and Rep. Lujan Grisham was so moved by LaNae’s story she wanted to share it with others. I hope you will too.

At RESULTS, we use our voices to influence political decisions that will bring an end to poverty. We believe there is a lot of power in talking to important decision-makers about the policies that impact all our lives, because if we all raise our voices together, we can create change. Advocacy really does work.

Here is an example: I have a favorite slide I like to show in any training or presentation. I admit, I am obsessed with this visual from the Congressional Management Foundation on effective ways to communicate with members of Congress. After polling over 250 staff persons from congressional offices, they put out a report, Communicating with Congress: Perceptions of Citizen Advocacy on Capitol Hill, that affirms the impact we can have when we get involved. Personal communications with members of Congress are the most influential action a constituent can take – meaning all of us can make a difference as individuals and as a part of organizations. In fact, 97 percent of the Congressional staff surveyed said face-to-face meetings with constituents had a lot or some positive influence. As you can see, that’s a lot more than a visit from a lobbyist – if we get involved.

Join us for this special webinar on nonprofit advocacy.That’s why I’m thrilled to be joining the Alliance to End Hunger and the Alliance for Justice as a part of VolunteerMatch’s Nonprofit Insights Webinar Series. During a conversation on September 16, we will discuss what “advocacy” really means, how we will use the latest Census data to further our work, and how organizations can participate in advocacy more effectively. Since I work with a network of volunteer advocates at RESULTS, I’ll make sure we talk about how to use the time you have to make the biggest impact. I hope you’ll join us!

Nonprofit Insights: Advocacy & Service-Focused Nonprofits, Challenges and Opportunities

Wednesday September 16th, 10 a.m PT (1 p.m. ET)


  • Abby LevineLegal Director of the Bolder Advocacy initiative at Alliance for Justice
  • Meredith DodsonDirector of RESULTS’ U.S. poverty campaign work
  • Minerva DelgadoDirector of Coalitions & Advocacy at the National Alliance to End Hunger
  • Jennifer BennettSenior Manager of Education & Training at VolunteerMatch

Register today!

About the author: Meredith Dodson is the Director of U.S. Poverty Campaigns at RESULTS and RESULTS Educational Fund, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit

Volunteer Program Improvement Tool: What We’ve Learned So Far!

The tool specifically for hunger-related organizations We launched our Volunteer Program Improvement Tool for hunger-related organizations with the hope of creating something that volunteer program mangers could use to take their programs to the next level.

But we also wanted all of that sweet, sweet data.

Since its launch a few months ago, over 300 people have used the tool to get personalized information and resources for increasing the effectiveness of their volunteer engagement program. We’ve aggregated the data and calculated benchmarks, and now we want to share what we’ve learned.

Why is this data important to you?

By knowing where your program falls in relation to other similar programs, you’ll be equipped with knowledge to effectively advocate for your program’s growth. One of the main goals I had for this tool was for leaders of volunteer engagement to be able to use these benchmarks and aggregate data to advocate for additional resources – time and money – to build and support their volunteer program.

Join me on Tuesday August 18th at 11 a.m. Pacific / 2 p.m. Eastern for an informal, interactive webinar. I’ll walk through the information we’ve gathered about how hunger-related organizations are currently engaging volunteers, and what’s in store for the tool in the future. Register today.

I want to make sure that the information we’re sharing is the information you need! So be prepared to participate in polls and share your priorities for information and resources.

And if you haven’t done so yet, check out the tool, or learn more about it and our partnership with ConAgra Foods Foundation.

Don’t Keep All That Volunteer Engagement Knowledge to Yourself!

VolunteerMatch is now accepting Nonprofit Insights Webinar session proposals.

Has your organization done something out-of-the-ordinary with your volunteer program? Have you witnessed new trends or conducted research around volunteerism? Are you simply a volunteer engagement rockstar?

Don’t keep all that knowledge to yourself! VolunteerMatch is asking nonprofit professionals, academics, and/ or volunteers with something to share to submit session proposals for our Nonprofit Insights Webinar series.

Topics should relate to the webinar’s mission of building a better world through volunteerism. Some examples of overarching topics include: volunteer program manager empowerment, engaging volunteers through social media, setting up a virtual volunteer program, fundraising strategy, engaging skilled volunteers, corporate-nonprofit partnerships, etc.

By presenting at a Nonprofit Insights Webinar, you will be a voice in the community of nonprofits at VolunteerMatch – they’ll benefit from your knowledge, experience and opinions. Plus, promotional outreach to our massive networks will get your name and your topic in front of a wide audience. Finally, it will be fun, we promise!

Interested? Learn more and/ or submit a session proposal.

Put Some Spark in Your Volunteer Program!

Sparkler FireworkFor many people, July is the time of year for  fireworks and camping. For many volunteer program managers, it can also be the time of year when needs and programs increase, and volunteers go on vacation.

When I worked at a wildlife hospital, the 4th of July was always super hectic – the height of busy animal season – but not a day most people think about volunteers. For others, things slow down a little – school programs are on hiatus, staff on vacation. Whether your July is a volunteer vacation or your busy season, think about spending an hour (or two) on one of the upcoming VolunteerMatch webinars posted on our Learning Center.

I’m kicking off the month with a session on Single Days of Service on July 14th. So many individuals and groups want done-in-a-day projects that have real impact. It can be tricky to create single day opportunities that are both meaningful and impactful. I’ll share some ideas and how to start working with others – volunteer leaders, paid staff, and corporate partners – to make this a reality. Perfect timing to get your opportunities posted for 9/11 Day of Service!

Speaking of impact, I’ll be discussing how to talk about the real impact of volunteering in your organization, and how to tell that story on July 16th. Telling the Story of Volunteer Impact is one of my favorite topics. So often, when we talk about volunteers, we leave out the good stuff. I’ll share some best practices for telling your story, and show you a video from an organization that’s getting it right. (You might want to have a Kleenex handy…)

Too often, we don’t think about how volunteers can help us run our programs, better engage volunteers, or help us develop opportunities. So on July 21st, I’ll be asking you to Walk the Walk: Engage Volunteers in your Volunteer Engagement Program. We can model the type of meaning volunteer engagement we’d like to see from other departments in our organization, as well as get off the hamster wheel of daily activities.

Any time you make a change, whether it’s including a done in a day opportunity or engaging volunteers in the recruitment, screening, or training of other volunteers, it can be challenging. However, not many people are comfortable with the uncertainty that comes with change. On July 23rd I’ll be talking about Managing Difficult Volunteer Transitions, including what to do when it’s time to ask a volunteer to leave your organization.

You can find the complete list of all of our webinars here. I hope you’ll join me at one of these always free online trainings this summer!