Posts Tagged ‘volunteer management’

In John McKnight and Peter Block, recent book, Abundant Community, they state,

Volunteerism was never designed to be efficient, only satisfying.   Systems were never designed to be satisfying, only efficient.

This simple truth speaks to something that I have come to know in my heart over the last few years working in volunteer management.  As I have often described it to people, instead of trying to figure out how I can do the same or more with fewer people, I actually look for ways to involve more people in the work.  If your goal is to mentor a child, do you really want to do that efficiently?  If volunteers are seen as resources, then the standard view of creating an efficient program would be to reduce the number of volunteers it takes to mentor a child, or to get more mentoring out of each volunteer.

But a mentoring relationship is not a system, it is a building block of community.  The rules are different and we can not use the same language to talk about mentoring as we use to talk about manufacturing.  It is too easy to confuse not only why we do what we do, but the beauty in HOW we do it.  We build community through making connections between people and between associations.  More connections, stronger connections, are better.  Taking more time with one another leads to higher quality relationships.

I refuse to be efficient in volunteering.  Can anyone give me a reason why I should accept this language and concept of efficiency for volunteering and community building?


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It’s that time of year again… national conference time!  This will be my third National Conference on Volunteering and Service (NCVS) and I am excited for what is in store.  They have continued to up the stakes and therefore my anticipation meter is through the roof.  Hopefully I am not disappointed.

Since I arrived in New York City early to visit family, I have already begun pre-conference activities.  Yesterday I met up with my peers from NAVPLG (National Association of Volunteer Programs in Local Government). I was reminded of 2 things:  1. I strongly dislike New York… especially Times Square, 2.  It it’s invaluable to have a great group of peers like my buddies from NAVPLG who’ve got your back.  I forgot my wallet at the hotel but was covered and still able to enjoy a dinnner with great company!

This morning I hit the streets early to attend pre-conference sessions for HandsOn Network affiliates and hopefully meet some new folks before the Opening plenary.

Best find of the day: secluded speakers room with computer access!  (I love my speaker badge!)

Finally, speaking of being a speaker….   I am presenting on the Social Media for Social Good Fair session tomorrow from 8:30 am – 10 am at the Mecury Rotunda at the Hilton (3rd floor on your left).  This is a pretty casual session, so feel free to drop by and say hi!  You can preview my presentation here: http://bit.ly/NCVSFB201

I will continue to journal about my conference experience here and will also post pictures when I am able to load them off my camera at the hotel.  You can follow me on http://www.twitter.com/sharontb during the conference.

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This post is republished from the HandsOn Blog

How fast does three years go by?

Three years ago I was joining AmeriCorps in hopes of getting training in the career of volunteer management.

In 2007, I was serving as an AmeriCorps member in northern Arizona and it was my responsibility to launch a volunteer program to help homebound seniors and disabled adults.

Just out of college with a history degree I found myself in charge of recruiting people, matching them with opportunities to serve, orienting and training them, as well as supervising and recognizing them.

I had jumped right into the volunteer management profession, without a single course in management.

Typical, I know.

It was my great fortune that Rick Lynch and Steve McCurley, co-authors of the best selling book on volunteer management and legendary for their training in the field, came to Arizona that year and presented a two-day training on volunteer management.

Over those two days we went through theory and practice on the soup to nuts of volunteer management.

Their insights about how people relate to one another, why people volunteer, and what the role of the volunteer manager is, were critical to my personal and professional development.

The binder I got that day has become my volunteer management bible which I carried with me through the next three years.

Jumping ahead in time to today; I am still in the field and now have the unique opportunity of bringing Rick Lynch to my new network of volunteer managers in the DC area.

I now work at Volunteer Arlington, a HandsOn Network Affiliate and we provide support to volunteer managers.

Having been in their shoes, I know how valuable it is to get the chance to participate in a well-designed and well-researched training with peers who are experiencing the same sort of challenges that are unique to this profession.

I am very excited about this training event and hope that it will serve as a key part of my peers’ professional development in the way that it did for me.

Volunteer Arlington, along with Volunteer Fairfax, Volunteer Alexandria, and the Northern Virginia Association of Volunteer Administrators are pleased to present Management 2011: Advanced Volunteer Management Training with Rick Lynch on Thursday July, 22, 2010 in Arlington, VA. Visit the website for more details.

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This month’s Arlington-Alexandria Volunteer Manager’s Roundtable was presented by Christie Lewis, an experienced management consultant and executive coach.  I appreciated that Christie primarily drew on her own experiences as a volunteer when presenting recommendations for how to more effectively engage volunteers.

I want to reiterate some of her messages and reflect on what they will mean for me as a volunteer manager moving forward.

Reinvent Volunteerism

Christie describe the paradigm shift that has taken place in the world of work in the US from factory work to knowledge work and made the point that this is a shift that should take place in the world of unpaid work as well.  Many times, volunteer opportunities are set up in the model of factory work.  You create an assembly line or create a job description that breaks down the work into very simple pieces.  Volunteers are brought in like cogs in a machine to produce the widgets that your organization needs (filing, packing boxes of food, setting up for an event, stacking books, pulling weeds, painting houses, serving food, etc).  Arlington is based on a knowledge economy.  We see ads for “Think Arlington” and recognize that our greatest asset is the brain power of our residents.  How can we bring that mindset to designing volunteer opportunities?

Reframing the Message

Language is very important to creating meaning.  So if we are trying to change our approach or to recruit a volunteer who is going to contribute to the knowledge work that our organization is doing, how should we talk about that?  Christie suggested trying different recruitment messages, ones that emphasize that we are looking for “partners in our mission”.  We can elevate the importance of volunteering in the way that we talk about it.  If you are unsure how to engage volunteers in a more meaningful way, the best way to find out is to ask them.  What is meaningful to you?  How do you think you could help us accomplish our mission?  As Christie points out, “involvement invites investment”.

Get Out of the Way

One of the biggest take aways for me was the work that my organization does is much bigger than me and in order to do right by our vision, I will often need to get out of the way.  I have seen this first hand in my work with Community Volunteer Network.  The young professionals that are leading that group have a lot of passion and energy and when we first started out, the organization was set up so that everything had to go through me.  I became a roadblock to the growth of our organization and the volunteers ability to contribute fully.  Using collaborative technology and by restructuring our organization I have now been able to turnover more ownership, authority, and responsibility to the volunteer leaders so that CVN can mobilize more volunteers and have a greater impact on the Arlington community.  A couple of months ago I actually found myself saying out loud “It’s not about me” and that realization helped us remove the log jam.

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This year, the national organization for volunteer centers, HandsOn Network, has partnered with hollywood to promote volunteering and basically “make volunteering cool”.  This effort is also supported by President Obama, who launched the “United We Serve” campaign from the first days of his presidency and passed the “Serve America Act”.
With volunteerism and volunteer centers suddenly thrust into the national spotlight there are important changes underway that have serious implications for what we do and how we do it at our organization.  For example, President Obama’s website, www.serve.gov, encourages volunteers to start their own projects and use the site to connect to other volunteers who can help them in their community.
On the one hand this site has been great for us, because our data is pulled in to the site and a lot of publicity has gone into promoting it.  On the other hand, the site and the publicity around it takes the “professional volunteer manager” out of the picture and encourages grassroots organizing without acknowledging the important role that a volunteer manager can play in maximizing the ability of volunteers to create change in their communities.  Volunteer management is a relatively new field, with the Certificate of Volunteer Administration (CVA) just starting to gain steam and a new national association for volunteer managers coming into its own.
From what I read in Clay Shirky’s book, Here Comes Everybody, about the way new social technologies are revolutionizing the way that people can organize themselves and reducing the need for some professions, I believe that volunteer management is one of those professions that will be transformed or eliminated by the growth of these technologies.  When serve.gov was announced it should have been a great moment for volunteer centers across the country, but all of the volunteer center administrators that I spoke to were upset and fearful of what the new technology meant for volunteer management and volunteer centers.
Now, as many volunteer managers just started to embrace the President’s initiative, this new campaign from Hollywood, iparticipate brings up new fears and dillemmas.  We putting our messaging, our PR, in the hands of the mouthpiece with arguably the largest mouthpiece in the Nation, and it could turn out to transform the way our industry does business.
The iparticipate website states “Everyone’s a volunteer, some just haven’t met the right opportunity yet.  This is your chance to participate”.  I love it!  In my opinion that is the perfect wording for our campaign.  Unfortunately, the messaging is not consistent, and we are starting to see some questionable messages come out with recent PSAs and ads from the related programs.  Check out a few below and see what I mean….

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