Volunteer Power News - Number 103
Author: Thomas W. McKee
"Volunteer Power News" Monthly Newsletter
© 2011 Advantage Point Systems Publishing
A warm welcome to all volunteer managers-those of you who recruit, motivate and mobilize volunteer workers.
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In This Issue
Featured Article: The Disconnect of Professionalism and Volunteerism"Are you aware of just how hi-tech our combines are?" The question came from a Kansas farmer who from his appearance was the picture of the traditional farmer-jeans, John Deer hat, and cowboy boots. But from our conversation I became aware that he was very knowledge about technology and excited about his use of hi-tech farm machinery even though he was in his late 60s. I had just delivered the keynote on how to mobilize the collective power of volunteers to 350 Kansas Farm Bureau board members representing the 105 counties of Kansas when I was approached by the farmer with his question.
Then I asked him, "How much technical knowledge do you use in your role as a volunteer board member? Do you take advantage of Web 2.0 by using WIKI's? Do you use the social media or twitter to get your message out? Do you use your smart phone to text updates with your volunteers?" He looked at me dumb-founded. Once again I was reminded of the disconnect of the professional to volunteerism.
Although today's volunteers are skilled and up to date in their world of work, so often highly educated and talented people don't make the leap to professionalism in the non-profit sector. As leaders of volunteers, one of our challenges is to help our more traditional 20th century volunteers make that connection into the 21st century in their volunteer work. Some will resist, but in order to make that leap for our volunteers, practice these four connection essentials.
Volunteers will make the connection of their professional skills to volunteering when they can apply their specialized expertise for a cause they believe in.
My neighbour, a young 20-something entrepreneur who owns a software company he created, began to see a critical need for a food bank in our community. So rather than just talk about it or think about it, he did something. He began by writing a blog about the need for a local food closet. Recently he wrote, "The number of Americans using food stamps has soared 37 percent over the last two years. A growing number of needy Americans are shopping as soon as their government food assistance kicks in, changing the way the nation's largest retailer, Walmart, does business." So Brad took action and last Wednesday I attended the open house for our Orangevale Foodbank, which was Brad's dream. And typical of Brad, he did most of the planning, marketing, and recruiting through his Facebook page. Even though he lives two houses from me, and we visit occasionally as we pick up our mail, I became aware of the Food Bank on his Facebook page. As I check out Facebook for a few minutes each day to see what my grandchildren are doing, I noticed that Brad was planning to set up a food bank. During the past few months I have followed Brad's planning as he procured a building (a former crack house), formed a 501 (C) (3), set up food drives at local stores, and announced the grand opening and meeting for all interested people who want to volunteer. He told me last Wednesday that he is fully funded for next year (how many non-profits can say that) and is now busy recruiting volunteers to work in the food bank. Brad did what he knows how to do-get things done the same way he does in his successful business because he was passionate about a cause he believed in. It was natural for Brad to make the connection of his professional life to his non-profit dream.
Volunteers will make the connection of their professional skills to volunteering by involvement-not being used.
The new breed of volunteer will not be used-- they want to be involved. As I observed the Kansas Farm Bureau board members, and the volunteers at the Orangevale Food Bank, I was reminded of the words that Rob Jackson of Rob Jackson Consulting, LTD blogged about using volunteers. He says, "We use paperclips, not volunteers."
Now some of you may be thinking this is mere semantics and that there are bigger issues to be concerned about. In fact, this is what another colleague said to me this morning.
I think the language we use (!) around volunteers and volunteering speaks volumes about the way they are viewed, regarded and respected in our organizations.
If we talk of using volunteers, putting them on a par with the office photocopier, then we should not be surprised if volunteers are seen as providing a far from meaningful contribution to our work. If, however, we talk about involving them then there is implied within that a much more constructive, positive and meaningful attitude to the contribution volunteers provide.
So I hope you will join me in challenging anyone who talks of using volunteers and help them to understand why such language is unhelpful.
Christine Wallace, from Volunteer Center of Sacramento, taught me a practical way to demonstrate that we don't just use volunteers. She constantly asks her volunteers, "How can I help you?" That is such a switch from many leaders of volunteers. Too many directors of volunteers think of the volunteers as helping them. But Christine is so aware that she is serving her volunteers. No wonder she is so successful.
Volunteers will make the connection of their professional skills to volunteering if they are challenged to attack complex issues.
I recently challenged a group of volunteers about the power they had to make change when one of them responded, "But we are just volunteers." I didn't mean to put the person down, but I cut her off and said, "Don't ever say, 'I'm just a volunteer' around me. You are not just volunteers. Being a volunteer is huge. Working together you are powerful."
Do you know how powerful you are? That was the question that Ed O'Malley, President and CEO of the Kansas Leadership Center, asked the board members of the Kansas Farm Bureau. He followed up my keynote with a hands-on leadership workshop, and he started out with that penetrating question, "Do you realize how much power you have?" As the farmers worked together in break-out sessions to tackle some of the key agricultural issues, he reminded us that "leadership is the act of mobilizing people to attack complex issues." I sat in one of the groups and listened to their discussion as they faced huge issues that affect the future of agriculture--not only in Kansas, but in the US and the world.
Last week I spent the morning down at Volunteers of America, Sacramento, California where the staff and volunteers serve the homeless in our community. Homelessness is a very complex issue in our city, and business leaders and churches are working together to deal with this complicated problem. And that is what volunteers can do when they connect their professional leadership and professional skills. As I drove away from the VOA Center, I reflected about last's month's e-zine about the value of volunteers. When you see volunteers working together and begin to think of their contribution in dollar value, you can be energized. However, in this past year I have observed something far more amazing than dollar value, and that is volunteer power. Volunteers can truly change the world.
Volunteers will make the connection of their professional skills to volunteering when led by a professional leader of volunteers.
But perhaps the biggest reason that volunteers don't connect their professional skills to volunteering is found in the example that many non-profits set. I recently led a volunteer power workshop to a group of 100 paid staff of an environmental organization. The major role of the field operation supervisors is to recruit volunteers to plan and execute fund-raising events. I opened up the workshop by getting six volunteers to join me on stage, and in the activity I asked each person to introduce themselves by answering this question, "What is your name and what do you get paid to do?" Everyone one of them said that they were paid to protect our environment. But not one person said that they were paid to recruit and lead volunteers to protect the environment. That is a huge omission about how they saw their job. They all seemed to consider volunteer management as if it were just an added on responsibility.
I believe that the greatest offenders of this essential are churches. A minister goes three or four years to seminary studying theology, Greek, Hebrew, church history, and preaching. Most seminaries only offer one elective on volunteer leadership-which most students don't take. Then they get out in their first church and find out that about 70% of their job is recruiting and leading volunteers.
How can we expect our volunteers to connect their professional skills to their volunteer roles if those in charge of volunteer leadership aren't trained in volunteer leadership?
At a recent workshop I showed a short video clip from Saturday Night Live (SNL). We were rolling on the floor as we laughed at everything that went wrong in the SNL satire of a typical TV Morning Show. The SNL crew demonstrated the comedy of errors when the team doesn't have its act together and are outright unprofessional. After the clip I asked the question, "How often are volunteers seen as unprofessional in your organization?" Our discussion was alive, interesting, and insightful. One Director of Volunteers shared with the class that she needed to add another staff person to help recruit and lead volunteers. The decision maker at the hospital told her, "Oh, let's put Joan in charge of volunteers, after all she is very friendly." Joan was a very efficient secretary, but she knew nothing about recruiting and leading volunteers. When asked if they were going to train Joan, the response from administration was, "We don't need a professional director of volunteers. Anyone can recruit and lead volunteers." The new breed of volunteer will never make the connection of their professional lives to their volunteer role if the organization doesn't.
What does this mean? Is it really important? Do volunteers really need to be so professional? Absolutely. Volunteers are passionate and powerful. Our role as leaders of volunteers is to mobilize that passion, and that is why I love the definition of Kansas Leadership Center:
Leadership is the activity of mobilizing people to do difficult work on complex issues.
What a great description for a leader of volunteers. But in order to mobilize people to do difficult work, we need to involve them at a professional level. They are not "just volunteers." They are powerful.
Check This Out: What Leaders of Volunteers Can DO to Gain Executive Attention by Susan EllisYour response to last month's article, Selling the Value of Volunteers-Raw Data or Huggy-Feely Stories -- was encouraging. Thanks for your input. I'm still processing your comments.
Susan Ellis gave me permission to reprint the following article. I believe that her insight in getting the attention of executives is very helpful. Thanks Susan for your leadership.
What Leaders of Volunteers Can DO to Gain Executive Attention
By Susan J. Ellis
My August Hot Topic, I'll Never Understand Why Executives Still Don't Understand, reflects my frustrations with executives who haven't got a clue about how important volunteer management is. This month, however, I am turning the spotlight 180 degrees to examine how leaders of volunteers contribute to the problem of not getting enough attention from higher-ups. This is not "blaming the victim" because I don't see us as victims – just as people who are not making the most powerful use of the tools we already have.
Think about instances in which you succeeded at increasing support of volunteer involvement. If you have not been successful, analyze the actions of colleagues who have obtained more executive attention, funding, authority, etc. I am certain you will find some common denominators that provide an excellent guide to being highly effective. Here are eight approaches I think are essential…and you can add your own favorite practices in response.
1. Don't wait to be asked.
If your boss and colleagues already knew the full extent of what volunteers could accomplish on behalf of your organization, you'd be drowning in requests for all sorts of donated talents. But they don't understand the potential treasure trove you've been designated to explore. Surprise them! Listen to what your colleagues say they need and propose volunteer positions that might help in meeting those needs. Then, go out and find the right volunteers with the necessary skills. Over time, people will begin to turn to you as a problem solver and a connector to community resources. This is a powerful role.
Do you add value to management team meetings and staff planning discussions or are you more of an observer? Do you offer to recruit skilled volunteers for new initiatives? Do you ask questions that get everyone thinking about how a decision impacts (or affects) volunteers? Do you remind managers that volunteers reflect the public and can be surveyed for possible opinions and perspectives a new idea might encounter in the community?
2. Advocate on behalf of volunteers, not yourself.
News flash: everyone on staff feels overwhelmed, underpaid, and under-appreciated. True, you may be worse off than the others, but you are not alone in wanting requests granted. The difference is that you seem to be a "small" unit yet you represent the needs of far more people than any other department. Therefore it is vital to explain any request in terms of its impact on the ability of the entire corps of volunteers to be more successful.
If your organization has a space problem and various staff are sharing offices, asking for a larger volunteer services office may not seem unjustified unless you make the case that an average of XX people per day go in and out, store their coats and personal items, need workspace for projects or meeting space for groups, etc. It's not your office that has to expand, it's theirs.
Need a secretary or assistant? Maybe you do, but not because you are overworked. It's because volunteers are doing so much, seven days a week, ten hours a day, that they deserve access to supportive staff whenever they work. Which means that, if you are told there are no funds to hire someone else, you can ask, "Well, then how do you recommend we handle support for volunteers on the weekend?" – being open to other solutions such as designating someone else already on staff and working on Saturdays to at least be available to answer volunteer questions. In other words, saying "no" to you does not alleviate the issue for volunteers. (But you have to be willing to stand your ground.)
3. Routinely invite volunteers to stand with you.
In the current issue of e-Volunteerism (which will change on October 15), Steve McCurley and I wrote our Points of View article on "Practicing What We Preach" (free to everyone to read). We note that too often leaders of volunteers do not delegate or share their own work with competent volunteers, recruited specifically to be partners in volunteer management. Be a role model. The more volunteers are visible in your office, doing clearly important and responsible work, the more you show by example what others are missing.
When you have a meeting with someone in management during which you plan to propose something new, take along a well-versed volunteer to add to the presentation. As always, the decision the manager will make is not on your behalf, but on behalf of volunteers. Maybe having to explain "yes" or "no" to a representative of the people most affected will elicit better thinking. At staff meetings or other public forums, always let volunteers themselves report on their own work and respond to questions.
4. Make managers in the middle your allies, not your obstacles.
If you work in a small organization and report directly to the executive, you can try to establish an open, collegial relationship. But if you report to a deputy or someone lower on the food chain, the challenge is greater. You will need this person to represent the contributions and needs of volunteers to top management. How well does your immediate supervisor fill this role? Does s/he actually go to bat for volunteers or simply accept whatever his or her boss replies?
On the premise that your requests are to boost volunteer accomplishments, not benefit you personally, here are some practical ways you might get your voice heard by higher-ups through or past your supervisor:
Formal written reports (ideally monthly) are not a task most volunteer resources managers relish, but they should. Reports are an opportunity every month to educate up. If you created the format of your report, make it more effective; if you were given a format created by someone else, you can still add additional material (no one was ever fired for giving more than minimal information).
Think about what management wants and needs to know and make sure you tell them. Always apply the "so what?" measure: is it clear why a statistic or fact reveals something important about volunteer impact?
6. Make sure all paid staff receive training and support to partner with volunteers.
As we all know, it can't be assumed that paid staff – no matter how educated in their professional fields – have ever been trained in basic volunteer management. Who better than you to assess what your colleagues may need to learn and then recommend topics and resources to teach them?
Offer to help the person responsible for staff development to run training sessions in working with volunteers, perhaps on topics such as how to partner with student interns or pro bono corporate volunteers. Further, explain how you can recruit experts in any subject under the sun to donate a few hours to speak to the staff on anything they'd like to learn more about. And be sure to get time on the schedule for new employee orientation so that you can start new hires off on the right foot about engaging volunteers.
7. Put volunteers on the agenda as often as possible.
Keep volunteers visible, particularly to top decision makers. Ask for time on meeting agendas (departmental, unit, and those of the board of directors) to discuss a volunteer-related issue and then facilitate a useful discussion. Not something vague like "I'd like some feedback about volunteer participation," but rather something specific such as: "We have just contacted nearby Business Y and have arranged for their employees to take a longer lunch period each week to volunteer here. Their skill set includes _______________. How might this unit/department benefit from such contributions?" Or, "Let me share an incident that occurred here last month (keeping the people involved anonymous) so we can discuss what might be ways to prevent it from happening again or how to handle it more effectively should it recur."
Find teachable moments. If you read about some trend in volunteering, circulate excerpts of the news item to department heads and ask if it has potential to affect your organization. Use external events such as National Volunteer Week to compare the data about volunteers in your setting to national statistics. In other words, keep demonstrating that volunteering is evolving and you are keeping up with what's important.
8. Open a conversation with your executive.
This month, Energize is running a contest. You can win training and consultation prizes, but we've designed the contest to give you a powerful opportunity – if you want to take it: to open a conversation with your executive. To enter the contest, you must answer a questionnaire reflecting on what would be different if everyone was trained to work with volunteers. If you don't have direct access to your executive, ask your supervisor if s/he will help set up a meeting for you to discuss the questionnaire (see action #4 above!). Step through the door we've opened and your prize may be more intentional support for volunteers and, by extension, for you as their leader.
How are you proactive in keeping volunteers visible to decision makers and everyone else in your organization?
Volunteer Power Key-Notes, Workshops, Or An Education Day
The New Breed of Volunteer
A Volunteer Power Workshop
Recruiting and leading the 21st Century volunteers who want to do it their way
THE STRATEGIC CHALLENGE
The questions: Volunteerism is hot. From American Idol, Disneyland, Glee, Lady Gaga, President Obama to Wells Fargo, Intel and Wal-Mart, giving back is the rage.
THE TECTONIC SHIFTS THAT ARE CHANGING VOLUNTEERISM
The 21st century volunteer culture is very different because of tectonic shifts that have changed volunteer leadership. These shifts have impacted the volunteer organization; therefore, how we recruit and lead the New Breed of volunteer is a whole new game. The tectonic shifts include the following:
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