Most of my professional life has involved managing volunteers. I even hold certifications (CVA and CAE) attesting to my knowledge in this area, and I think I’m pretty good at this aspect of my job. However, actually being a volunteer has helped me tremendously in understanding how to manage volunteers.
Fit Is Everything
I was once convinced (coerced?) to take on a volunteer role that I knew wasn’t quite right for me. I wanted to get involved with this particular organization, so just took the first assignment I was offered. I thought I would be able to make it something I wanted to do, but quickly realized the responsibilities of that role were not in line with my talents or interests. I was miserable and I did a horrible job! I ended up quitting the position mid-term and feared I would never be asked to do anything else for that organization. And at the time I quit, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be involved with them again anyway.
Luckily, I had the opportunity to take on a different leadership role with this organization later. This time it was a role that I was excited about and eager to take on. I’ve now served in this role for three years (and counting!) and believe I have made a positive impact. The other volunteers I work with appreciate my contributions, and we enjoy the work we do together. What a difference!
Now when managing underperforming volunteers, I consider whether they are in the right role. Just because the person is not doing well in one volunteer position, doesn’t mean they are a bad volunteer. They may excel at something else. If the person has a desire to be involved, it is worth putting some effort into finding the right fit.
Sometimes the Minimum Is Good Enough
My husband and I are volunteer ushers for a local theater. We only volunteer for the shows we want to see that fit our schedules and don’t sign up for anything extra or get involved in other aspects the theater community. The volunteer coordinator appreciates that we are reliable volunteers for the shifts we sign up for…but recognizes that she will probably never get any more of our time. And that is OK!
Volunteer managers often try to convince good volunteers to do more, give more, be more. That can quickly backfire, resulting in volunteer burn-out or volunteers who can’t manage all the responsibility they take on. Sometimes it’s best to accept the time and effort a volunteer is willing to contribute, without pushing for more.
In my community volunteering, I work on committees with people who have extremely varied professional backgrounds and life experiences – from teachers to lawyers to small business owners to homemakers and many others. We all come to the table with different skills, knowledge, and abilities. Sometimes these differences can be challenging; other times it can lead to creative innovations. The extra effort that it takes to get everyone on the same page can be very rewarding in the end.
While association members may come from the same industry, they all have different levels of professional experience and knowledge. We can’t assume they all know the same things just because they share a profession. It is important to make sure everyone on a committee is on the same page with the group’s goals and responsibilities, even when it seems as though that may be obvious.