We’ve been interviewing volunteer program managers across the country for a new service we are launching in April. It has been so much fun to hear stories about how people get started in the field of volunteer management.
Very few leaders started out thinking they would have this career. Instead, many were led to it by a personal service experience, which made them aware of the power of volunteers and the good work they can do.
While these stories were different, a consistent theme surfaced throughout — the lack of true acknowledgement volunteer coordinators feel that they and our field of practice receive from peers, executive leaders and even communities.
We all know that this work is challenging and complex, but how do we convince others of its value, the true potential of volunteers, and the need to invest in building our volunteer capacity?
Building respect for volunteer programs means that volunteer program leaders must strategically and adeptly manage up and across. No ones gives away respect. You have to earn it. Below are a few tips on how to do just that.
Before You Start
If you don’t know where you’re headed, chances are you won’t get there. So, take the time to form a clear picture of what respect looks like to you. How will you know you’re getting the respect you think you and your program deserve? Is it an increase in funding? Is it inclusion at specific meetings? Is it the way people talk about volunteers? Is it the approval of a new initiative? You need to know your end goal and what you are asking others to do to support you. That way, when you get there you can celebrate!
7 Ways to Gain R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Re-Align – Match Your Program Goals with Organization’s Larger Goals and Mission
When volunteer programs become key players in mission fulfillment, they move from being something that is nice to have to something that is indispensible. Is your mission to reduce poverty? Then, how does the work of volunteers directly and specifically influence that outcome? Draw the picture, and connect the dots. Communicate this information widely through all levels of your organization.
Educate – Mount an Internal Marketing Campaign
Many people think volunteers are free and volunteer programs are easy to manage. Show them otherwise. Maintain a program budget. Keep your position description up to date, so that it includes everything you are responsible for. If you are proposing organizational change, you will need a Change Management Communications Strategy that targets key influencers and strategically encourages buy-in. Get your smartest volunteers to help as key messengers.
Share – Consistently Communicate the Tangible Achievements of Your Program
Share broadly and widely – at board meetings, in the agency’s newsletter, to your volunteers, on the website, etc. Share achievements through not only data but also through stories of personal success and transformation for volunteers and those positively affected by their work.
Positive – Shelve the Complaints and Keep it Upbeat
Although our jobs are challenging, whining about them doesn’t help our case. Exercise self-restraint when you want to complain. Instead, find a sympathetic person (or professional group) who is willing to listen and continue to challenge you to find workable solutions. If you must vent, give yourself a time limit, and then move on. Winning influence means winning hearts over minds, and enthusiasm trumps negativity.
Edit – Carefully Frame Your Messages & Listen Carefully
Words have more power to influence than you think. When communicating with people outside your program, cut out the jargon and “insider speak” and keep your communications short and to the point. Always remember to answer “what’s in it for me?” for your audience. Instead of focusing on your case, ask questions about their perceptions and needs and listen carefully to their responses. Make it about them, not about you. You might learn something valuable, and you will go a long way toward building trust and, with it, respect.
Credential – Get your Certified in Volunteer Administration (CVA) Credential
Join an elite global group of professionals who have actually obtained their CVA (or CAVS) credential. Put it in your professional development plan for next year. Whenever you obtain credentials, be sure that you list them along with your name (Tip: to get your credentials listed on a conference name badge, include them at the end of your last name in the last name field of the conference’s online registration form). It’s important for others to understand that you’ve achieved a level of expertise, and you’re credential positions you as an expert.
Track – Volunteer Contributions Beyond Just Volunteer Hours
Volunteers add considerable value to organization, and sometimes silently. For example, how much does your volunteer corps add in financial contributions to the agency’s annual budget? In terms of productivity, what is the full-time equivalent (FTE) in staff time of your volunteer corps? It may take some sleuthing to get these answers, but imagine the response when executive level staff realizes volunteers directly impact the bottom line even if they aren’t directly involved in fundraising! And, if volunteers haven’t been asked to donate at your organization, they should be. Research shows that volunteers donate twice as much as non-volunteer to charity and two-thirds of volunteers donate to the same charity where they volunteer.
These are only a few ways to get the respect you deserve. What has worked for you? Please share in the comments link below.
Bonus: Three Good Books on Influence
If you want to read more about how to gain the respect and responsiveness of others, check out these three excellent books:
- The Small Big: Small Changes that Spark Big Influence (Grand Central Publishing, 2014)
- The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2012)
- Guide to Managing Up and Across (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013)