Preparing Volunteers to Win the Game

As I reviewed the agencies that I am connected with this fall, I did an informal assessment of the “preparations” they all do to get volunteers ready to do the volunteering needed by the agency itself.  The range is very fascinating to me.  As I study more about Volunteer Management, I think I will be coming back to this area again to continue to assess the front end prep work and how it impacts the volunteers’ service, as well as the agency’s satisfaction, project management and goal/work accomplishment.

One agency’s “preparation” included a staff interview and nothing more, while another had volunteers secure a police background / record check, request a urine sample to check for drug use, complete an application and submit a resume and three character references.   All this to volunteer 30 hours this fall? I have come to believe I need to place more emphasis on the “intake process” for volunteers with whom I work and the agencies they will soon serve.

Soccer team

Thinking about an agency as a TEAM, working together seamlessly to win a game, each player must be “recruited” (staff, board or volunteer) or selected as a “walk-on” (volunteer) and prepped through training and learning the team’s “play book” so that each may play their role in order to score points as often as possible.  The kinds of preparation possible to get the TEAM ready are endless.  Selecting the right ones and putting them in the right order  takes some planning and skill to help the “players” and the team succeed at the highest levels.

Even an interest inventory completed by the prospective team member/ volunteer will be a boon to the agency administrator (Coach or Captain) as they try to place the volunteer where they can do the most good.  It must be maddening to have a long list of tasks to be done and wonder whether trusting a volunteer with any or all of those tasks is a good idea… a safe risk. Whether the administrator will end up doing it all by themselves later anyway, after an incompetent, disinterested or uncommitted volunteer drops the ball.  Hopefully it will be equally as surprising as it is frustrating, to entrust a project to a volunteer and have them hit a home run with it – exceeding the expectations of the agency’s staffer.  There is some real skill to making these choices.  I can’t wait to learn more about the tips and tricks, research and practical SWAG that goes into managing volunteers at this level.

Message Content or Message Delivery ?

I am reading more on Team Building lately and have found some provocative questions and key research on the elements of Communication that REALLY MATTER.
The Harvard Business Review has compiled a grouping of their top articles over recent years in a number of skill-building “booklets” titled simply, like “Leadership,” Managing your Supervisor,” “Team Building,” and “HR Hiring Practices.”

My “Team Building” compilation challenged me with research that shows, in fact, that the method of communicating and the patterns which groups use to communicate are usually and by far, more influential in how the team responds and performs than the messages themselves.   Lo and behold, they even have statistical research to prove that productivity and financial gain can be increased *a lot* when positive patterns of communication and positively shared messages are predominant.

I am eager to read more.

Often I have heard that “people leave a job more for the people they work with rather than the job they are doing.”  Certainly the research has informed us that we as Volunteer Managers, as Leaders and as HUMANS need to “mind our P’s and Q’s” as we communicate both good and bad news to our peers, supervisors, followers and constituents.

There is something to be said for those who think before they speak.  It is my strategy and goal (as we students of AEE 533 prepare to prepare volunteers for service) to work hard to craft both a salient and digestible message as well as respectful and understandable ways to send the messages crafted.  I need to keep the audience in mind, maintain an understanding of the needs and mission of the agency, and respect the individuality and integrity of the volunteers on the same team as me.  I need to model the way and inspire a shared vision (Kouses and Posner) among our team as we move forward to accomplish our goals.

So to the blog title… I say YES!  – BOTH!   Here’s cheers for the process.


Listening to Those We Lead

Recently we have read about our relationship with and communication with those we lead – with the Volunteers we “manage” – with those who work along side us to get those goals accomplished and to build capacity in our agencies and organizations.

My amazing Grandmother, Virginia Hitchcock Sopher, often said ( and I often quote her ) that “God gave you two ears and only one mouth.  There is a reason for that!” She at least strongly implied that I should listen twice as much as I talk.   Whether that was a way to get me to just SHUT UP or to really help me focus on listening, she eventually got her point across.  So much so that I still share the story today – obviously.

James Robilotta's photo.

So what types of results can we gain by listening?  Leaders will probably be better able to place volunteers in work areas better suited to their interests and skills, which will more than likely increase their productivity and positive regard for the tasks they are charged with accomplishing.  Leaders will hear the concerns and complaints or even potential dangers in some of the assignments we are managing.  Leaders might grow some team loyalty and group sense of purpose among the volunteers too!  One other often missed or overlooked benefit of listening is found in actually growing respect and even friendship from the relationships built by truly listening to volunteers.

Thank to James T. Robliotta for encapsulating the learning on this day in this way!  By the way, if you too are an aspiring leader, check out James’ new book called LEADING IMPERFECTLY,  published by AVIVA Publishing or find James online at !

Alignment of Mission, Methods and Resources – The Key Test for Success with Volunteers

up the square staircase

My COMM 466 class often inspires and challenges me in very practical operational ways when considering working with volunteers.  Our #1 Leadership Challenge in COM466 is “Aligning Mission, Methods and Resources.”  Leadership and management of volunteers is certainly applicable as both “methods” (of achieving organizational goals) and also as “resources” to do so.   Knowledge of agency or organization MISSION is paramount.  Mission is the raison d’etre, the essence, the purpose of existence and often also the passion of those involved as leaders or creators (founders).  It is really a nice neat package when it all works well together! No matter WHERE you look at the agency, it all lines up and is going in the prescribed direction.   Sadly, and for lots of reasons, all too often the alignment of those three key components just isn’t there!  

I contend and support the notion that all three components MUST be aligned for optimum, ethical and impact-full organization operations.  In the recent 2003 Boyd reading on competencies for volunteer administrators, I learned that there are different ways to address and frame the competencies however if Mission, Methods and Resources are not aligned. there is discord and dysfunctional operations in a group.  I am enjoying seeing how the agency I work with does their alignment.  I have also sorted through the competencies article author’s word choices in expressing the implications and expectations of alignment of methods and resources particularly focused on volunteers.  Yes, anyone can volunteer but not everyone knows how to mentor, train or supervise volunteers to help them reach their optimum level of success on all counts.  

Examples of Dr. Barry Boyd’s Competencies include a commitment to the Vision of the organization.   That commitment should include alignment of mission, methods and resources, as well as the ability to articulate the mission to stakeholders and others.  As a matter of fact, the “Alignment of Mission, Methods and Resources” should be the key deciding question as to whether that movement continues or in which direction it does move forward.    Every decision a staff member or board member makes should be prefaced with HOW / DOES this decision option align with the mission of the agency, its methods and resources?  If this question is asked before each decision, we will have a great clarity, validity and sense of security and satisfaction possible among the population served by and serving the agency. 

The agency staff I work with is also growing their credibility by engaging the volunteers and the volunteer leadership in training to build specific (value added) skills.  These skill building professional development workshops and career enhancement programs are the second most critical trend according to Dr. Boyd.  That said, obviously the group is benefiting from the continued enhancements and the volunteer administrators are gaining valuable skills they can use and / or market through their own agencies and beyond.  The agency itself is stronger and better aligned as the mission is met in this way.  Specific application of the mission statement and the question of alignment is a regular practice with this agency.  I look forward to a continuous evaluation of the alignment as well, as a means of determining the effectiveness of the agency and its volunteer administrators.  

Confronting the Idiot in Your Organization

Well . . . . ?

Well . . . . ?

Today I listened to TJ Sullivan  (@intentionalTJ) share his message about “confronting the idiot(s) in organizations for about the 7th time.  I never mind  and always enjoy hearing a “repeat performance” and especially from TJ because I ALWAYS learning something new.  Yes, even when I have heard basically the same presentation for the 7th time.    Listening with intent to learn, reflect and apply (part of critical thinking) is a lifetime habit of mine – and I love it!  Listening to TJ is all the better.

So as a part of the 200 fraternity and sorority members in the audience in the Wright Auditorium at East Carolina University tonight, I listened and learned specifically with my AEE class in mind.   Thinking specifically about “Leading and Managing Volunteers” did put a new spin on the topic and gave me new ears for the exceptional and effective program.  TJ always leaves his audience with tangible, doable action items to use to follow up with and act on to improve their serve.   ALWAYS.

As TJ spoke, I remembered and reflected on a reading about core competencies of volunteer administrators.  Nothing was shocking, most of which I already knew in my heart from common sense, previous studies and from anecdotal experiences.  They included a variety of factors in groupings labeled Organizational Culture, System Leadership and Organizational Leadership. The best news is that TJ addressed most of these competencies in a way that made me remember and immediately apply.  Most of all he addressed the act of confronting idiotic moves by organization members and how we (the audience) could really do the much needed act of confrontation.

Knowing Organizational Values will help members gave a proverbial hat to hang their opinions on and a framework from which to base their actions.  Organizational Values at their finest show up clearly in Organizational Culture, daily behavior, and System Leadership  while serving as motivators for membership success through ethical aligned decision-making.

In TJ’s words, “We sadly allow for behavior among our members that we would never allow in a work or family environment, simply because we don’t want to make waves by confronting the behavior. ”  Idiots – everyone has got them – and if you think your group doesn’t have one then it is probably YOU!  🙂  UH-OH!

To confront the idiot, tonight I learned anew that one on one is probably NOT the best way to do the confrontation.  Instead, two on one, and with the actual confrontation done by the person most closely related as a peer (not a superior) to the “offending idiot”.  Practicing the confrontation is key as well.  Finally, telling the personal story of how the “idiot’s” behavior is affecting my own life is the safest and most effective story to tell.

Thanks TJ for teaching me again.  I think I will be better at addressing concerns in my own organizations and also at making sure I do the best and most responsible job at addressing “those people” in the agency with whom I volunteer, should they appear during my tenure there.   At the very least, I am starting to take notes about and practice the confrontation skills you shared tonight.  Who knows when I might need to look in the mirror or teach someone else your proven practices too!

Starting Over…..

How many times have I begun something only to never finish .   .   .

– clothes hanging waiting to be hemmed or ironed   – shoes begging to be polished      – shirts with tags still on them aching to be returned to the store     – piles of unfiled papers    – my novella about the Irish sea captain and his lovely blond bride back home in Norfolk, VA          –  and I simply refuse to talk about dieting to lose weight.

So here we go on my first BLOG – perhaps my last – but at least an effort to do a blog as inspired by Dr. Jackie Bruce in our AEE Managing Volunteers class.   Thanks Dr. Bruce for moving me past the first time intention to the first time real deal!  My Facebook page this week has noted the icon of a lion’s head asking the question, “When is the last time you did something for the first time?”

Well I am trying!   Here goes nothing.  See you back here at LEADERBUG soon!

small influences can result in big changes.  be a leaderbug.

small influences can result in big changes. be a leaderbug.