Nov 04

“Be the Voice” but don’t forget actions speak louder than words

By Erin Spink | Uncategorized

So here we are, another year and another International Volunteer Managers Day. Thanks to the hard work of peers like Andy Fryar and Rob Jackson, we have another inspiring campaign of “Be the Voice” and this year, a blog carnival thanks to Liza Dyer.

I love the theme of “Be the Voice” because we have a non-existent leadership pipeline in this profession- but I’ll talk about that another time. Playing devil’s advocate though, it could be argued that one of the reasons why the profession has barely advanced is because ‘talk is cheap’ and talk is pretty much all we’ve done (mostly bitching too, and I’m as guilty as any!). I don’t discount for a second the hard work, true efforts and real advancements we’ve seen over the years but I would argue that now is the time for action more than talk.

By all means, “Be the Voice” and talk loudly and proudly about our work. Yet how amazing would it be to see an upsurge in tangible actions too? Actions like joining a professional association or volunteering in a leadership capacity for one of them. What about participating in working groups like those formed after the National Summit conference in Minnesota? Even simple things like documenting and sharing new innovations with others by submitting articles to eVolunteerism make a difference by building a body of knowledge and keeping it current. These actions all serve to advance broader initiatives that benefit the entire profession. There are so many things you can do that would contribute in profound ways towards our shared goal of moving the Volunteer Engagement profession forward.

We must be more than voices- we must be examples of the incredible potential and impact that can happen when talented professionals connect community to our organization’s missions. When that happens, more than just being voices, our actions will speak louder than words.

Aug 20

Farmers & Chefs: What leaders of volunteers are and what they’re not

By Erin Spink | Thought Leadership

I’m much slower than others in summing up my reactions and takeaways from the 2017 National Summit on Volunteer Engagement Leadership that took place at the end of July in Minnesota. I echo all the positive feedback already shared- it was an energizing and inspiring gathering of peers, with solid learning and hope for the future of the Volunteer Engagement profession.

Reflecting on what unique perspective I could add on the conference though, is one piece that I found concerning at the conference: language. I heard many delegates refer to it as the conference on “volunteering”, or talk about our role in “volunteerism”. It wasn’t and it’s not.

For me, the relationship leaders of volunteers can and should have to volunteerism and volunteering is that of a chef to a farmer. Volunteer Centres, schools, community service programs and other places, like faith communities, where sharing your time and talents with others are instilled, learned and encouraged are the critical farmers, growing the produce- volunteers. Like all good chefs, our role is to take that produce and find where it shines best in support of advancing our organization’s mission.

Should there be a relationship between farmers and chefs? Absolutely! Is there an impact to each other when for example, chefs waste produce’s time or enthusiasm- of course. It makes it harder for the farmers to continue growing bountiful crops. Effective volunteer engagement is a perfect example of the farm-to-table philosophy, where the chefs work closely with farmers to grow and utilize the best crop possible, recognizing that we are interdependent on one another and anything that diminishes either the growth or the application of the crop weakens the whole ecosystem.

Clearly I’ve taken this analogy of farmers and chefs to an extreme, but I do think it can be a helpful way of framing the dynamic between promotion of volunteerism and the practice of volunteer engagement. What do you think?

Jun 27

Let’s check our VEgos: we can’t take all the credit or the blame

By Erin Spink | Uncategorized

There’s a saying that parents can take neither all the credit, nor all the blame for how their children turn out. Removing the parental references, I believe the same concept applies to Volunteer Engagement (VE) professionals with volunteers.

Let’s face it, few of us would argue we have enough leverage, influence and autonomy in our organizations that we can fully control how a volunteer’s experience really turns out in an organization. But neither should we ignore or deny that we are able to help set a strong course for an organizational culture that values volunteers. The biggest obstacle I’ve observed is ourselves.

Clearly, that won’t be a popular sentiment, and it’s not in any way an absolute truism. What I hear consistently, however, from peers is a struggle to present the value of volunteers to upper management and to have volunteers’ role and ours recognized. It’s a fascinating paradox that we are at once both central yet removed from directly impacting the quality of a volunteer’s experience if we are skillfully performing our jobs. That kind of complexity and nuance doesn’t fit well in an ego’s duality of credit or blame.

To say we don’t have enough influence is not the same as saying we have none. Smart Volunteer Engagement professionals mine their sources of power and grow them strategically, not as an exercise in self-congratulations, but as a means to an end. As our influence grows, we have more power in shaping volunteer experiences than if we were the direct staff partner, because we are changing the culture, dynamics and framing of volunteer involvement for all.

So let’s be a little less quick to take credit when a volunteer has a great experience and instead take a hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves what more we can be doing to help our organizations deliver on better quality volunteer experiences.

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