Feb 23

Pipe Dreams For a Stronger Profession

By Erin Spink | Thought Leadership

​We talk a lot about moving the profession forward, about making it more respected and known. What I don't hear us talking nearly enough about though, is how to make the profession stronger. To me, a strong profession is one that's moving forward, respected and known, but we're confusing the outcome with the ingredients.

In the past few years, I've had the opportunity to have more junior Volunteer Engagement professionals report to me. For many in the profession, having a large team, or any team, isn't the norm. The running joke about being a department of one hits home for a reason! But I'm beginning to believe that this is a crucial challenge to our profession's advancement and a major contributor to our malaise.

With each of us working in silos, as lone sheep in our organizations, having peers at our local AVA or other networking groups is great and can be helpful for getting ideas on how to update our application form or great interview questions. What it can't do is provide the intensive immersion of training that working with a more senior person on the regular does. Unfortunately, all the mentorship programs in the world isn't going to fix it.

Let's face it- having a mentor is great and very beneficial to our personal professional growth. However, it is limited in some crucial ways because so few leaders of volunteers work in departments or teams with one another. On-site mentors who work in the same profession and can coach us, correct us and challenge us as well as SHOW us on a daily basis what more advanced Volunteer Engagement practice looks like is what really helps us grow our skills, hone our thinking, and keeps us moving forward- personally and as a profession.

Seeing with our own eyes how they structure the work of Volunteer Engagement, how they up-communicate laterally and with senior management and the philosophies, values and ways they frame our work shapes us and sets us up with skills it would take years of more distant mentoring to master.

Mini-pipelines like this are crucial to taking the raw talent and enthusiasm of newbies to the profession through the crucible of daily interactions, honing them and helping them grow into the thought-leaders of the future. And don't forget, pipelines have two ends- this would also be of incredible value to the many incredible mid-career leaders of volunteers who have few if any more senior role options to advance to. Pipelines work because they develop and maintain talent at every level.

This is how you strengthen a profession. The only question remains how we could make this happen for us.

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?

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