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.