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.