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Observations of a Surprised Director of Volunteers: The Joy of Helping Your Volunteers Bloom

I guess we never know people as well as we think we do. How else can you explain, despite hours of conversation, that I didn't know that my new volunteer was shy?

She is compassionate, bright and personable. Has a background in the health care field. Fearless when she covers our hectic and complicated front desk at lunch time.

So when I launched my plans to begin a visiting speakers series for our House, I thought of her immediately as the person to direct this project.

After two weeks she brought her first report to me, which signaled good progress. This was going to be a growth experience for me too, because after three years I feel the foundation of our volunteer program is strong enough for me to begin delegating major projects off my desk.

Imagine my surprise when she confided to me that this project was outside of her "comfort zone."

"But," she added, "I want to try it because you have faith in me and believe I can do it."

This was a whole lot more than a compliment - it was an affirmation of trust in me as director of our volunteer program. We have written here in VMR before about trust (Trust: The Unseen Component of Your Volunteer Program, June 5, 2002) - how it is necessary for a potential volunteer to have it in order to join your agency, and how it is necessary to build it to retain volunteers to keep your agency's services strong and responsive to your client's needs.

But it is also necessary to nurture it to help your volunteer grow as an individual. This nurturing has variously been defined as mentoring, delegating, teaching or leading. It depends on your management style which one of these terms will fit.

Regardless of the word you use, building this area of trust benefits your volunteer and your volunteer program. With support and encouragement, my volunteer's hesitant suggestions will gradually gain a greater air of confidence as she experiences her successes and her savvy will grow as she navigates and redefines her procedures for her ways of work.

People thrive in the climate of praise, sharing of new information that helps them to their job well and positive reinforcement. We must maintain this as a priority as we do our day-to-day work.

In the process of bringing speakers to share their knowledge with our families and volunteers, my volunteer will also learn about herself and teach me new ways of approaching projects and bringing them to life.


And when a volunteer ventures forward outside of their comfort zone because you believe in them and tell them so, you have redefined your success too. You are maturing as a manager and seeing the picture of your volunteer program as being more than impressive numbers of instances of service and hours given by volunteers each month.

A friend recently shared a story from his workplace that still leaves me shaking my head in amazement. Two of his co-workers, who recently won prestigious national awards for doing exceptional work, did not receive a compliment or even a handshake of congratulations from the supervisor. Instead, he walked into their office, ignored them, and began asking other employees why they had not won awards. What should have been a joyous occasion has instead motivated them to start looking for a new job.

Believe in your volunteers. Tell them so. They're good (after all, you hired them). Believe in yourself, too. Get those great projects you've been dreaming about doing off your desk and into the hands of your volunteers and let them breathe life into them.

Do we have great jobs, or what?



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