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My Goals for Mapping our Future and Strengthening our Voice as Volunteer Engagement Professionals

Last week I had an opportunity of a lifetime. I spent several days learning from and engaging with leaders in volunteer engagement from all across the globe at the 2017 National Summit On Volunteer Engagement Leadership in St. Paul, Minnesota. While at this summit, I was inspired to do better; be better. I was challenged by new innovative concepts of “regenerative volunteer management,” applying principles of sustainability to engagement practices. However, the single most influential thought that continued to surface as I reflect on the past week, came from Rob Jackson, Director of Rob Jackson Consulting, Ltd. At the conclusion of a fringe session (Beyond Volunteering: Why You Might Choose to Lead More Than Volunteers) I had the opportunity to participate in, Rob encouraged us to write down one action item that we’ll commit ourselves to. I believe that we can go to conferences, attend workshops, be challenged and inspired, but it’s all for nothing unless we choose to act. So I’ve taken Rob’s advice and chose to make public some goals to work towards.

I choose to lead more than volunteers. A month ago I decided to leave my position as the Manager of Volunteer Services at my organization for a more senior position. I believe that through my new role as a senior manager, I’ll have greater influence on the culture around volunteerism and for volunteer engagement professionals. Through this new position, I aim to act on the following;

  • Advocate for those who engage volunteers: Wherever possible, be the voice for those who may not have one through their title; staff and volunteers alike. For professionals in a “coordinator” or entry-level position, I will empower them and lobby (through human resources and leadership) for more fitting titles reflective of true roles and responsibilities. I’ll do so by shedding light on the depth of knowledge and work that volunteer engagement professionals work.

  • Showcase true impact of volunteers: In my role evaluating and measuring impact, I will work hand in hand with volunteer engagement professionals to showcase the true Return on Volunteer Investment (ROVI) of their department. I will take all opportunities made available to share evaluation practices and tools necessary for others to properly track and communicate impact.

  • Be a champion for volunteerism: Often times those in “coordinator” roles won’t have a seat at the strategic planning table, at the quarterly board of directors meeting, or with executive leadership. I will work within my immediate circle of influence to be that voice that recommends such actions where that “coordinator” doesn’t get that same considerations.

I choose to mentor and educate. It became clear that those working in the profession of volunteer engagement don’t always see a clear progression, nor do many consider volunteer engagement a career. I will work to inspire a change in thinking by taking these measures;

  • Mentor other volunteer engagement professionals: I’ll work to hone the leadership and advocacy skills of volunteer engagement professionals. By working to instill confidence in others, my aim will be to help them find their professional voice, be bolder and to seek development. I’ll lean on my many successes and failures, and help navigate others through potential pitfalls and to work through others to enact the change they want to see.

  • Engage in opportunities to develop skills in others: There’s a laundry list of skills that must be learned for those in volunteer engagement professionals. I’ll take time to provide guidance from my own experience while offering other great resources that allow for better engagement practices. Knowledge is power, and I seek to empower.

  • Disseminate knowledge through social media: It was the summer of 2016 that I began creating and sharing content; launching my website that winter. I’ll continue to share thoughtful and helpful dialogue via social media where I can. Beyond my website (, I will network outside my profession, to bridge that gap of understanding between volunteer engagement professionals and those working in governance and corporate social responsibility.

I will challenge the status quo. My intellect was stretched last week by some of the breakout sessions attended. One in particular broached the concept of “regenerative volunteer management,” which applies sustainability principles into the process of engaging volunteers. While this concept may be too conceptually new for many professionals who are still of the traditional management mindset, I believe that we need to keep challenging the industry through thought diversity.

  • Listen and debate: Listening can be an incredibly strong tool, allowing for the digestion of new ideas that may be outside mainstream thought. Allowing for new ideas (even those you may oppose) challenges and stretches our limits, making us better. In times where I have a differing opinion, I will debate, rather than shutting down dialogue. At the very least something new is likely to come from the conversation.

  • Seek new ideas: I will seek networking opportunities that expose me to new perspectives in volunteer engagement, from the non-profit industry, government agencies and for-profit corporate social responsibility programs. I will work to engage those in academia who may have a very different lens in which they view volunteer engagement. I will make every effort to combat groupthink.

  • Increase diversity: This is the elephant in the room, but truthfully, the volunteer engagement profession isn’t very diverse. I will actively seek opportunities to diversify the field beyond that of inherent diversity (race, gender and ethnicity), seeking ways to include diverse thought in the debate existing around volunteer engagement. I will also engage in actions to promote inclusivity into the profession through words used, content written and populations engaged.

Gandhi once said, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him… We need not wait to see what others do.” While I’m not a person who normally quotes others, I’m a firm believer that in order to establish change, you have to act to be that change that you want to see.

While these actions will be relatively small in reach at first, I intent to be the change, even if just for a single person. If you’ve been engaged in similar advocacy, or just want to share your thoughts, I welcome you to comment and even question. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

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