When it comes to leading, managing is not enough

Ways to lead strategically

Do you find yourself caught up in the day-to-day minutia of getting things done? Are you constantly head-down trying to accomplish individual tasks?

Once you lose sight of the overall mission, you become a manager, not a leader, and your organization needs leaders.

Yes, the work needs to be done to further the mission but if your sole focus is on the tasks and not on the mission, both suffer. Leading volunteers involves a lot more than just getting things done. As the person in charge of your organization’s volunteers, you are a leader. You have the opportunity to make a real impact on the organization. Never mind your job title, or your perceived level in the organization; as the leader of the volunteers, you are vital.

Start by advocating—Be an advocate for volunteers. Articulate to staff and the board exactly how volunteers support the organization and further your mission. Demonstrate the real value of the volunteers. Fight for things that will benefit them, whether that’s a budget to hold appreciation events, or the opportunity to attend diversity training. What do volunteers need to be the best they can be? Remember, the more you help them, the more they will help you.

Develop a vision for your volunteer program—Know what a “perfect” volunteer program for your organization would look like, and determine the gap between that and where you are now. Certainly, no organization or program is perfect, but the closer you can get, the better. Look at the areas where you are farthest away from the ideal, and start working to make them better. Over time, you’ll see a big difference in the effectiveness of the program, and that will take your mission farther.

You need a vision, too, for the volunteers—Set a goal, leading toward the accomplishment of the mission. Make it achievable but challenging, and have them work toward it. Get them involved in the creation of the vision and in brainstorming ways to achieve it. The more they are involved right from the beginning, the more committed they will be toward accomplishing it. Once volunteers are fully committed to something, they will move mountains to achieve it.

Be strategic—Structure all your work around the organization’s strategy and mission. This helps you prioritize your tasks and make better choices about where you’re spending your (and the volunteers’) time. You might be surprised at the number of tasks that you do that aren’t actually necessary. It also helps you strike a good balance between operational and strategic priorities. Working in this way will demonstrate to your colleagues that you are a strategic thinker, and it will increase your influence. That, of course, will allow you to make an even bigger difference.

Leading strategically will advance your mission faster, with less effort—Set strategic priorities, advocate for volunteers within the organization, and set a clear vision for the program and for the volunteers. By doing this consistently, you can supercharge your volunteer program and advance your mission much faster than you would if you just focused on each task as it comes up.

It may take a bit of a mind shift, but it’s worth it.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Volunteer training can be all fun and games

'Gamify' volunteer training

Do volunteers cringe when you bring up the subject of training—especially repeat or refresher training?

Let's face it, volunteer training can sometimes be a bit dry. Volunteers, often driven by their passion for a cause, come in with enthusiasm but long, text- or lecture-heavy training sessions can kill that enthusiasm fast. That's where “gamifying” volunteer training comes into play.

The power of “gamification”

Imagine this, instead of drudging through a lengthy manual or sitting half-asleep through a boring presentation, volunteers embark on a quest to acquire knowledge and skills. They earn points, unlock achievements and compete with peers, all while learning the ins and outs of their volunteer roles. That's the magic of gamification – turning training into an exciting journey. And it can be done for either in-person or remote training. So, how does gamifying volunteer training work? Here are some practical steps to get you started.

Define clear goals and objectives

Before diving into the world of gamification, it's crucial to define your training goals and objectives. What specific skills or knowledge do you want your volunteers to gain? Are there key messages or information they must absorb? Knowing your destination helps in designing the game's road map.

Create a compelling narrative

Every great game has a story, and your volunteer training should be no different. Craft a compelling narrative that immerses volunteers in a story related to your cause. Whether you're helping the environment, supporting underprivileged communities or promoting animal welfare, come up with a captivating adventure to add depth and relevancy to the training.

Develop a points and rewards system

Points and rewards are the heart of gamification. Assign points to various learning tasks and milestones. For instance, completing a module could earn volunteers 100 points. While successfully completing a quiz, could add 50 more. Accumulating points should lead to rewards like badges, certificates, or even tangible items like T-shirts or mugs.

Include interactive elements

Gamification thrives on interaction. Hey, it's not a game if you're not doing something. Incorporate quizzes, puzzles, and challenges into your training modules. These can range from simple multiple-choice questions to more complex scenarios that require problem-solving skills. The key is to keep volunteers engaged and thinking.

Foster healthy competition

Competition adds excitement to any game. Create leaderboards that showcase the top performers. This friendly rivalry can motivate volunteers to excel and encourage them to revisit training materials to improve their scores.

Offer immediate feedback

In the world of gaming, feedback is instantaneous. Ensure that volunteers receive immediate feedback on their performance. If they answer a question correctly, acknowledge it right away. If they make a mistake, provide guidance and encourage them to try again.

Allow for exploration and choice

Everyone loves flexibility. Games usually offer players the freedom to explore and make choices. In your training, consider giving volunteers options on how they progress through the content. They might choose between different modules or take on side quests that align with their interests.

Regularly add updates and challenges

Keep the training fresh and relevant by periodically adding new challenges and updates. This prevents volunteers from feeling like they've “completed” the game and encourages ongoing participation. It also makes sure that you're teaching the most up-to-date information.

Provide for social interaction

Many games today have a social component. If your training is online, create a virtual space where volunteers can interact, ask questions and share their experiences. This fosters a sense of community and helps them connect with peers.

Track progress and assess learning

Gamification, of course, isn't just about fun. It’s about learning. Ensure you can track volunteers’ progress and assess their comprehension. Use analytics to identify areas where volunteers may need additional support.

Seek feedback

As with any training program, it's essential to seek feedback from volunteers. Ask for their input on the gamified training experience. What did they enjoy? What could be improved? Their insights can help you refine and enhance the game and thus their learning.

Gamifying volunteer training can breathe new life into the learning process.

It transforms what could be a mundane experience into an exciting journey of discovery and skill building. By defining clear objectives, creating an engaging narrative, and incorporating elements of points, rewards, and competition, you can captivate volunteers, hearts, and minds. It also ensures that they remember what they learn.

Remember, the power of gamification lies in its ability to make training enjoyable while fostering a deeper connection to your cause.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

A 'community of practice' for volunteer leaders can be beneficial

Volunteer leadership

Building a thriving community of practice for volunteer leaders

We don’t often think about “communities of practice” in the volunteering space. However, they can be extremely beneficial to a leader of volunteers.

Fostering a sense of community and collaboration is essential for professional growth and development, but it also offers a valuable platform to share insights, exchange experiences, and collectively enhance volunteer programs.

As you know if you read this column regularly, I am a huge fan of collaboration between organizations. Today, I will lay out a step-by-step process to establish a vibrant community of practice tailored to the needs of leaders of volunteers.

Step 1: Define the purpose and scope of your community of practice

Begin by clarifying why you want to do this and what you want to get out of it? Ask yourself what specific goals do you aim to achieve through this community? Are you focused on sharing best practices, solving common challenges, or inspiring innovation? Identifying your scope will help guide your community of practice's direction and activities. Also, decide if you would like to focus on a particular sector in the space (ie: animal welfare) or a specific geographic location? That will help you with Step 2.

Step 2: Identify potential members

Reach out to fellow volunteer leaders within your network who might be interested in joining the community of practice. Look for leaders who are passionate about volunteer engagement and who are willing to contribute actively to the community. Depending on whether you would like to meet in person or online, you may be able to build your community into an international community, or you can keep it focused on the distinct issues facing your particular area of the world.

Step 3: Work out the logistics with a handful of key people

Will you meet online or in person? How often will you you meet? Will the meetings be structured and formal, or ad hoc and informal? Will there be specific roles (ie: someone is assigned to send out the meeting invitations and reminders, or to arrange for external speakers)? Decide on the basic things that you need to know to get started.

Step 4: Foster open communication

Encourage a culture of open communication where members feel comfortable sharing their insights and challenges. Set guidelines for respectful discussions, ensuring that everyone's voice is heard and valued. Find ways to maintain a positive and inclusive atmosphere. Every time someone feels unwelcome or unheard, the community will weaken.

Step 5: Collaborate on resources

Let’s face it, one of the primary advantages of a community of practice is the collaborative creation of resources. Work together to compile training toolkits, role description templates, and guides that address the common challenges faced by the members. This shared knowledge pool becomes an invaluable asset for all members.

Step 6: Celebrate successes

We all like a chance to rejoice. Acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishments of your community of practice members. Whether it's overcoming a significant hurdle or implementing an innovative strategy, recognizing these successes fosters a positive atmosphere and inspires everyone to keep striving for excellence. It also gives other members inspiration, and ideas for improving their own programs.

Step 7: Continually adapt your community of practice

As your community grows, be prepared to adapt and evolve. As the social impact world changes, the community needs to change with it to stay relevant to its members. Regularly gather feedback to understand what's working well and what can be improved. Keep an eye on emerging trends in volunteer engagement to ensure your community remains valuable to everyone.

It may take some thought, but developing a community of practice can pay big dividends.

Creating a vibrant Community of Practice for leaders of volunteers involves a thoughtful and strategic approach. By defining your purpose, selecting the right members, nurturing open communication, and engaging in collaborative activities, you can establish a thriving community that enhances volunteer programs worldwide. Remember, a successful community of practice is not only a source of professional development but also a place where lasting connections and friendships are forged.

So, gather your fellow leaders and embark on a journey of shared learning and growth. Your group’s commitment to improving volunteer programs will make a lasting impact on countless lives.

Let me know how it goes.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Seven ways to show 'tangible gratitude' toward volunteers

Ways to show appreciation

"Tangible gratitude" is one of the four "appreciation languages" I encourage leaders of volunteers to use.

Appreciation of volunteers is something all leaders of volunteers do (or should do) throughout the day. Sometimes, though, a simple pat on the back or a once-a-year appreciation event just isn’t enough. For those volunteers who go above and beyond, here are seven ideas for showing your appreciation in a more tangible way.

• Handwritten thank you notes—One of the most simple yet impactful of gestures, heartfelt thank-you notes can go a long way. Take a moment to sit down and acknowledge a volunteer's contributions and highlight the positive impact they've made in writing. A handwritten note shows that you genuinely value their efforts. Extra points if you put it in the mail. Everyone likes getting mail that isn’t a bill.

• Recognition awards—Years ago, my husband managed a beer-league softball team. At the end of each season, he and a couple of other people sat down and came up with goofy, handmade awards for every player on the team, not just the most home runs or the best pitching, but the “snack award” for the player who brought potato chips to every game, or the “crutch award” for the player who was injured in the first game (but still came out to each game and cheered the team on). While you might not be able to do an award for every volunteer, consider creating fun awards that celebrate volunteers' dedication and milestones. You can recognize achievements like the number of clients served, special skills utilized, or significant contributions to specific projects. And include some goofy ones just for fun.

• Volunteer events—Host events exclusively for volunteers as a token of appreciation. These don’t have to be an official appreciation event, just a fun get-together. Whether it's a casual picnic, a movie night, or a fun workshop, these gatherings provide an opportunity for volunteers to bond, relax, and feel connected to the organization and each other. I serve on the board of a therapeutic riding association, and once we held a riding lesson just for the volunteers.

• Swag—You probably already do this one but if you don’t, consider it. Design and distribute custom merchandise such as t-shirts, hats or tote bags that volunteers can proudly use. This not only gives them a tangible reminder of their contribution but also acts as a conversation starter about your organization's mission. (I love things that are multi-functional)

• Growth opportunities—Show your commitment to volunteers' growth by offering workshops or training sessions that enhance their existing skills. It may take some investment, but it demonstrates your desire to help them succeed both within and outside of their volunteer roles.

• References—Be a job or school reference, or do other things that can help them succeed in their lives outside of the organization. By being willing to help them in all areas of their lives, you show how much you value their contribution to the organization.

• Discounts or perks—Partner with local businesses to provide volunteers with discounts or perks as a token of appreciation. Whether it's a free coffee, a discounted meal, or access to exclusive events, these partnerships add extra value to their volunteer experience. Many companies, especially chain stores and restaurants, are happy to donate coupons or tickets to local charities. It gives them bragging rights and marketing opportunities, so don’t feel shy about asking.

Remember, appreciation, including tangible gratitude, is an ongoing process, not a one-time event.

Regularly engage with your volunteers, listen to their feedback, and continuously look for ways to improve their experience. By showing appreciation in tangible ways, you create a culture of gratitude that not only retains existing volunteers but also attracts new ones who are excited to contribute to your cause.

Incorporate these meaningful gestures into your volunteer program, and watch as the bond between your organization and its volunteers grows stronger. Your commitment to recognizing their dedication will not only enhance their experience but also contribute to the long-term success of your organization’s mission.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More Volunteer Matters articles

About the Author

Karen Knight has provided volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations for more than 25 years.

Her professional life has spanned many industries, working in both the private and public sectors in various leadership positions.

Through her passion for making a difference in the world, she has gained decades of experience in not-for-profits as a leader and a board member.

Karen served in Toastmasters International for more than 25 years, in various roles up to district director, where she was responsible for one of the largest Toastmasters districts in the world.

She oversaw a budget of $250,000 and 300 individual clubs with more than 5,000 members. She had 20 leaders reporting directly to her and another 80 reporting to them—all volunteers.

Karen currently serves as vice-president of the board of directors for the Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association.

After many years working and volunteering with not-for-profits, she found many leaders in the sector have difficulty with aspects of volunteer programs, whether in recruiting the right people, assigning those people to roles that both support the organization’s mission and in keeping volunteers enthusiastic.

Using hands-on experience, combined with extensive study and research, she helps solve challenges such as volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations.

Karen Knight can be contacted at [email protected], or through her website at https://karenknight.ca/.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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