Enhance your influence as a leader of volunteers

Enhance your influence

The position of volunteer engagement specialist, or whatever your particular title is, is often seen as a lower-level position, without a lot of influence.

Executives in the organization often forget it’s a vital leadership position, with all the challenges and responsibilities that entails.

If you want to enhance your influence in your organization, you need to be seen as a leader. Here’s how:

Be a team player—The best leaders also make great followers. They work for the success of the organization as a whole. That means they are willing to use their skills and resources to help other projects. Don’t neglect your own duties or burn yourself out, but if another department in your organization is behind on a project and you have a volunteer with skills that may help, offer to transfer him or her until the other department catches up. Being seen as someone with the interests of the entire organization at heart will win you friends and enhance your influence.

Be an advocate—For the volunteers, of course, but also for the volunteer administration profession itself. Treat your position as the career it is, with professional accreditations and international associations. The more seriously you take the role, the greater respect others will have for it. Tell the executive you are studying for your CVA (certified in volunteer administration) or you’re joining the IAVE (International Association for Volunteer Effort). Assuming you are, of course. Let them know your position is seen internationally as a professional leadership role. Expect the respect and consideration that should come with such a position.

Share your ideas—Speak up in meetings when you have ideas for both the volunteer program and other aspects of the organization. Make suggestions for improving things. Be careful not to step on anyone’s toes or talk about things that you don’t know anything about. But if you have an idea, share it. Don’t be upset if someone shoots it down. They may have access to information you don’t. It’s the whole matter of speaking truth or wisdom to power. It takes courage but it’s necessary if you want to enhance your influence with senior management.

Ask intelligent questions—If you’re still uncomfortable with proposing an idea, phrase it like a question such as “Would it work better if we did something like X?” Questions like that can often start a discussion that can lead to effective solutions. This works outside of meetings, as well as questions of other staff, especially if there are connection points between your position and theirs. By learning more about what they do, and their challenges and triumphs, you can come up with better ways of working together. I’ve often seen it happen that a couple of people have found that they were dealing with similar challenges, and by presenting their solution to the executive as a team, they had better outcomes than by trying to change things individually.

Teach—The best way to be seen as an expert in your field is to teach others about it. Ask to do a training course for staff about the volunteer program, how it helps the organization and how it can help them specifically. See if you can give regular presentations to the board about aspects of the volunteer program, results of changes you’ve implemented or impacts the volunteers have made. If you can teach about your role, others will see you as a leader.

You don’t need to have a fancy title or a corner office to be seen as a leader in your organization. You become a leader when you start acting like one and by being a team player, advocating for the profession, sharing your ideas, asking questions, teaching and most of all, by seeing yourself as the leader you are.

That’s how you enhance your influence.

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

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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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