Tooting our horn - we're worth it!
Updated: Jan 6
She walked hesitantly into the Centre, eyes scanning nervously around a room full of people she did not know. Sue, a volunteer, approached, welcomed her and offered to show her around. Sue spent at least 15 minutes with her, familiarising her with the Centre and services, making her a cup of tea, calming her nerves and distracting her from the appointment with her oncologist, the reason she was here.
A few hours later, she entered the Centre again, this time with intent. Her worried eyes scanned the room, this time knowing what she was looking for. She spotted Sue amongst the small crowds of people sharing the space, walked straight over to her and collapsed in her arms, weeping.
She had received a very unexpected diagnosis of advanced cancer. She had come to her appointment alone and did not know a single person at the hospital. Sue was the only person she had connected with that day, the only person who had made her feel safe and cared for, the only person who could hold her up, sit with her, share her grief until she felt she was able to go home to tackle the next step in her journey.
This is one of the most powerful experiences I have ever witnessed of how volunteers can impact others’ lives. I was lucky to be there on both occasions this patient entered the Wellness Centre at the Cancer Centre where I managed the volunteer program. The positive difference Sue made to how this patient experienced her diagnosis was profound; her anxiety decreased, her shock and disbelief shifted from not knowing how she was going to take her next breath to developing a plan to get home safely, one step at a time. Imagine what this patient’s experience could have been if she had not had a volunteer available with the time, love and kindness that Sue was able to show her? That one moment could have set the scene for her entire cancer experience. How thankful I am that Sue was able to bring something positive to that entirely devastating moment in her life.
And I have no doubt that this was not only due to Sue’s beautiful nature, empathy and listening skills, but to the training I gave her before she commenced, the confidence I had nurtured in her to know that she could offer what this patient needed, and the clear parameters of her role that meant she could sit with this patient until the time was right for her to refer to a staff member, or let the patient leave when she was ready.
Volunteer Management is a critical profession. We train, support and guide volunteers to make a difference to the lives of others. We ensure they do this safely, we make sure they have an advocate at every turn, we champion their work when others don’t see their true value. We have a multitude of complex skills that are rarely seen in other professions.
Sometimes we hear, “It’s just a glorified Human Resources role.” With no disrespect to the many exceptional HR professionals I have met in my career, I don’t know many who could step confidently into the shoes of a leader of volunteers.
Sometimes we hear, “The admin staff can look after the volunteers.” The lack of understanding about the variety of skills required of effective volunteer managers can lead to the role being reduced to the management of administration of a large team, giving little to no recognition to the required and critical skills of strategic planning, empathy, conflict management, skill matching, training and debriefing, risk management, quality improvement and being able to communicate vision and inspire action (among many, many others).
In creating Volunteer Village, my goal is to unite leaders of volunteers across the globe so that we can stand together to demonstrate just how critical our role is. Our stories will help us to develop a shared culture, points of similarity, not just points of difference. Our stories will also help us to create a shared language so that our voices are heard far and wide, so that we can speak with confidence about the impact of the life-and-world-changing work of volunteers, and explore why leaders of volunteers are crucial to these outcomes.
So welcome to Volunteer Village. A place where I hope leaders of volunteers from across the world can share our stories about the impact of volunteers, the vital nature of our roles, and why our organisations, governments and communities should be supporting and resourcing effective and transformative volunteer management. A place where I hope we can create our own global village.
Happy International Volunteer Managers Day.
I look forward to connecting with you.