One of the hardest things about being a leader of volunteers is that you are often the only one in an organization. It can feel very isolating, and you may start thinking you are the only one dealing with the issues that you face. It’s important to find a community of volunteer professionals.
This past Monday, I had the privilege of meeting with 36 other volunteer management professionals from across 21 time zones to start a two month process of sharing, learning and building community. The Advanced Volunteer Management Symposium provides keynote presentations about some of the issues that many of us face, and then puts us into a group where we can discuss, question and dive deeper into those issues. Not only do we have the opportunity to learn in a far more in-depth way, but we also build connections that can last throughout our careers.
One of the activities that we did on Monday was to choose a word that described what we hoped to get out of the process. Then we were put into breakout rooms of three people to discuss why we had chosen that word. One thing that I found very interesting is that, although all three of us in my group chose different words (share, inspiration, network), when we discussed our reasons for choosing them, it all came down to one concept. Connection. Helping others and receiving help. Gaining inspiration from other professionals. Building a community.
This article, though, isn’t to tell you about the Symposium.
It’s to reemphasize the importance of having people that you can reach out to, and to give you some ideas of where you can find those people if you haven’t already found them.
One of the foremost reasons for leaders of volunteers to embrace the idea of a professional community is the wealth of shared knowledge. By joining a community, you gain access to a treasure trove of insights and best practices from people who have “been there, done that”. Why reinvent the wheel?
Also, professional groups serve as a platform for continuous learning. The social impact sector is an ever-evolving landscape, so staying abreast of the latest trends, tools, and methodologies is paramount. And this collective learning not only benefits you but contributes to the overall advancement of volunteer management as a discipline.
And let’s face it, it helps just to have someone to talk with who gets what you’re going through. Even if it’s just to remind you that you aren’t alone.
Okay, so where do you find these communities?
Start with social media.
Online platforms have become hubs for professional interaction. Joining forums dedicated to volunteer management or participating in online communities allows you to engage in discussions, seek advice, and share their own experiences. I personally belong to four different volunteer management groups on Facebook, and two on LinkedIn. To find them, go onto the platform you like best and do a search under groups.
Attend conferences and workshops.
Physical or virtual conferences and workshops are excellent opportunities to not only expand your knowledge but also network with fellow leaders of volunteers. These events often feature interactive sessions, breakout groups, and networking opportunities. In person ones can be hard if your budget is limited, but there are several that are virtual. If you can, check out international conferences to expand your network and gain insights from different perspectives. It’s fun to see where the similarities and differences are!
Join professional associations.
Many regions have professional associations specifically dedicated to volunteer management. Joining such associations provides a structure for networking and professional development. These associations often organize events, webinars, and training programs tailored to the needs of volunteer leaders. Personally, I belong to the Volunteer Management Professionals of Canada (VMPC), Volunteer Canada, and a few others. Better Impact posted a list of the best volunteer associations around the world. Check it out!
Do it yourself.
If you can’t find a suitable community, you can always start one. Decide what you want to get out of, and contribute to, the group, and reach out directly to people who fit the profile. Building a community of practice is a great way to get started. Here’s an article I wrote on how to do just that: Developing a Community of Practice for Volunteer Leaders.
All this to say: “You are not alone.”
There is a world of people out there doing what you’re doing, facing what you’re facing and coming up with solutions that you can benefit from. And you have solutions to problems that they are struggling with. You don’t need to participate in an Advanced Volunteer Management Symposium – though I recommend signing up for the next cohort! – to find yourself a community with which to share, inspire and network. Good luck!