Leading Volunteers is Hard. You’re Doing FINE!

leading volunteers is hard

I had a chat with a volunteer coordinator recently, and she told me – just about in tears – how stressed and upset she was. Things kept going wrong; some volunteers had left, others were making mistakes, one would simply not follow the safety protocols. She had almost decided that she just wasn’t any good at this work, and was thinking of quitting.

Ever feel that way?

Don’t. Things go wrong. It’s not necessarily your fault, and it’s not necessarily because your program is flawed. Yes, we can all improve our leadership and management skills, and no program is perfect, but the fact is that leading volunteers is hard. Give yourself a break.

If you are passionate about the mission of your organization and you love people, you are well on the way to becoming a good leader of volunteers. Add organizational skills and a good understanding of how to train people, and you’re in the top 50% or better.

Just because things go wrong does not mean that you are unsuited to the position.

If you start to feel this way, though, find some support for yourself. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Join an online community of volunteer leaders. Facebook has a few of them. You may find that the issues you’re dealing with are something that many (or most) of the other people have dealt with, too. They may have suggestions of things that have worked for them in the past that you can try. Short courses or free webinars are often posted to help you improve your skills. If nothing else, it’s a place where you can vent and get understanding and sympathy from people who’ve been there.
  2. Get a mentor. Talking on a regular basis with someone more experienced in the same or similar role in another organization can give you an understanding of the common ups and downs of the job, and give you some clarity on what is within your control. A mentor can give suggestions and advice based on their experience and on their knowledge of your particular situation.
  3. Build a routine into the end of your day to help release some of the stress. Go for a walk in a park, or have a hot bath, or do meditation. Anything you enjoy that is just for you.

Volunteer coordinators often don’t get the respect they deserve.

Many people (who haven’t done it!) think that it’s an easy, entry-level job. “You just tell people what to do all day.” Because of that, they tend to expect more than what is truly reasonable.

Any time you deal with people, especially people who aren’t handcuffed to you with a paycheque, you will face challenges. Personality conflicts, and biases, and unreliability and and and. On top of scheduling and training and recruiting and everything else that goes with the role. You need to deal with it all, and still ensure that the tasks that move your mission forward are completed on time and properly.

Leading volunteers is hard. It’s easy to get down on yourself when things go wrong. Take a deep breath, and know that you’re in the right place, and doing amazing work. Trust yourself. You’re doing fine.

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