Monday, November 19, 2012

Finding the Confidence to Deal with Volunteers

Let’s be honest, the task of dealing with volunteers, though often rewarding, is very challenging.  From time-to-time, most association professionals will find themselves in a situation that is intimidating and even a bit painful emotionally. It can sap our enthusiasm and undermine our confidence.

For that reason, I would like share a valuable lesson in confidence building I learned when as a Community Organizer.

An Intimidating Neighborhood

My first assignment was in one of the worst-off neighborhoods in the Detroit: abandoned houses were everywhere, a few blocks looked more a war zone than a neighborhood.  In addition, my first set of contacts with residents went poorly; it seemed the rats were more interested in my activities than were the neighbors. I was feeling intimidated and afraid.  

Then, with a little coaching from a fellow organizer, I found my voice. I began to speak in the following manner:
My purpose for being here is because your neighbors want better policing (and other city services). 
"I am a trained Community Organizer; I can help you put together a neighborhood group to improve conditions in your community.
"I am doing this because I want to see good things happen for the people in this neighborhood.”

Learning to speak in this manner helped me stand my ground and sell myself to people. It was a powerful way to articulate my purpose, my competencies along with my genuine desire to help people.

An Intimidating Chairperson

A few years later, I found myself employed on the marketing staff of an association. One of my first assignments brought me face-to-face with a rather headstrong member who was chair of the Membership Committee. He had been described as a bit of loose cannon with little interest in or the patience for planning.

With that in mind, I harkened back to my organizing experience and prepared myself our first meeting. Here is what I said to him and the entire committee:

My purpose is to make sure the committee has a well thought out, comprehensive membership plan.
"I can help you because of my expertise in this area; I have seen what works and what doesn’t work in other associations. 
"Six months from from now, I want to see the members of this committee armed with the knowledge they need to help grow the membership. I want you to have a plan to pass along to future members of this committee (as well as provide valuable data to the staff). ”
The simple act of being able to articulate this statement gave me confidence and allowed me to stand my ground with the Chair. As a result, I was able to gain his support to proceed.

Renewing Your Confidence

Why not practice this approach so you are prepared the next time you have a challenging or intimidating encounter with volunteers? Use the following template; practice what you might say to your volunteers. In fact, get together with fellow staff to practice and improve.
"My purpose is to: ________ [describe the outcome or priority that needs to be addressed].
"I know I can help because: ________ [explain how your skills and experience as an association professional are of direct value to the situation].
"I want to see: ______ [describe a favorable improvement or successful scenario that is desirable to the volunteers]."
Good luck finding your voice!

Contact me for information about a Partnership Tune-up to improve relations with your volunteers or chapters as well as coaching and training. 

Related article:  When a Volunteer is Cruel to Staff: My Encounter with Mr. Cruel & Critical 

No comments:

Post a Comment