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  • Writer's pictureJessica

If I could turn back time... I'd tell myself: Advocate

Updated: May 3

Today's post was inspired by a question from the VolunteerPro Insiders Facebook group: "What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the volunteer management field?"

There were some fantastic answers that I 100% agree with and share all the time, including:

  • Keep learning! Whether it is formally or informally. Never stop building your skillsets.

  • Network with other leaders of volunteers, there are amazing people working in this profession around the world. They are a great support and also share fantastic ideas!

  • Look beyond numbers in your reporting and convey the impact of volunteer contributions, as well as the experiences they have as organizational stakeholders.

Then I thought about what advice I would have given myself 10 years ago, and the number one thing I wish I had been pushed to do was to do more advocacy sooner. This includes advocacy for the volunteers I engaged, the volunteer engagement profession, sector best practices, and advocacy for myself as a professional.

Advocacy means showing up, speaking up, and bringing evidence to back you up. It takes persistence and it is hard work! If you're looking for great information and practical examples, you need to read Meridian Swift's The Disruptive Volunteer Manager. If the word "disruptive " makes you feel uncomfortable, it may be because people expect leaders of volunteers to be nice and accommodating. But to best serve our communities, volunteer partners, organizations, and our true selves, we need to disrupt the status quo.

A few examples of my own journey where if I could turn back time... I'd pull myself aside for a chat.

*Cue Cher vocals*

Best Practice Advocacy Example

A senior leader mentioned that their friend was interested in volunteering for the organization. My colleague (who also had a volunteer engagement role) made the decision that we would not interview the leader's friend. They had more experience than me in the sector so I didn't speak up. Even though I knew, from attending workshops and reading blogs, that it is important to screen for the role, not the person!

This volunteer was placed in the first available role, for which they were a poor fit. They ended up leaving the role because they realized they could not perform the key tasks required, which would have been revealed if they were screened just like every other volunteer candidate. Luckily they had a good experience, and I was able to connect them to a more suitable role a few months later. When this happened, you bet I went through the same screening steps with this individual as I did with every other volunteer in the role.

And the next time I could speak up about sector best practices I learned... I did! By continuing to do this, the organization recognized that I was growing my expertise. I continued to back up my recommendations with evidence from thought leaders and research. I realized that all the learning I was doing only made half the impact it had the potential for because I wasn't sharing it!

Sector Advocacy Example

I was heading to a fun run with a group of friends (for an organization I have never worked for). Someone spoke up and said, "We better get t-shirts from this", to which I responded, "Did you hit the t-shirt prize level? Congrats!"

The friend replied, "No, but we should be getting shirts anyways- they have thousands of them!"

I had a good relationship with this friend but didn't say anything. Maybe I just didn't want to "stir up drama" that day. Maybe I just wanted a break from talking about work. But I look back and wish I had given that friend more insight into what it takes to fundraise for charity, especially mass events.

There is a huge demand for charities to be accountable for every dollar they spend, and I agree that this is incredibly important. At the same time, when friends and family show disappointment in charities' CEO salaries, administrative spending, or missing "free stuff". I refer them to articles like this:

As much as I'd love to turn back time sometimes, I'm thankful for the lessons learned and reflection.

If YOU could turn back time, what would you tell yourself as an early-career professional? Share with me in the comments!

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