Developing thought leaders in volunteer management
26 Sunday May 2013
I just spent the last three and a half days immersed in thinking about volunteer management. The bi-annual conference for my professional group – the Administrators of Volunteer Resources British Columbia (AVRBC) was here in Victoria at the beautiful Delta Ocean Pointe hotel. But I barely had a chance to enjoy the view because I was so engaged with conversations with others about our field.
In particular I wanted to write today about one session that I specifically asked for to be presented. (As Workshop Program Chair I luckily had some sway!) Our international volunteer management “diva” (her words!), Susan Ellis, presented a session called “Passing the Baton”. It was about retiring thought leaders in the volunteer management field who want to “pass the baton” to others, and younger people – still career-building – who want to pick the baton up and run with it.
I plant myself firmly in the running with the baton category. I see that many of the thought leaders in volunteer management – the people who have published materials, trained others extensively in the field, and generally shared things that have added to our common knowledge – have either already retired or are nearing retirement age. Some people are wondering, “Who will take their place?”
I have recently realigned my career so that volunteer management work, training, consultation and writing is my main focus. Nothing thrills me more to tell you this fact … but let’s get back to the story.
I’m not the only person who was interested in this topic. A roomful of people showed up at this session eager to hear what Susan had to say. And we shared a passionate conversation about developing the people who have made a commitment to the field of volunteer management into the next thought leaders that we need. Personally, I realized that I have a lot to work to do – as a “middling” Generation X’er – to both make my commitment to the field more widely known (eg. Susan asked, “Why don’t I know about your blog?”) and encourage other people younger than me to develop as leaders too. In fact, this is the responsibility of everyone who works in our field.
Our professional association certainly has a role to play here too. We shouldn’t just be posting requests to submit proposals at conferences, we should be offering trainings on how to develop conference proposals. We shouldn’t just be asking people to write articles for our national journal, we should be teaching people how to write interesting and reflective articles that contribute something to our knowledge base. We could create pecha kucha sessions to help people get comfortable with public speaking and organize “reflection pools” of people at conferences to bring people together to reflect on issues and talk about ideas. At the very least we could have information about people on their name tags, to spark conversations and bring people together – and hopefully some baton-passing friendships could start to bloom. We could start an AVRBC blog.
We have lots of people to ask for mentorship in our field to bring the baton passers and the baton catchers together. But are we doing it as much as we should? One Director of Volunteer Resources in the session said that she would loved to be asked about how she has done her work, she would consider it flattery. I know others feel the same way. So we need to start tapping the baton-passers to be mentors. And create two-way mentorships because younger people have loads to share as well.
People like Susan Ellis have been breaking the trail very well in volunteer management for the past forty years, and yet our profession still has a long way to go. There is lots of room for leadership in this sector, for people to step up and share what they know and, more importantly, ask the questions that need to be asked. I plan to be among them! (What about you?)