August 26, 2009

Lesson Learned: Trust is Key in Volunteer Management

So I was lucky enough this past weekend to serve as a volunteer for the Solheim Cup, the women's golf equivalent to the Ryder Cup where the US takes on Europe to see who's best in women's golf. (US won 16-12!! GO USA!)

Now, by no means was I a top level volunteer - I was on the Programs committee. In fact, I never saw a staff member during my entire volunteer experience. With 1,600 volunteers as a part of the event, I was not surprised by this. I was managed by another volunteer, who did an admirable job for someone who doesn't manage volunteers on a regular basis.

As usual, I tried to pull something that I could use in my future from my current experience, and what I really learned this time was that TRUST is paramount! There are times when the staff, even with all of their preparation and experience, can't account for all of the intricacies of what might happen.

Here is just one example:

We were told to hang out at the entrance ready to sell programs until when people came in. Well, with only two of us at the main entrance and hundreds of people in line, we were going to get slammed when the people began piling in. So, instead of waiting until people came in and crushed us, we decided that we were going to walk down the middle of the crowd and sell as they were waiting. We ended up selling a number of programs, and weren't slammed when the crowd was finally allowed to enter. It was quick thinking and just a bit of common sense that made that experience more palatable for us volunteers, and the staff had nothing to do with it.

It was a real lesson for someone who often works with volunteers and at times, is a little more territorial than I should be.

To close, here are a couple of questions to consider:

How can we as associations encourage innovation with our volunteers?
How can we ensure that they feel empowered to make decisions that are going to make the experience better for them and the association?
How can we learn to TRUST our volunteers more, and allow their contributions to be celebrated when they do something that makes the experience better?

Thanks for reading...

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