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Practice What You Preach

November 6, 2013

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by Becky Lunders, teamWorks
Practice what you preach. I’ve always thought that was good advice. I try to do just that in both my personal and professional life. I make a living teaching people how to better utilize volunteers. It seems appropriate that every now and again I put myself in the position to put my own counsel to the test. Chairing the Halloween Dance Spooktacular at my son’s middle school seemed like the perfect opportunity to see if this volunteer management stuff really works.

My son is in sixth grade and new to this school. I’ve always felt the best way to get to know new people is to volunteer with them. So, I signed up to head up the Halloween Dance. My quest: to see if it really is possible to take on a project and feel good (not bitter) when it’s over. I knew I couldn’t do it all myself (nor did I have any desire to)! I know that many hands make light work so a committee was essential. An email went out and I made a pitch at a parent meeting and landed ten volunteers.

We had a meeting and everyone took on one piece. We had a tickets gal, and a promotion gal. One person wanted to head up decorations; another took on food. We had someone in charge of set-up / clean-up; and another whose sole job was to organize and execute a flash mob to promote the dance! We had a prize/contest volunteer, and I ended up with activities. If everyone does what they say they are going to do, this will be cake!

I scored on the group of women I had on my committee. They were all gracious and friendly and talented. They said what they would do, and they did it. No one dropped the ball. I checked in with them and communicated weekly leading up to the event to ensure they were on track and feeling supported. It was not overwhelming for anyone. We met once more the week before the event to confirm details.

On the night of the dance, we executed everything perfectly. Nearly 400 tweens attended and had the time of their lives. Instead of rushing around doing everything at the dance, I was able to do a little care and feeding of the volunteers. It feels pretty good to be able to walk around and thank people for volunteering. Or offer them a bottle of water or a change of venue if they were tired of being in the same place. I was able to show my gratitude to those who gave a bit of their time to make things happen. And in the end, no one was burned out or bitter. In fact, several were talking about how “next year we can do THIS or THAT!”

So this volunteer management thing really does work. A committee structure will support your event or program, but only if you as the leader are willing to delegate and then empower your volunteers. That enables you to focus on the magic of the three R’s of volunteer management: recruit, retain and recognize. I’m happy I was able to practice what I preach. Otherwise, I’d be burned out and vowing never to do THAT again. Instead, I see this gig being a long-term commitment that might even land me some new friends! Ah – that social piece – we can’t forget about that!

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