4 min read

Coping for success

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The more I have the opportunity to meet with Volunteer Program Managers from a wide range of settings and backgrounds, the more I appreciate just how much our profession continues to grow and evolve.

Volunteering is changing, and as a result so too are volunteer management practices. Our jobs today are more often dictated by increased levels of paperwork, the necessity to meet legislative requirements and greater amounts of both accountability and reporting, than they are coordinating and supporting the direct efforts of volunteers. In short, we seem to have far more balls in the air today than ever before.

Compound this with other common problems experienced in our sector such as a lack of top level support, few resources and the incredible number of managers undertaking multiple jobs, and it is clear to see that the picture being painted is not always one of sunshine and roses!

With all of these factors in play comes the inevitable situation whereby volunteer program managers have to do more with less – and with this arises greater levels of both stress and anxiety. Is this perhaps one of the reasons we have such a high turnover of personnel in this field?

Sadly, for many of us, our jobs become nothing more than a vicious cycle of ‘busy work’, allowing little time for personal space, or at the very least, the opportunity to plan a way of escaping the cycle in which they find themselves.

So what are some of the ways volunteer program managers can overcome this cycle of stress and find ways to succeed under the pressure being applied by modern day volunteerism?

Let me suggest a few.

Take care of yourself first

We are of little use to others if we are not able to think clearly under pressure or to cope with the workload our jobs might bring. Being fit and healthy is an important element to ensuring we feel in control of our situation. A regular exercise regime, a good diet and ensuring that you receive adequate sleep each night are easy steps to maintaining your peace of mind.

Have a life outside of work

The natural temptation when faced with an increasingly busy workload is to work both longer and harder in order to clear the ‘to do’ list on your desk, so having interests outside of work are critical to ensuring that your work life doesn’t become your only life! Holiday time with your family, playing sport, taking up a hobby or undertaking volunteer work yourself in another agency are all great ways to ensure balance in your life.

Practice what you preach

It’s amazing how few managers utilise volunteers in the direct support of their position. Entrusting volunteer team members with roles such as interviewing, orientating, supporting and training new volunteers is a great way to find those few extra hours each week to recharge the batteries and think strategically.

Study time management strategies

There have been voluminous amounts of information written about the many different aspects of time management. Prudent volunteer managers will make the time to research some of these and implement at least a few simple strategies.

Understand the power of one

A critical element in taking back control is to understand the power of a single minute, and how the accumulated effect of saving single minutes, through the rearrangement of work practices, can pave a way forward in developing coping mechanisms. For instance, if we can rearrange our work practices to save just one minute an hour, we can free up an accumulated amount of four working days a year in which we can be doing other things.

Find a mentor

Take the time to seek out and find yourself a mentor. It’s unlikely someone will come knocking on your door with the offer, so it’s up to you to identify someone you think would be appropriate, someone whose opinion you trust and someone who you believe will tell it to you straight. Then all you need to do is ask them!

Network

Meeting with other volunteer program managers – either in your own city, or across the world via the internet is a great strategy for retaining your sanity! Not only will you find it therapeutic to speak to others in the same field, you’ll also be encouraged to know you are not the only person experiencing the frustrations you are faced with.

Say NO!

It’s a small word but probably the most important one you’ll ever need to learn to speak. By nature many volunteer managers want to help in any way they can. In itself this is a great quality, but if the result is increased stress for you and your team, then you need to take control. After all if all your supervisors or clients ever hear is ‘yes’, what indication do they have that your're not coping?

Be pro-active!

Whatever methods you put into place it is important to understand these are critical for the wellbeing of both your program and your own state of mind. If you do nothing – then nothing will change, so it is important to put into play at least one small strategy should you find yourself trapped in a situation where everything feels out of control.

Why is this topic important?

Firstly, it is not getting any better! As a general rule, the increased utilisation and focus on volunteering over recent years has not had a corresponding increase in the amount of staffing or resources allocated to volunteer department. The pessimist in me says it won’t get any better any time soon either, so therefore it is critical we ourselves start to develop strategies to work differently.

The second reason I think this topic is worthy of hot topic status is because many volunteer program managers today seem to have reached a point where they now accept these incredibly busy and unrealistic work schedules as the norm!

In summary

While we hope these ideas might be helpful to many of you, it is by no means definitive, so why not scroll further down and share your own successes and coping strategies with other readers?

  • Do you agree managers are working under more pressure than ever before?
  • What coping mechanisms have you tried that worked?
  • What have you tried that didn’t work?
  • Feel free to share your story