I’ve been involved in volunteer management for a little over 22 years now. Whilst I love being a part of this amazing field I still hate one thing about it, that awful feeling you get when you have to answer the question we all dread “so what do you do for a living?”. If you respond by saying “I’m a Volunteer Manager” you might get one of the following results:
- “Do you get paid to do that”
- “Oh, I was once / am a volunteer…” followed by a long story about their volunteering which I’ve had manifest as them telling me all about how much more they know about volunteer management than I do because they are a volunteer (thereby assuming I have never volunteered)
- “Is that a real job?”
- “No, what do you do for a living, not what do you do as a volunteer”
- A blank stare
- The person asking the question looks at you and then moves to the next person who they suspect might do something more interesting or that they might actually understand
Frankly, sometimes, whether we are a Volunteer Manager or a consultant, it’s just easier to say something like, “I’m in HR” and deflect the question as best we can. After all, if we can’t even agree between us what we should be called then why spend the energy trying to explain that to someone else?
Just recently I was reading a blog post about social media marketing and how those who do that job can explain ti to others. What struck me was this line:
“It’s tempting to come up with one “silver bullet” explanation and use it with every person who says, “So, tell me what you do.” But you’ll be more successful if you account for each person’s background and reasons for asking.”
What a great idea! Instead of speaking trying to get someone to grasp what we do by explaining the detail of our day-to-day working lives, why not ask them a question in return, perhaps something like, “Well, have you ever volunteered?”. That way we can start to unpick their understanding of volunteering (or non-profits more broadly) and find a way to explain Volunteer Management in terms that they will understand rather than our own generalised or over detailed standard explanation.
I’d love for you to try this and let me know how it goes by leaving a comment below.