May 31, 2010

Mind Your Language (2)

Posted in Language at 1:01 am by Sue Hine

Here is another way to think about language. One of the canon’s we teach volunteers is never to say ‘I’m just a volunteer’. If you catch a volunteer saying that, it means your organisation is not paying attention to volunteer contributions to its vision and values, and to its services. So why would you say, when somebody asks, “I’m just a volunteer manager”?

What you need to know

You are not ‘just’ anything!  You are a really important person, doing a great job for your organisation.  You are likely to be engaged with heaps more people than your Chief Executive; you have a heap of knowledge at your finger-tips; you manage a database and are expert at communicating in different ways with volunteers.  You have got great people skills, enabling volunteers do wonders they never thought of, and in finding the job that is just right for them in your organisation.   And all the time you are acknowledging volunteer efforts and the organisation’s appreciation of their contribution.

When you say I’m just a volunteer manager you are giving out a message that says:

  • What I do is not really important; I am not important; and the pay packet says I am not worth very much. 
  • Which says volunteers are not really important either, not really valued.

What do you do, really?

Instead of such harmful thoughts let’s find other ways of answering this question. 

  • I am a mover and shaker, a wheeler-dealer
  • I am an organizer extraordinaire!
  • I am an economic entrepreneur, adding value to the raw material of a volunteer applicant and the product of our organisation

If you are really stuck for answers go to Susan Ellis’s website: to find creative and positive examples to describe what you do.  The one I like best is “I find buried treasure” – because that is the really exciting thing about managing volunteers, watching people grow and develop, and accomplish things they never thought were in their capacity. And don’t let people say ‘how noble of you’ – such remarks might polish your personal halo but do nothing to promote volunteering and the importance of volunteer management. 

When you find the words that fit with your style, put them on a banner, use them as a reminder that you are an agent of change, that you can change your organization (if not the world).  And join the networks that will help you get there.


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