September 4, 2011

Another Word for ‘Managing’ Volunteers

Posted in Language, Leading Volunteers, Yes but at 4:20 am by Sue Hine

To invigorate the great unpaid workforce of volunteers … it takes more than snappy motivational speeches, persistence and stunning organisational skills.  You need to be a people person.  You need to have the ability to quickly read people’s wants, needs and desires.  If you don’t have this you are liable to lose them.                                                 

 Power to the Peoplein Forest & Bird, Issue 341, August 2011, p31.

There is nothing new in this opening paragraph for people who manage volunteers, though it gives me a glow to see acknowledgement for our management skills in print.  The article goes on to make a tribute to the retiring manager / coordinator of a huge forest restoration and conservation project in the Waitakere Ranges of north-west Auckland.

The achievements of the project are pretty amazing, in scope and scale and specially in the numbers of volunteers engaged.  What interests me are the words “volunteer wrangling”.  This is what (according to the writer of the article) the leader of the volunteers started doing, to redeem the project from ‘organised chaos’.

Now, I know that ‘wrangling’ is something a cowboy does when herding horses or cattle.  You have to ride your horse, whistle your dogs, get in amongst a mass of unpredictable animals, show who is boss, make sure the herd gets going down the right trail.

I know also that wrangling can be an angry disputation, an occasion for haggling and bargaining.  Or you might say ‘wangling’, to win an argument.  The origin of the word is said to come from 14th Century Old German, meaning ‘to struggle’, which injects a new word for what some managers of volunteers experience.

But a ‘wrangler’ of volunteers?

Astute readers will recognise that ‘wrangling’ is not beyond the role of managing volunteers.  There are times in ‘negotiating’ with senior management on volunteer policy or programme details which might become ‘disputatious’.  Running a major event project involving hundreds of volunteers can certainly involve ‘herding’ volunteers into the right place at the right time.

Perhaps it is not a stretch too far to acknowledge we ‘herd’ volunteers to fit specific job descriptions, or to draft them into new positions to fit their skills and interests.  But there are such a whole lot of other things managers of volunteers do to ensure their programmes work well for volunteers and the organisation.  Read the opening paragraph again.

I do not see any banners lobbying for adoption of the style and meaning of ‘wrangling’ into the language of managing volunteers.  But I do like the reminder for minding our language.

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