Are you a good volunteering parent?
I’m the father of 5 children, and I have a further 4 step-children, so it’s fair to say I’ve done a lot of thinking about parenting in my time!
The truth of being a parent is simple – there’s no one-way to do it. Newborns don’t come with a rulebook or even a user manual …and surely by now there must be an app we can download – right!
In spite of what I have written above, there is one style of parenting that drives me insane – those people who wrap their kids in cotton-wool, place them in a bubble and are basically far too over protective!
Let’s consider for a moment the merits and disadvantages of being an over protective parent. From their point of view, the child won’t get hurt (physically or emotionally), the parent is always remains in control and they are always able to guide their child with their own set of values.
From the child’s perspective it’s perhaps a different view.
They never have an opportunity to learn new things (outside of their parents own comfort zone), to experience new ways of doing things, to making mistakes and most of all, to develop into their own person.
There are many parallels that we can draw with volunteer management when looking at how we raise little ones, and this is one of the traits that I too often observe in volunteer programs of all shapes and sizes – the ‘over protective’ volunteer manager.
Here’s a simple example.
These days I am distributing Better Impact’s ‘Volunteer Impact’ software through Australia and NZ. One key feature of this system, is the ability for volunteers to be able to log into their own online volunteer ‘portal’ and have a good level of control over their day to day volunteering experience. Let’s face it, technology is the way of the world these days – and so it stands to reason if we can incorporate technology into the volunteer experience it could only be a good thing. Right?
Well when I ‘pitch’ this part of our system to volunteer managers I usually receive one of three responses.
1. Sheer Excitement – Youth oriented agencies, and those with younger VM’s in charge are usually so excited about the prospect of having volunteers interact with their database system, that I can’t contain them. Sadly (at least in this part of the world) this remains a minority group.
2. Cautious Optimism – Others greet the news with cautious optimism. This group will be the ones who take the risk (eventually) but who will do so in a slow and structured way.
3. The ‘over protector’ – Sadly (and the reason for this hot topic), is that it is my experience that this group still make up the highest percentage of the responses I receive. I’m always perplexed when I hear responses like “Our volunteers are too old for that” or “My volunteers would never get the hang of that” or “My volunteers don’t know how to use the internet’!
If volunteer managers are thinking this way about the use of technology, in what other ways are they limiting the volunteer experience to their team?
- Are they limiting what they believe volunteers are capable of achieving in the workplace?
- Are they limiting the breadth of services they believe their volunteers are able to deliver to their agency?
- Are they limiting the training they make available to their team?
- Are they limiting the input of volunteers into decision-making and feedback processes?
Most importantly, are they limiting the volunteer experience for their team?
Here’s the real point.
I don’t believe that these decisions are usually made for the benefit of the volunteer. Rather, I think in too many instances, the over protective volunteer manager makes these decisions based on their own insecurities, on a need to retain control or from a perspective where they themselves feel powerless within their organizational structure.
The good news it is never too late!
If this is resonating with you, why not take a few more risks? You never know, that cocoon that you are watching over so intently may suddenly explode into a butterfly!
Let’s hear from you.