It can be tricky advocating for one's own profession. That said, given how volunteer management positions are often undervalued, here are a few tips for you to make the case for volunteer management at your organization:
As much as possible, engage in trainings. Look for trainings here and in your community. Consider earning professional accreditation/certification. Taking skill development seriously demonstrates that this is a profession like any other. And keeping up with best practices strengthens the reputation of the field.
Read articles and current research on the value of volunteers and how volunteer management professionals build the capacity of volunteer programs:
Learn more about what's happening in other areas of your organization: development, technology/IT, marketing and public relations, etc. Could volunteers be more involved? Not only will you be more informed to determine volunteer needs, but it will help you make the case for how volunteers - and effective volunteer management - are important to these other departments.
Similarly, if there are areas where you feel that you could develop greater skills, go for it. Whether it is grant writing or marketing, budget management or public speaking, the more varied your toolkit, the more you'll be equipped to manage diverse volunteers...and the more invaluable you will be to the organization.
Regularly Communicate with Decision-Makers
Schedule regular check-ins with your supervisor to keep them abreast of what you are working on as well as the successes and challenges of your position.
Learn the art of translation: different audiences respond to different results. Learn how to share the successes of your volunteer program in diverse ways, including storytelling, economic impact, volunteers as donors (according to a 1999 study by the Independent Sector, volunteers gave larger donations that non-volunteers!), impact on the mission, statistics (for example, number of meals served), and community outreach (aka PR). Consider using free sites like Google Maps or Platial.com to demonstrate community impact by mapping where volunteers participate in your program as well as neighborhoods where they live or work (using local landmarks instead of specific addresses), other organizations where they volunteer their time, etc.
Celebrate the Successes and Impact of Your Work and the Volunteer Program
Collect and share inspiring stories, positive feedback from evaluations, news clippings, etc. (See the art of translation above)
Contribute stories and successes to newsletters and other regular communications that go out from your organization to board members, stakeholders, and the public. A great idea submitted by one of our advisory board members is to create monthly reports that can be read by a variety of audiences, from co-workers and supervisors to stakeholders and board members. Celebrate the impact of volunteers and demonstrate why they are so important to the organization.
Be sure to invite staff, board members, and stakeholders to your volunteer recognition events. This is especially important given that board members are volunteers too!
Connect with a professional association for volunteer management professionals, both at the local level and nationally. These are often the people doing the work of advocating for the profession on a larger scale.
Stay in touch with your colleagues. Leverage your advocacy efforts by sharing ideas and strategies. Avoid burnout and isolation by collectively addressing challenges. Collaboration is a buzzword for efficiency and effectiveness; demonstrate this in your profession by working together.
Consider getting involved in other community initiatives and organizations – serve on boards, go to local meetings, convene roundtables. Be a representative of your organization and get the word out on your volunteer program through your involvement while simultaneously developing new professional skills.
Read the article Sabotage Part Two: How Managers of Volunteers Diminish Their Role by Martin Cowling and Jayne Cravens to learn strategies for expanding your role at your organization. Among their suggestions: collaborate with colleagues to manage all types of volunteers (including pro bono/skilled volunteers and interns) and establish yourself as the staff expert on volunteer engagement.
Seek to get more involved as a member of the larger team determining direction and resource allocation for the organization. While we don't always like to discuss volunteers in terms of resources, the fact remains that they are a vital component to the success of an organization.