Yes. It’s all about you. Really.

VM Self-promotion Twenty HatsWhen your volunteer program has a big win – or when you achieve something impressive, which of the following do you do?

  1. Share the good news with a co-worker
  2. Go home and tell your significant other
  3. Tell your boss about it
  4. Smile quietly to yourself and go back to your work

Personally, I’m a fan of “all of the above” and most significantly, #3.

Why Promote Ourselves?

We need to promote ourselves when we do something brag-worthy. And not just because it feels good to share something we’re proud of – but because self-promotion is better for your volunteer program.

That’s the point I made last week in a practice session for a conference presentation on advancing your volunteer program. Twelve volunteer mangers gathered at Volunteer Alexandria to learn more about how to strategically advance their volunteer programs and share feedback about how to make the presentation as relevant as possible for the conference participants. (OK, this post is a Spoiler Alert for anyone attending the conference.  Read on anyway – your advance reflection will make the discussion more meaningful.)

The self-promotion question came up because so many of us find our programs minimized or under-valued by the decision-makers. Then, we wait around for our leadership to notice and appreciate us. But building recognition doesn’t work like that. It’s our job to educate our leadership about what volunteers can accomplish and what they need to get there.

My practice group was all for educating, but most participants got lukewarm fast when we added self-promotion as a teaching tool.  Touting ourselves feels kind of “icky” and maybe even narcissistic, when as volunteer managers we are all about collaboration and team work.

The “Ick” Factor

Effective self-promotion IS about team work.  It’s about sharing your achievements, yes, AND about giving credit to anyone who has a hand in the process. Because more than likely, any success that you experience depends on your volunteers, your co-workers, your corporate partners, and anyone else who gets excited about your cause and sees value in your program.

Ironically, you are probably doing some self-promotion already but calling it by a different name. One member of the practice group noted that the self-assessment part of a performance review is really a form of self-promotion. Here are a few other examples:

  • Tracking your program’s metrics and reporting to your leadership – or even the board – about increases in volunteer engagement and retention.
  • Attending a professional development workshop or webinar and then sharing how you used the information to make improvements to your program.
  • Sharing the story of a volunteer who went above and beyond for a client.

Playing Well With Others

Sometimes I wonder if we hold back from promoting ourselves because we fear it will rock the balance of power among our co-workers.  We fear that our office buddies will judge us or become less cooperative if we demonstrate too much ability. It triggers a basic fear that we will be run out of the tribe if we take the glory for ourselves.

In some sense that fear is real – we depend on the cooperation of our co-workers to get our jobs done.  But we do not need to hide our accomplishments to do that.  As I tell my coaching clients, it is possible to cultivate collaboration without playing down your own significant contributions.  It’s a both-and situation, not an either-or.

If you are not sure that self-promotion is better for you and your volunteer program…

…try this:

Play bigger at your next staff meeting. Announce your latest accomplishment to the entire group, giving credit to the team members and volunteers who assisted you – but don’t minimize your own contribution to the process. Do you feel energized – maybe even motivated to do more?  That’s the likely outcome when we show others that our programs are in competent, capable hands.

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