We may have a ways to go in elevating our profession – but your hard work means the glass is half full

One of the concepts that I like to share with my volunteer manager clients is the notion of The Gap. It’s an idea that’s embraced by entrepreneurs – and as you know, I like to take share business practices that enhance our work in the nonprofit world.

The Gap is a phrase coined by an entrepreneurial coach, Dan Sullivan. Here’s what it means: when we have a goal, we tend to focus on what we haven’t yet achieved rather than the progress we have already made.

It’s important to check in on The Gap and recognize where we need to go. But an unrelenting focus on the unattained brings us down. It provides fuel for beating ourselves up and living in a state of discouragement.

Instead, we need to celebrate our progress – that’s the source of motivation and inspiration to continue moving forward.

I thought of The Gap the other day, when talking with an acquaintance who had just retired and entered the world of volunteering. She had checked out several different organizations and wanted to volunteer as a tutor – but she was shocked to discover that the program charged volunteers a fee for training.

To her mind, the nonprofit was being unreasonable. Why should she have to pay to get the training the needs to volunteer?

Naturally I jumped in to share the volunteer manager’s POV. I explained how volunteers are considered the staff of an organization, and that a program is making an investment in a volunteer to train them.  The training fee is a way for both the volunteer and the program to honor the investment and the commitment needed to succeed.

That teachable moment was not unusual – we volunteer managers do it all the time. We are constantly educating the public about the nature of volunteering and what it takes to build a successful volunteer program. It occurs whenever we hold an orientation, share a volunteer position description, or set expectations in an interview or training.  It’s simply part of the job.

Here’s the wonderful thing about all that education we provide: every time that we educate the public about the nature of volunteering, we are closing The Gap.

The Gap for us is the difference between our common goal – to see leaders of volunteer engagement fully recognized, valued and supported, and the current state of our profession. Tobi Johnson’s Volunteer Management Progress Report has done a wonderful job of demonstrating The Gap. Her findings have already point to areas where there is important work to be done.

The Gap is also the reason behind this summer’s National Summit on Volunteer Engagement Leadership, which was organized “to act as a catalyst to inspire and secure the future of volunteer engagement.”

But perhaps we need to counter the focus on what’s missing with a celebration of what we’re already doing to turn things around just doing our jobs.

Remember, our decision-makers come out of the very same culture as our volunteers. When you educate a volunteer, you are you are making a shift in the culture and helping your communities come around to a fuller appreciation of what it takes to lead volunteers.

Climb out of The Gap today and applaud yourself: your everyday workplace actions are already creating the shift you seek.

Want some tips for bringing others on board with  your volunteer management? My Six Principles of Buy-In will take your influencing skills one step further. Email me to receive a handout about the principles and a next steps worksheet – and I’ll add you to the Twenty Hats mailing list.