This article is a companion article to my Volunteer Management in the SCA article, and is a step beyond the items covered within it. If you have not read that one, please do before going forward with this one.
The difference between volunteer management and volunteer development is best explained as such: volunteer management is the day-to-day work of ensuring that volunteers are content in their work, and volunteer development is the long-term, overarching look at the programs and areas in which volunteers give of their time. Volunteer development also requires a critical look at the environments in which the volunteer does their work, and assists volunteers in making the next big step.
How can we accomplish this sort of volunteer development within the Society? Given that the SCA is a wholly volunteer organization, how do we make the changes to assisting people to volunteer their time and energy?
To be frank, we need to look critically at the work we do, but also at the things we say to our volunteers.
The SCA is a volunteer organization. Full-stop. Everyone, from the members of the Board of Directors, to the royals of the twenty kingdoms, to the gentle with their bare AoA, is a volunteer. What we do within our local groups, kingdoms, and Society itself depends wholly on the work that we do as a society.
Let’s start with this: we often hear horror stories of people being told that they were made an officer of their group because they were not there to say no or that they were “voluntold” to do a job. We often tell people that “real life comes first” or “GPA before SCA,” but then get upset when a person goes off to deal with things outside the SCA (seriously, when I took a year off, I got a “well, it’s about time you came back!”). I can’t count how many times a person walking into a new volunteer position with apologies or condolences rather than a genuine congratulations or offers of help.
What does this above example tell us about what it means to volunteer within the confines of the Society?
- Well, for one, it tells potential volunteers that no matter what they do, the work is going to suck for them, no matter the job they take on.
- It tells people that they are not valued past what they can give to a group.
- It also tells that person that the most they are worth is what they can contribute.
- It also indicates that a person’s agency isn’t important, or that the Society should be the most important thing in a person’s life and that time spent out of the Society is a lower priority.
- Voluntelling people also disregards any knowledge a person might have that was gained outside of the Society, as well as any effort, love, delight, and inclinations in their own acts of service.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, however, the Society for Creative Anachronism is not the most important thing in my spare time. It may not be in yours, either. It might be for some, and while that’s fine, I also think that it may be a recipe for burnout. It is, however, not okay to make a person’s priority the Society when they may not have the abilities to take on more than they already have.
So, how can we reframe what is a pretty toxic frame of mind and use it to improve the Society? The list below is a great jumping off point.
Value our volunteers. Bluntly, volunteers are not a dime a dozen, nor are they infinite resources. Within geek culture, there are a number of places a volunteer can go, from conventions, to other groups – and some folks manage to do multiple groups! We need to realize that as much as the Society fills the majority of our lives, it’s not that way for everyone, and that’s okay. Think of it this way: you are spending your time in working with other people to make magic happen for others – so doing things like writing down what is necessary and store it in a place where it can be easily reached by future volunteers can be eminently easier and faster for someone to run an activity once you have. Experience is not replaceable.
Play to people’s strengths. We all come to the Society with our own knowledge base and available skills, and there are some volunteer things that we’re going to excel at. (I’m a decent herald, but don’t ask me to be a marshal and definitely don’t give me the books to balance – but I have a friend who doesn’t understand the complex heraldic rules, but is amazing at the math involved with being exchequer.) The point is, if we see that people have skills in something, let’s encourage them to take positions in our local areas.
Provide meaningful work. Busywork, too many people doing the exact same thing at the same time, or by not providing enough opportunities to grow can kill off a volunteer corps, as can not preparing a volunteer to take on a role. The beautiful thing about the Society is that there are many places a new player can help out alongside a more experienced player, and both get something out of it. Find someone to mentor and to teach and to work with. (And before you tell me that’s the reason we have peer-associate relationships, I’m going to tell you that you can mentor and work with people even if you’re not a peer. There is no reason why people can’t do the thing and learn from one another in a group that is dedicated to information transfer.)
Get feedback. You might need a good set of Teflon braies for this – because sometimes, this is the worst part, but it’s also a great opportunity for the organization to grow (but it also means that we need to be critical about where and when we apply those changes, too). Feedback is how we grow as an organization (and groups within the Society need it, so definitely send your letters to the Board!). If someone is saying that something is a problem, there might actually be a reason for that, so take it seriously! If things are going well, it never hurts to ask questions about how to possibly change the process to make it work better.
Thank people. I somewhat covered this above, but seriously, don’t hesitate to thank people for doing the work. By consistently acknowledging the unpaid work and emotional labour that our volunteers do, as well as the time that they use (and don’t get back!), we run a much higher chance of retaining them within the Society. Volunteers don’t do their part because they expect something in return, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t thank them for their contributions. A thank-you note or public acknowledgement can remind volunteers that they’re valued and appreciated. Do not wait for the Crown/Coronet to recognize them in a court situation. Public recognition is usually better done outside of courts. (source)
It is everyone’s job in the Society to continue to find ways to improve not only ourselves, but also the greater Society for Creative Anachronism in which we spend our time. It behooves us to act on the actual chivalric ideals and to give people the franchise to accomplish their own goals that they have set before them and to do so with a sense of actual courtesy and honour our volunteers. You can read more about it within my handout from my KWHSS class on Volunteer Management, with my friend Wu daren.