Ask a Volunteer Manager: September Spotlight
Stacy Oliver is the Volunteer Services Manager for the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona.
Describe a memorable moment with volunteers.
When the pandemic started in March, we didn’t have volunteers with us for several months because the National Guard stepped in, and we wanted to make sure volunteers were safe until we could put some more precautions in place and figure out how we were going to distribute food to our community safely and in the summer heat. When Guard support was altered suddenly, we NEEDED volunteers to continue providing support to families who were hungry, and had to scramble fast (which doesn’t always feel good!). I reached out to long-term volunteers who I thought might want to come help, and EVERY phone call I made was to a person who was genuinely thrilled to hear from me and eager to get back to work with us.
That experience of calling each person, recognizing and hearing the tone in their voice, and being able to see them again in person after some time apart was extremely touching. We have some truly big-hearted, wonderful, hard-working volunteers who we feel SO GRATEFUL to have with us – their enthusiasm and being able to see the smile in their eyes (while wearing a mask) filled me with so much gratitude and adoration. I think that feeling of being reunited and reminded that we have folks who genuinely care about the community and about our work just reminded me how heart-burstingly thankful I feel for their help and for the relationships we’ve formed with each other over the years. It’s been a hard year for most people, and I can safely say that greeting our volunteers and working together at distribution with them was one of the highlights for me in remembering the good in people!
How did you get started in this field?
I served as an AmeriCorps member for several years in central Alabama, where I helped coordinate volunteers for the annual census of folks experiencing homelessness in the metro area, as well as other major events to serve people experiencing homelessness or educate the community about homelessness. I was very passionate about housing and issues related to poverty, and loved empowering others to get on board for the cause! I also helped coordinate an AmeriCorps program, and did a lot of training on capacity building and volunteerism. From there I moved to Arizona and shortly after, I found the Community Food Bank and became their Volunteer Services Manager.
What is one technique or strategy that you have used to recruit volunteers?
CFB is really fortunate to have a Community Events Manager, who works really hard to make sure that CFB has a presence at all the different tabling events that take place in our community. We do a lot of outreach this way! We also make personal appeals to our current volunteers who we think would be a good fit or be interested in a need we have (making sure we keep re-engaging folks who have already demonstrated care for our work). Of course, working our social media platforms for help has yielded a great response too!
What is something that you learned that has been really helpful in your career?
I think one of the most helpful things I’ve learned is that even though conflict and confronting problems can be stressful, more than half the time those conversations lead to really wonderful change. Looking at conflict as an opportunity to build trust and better understanding with another person really changed how I felt about conflict when it came up. The opportunity to connect, learn, grow, and watch someone grow has lead to really meaningful volunteer relationships and even more tools for me and my team members.
Who have been your mentors in this field?
Kristen Quinnan was my director at the Community Food Bank for the first two years I worked there – prior to being the Director of Community Engagement, she was the Volunteer Services Manager. I learned SO MUCH from her, and she built a really robust legacy of volunteerism at our organization. I learned so much about the depth and variety of volunteerism that can take place from Kristen’s work and leadership. Additionally, Dana Litwin is one of the most inspiring people to listen to on the national level – I’ve learned a lot from her workshops and appreciate her humor and guidance on navigating tricky situations and improving volunteer retention!
How do you define a volunteer manager?
A volunteer manager is someone you should aim to make your best friend at work! (haha)
I define a volunteer manager as someone who helps meet the mission and needs of an organization through the coordination, recruitment, placement, retention, and empowerment of volunteers.
What are some “other duties as assigned” that came with your position?
- Partial event coordination (knowing intimately how an event would go, figuring out what the staffing needs are for a smooth event, and how to organize their schedules based on different roles needed)
- Data interpretation and analysis
- Tech support/customer service
- Project manager
- Program designer
- Corporate engagement
- Counseling and mediating between staff and volunteers
- Knowing at least a little bit about how to work in every department (warehouse operations, gardening, distribution, partners)
- Managing and staffing a reception desk
- Being the receptionist
- Tour guide
- Data entry
- Copy editing
- Last-minute photoshopping
- HR functions but for volunteers
- Education and training (on poverty and social justice, how to use an online volunteer system, advice for staff on how to supervise volunteers, and more!)
- Just to name a few!
What is your strength in this role and what advice would you give to others volunteer coordinators/professionals?
I think my greatest strength is that I’m a great listener and I also stay very conscious of expressing gratitude to team members and volunteers as often as I can (especially when I see them!). I think these traits have helped me as a volunteer manager (and will help other volunteer managers). Listening to your volunteers’ feedback, observations, ideas, etc., leads to genuine trust and connection, and I think better retention. Volunteers often bring really great ideas to the table for how to alter a process, or how to look at things from their point of view AS the volunteer – if their feedback can’t be acknowledged or incorporated, it helps just to listen to keep the communication open and to demonstrate appreciation and respect for that volunteers’ time and consideration for the organization.
How do you recharge or practice self-care after a long day of work?
I talk with a friend on the phone, watch Parks and Rec or another lighthearted series, go for a hike, or eat cereal and listen to true crime podcasts.