Friday, 31 May 2013

How to manage your domineering committee chair

Have you ever had to manage a high net worth volunteer who was 'impossible' to manage? Ever had staffing issues as a result of their behaviour? Ever dreaded meetings with the volunteer? Ever avoided telling them something because you could not bear the thought of their reaction? Did they sometimes act seemingly against the interests of the charity?

Well I can say 'yes' to all these things! So if you can identify with any of these traits in your committee chair then read on!

Firstly, although it is sometimes hard to recognise and accept this, there is a positive intention behind every behaviour. In this volunteer's case they are utterly passionate about the cause, they want to raise money and awareness of the charity but they also have other motivations that are non-altruistic, and there is nothing wrong with this. What might these be? Well to start with, my volunteer wanted to enhance her social status through the connections and networks that she was able to make through her involvement with a high profile charity. Secondly her life as a volunteer and her social life were one and the same. It is about recognising that there is absolutely no problem with this, and accepting that these are motivations, but as long as they are not against the interests of the charity, why bother?

Secondly, you need to lead from the front and stick up for your staff team. In my case I actually lost staff as a result of this volunteer's behaviour and that was hard to deal with. You need to be the front person dealing with the volunteer, not delegating it to more junior staff. You need to put up with sometimes unacceptable behaviour and take it on the chin...that's what you are paid to do. You need to be the person who sometimes have to deliver bad news, and do it in a way that is acceptable to them.

Thirdly, pick your battles. If your volunteer chair is approaching the charity's corporate partners for sponsorship for their event, this will be a priority. If however they are not consulting on the choice of florist for their next event, this might not be your priority. So choose carefully what behaviour you do challenge, commit to challenging that behaviour, and be prepared to give ground on lower priority areas. But stick to your guns on the important things.

Fourthly maintain regular communication. Meet regularly with your volunteer, even if you can't bear the thought of it! It is your job to manage this relationship. Make sure that you use these meetings to update the volunteer on all relevant issues and ask them to update you. Try to enjoy the meetings rather than dread them and the volunteer will see that in you. If you are smiling and relaxed, they will relax and give you an easier time.

Fifthly, make your volunteer feel loved and valued. I always used to send a thank you card after each event my volunteer organised, and regularly send hand-written thank you letters (yes fountain pen is best!) and on occasions flowers and small gifts - nothing over the top! Make them feel acknowledged in public. Big them up within your organisation, so that your colleagues and bosses understand the contribution they are making. Make sure your CEO or Director also thank and acknowledge their work. Always talk positively about your volunteer to colleagues, even if they are a complete pain in the ass!

Sixthly make sure your volunteer is briefed properly on the work of the charity. Make sure they are up to date on all new areas of work and that they are better informed than any of their committee members. Have your senior programme staff make friends with them, and invite senior programme staff along to committee meetings, so that they are also well informed. Try to get your committee chair to see the charity's work first hand, even if that means an overseas visit. Once they have seen the work they will be even more committed!

Finally agree targets for the year up front. Meet with them at the start of the year and agree which activities they will be doing, and also be clear with them about what you can and can't resource within your staff team. Agree financial targets and agree what they have the authority to do and what they will need to run by you. Having this kind of agreement is a great reference point over the course of the year.

Does any of this ring true? The important thing to remember is not to try to change your volunteer. You never will. But you might be able to change their behaviour for the better and that can only be good for your charity, for your team and for your own sanity. Good luck and let me know how you get on.

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