A 'community of practice' for volunteer leaders can be beneficial

Volunteer leadership

Building a thriving community of practice for volunteer leaders

We don’t often think about “communities of practice” in the volunteering space. However, they can be extremely beneficial to a leader of volunteers.

Fostering a sense of community and collaboration is essential for professional growth and development, but it also offers a valuable platform to share insights, exchange experiences, and collectively enhance volunteer programs.

As you know if you read this column regularly, I am a huge fan of collaboration between organizations. Today, I will lay out a step-by-step process to establish a vibrant community of practice tailored to the needs of leaders of volunteers.

Step 1: Define the purpose and scope of your community of practice

Begin by clarifying why you want to do this and what you want to get out of it? Ask yourself what specific goals do you aim to achieve through this community? Are you focused on sharing best practices, solving common challenges, or inspiring innovation? Identifying your scope will help guide your community of practice's direction and activities. Also, decide if you would like to focus on a particular sector in the space (ie: animal welfare) or a specific geographic location? That will help you with Step 2.

Step 2: Identify potential members

Reach out to fellow volunteer leaders within your network who might be interested in joining the community of practice. Look for leaders who are passionate about volunteer engagement and who are willing to contribute actively to the community. Depending on whether you would like to meet in person or online, you may be able to build your community into an international community, or you can keep it focused on the distinct issues facing your particular area of the world.

Step 3: Work out the logistics with a handful of key people

Will you meet online or in person? How often will you you meet? Will the meetings be structured and formal, or ad hoc and informal? Will there be specific roles (ie: someone is assigned to send out the meeting invitations and reminders, or to arrange for external speakers)? Decide on the basic things that you need to know to get started.

Step 4: Foster open communication

Encourage a culture of open communication where members feel comfortable sharing their insights and challenges. Set guidelines for respectful discussions, ensuring that everyone's voice is heard and valued. Find ways to maintain a positive and inclusive atmosphere. Every time someone feels unwelcome or unheard, the community will weaken.

Step 5: Collaborate on resources

Let’s face it, one of the primary advantages of a community of practice is the collaborative creation of resources. Work together to compile training toolkits, role description templates, and guides that address the common challenges faced by the members. This shared knowledge pool becomes an invaluable asset for all members.

Step 6: Celebrate successes

We all like a chance to rejoice. Acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishments of your community of practice members. Whether it's overcoming a significant hurdle or implementing an innovative strategy, recognizing these successes fosters a positive atmosphere and inspires everyone to keep striving for excellence. It also gives other members inspiration, and ideas for improving their own programs.

Step 7: Continually adapt your community of practice

As your community grows, be prepared to adapt and evolve. As the social impact world changes, the community needs to change with it to stay relevant to its members. Regularly gather feedback to understand what's working well and what can be improved. Keep an eye on emerging trends in volunteer engagement to ensure your community remains valuable to everyone.

It may take some thought, but developing a community of practice can pay big dividends.

Creating a vibrant Community of Practice for leaders of volunteers involves a thoughtful and strategic approach. By defining your purpose, selecting the right members, nurturing open communication, and engaging in collaborative activities, you can establish a thriving community that enhances volunteer programs worldwide. Remember, a successful community of practice is not only a source of professional development but also a place where lasting connections and friendships are forged.

So, gather your fellow leaders and embark on a journey of shared learning and growth. Your group’s commitment to improving volunteer programs will make a lasting impact on countless lives.

Let me know how it goes.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Karen Knight has provided volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations for more than 25 years.

Her professional life has spanned many industries, working in both the private and public sectors in various leadership positions.

Through her passion for making a difference in the world, she has gained decades of experience in not-for-profits as a leader and a board member.

Karen served in Toastmasters International for more than 25 years, in various roles up to district director, where she was responsible for one of the largest Toastmasters districts in the world.

She oversaw a budget of $250,000 and 300 individual clubs with more than 5,000 members. She had 20 leaders reporting directly to her and another 80 reporting to them—all volunteers.

Karen currently serves as vice-president of the board of directors for the Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association.

After many years working and volunteering with not-for-profits, she found many leaders in the sector have difficulty with aspects of volunteer programs, whether in recruiting the right people, assigning those people to roles that both support the organization’s mission and in keeping volunteers enthusiastic.

Using hands-on experience, combined with extensive study and research, she helps solve challenges such as volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations.

Karen Knight can be contacted at [email protected], or through her website at https://karenknight.ca/.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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