I’m currently at the Wiccan church in which I am a 1st degree. The Archpriest needs help with office work, and working on the dining hall, a large-scale construction our church attendees have needed for years. So with a happy heart and a cooler full of food, my sweetheart and I made the two-hour journey to church with no promise of ritual, simply for the sake of helping out (so that’s why the post has no pictures or links–spotty internet will do that! I’ll likely fix it when I get home).
I was thinking about a recent post I made about our clergy needing money, and I think I failed to mention that they also need help. Just regular help around the office, in the kitchen, answering mail, mowing the lawn. What our Pagan groups are in desperate need of is good volunteers.
Their are many advantages to volunteering:
- Promote an organization or community you love. The great part is that the organization of community will love you back. There is nothing so satisfying as looking around some place you care about and be able to say “I did that. I made this place better.”
- Volunteering is a tangible gift you can give that doesn’t involve money. So if you are feeling broke, you can give in a different way.
- Volunteering allows you to not only do what you excel at, but to try your hand at things you would like to improve. For example, I excel at organizing information and answering questions, but suck at yardwork. I think I suck because I haven’t done much of it living in apartments and rentals the last few years. Yet I can volunteer to do yardwork, and know that someone is going to appreciate my effort, and won’t yell at me for taking all day.
- It can be a fun, social activity. You want to be on the ‘in-crowd’? Spend time making friends at work parties and doing simple chores.
- Volunteering is really really appreciated. Sure, it’s not out there for everyone to see, but someone will sincerely be grateful for your work. If nothing else, you’ve crossed something off their to-do list, or completed something they didn’t even know needed done. It is a humble gift. If nothing else, the Gods will see your good work.
- Studies show that it feels good to volunteer, and can bring a sense of community, happiness, and calmness. Studies even show that it feels good to see someone else volunteer. So just being around do-gooders can up our feel-good hormones. Really, volunteering is in your own best interest. Remember the rule of Three applies here too!
The best way to volunteer is to call up the folks in charge and recommend your skills to them. Call ahead, unless the rules are “just show up”. If you have an idea for a project, propose it. Consider if there are any materials or information that you need. Folks who are caretakers will have the big picture in mind, so if they can’t use your services, or don’t readily agree to your project, it is likely there is some barrier that you don’t know about, so please don’t take it personally. Ask them what they need doing, and consider if can do the job. If you do certain work professionally, suggest yourself to the Powers that Be at your local organization. Who knows, you might have a skill that the group desperately needs. I know on our church building, we desperately need plumbers, electritions, framers, clean-up and landscape crew. Most groups could certainly use the skills of a good web designer. What do you have to offer?
- Learn when to say “No, however…”. There will be situations beyond your means to deal with. Simply saying no can put them off from trusting you in the future. While keeping your bounadries is important, having a way to redirect the group member, and supporting them through the process can do more for the person than simply having all the answers.
- Keep a list of resources. I have one with phone numbers for crisis lines, suicide reporting, domestic violence, Child Protective Services, and other emergency contacts. I keep it on me when I know I might be in a situation where someone may need advice beyond my abilities. Because these programs vary by region, you will need to come up with your own list. Or consider collecting lists of lists. I have pamphlets of emergency services for my county.
- Fill your toolbox with communication strategies. Having multiple possible ways to solve a problem will give you more confidence, and help you in strange situations or differing personalities. You can learn strategies by reading, watching other leaders and if you…
- Join an online community to learn more about being a good leader. I found this one with a simple Google search. This one has a lot of strategies as well.
- Find out what kind of leader you are. There is no need to try and be something you are not. We talked in the last post about leadership styles. But not all groups require your style of leadership at that time.
- Know your group rules and stick with them! Follow established procedures and precedent. It keeps you from appearing arbitrary and gives you some authority. Examine the rules carefully before choosing to vote on a change or act differently.
- Know when to step down. It could be a feeling that it’s time to move on, a recognition that the group needs more than you can give, or a pre-arranged time of leadership change. Knowing the group lifecycle can help you identify when a change in leadership is necessary.
- Be available for mentoring. After your time as the leader is up, being around the group and available for mentoring others can keep the group alive. Just because you are not the leader doesn’t mean you don’t have wisdom to share. But your position in the group is different–let the new leader lead and learn from their mistakes. You can set a powerful example just by being present in the group after your term is over–it shows your faith in the group as a whole, and builds self-efficacy among the members.
- Practice Humanistic leadership. Every person deserves a chance to be heard. Every person deserves to be valued and respected. Begin by actively listening to the group members, and not running off on your own ideas. A Pagan group is no place for ego (although there has been a lot of it in the past…)! State problems as “I statements” so you don’t accuse others of being a part of the problem, which makes them more likely to listen to you.
- Learn so you can serve. Keep up your Pagan studies. Besides seeing you as clergy, the group may also see you as an authority–even if it isn’t nessecarily true! So keep reading and studying. Try some of the more advanced books available in the Witchful Thinking Store.
- Don’t let your group eat you alive. Many groups are entirely dependent on their leadership to put events together and organize them. If we accept personal responsibility, then success or failure must be up to the group. The more your group members do, the more active and integrated they feel in the group. So give them something to do. Don’t let them make you do everything. You will burn out, and then the group will not benefit from you.
- Give thanks where thanks is due. Praise is reward for good work. It shows the rest of the group the kind of behavior you expect, and bolsters self-esteem. And don’t forget the “behind the scenes” folks, and people who are outside of your group membership. Even in a failure, a good leader can find something positive to praise. But don’t give it out for every little thing, or do so without sincerity. Studies show that intermittent rewards work better than consistent rewards in future positive behavior.
- You might have to be the bad guy. You may have to bring bad news, or solve problems by letting people go. Keep your intentions towards the benefit of the group, and use the charter as a basis. For the benefit of the group, you may have to ask disruptive people to leave. You may have to work with authorities who don’t like you and what you are doing. Sometimes you have to tell the group no. Gather all the facts you can before you make these decisions. Involving the group in the decision making process (without spreading gossip) or telling them the reasons why you made the choice can help people understand and support your tough calls.
- Answer all questions as if they are honest. Why keep secrets? Or if you have to keep one, tell them why it must be secret. Someone may ask a sarcastic question, but may really have a desire to know the answer. Why not talk about it? No reason to reply with hostility. Besides, it makes you look knowledgeable and calm, and that’s never bad.
- Maintain confidentiality. Not everyone needs to know everyone’s business. Make it a policy that gossip ends with you. If someone told you something about a group member that needs to be addressed, by all means, address it! But no need to say what your source was if they asked to remain anonymous. It means a lot to people that you can keep a secret.
- Wicca Covens: How to Organize and Start Your Own by Judy Harrow. Probably one of the best books on leading Pagan groups. Harrow is a counselor and uses her knowledge in Pagan circumstances.
- Deepening Witchcraft by Grey Cat. This book is mostly about advanced practices, but has some excellent advice about starting groups and events.
- Strengths-Based Leadership by Barrie Conchie. This was recommended to me, but I have not read it. The author is a scientist who studied leadership for 30 years and talks about why people follow certain people.